It’s not been the best week to be a Coventry City fan. Our third straight defeat, a needlessly premature sale of the best player on our books, Darius Henderson signing and having to spend a Sunday afternoon in Burslem.
We’re looking like a soft touch at the moment, teams know they can block off the middle of the pitch for us and let us flail around for 90 minutes as we hand out chance after chance to surrender all three points. Going forwards we look like we’ve ran out of ideas and the defence isn’t helping by coughing up cheap goals to the opposition. It’s either going to be that for the rest of the season or we’re going to see a reaction in this and the next few games to hopefully kick our season back into gear.
You would imagine that the arrival of the two new defenders Baily Cargill and Jack Stephens is going to provide the manager with a veritable improvement in defensive options. If you cast your minds back to last week though, Peter Ramage and Sam Ricketts‘ keystone cops performance at the back can’t have helped matters but it was poor defending from set-pieces that cost us the two goals. While an element of set-piece defending is about winning individual battles it’s mostly about the organisation and communication of the whole team, we’ve conceded from set-pieces this season even with Reda Johnson or Ben Turner in the side. Simply inserting two seemingly better players might not prove to be the silver bullet that’s desperately needed.
It’s inevitable that we’re going to enter another game with a new-look defence and a rotated attacking line-up. As welcome as the return of Fleck to the side is, Romain Vincelot‘s suspension further disrupts the continuity of the side for this trip to Port Vale. Given the options, I would put the newbie Jack Stephens down as likeliest to step into Vincelot’s spot, despite an impressive debut from Andy Rose, as I would imagine that Stephens’ defensive awareness will he required to allow Fleck to influence proceedings.
That would leave Mowbray with a choice between Peter Ramage, Sam Ricketts and Baily Cargill for the two spots in central defence. With Ricketts the captain of the side and the marginally less egregious performer against Scunthorpe, Cargill has a great chance to nail down a starting spot for the rest of his loan spell after Ramage’s display last week.
Up front, it’s once again anyone’s guess who is going to line up and where. Surely Jim O’Brien should be starting in this game, but that’s basically been my opinion for most of the season and it hasn’t been happening for some reason. Jacob Murphy has had a quiet last few games and I wouldn’t be surprised if that influences the decision to keep Stephen ‘the man who can pick passes some of our younger players don’t even think about’ Hunt in the side. Joe Cole should be fit again for selection, whether Mowbray takes the opportunity to return to something close to the team who destroyed Crewe last month, who really knows?
Last Time We Met
Way back on Boxing Day we faced Port Vale at the Ricoh Arena needing a win to make up for a run of poor results. Vale did a pretty good job of disrupting our rhythm with a physical and energetic performance where they pressed us high up the pitch but without actually troubling Reice Charles-Cook in goal that much. It took the introduction in the second-half of Jim O’Brien and James Maddison to really get us going in an attacking sense that afternoon.
It was those two who linked up for the game’s only goal, although it was really all about what Maddison did. After receiving a square pass from O’Brien about 30 yards from goal, Maddison went one way, then the other, back the first way, taking three defenders out of contention before curling an effort perfectly into the bottom far corner.
How Are They Doing?
Port Vale are a strange club at the moment, the chairman is looking to sell, the budget has been cut, quite a lot of fans deplore the manager, yet they are in contention for the play-offs and have lost just once at home all season. All things considered, it’s hard to know what really it is that Port Vale fans want to see from their team.
Vale boss Rob Page has come in for criticism mostly because he is seen as taking a negative and overly cautious approach. Generally the plan is to block the centre of the pitch and hit teams on the counter, which worryingly for us sounds like they’re perfectly set up to beat us. Every time Port Vale have been close to the top six under Page though, they have a tendency to choke.
Top scorer Ajay Leitch-Smith is a great example of where Port Vale are at the moment. Signed on a free in the summer after failing to really do it at local rivals Crewe and then again at Yeovil, despite being small and slightly wasteful in front of goal, Leitch-Smith has managed a respectable 10 goals this season as mainly a lone striker.
Jak Alnwick in goal has proved to be another inspired cheap addition to the squad at Port Vale this season. Having made his name at Newcastle last season by playing an important role on his debut in ending Chelsea’s unbeaten run, it was surprising that he was let go. Alnwick arrived in the summer initially as injury cover for number one Chris Neal but has proven to be a class above this season with some excellent shot-stopping performances.
I would keep an eye out for Cardiff loanee Matthew Kennedy playing out wide. A tricky and direct winger with excellent delivery, he could really punish us on the counter. Elsewhere, Carl Dickinson and Anthony Grant are going to be nasty competitors at left-back and central midfield respectively, both like to leave the boot in and are the type of ‘win at all cost’ players we seem to be lacking in our ranks at the moment.
It’s hard to feel optimistic heading into this game, Port Vale are in good form at the moment and are another one of those teams at this level who’ll relish the opportunity to frustrate us, kick our best players and bully their way to the win (not that there’s anything wrong with taking that approach). We’ve either got to match the intensity and physicality that Vale are going to question us with, rise above it by dominating the ball and forcing Vale to chase shadows or wilt under the pressure and extend the losing run.
A win right now would be most welcome no matter what kind of performance we need to produce to get it. A draw now would only prolong the sense of malaise around the club and put extra pressure on the side to win the game after that. Another defeat seems a strong possibility here if we continue to play as we have been.
I’m going to predict a 1-1 draw in the hope that somehow that will spark an eventual revival.