10 days without Coventry City in our lives and for many it has been a welcome relief following another drab showing at the Ricoh Arena against Walsall. 12 months ago the goals came so easily, nowadays it feels like the pitch has been tilted against us. For all the rightful anger and heart-break during the club’s exile and the subsequent glory of the return, the fact that Coventry City are pretty much at the level they would have been without that time in Northampton has made the state of apathy worse than before.
There is a dawning realisation that we’ll achieve nothing in the league this season, we’ll probably squeeze a few results to keep us out of too much relegation danger. It’s not just this one season though, it’s years of repeated underachievement that has convinced many that not only will this year be a write off, but the year after and the year after that, ad nauseum. The youth-team were brilliant in the FA Cup (an excellent piece here on Sky Blues Blog from Sky Blue Cherries for more detail), but how many believe their best football will be played in Sky Blue?
The Johnstone’s Paint Trophy then provides the team and Steven Pressley the chance to show that they are different and can break this abject cycle of decline. I don’t think what effect that success in this competition can be understated, just look at the attendances against Gillingham and Crewe at the Ricoh Arena. This city is desperate for a successful team, partly the reason why Wasps have been accepted in some quarters, if the Sky Blues managed to navigate a course to Wembley, and win, things might actually change for the good this time.
However we have been drawn against the toughest possible opponent for this forthcoming Area Semi-Final (or Quarter-Final) and away from home. Victory at Ashton Gate this evening would be galvanising not just in the context of a third-rate cup competition but for the season as a whole. Suddenly our recent form might be described as steely rather than lacking in ideas and it would be an important reminder to both players and fans that Steven Pressley’s way is the right way.
If we are to triumph in this fixture, Pressley will have to successfully configure a make-shift defence. Aaron Martin is ineligible with Aaron Phillips injured and Danny Pugh, Seb Hines and Jordan Willis not yet fully fit. An Andy Webster-Reda Johnson central-defensive partnership would make the most sense but both have mistakes in them. Matthew Pennington or Jack Finch could be called into the centre of defence although neither appear physically strong enough to deal with Bristol City’s aerial threat of Aaron Wilbraham. It’s a conundrum.
Possible Line-Up: (4-4-2) Allsop; Willis, Pennington, Webster, Johnson; O’Brien, Fleck, Finch, Haynes; Madine, Nouble.
Last Time We Met
For those of you with particularly short memories, our last meeting with Bristol City came at the nadir of our poorest run of form this season. In a thoroughly professional performance where our opponents successfully held us at arms length, winning 3-1. Goals from Marlon Pack and Kieran Agard gave our opponents a comfortable lead at half-time. Although Shaun Miller pounced on a delightful James Maddison through-ball, a late goal from Jay Emmanuel-Thomas sent a bumper Bristol City away following home happy.
How Are They Doing?
A few weeks ago Bristol City entered the kind of ‘crisis’ reserved for the top six teams in England after losing back-to-back games for the first time this season. In the context of their impressive campaign thus far, it was an eye-opener to the true toil that a promotion-winning season actually is. A 3-0 win over Peterborough a couple of weeks ago followed by a navigation of AFC Telford in the FA Cup that was slightly too close for comfort, has Steve Cotterill’s side back to that imperious form of old.
The big-man-quick-man front pairing of Aaron Wilbraham and Kieran Agard has been extremely effective thus far but that has been bolstered by the addition of former Leeds striker Michael Smith on loan who proved last season to be a strong performer at Championship level. Cotterill has also added Chelsea youngster Todd Kane on loan who was stand-out last season for Blackburn in the second-tier, to emphasise Bristol City’s strength in depth even further, Kane is back-up to Mark Little who has been a force of nature for most of this season.
Recent weeks has seen Luke Freeman assert his credentials as a star-turn in the third-tier after he ran rampant in the recent win over Peterborough. For most of the season Freeman has been played as one of a midfield three in a 5-3-2, the Peterborough win saw Freeman played just behind the strikers where he excelled in finding space and running directly at the defence. Stopping Freeman may be key in nullifying one of Bristol City’s attacking threats.
Another midfielder who has been earning rave reviews this season is the veteran Wade Elliott. Back from a ban for a straight red-card in the club’s first league defeat of the season against Swindon, Elliott could be thrown back in despite a successful re-shuffle in recent weeks. Although he’s played most of his career on the wing, Elliott has transitioned into a creative central midfielder in his advancing years and provides a key transition point between attack and midfield. Steve Cotterill has a decision to make whether to sacrifice playing Luke Freeman in the hole to accommodate Elliott but a sloppy performance in victory over Telford at the weekend may convince him to throw Elliott back into the mix.
Possible Line-Up: (3-4-1-2) Fielding; Ayling, Flint, Williams; Little, Elliott, Smith, Freeman, Bryan; Agard, Wilbraham
With Bristol City performing so well in the league this season, there is the chance that they may take their foot off the pedal accidentally on purpose for this game. My working theory on football is that winning is a good habit to have and that Bristol City may just find a way to win in spite of how much they care about actually doing so. If we can be abrasive and disrupt their rhythm early on, there’s the chance that they may decide to focus their efforts on the league, or we’ll just annoy them into wanting to win.
A recent away win aside, it’s hard to see this Coventry City team going to Ashton Gate and winning, we’ve struggled there even at the best of times. If Bristol City turn up, they win as far as I’m concerned and quite easily. 2-0 Bristol City, welcome back to football Sky Blues.