Having weathered a run against the division’s toughest sides, Saturday is the beginning of a period where can look to string wins together, move up the table, and find out what this team is capable of achieving. A return of seven points from games against Barnsley, Sunderland, Portsmouth and Charlton gives us something to build on, the challenge now is to replicate the levels of intensity we’ve seen in those performances over a longer period of fixtures.
The past week or so has highlighted some key selection issues for Mark Robins heading into this game, with the starting XI previously having looked relatively settled. The centre-back pairing could easily be one of three different combinations, Junior Brown’s fate at left-back could rest on Brandon Mason’s fitness, while goals from Amadou Bakayoko and Jordy Hiwula have put pressure on Jonson Clarke-Harris and Conor Chaplin for a starting place.
The line-up of the defence could well be dictated by how Mark Robins looks to respond to Wycombe Wanderers’ physical threat. It probably makes Tom Davies the likeliest to start at centre-back, while Jordan Willis’ display against Adebayo Akinfenwa at the Ricoh Arena last season could nudge him ahead of Dominic Hyam for the other starting centre-back role. If Robins really is worried about Wycombe’s physicality, Junior Brown could well be favoured over Brandon Mason due to his superior aerial ability.
The absence of Jordan Shipley, due to international duty, muddies the picture in the midfield for this game. Without a natural wide-left player available, as well as Jodi Jones’ shortage of fitness at the moment, we could well see Jordy Hiwula deployed on the wing in a nominally attacking move. An alternative plan could be to start Tony Andreu in the number 10 role and have Conor Chaplin and Luke Thomas making runs in behind from out wide.
The battle between Jonson Clarke-Harris and Amadou Bakayoko for the remaining starting position is a tough one to call. On the one hand, it seems wrong not to start a player in Bakayoko who scored two goals in his last (league) game, on the other, Clarke-Harris has been much more consistent throughout this season. It’s a toss-up.
Last Time We Met
We know what it’s like to support Coventry City. Generally, the team is an ambling bunch of near-strangers almost afraid of pulling out results in unfavourable conditions. Our last game against Wycombe came during the height of the ‘Beast From The East’ bout of blizzardy weather in late February/early March of this year.
In a dull contest that was decided by a late penalty, it would have been archetypical of the Sky Blues to have been on the wrong end of that 1-0 result. Instead, Marc McNulty gave us an invaluable victory that kick-started our path to the League Two play-offs.
How Are They Doing?
Wycombe Wanderers have had the hardest time adapting to League One football out of the four promoted sides from League Two last year, currently sitting 17th. With manager Gareth Ainsworth having remained loyal to the ageing core of last season’s promotion-winning side, it looked early on as if the Chairboys simply weren’t dynamic enough to compete at a higher-level. However, an improvement, especially at the back, in recent weeks has seen them move away from the bottom four.
With Wycombe’s entire modus operandi centred on getting balls into the opposition area at all times, wrecking ball striker Adebayo Akinfenwa remains a key figure for the club. Although he stands under six foot, Akinfenwa is an incredibly effective target-man due to his sheer physical power that can see him bulldoze through unsuspecting defences.
Ainsworth has attempted to inject Wycombe with a bit more dynamism, knowing that an ageing Akinfenwa struggles to last 90 minutes nowadays. Winger Randell Williams, on loan from Watford, not only looks a bit like Jodi Jones but has a similar playing style and has added a different dimension to Wycombe’s attack, while they can introduce the exciting Millwall youngster Fred Onyedinma from the bench for further pace and skill. Additionally, forward Scott Kashket and former Sky Blues loanee Bryn Morris in midfield provide Gareth Ainsworth’s side with different ways of scoring goals.
Wycombe’s main weakness is at the back, where they not only lack pace, but a level of organisation as well. With attacking full-backs in set-piece expert Joe Jacobson and long-throw specialist Michael Harriman, Wycombe are prone to being hit with counter-attacks or via simple balls over the top of their defence. In goal, they have another former Coventry City loanee in Ryan Allsop, who is a decent, if unspectacular, goalkeeper in the bottom two Football League divisions.
If we have any ambitions of kicking on from our lower mid-table berth at the moment, this is the kind of home game that we should be looking to win fairly routinely. This is going to be an entirely different challenge to the ones we’ve faced against Charlton, Sunderland and Barnsley, with Wycombe likely to be seeking to frustrate us, while at the same time pumping set-pieces and crosses into our penalty area at every opportunity. This is a game we’ll have to work hard to earn the right to take control of.
I’m treading a line between this being a game I think we should win and I think we will win. I’m going to err on the side of confidence and put us down for a definite 2-1 win.