It’s snakes and ladders at Coventry City, and this division as a whole, at the moment. Win and you’re on top of the world and heading to Wembley, lose and you’re plotting your GPS for Morecambe, Mansfield and Accrington. The manner of the defeat against Swindon was disappointing, especially after that Walsall win but three points against Gillingham could send us into the dizzying heights of mid-table.
Almost every single member of the team who played against Swindon looking a lot worse than they did going into it. The defence were completely disorganised, the midfield were invisible and the attack failed to take the rare chances that came their way. When so many areas of the team look in complete disarray, it is starting to look like the bigger problem is the manager rather than the players.
The difference between Coventry City and Swindon Town on Monday was startling, particularly given the severe budget restrictions that our opponents operate under. It was a game that demonstrated just how important organisation and a having clear idea of the role each player has in the team are in football. This group of players, on paper, should at least be able to emulate Swindon Town, currently though there is little semblance of organisation and what each player in the team is expected to do. Another indictment of Steven Pressley, nearly two years into the job at Coventry City.
There have been so many key players who have been letting themselves, and the team, down. The season is entering a crucial phase and there is less and less time for Pressley to experiment with personnel and tactical systems. The next few games, and the final weeks of this transfer window, may well be Pressley’s final chance to stamp his mark on the squad and find a way forward.
For this upcoming game against Gillingham there are calls to make all over the pitch. In defence we have an out-of-sorts Ryan Haynes, a creaking Andy Webster and Matthew Pennington, a centre-back playing out of position at right-back. Continued injuries to Reda Johnson and Danny Pugh mean that an out-of-sorts Ryan Haynes will have to continue in the team. It seems then that the onus will be on individuals to improve rather than making changes.
There is real temptation to completely change the midfield set-up. Nouble is out of position on the left, John Fleck is under-performing and Conor Thomas is getting harder to defend. Then we have Jim O’Brien who is trying way too hard and not focusing on basic things like offering himself as a passing option or simply passing the ball to a teammate. With Jim O’Brien a doubt due to the expected arrival of his first child and Fleck a player who Pressley is reluctant to drop, the only change may be Swanson in for O’Brien.
Madine cannot do things on his own in attack and Simeon Jackson is being used in an entirely wrong way as a deep-lying forward. Pressley could try using Jackson on the shoulder of the Gillingham defence with Madine giving more responsbility to link the play. Nouble could be shifted into a more central role but there are few other options to play on the left instead of Nouble.
Possible Line-Up: (4-4-2) Allsop; Pennington, Martin, Webster, Haynes; Swanson, Thomas, Fleck, Nouble; Jackson, Madine.
Last Time We Met
Monday nights like last Monday or the ownership of our stadium by a rugby team from London seemed a far cry from the joy and optimism of our last meeting with Gillingham. Circa 27,000 made it to the Ricoh Arena on a Friday night in September dedicated to the outpouring of emotion of a team returning home. In hindsight, that 1-0 win was not the most convincing display but it was much preferred to the high-profile defeats against Crewe, Leeds and Chelsea that previous teams in Sky Blue had produced in front of big crowds in Coventry.
How Are They Doing?
Gillingham probably had every right to feel that they could and should have taken something out of that game back in September. Peter Taylor’s side looked very useful, neat in possession, pace on the counter and some good organisation in defence, they were just unable to take any of the chances that fell their way. Unfortunately for Taylor, that has proved to be the story of Gillingham’s season which has seen a number of promising displays only end in defeat. Gillingham now sit ensconced in the bottom four and are one of the few teams in the relegation battle in no kind of form whatsoever, unsurprising Peter Taylor has recently been sacked.
Whilst Gillingham chairman Paul Scally searches for Taylor’s replacement, a four-man caretaker team consisting of former manager Andy Hessenthaler, the former Wales and Gillingham striker Steve Lovell (not to be confused his Scottish namesake), academy manager Darren Hare and youth coach Mark Patterson. In contrast to Taylor’s defensive but neat football, the four-man team have gone for a more direct, attacking approach. Gillingham have closely fought their three most recent defeats and we could fall foul of their frustrations if we re-produce that Swindon performance at the Priestfield.
The main man to look out for is obviously Cody McDonald. Once our big hope going into our first League One campaign, McDonald has continued his good form last season and leads Gillingham’s goalscoring charts with nine. To underline his importance as a source of goals for Gillingham, the next highest scorers for the club are on three. If the Gills do score in this game, it seems likely that it will be McDonald.
Bradley Dack is a useful operator in midfield, able to pick a pass or beat a player with his dribbling, he is a key source of creativity for Gillingham. Jake Hessenthaler (son of joint-caretaker Andy) and Doug Loft are both harder working midfield players who will chase and harry whoever Pressley opts for in our midfield. Out wide is the pace of Jermaine McGlashan who was a real threat the last time we played Gillingham.
In defence is another son of a caretaker manager with Josh Hare recently being handed a chance in the first-team. Leon Legge and John Egan are both solid defensive options at this level, Legge is more experienced but Egan has been a shining light in an otherwise poor campaign for Gillingham. In goal is the Stuart Nelson who has recently returned to the team after a long injury, he is an underrated goalkeeper in League One and could frustrate us if we ever create any chances.
Possible Line-Up: (4-4-2) Nelson; Hoyte, Legge, Egan, Hare; Dack, Hessenthaler, Loft; McGlashan; McDonald, Marquis.
The contrast between the Walsall and Swindon games was so dramatic that it makes predicting this game even harder. Will we build on our good away form or late, or will our team still be reeling from that terrible display against Swindon? We cannot afford to let this game get away from us because a few egos in the team have been wounded. We will be in a relegation battle if we let one bad result become several, given the terrible atmosphere around the club at this moment in time, I’m not sure that there would be any source of encouragement for this team to battle against the drop.
Like so many of our games over the past three months, this is really crucial for the team and for Steven Pressley. I am going to play it safe here and predict a 0-0 draw.