It’s that dreaded weekend of the arrival of Wasps. The ostentatious branding of the Ricoh Arena is nearing completion with not one but two Wasps crests installed on the stadium exterior. As if to emphasise Coventry City’s status as the number two act in the stadium that was once built for us, we play the role of opening act ahead of Sunday’s main event.
Whisper it quietly though, Coventry City are on something of a run now. Just one league defeat in our last seven games has taken us from the edge of the relegation zone to just six points from the play-offs. The cup defeat to Worcester City still looms large over our season as has the two most recent home performances where the team scored an aggregate total of 0 and gathered just one point. Perhaps it has been those recent home performances which have made our rise up the table feel like an act of stealth compared to the statement of intention that our immediate post-Ricoh Arena return form was.
Or maybe it has been that the team has taken advantage of two poor teams during our last two away victories. In performances lacking in fluency with players regularly misplacing passes or picking the wrong option, wins against Colchester and Port Vale seem to have resulted from the law of averages dictating that sometimes you get lucky when you play badly.
Steven Pressley has spoken about the impact that the Ricoh Arena pitch has had on his strategy over the past two months, preferring a more direct and narrow style of football. The introduction of a new pitch changes matters and Pressley will have to prove that his gripes over the state of the pitch were genuine rather than an excuse for just flat out poor performances.
We could see a slight change up in style with a more proactive strategy. Gary Madine complained in the week about his frustrations at playing as a lone striker and has talked up his partnership with Frank Nouble. With the onus on the team to attack what will surely be a defensively-focused Fleetwood Town team, a switch back to 4-4-2 may be the best way to assert ourselves on the game.
Reda Johnson will be missing from this game which will break up the ‘land of the giants’ at the back with Ryan Haynes most likely to take his left-back spot with Danny Pugh still short of fitness. If the team do line up with a 4-4-2 and with Nouble pairing Madine in attack, Josh McQuoid will miss the game due to the maximum of five loan players ruling. It will also give Danny Swanson a chance to impress when he may have dropped out of the team had Johnson been fit. Aaron Martin is another doubt but the fit-again Seb Hines is a more than adequate replacement should Martin not make the game.
Possible Line-Up: (4-4-2) Allsop; Pennington, Martin, Webster, Haynes; O’Brien, Barton, Fleck, Swanson; Nouble, Madine.
Last Time We Met
Aside from a pre-season friendly in 2013, Coventry City and Fleetwood Town have never met in a competitive game. The closest connections between the two teams are Adam Barton and Fleetwood manager Graham Alexander.
Barton ended last season on loan with the Cod Army but struggled to even make the bench as manager Graham Alexander found a settled line-up which squeezed the Fylde Coast side into League One via the play-offs.
Graham Alexander was born in Coventry and was a trainee at Coventry City before being released at a young age. He proved the staff at our academy wrong by amassing over 800 league appearances, mainly during spells with Burnley and Preston, winning international caps with Scotland and developing a reputation as one of English football’s best ever penalty takers.
How Are They Doing?
It was a rather attritional promotion winning season for Fleetwood as they struggled to play the kind of football that their heavy financial backing should have dictated. But in League One that financial advantage is lessened as they compete with more storied clubs with much bigger fan-bases. Still, it doesn’t matter how you get there but what you do when are there, and Fleetwood are sitting rather pretty in 11th place despite some mediocre recent form.
Last season’s star was Antoni Sarcevic who excelled as Graham Alexander built the team around his talents. However the story this season has been about the hard-work of the collective. Fleetwood’s defence ranks joint-second-best in the division and it’s been a lack of firepower that has held them back from making a more concerted promotion push. Despite the presence of proven goal-scorers such as Stephen Dobbie and Tom Hitchcock in their ranks, it has been an uphill task for Fleetwood in the creating and taking of chances.
The leader of Fleetwood’s defence is Mark Roberts who captained and for a time even managed Stevenage during their run from the Conference to the League One play-offs a few seasons ago. It’s been no coincidence that since joining Graham Alexander’s side in 2013, Fleetwood have been so miserly at the back. In addition they have Stephen Jordan who can play at left-back or centre-back and was recently nominated for League One player of the month. Ex-Preston youth-teamer Conor McLaughlin is a threat from right-back and was linked with more illustrious clubs before extending his contract last summer.
Sarcevic remains a threat in midfield but Josh Morris and Jeff Hughes are more important players in the middle of the park. Jeff Hughes was a star at Notts County two seasons ago before Fleetwood’s money took him to the Fylde Coast, a threat from long range and with his set-pieces, Hughes can dominate the midfield area. Josh Morris, on loan from Blackburn, can crop up at left-back, left-midfield and centrally, can put in a good cross but is first and foremost a hard-worker which makes him key in Graham Alexander’s eyes.
Possible Line Up: (4-4-2 Diamond) Maxwell; McLaughlin, Roberts, Jordan, Andrew; Sarcevic, J Hughes, Morris, Evans; Proctor, M Hughes.
Do we dare to be optimistic as Coventry City fans? Do we dare to dream that perhaps this season still has something in it for us? Can we win back-to-back league games for just the second time this season?
But we are up against a Fleetwood side in quite poor form, especially away from home, and we are in a reasonable run ourselves. If we can take this opportunity then we may enter the Christmas period just three points off the play-offs and stand a good chance of making the top six by the time January comes round, that would be some turnaround from that Worcester defeat. I’m going with the power of optimism and backing the boys in Sky Blue to the tune of a 2-0 win.