A defeat against Bristol City in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy was surely to be expected in midweek. Amidst all the doom and gloom that we are currently mired in, that a number of us believed that it was even possible is surely a good sign. Unbelievably almost, there are people out there that still believe that this club is worth putting some faith into, with the club looking to be on its knees at this point, the believers amongst us are needed desperately.
The best chance we had of salvaging any semblance of pride from this season appears to have slipped away. It’s December and the season already appears to be petering out. Steven Pressley needs to use this time now to build a team capable of doing something more than Coventry City teams always do, which is to constantly do the minimum required to survive. These next few games will be about finding a formula for future success and deciding which of our current squad is worth keeping and what sort of players are needed in January.
Despite an encouraging 30 minutes against Bristol City, the two goals we conceded came from poor marking as a result of no-one taking responsibility in defence. The regularity with which we concede these sloppy goals from crosses and set-pieces is a massive indictment of Steven Pressley and the coaching team, especially Pressley as a former international centre-back. Something needs to be done immediately to both stop crosses arriving in the box in the first-place and to defend them better once they come in.
A much bigger concern is our lack of cohesion going forward. We lack genuine pace in the side which makes counter-attacking difficult, we try and play off Madine but have no-one making supporting runs from midfield and we are incredibly sloppy in possession considering that a number of our midfield players would fancy themselves as ball-playing midfielders. The root cause of these problems in my view is a lack of a settled starting line-up. The past two seasons have seen partnerships all over the pitch which gives players a reference point which they can build confidence from.
Having a big squad hardly helps as it convinces the manager that two or three changes may make a big difference when they might actually be having a negative impact despite the quality of player being called upon. Aaron Martin should come straight in and its a big call whether to drop Webster or Willis (or possibly Pennington with Willis moving to right-back) as they have both shown this season that they can be important players for us. Nouble and Haynes are the other possible selection issues but, having written what I have just written, I would stick with the rest of the team as it was on Wednesday night.
Possible Line Up: (4-5-1) Allsop; Pennington, Martin, Webster, Johnson; McQuoid, O’Brien, Fleck, Barton, Swanson; Madine.
Last Time We Met
The last time we travelled to Burslem it was in that short era when Coventry City played at Sixfields but were a genuinely good team. A strong travelling contingent arrived in Stoke-on-Trent buoyed by whispers of a wonder-team in Sky Blue that few had seen play. For 45 minutes it was a nearly perfect performance of controlled dominance, with Callum Wilson and a thunder-strike from Frank Moussa making Tom Pope’s header from a set-piece seem like a straw being blown into a tornado. Instead, Mickey Adams’ team exploited the classic Sky Blues’ weakness from long balls and crosses to rally with two second half goals and take all three points.
Our last meeting in the league came at Sixfields last March where Port Vale were once again playing the role of spoilers. A ridiculously early goal gave Port Vale the lead which led to a period of utter dominance from the Sky Blues. In the 75th minute, Vale pounced on the break and the game looked to be over. However the brilliance of Callum Wilson inspired the team to what may have proved to have been a vital point. Jordan Clarke scored a set-piece before Wilson scored a seemingly impossible goal, beating three players before smashing in from a narrow angle.
How Are They Doing?
It’s been something of a strange season for Port Vale. They were expected by many to suffer the classic ‘second season syndrome’ having over-performed last time out by finishing in the top half last season despite ending the season under a transfer embargo. A decent start to the campaign soon faded with Mickey Adams admitting that his shelf-life at Port Vale had expired and he could give nothing more to the club. Ex-Sky Blues centre-back Rob Page has been handed the reins and has been attempting to change the approach from the Micky Adams-era and has thus far achieved a solid start.
With Tom Pope injured at the moment, which means that Port Vale will be unlikely to sell him in January and will thereby lose him for free in the summer, Ben Williamson and Dany N’Guessan will be important in attack for Port Vale. Williamson has spent most of his professional career as a promising youngster before finally delivering on his potential by scoring four in the first three games of the season. The former Glen Hoddle Academy member went on a 12 game goal drought before returning to form in recent weeks. Dany N’Guessan was surprisngly released after a decent spell at Swindon last season is always a threat at this level and will be motivated by the need to earn a longer deal at Vale Park.
We should also be mindful of the pace Port Vale have at their disposal, not content with Byron Moore and Mark Marshall, Rob Page has added Alex Nimely to their squad recently. Marshall has been in decent form this season, contributing the goals and assists that he always threatened to do with us. We all know about Alex Nimely as well, another player who looked like delivering so much without ever really doing so. With Alex Nimely in your team, you are guaranteed a penalty but his lack of match-fitness means he’ll have to win that penalty as a second-half subsitute.
Some words on Port Vale’s central midfield area, where they can boast Michael O’Connor, Chris Lines as well as Michael Brown. O’Connor in particular has stood out this season as a creative midfield player who can chip in with the odd goal. Brown hardly needs any introduction as the archetypal tough-tackling bastard midfield player that Coventry City have always seemed to be in need of. Lines was the star player at Port Vale last season with his passing and set-pieces but has struggled for form and is out of favour at the moment.
Possible Line-Up: (4-2-3-1) Neal; Yates, Robertson, Veseli, Dickinson; O’Connor, Brown; N’Guessan, Dodds, Marshall; Williamson
This is a tough away game for us and it will be a test of whether that defeat against Bristol City was the blip amongst a series of defensively resolute displays or whether those recent league performances were themselves the blip. There is a growing dismay at the continued travails at Coventry City and a win here would set us up for the festive period with the hope that maybe the season can be salvaged.
Port Vale though will equally be looking to win this game to avoid getting sucked into the relegation battle and have only a slightly better away record than ours, thus they will be looking to take advantage of a ‘winnable’ home fixture. They have a number of handy players and the factor of not only two former Sky Blues at their disposal but two that may want to prove a point to Steven Pressley. 2-1 loss for the Sky Blues making the fixtures over the Christmas period even more important for Pressley.