Saturday’s win over Rochdale has put us in a position of strength heading into two big fixtures this week that could well define our season. While it is still slightly early to define a game as must-win, victory in at least one of these matches against Rotherham and Sunderland keeps automatic promotion in our hands.
Starting with this mid-week game against the team that handed us our most convincing defeat of the season, a victory here would make us favourites for the title. While there are likely to be twists and turns to come, a potential three point buffer over second-place with the advantage of a game in hand would put us in a very strong position to achieve something no Coventry City side has done in over half a century.
Recent team selections seem to have provided a stronger indication of what Mark Robins believes is his best side than has previously been apparent. The key quandary in recent weeks had been the identity of our most effective front three, but the regular selections of Callum O’Hare and Jamie Allen – even through fatigue and minor injury – imply that those two are currently favoured over Jordan Shipley and Zain Westbrooke. Leading the attack, Mark Robins made it quite clear that Matt Godden is his preferred option.
With that area of the side looking to have been settled for the time being, I doubt Robins will deviate from it ahead of what is the biggest game of the season so far. While there may potentially be some concern over maintaining levels of freshness ahead of the Sunderland game, the extra day of rest afforded by Sky TV’s rescheduling of the game for Sunday lessens that as an issue.
Given that Mark Robins rarely makes changes for tactical reasons based on the opposition, I wouldn’t expect any changes unless someone picks up an injury ahead of this game.
Last Time We Met
Heightening the tension heading into this return fixture, Rotherham comprehensively took us apart when the teams met back in October.
Whether the pre-game news that Wesley Jobello had picked up a season-ending injury had made any impact on the team could have had a small effect on the performance, however, it looked to be a case of an opposition being uniquely suited to repeatedly pinpointing our Achilles’ Heel – playing out from the back. Rotherham’s combination of intense pressing and the raw physicality and pace in the squad gave us barely a moment’s pause in possession.
I could go through each of the four goals we conceded that day, but they all, more-or-less, came from mistakes as a result of playing out from the back under pressure.
Manager – Paul Warne
For someone who gave a strong impression early on in his managerial career that he had no interest in being a manager, Paul Warne has rarely made a wrong step. Placing a huge emphasis on motivation and fitness, he has produced a consistently energetic Rotherham side who can truly pummel teams when they get on top.
While his spell in charge has involved a relegation last year from the Championship, that was more a reflection of the financial disparity between the second and third-tiers than any failings in his managerial approach. It is not an easy job lifting a team after relegation, but Warne’s approach in the dug-out has meant that performance and concentration levels haven’t been allowed to slip. A highly-intense side, Rotherham will be heading into this game looking for the win.
Who To Look Out For?
uch is the team-spirit at Rotherham, there aren’t any individuals upon which the team is specifically built around. Like ourselves, players can come in and out of the side seamlessly while making an impact but with possibly a little more strength in depth and attacking firepower than we currently possess.
That said, the most important individual in the side is the bustling target-man Michael Smith. Rotherham can either pair Smith with the more mobile Kyle Vassell and Freddie Ladapo who will benefit from the space Smith creates by occupying defenders, or they can play two absolutely rapid wingers in Hakeeb Adelakun and Chiedozie Ogbene to really stretch teams.
Matt Crooks’ ability to make late runs into the penalty area makes him another beneficiary of Smith’s hold-up play, although Crooks is well-built enough himself to physically occupy opponents. Newcastle loanee Daniel Barlaser supplies a subtler touch in the centre of the park, pulling the strings from both open play and set-piece situations, while academy product Ben Wiles is another in this Rotherham side that can contribute with goals from midfield.
At the heart of the defence, Michael Ihiekwe can be a dominant presence and is another set-piece threat. At right-back, Matthew Olosunde’s pace is another way in which Rotherham can stretch teams. Behind them in goal, Leicester loanee Daniel Iversen is an excellent shot-stopper and has a powerful kick that can be a weapon in and of itself.
Where The Game Will Be Won Or Lost
This game is going to be an indication of just how far we’ve come over the course of the season. We could barely lay a glove on Rotherham back in October, unable to cope with the pace, power and intensity of their playing style. If we can, this time around, stand up to the threat Rotherham pose while being able to stick to our preferred style of football, that would be particularly impressive.
The key feature of this game looks set to be how we cope with playing out from the back with Rotherham looking to get in our faces. While we need to avoid making the kind of errors that Rotherham forced on us earlier in the season, there is a danger we could get caught in the trap of just hoofing the ball away and stopping doing the things that have gotten us in this excellent position.
Another key area of the game is likely to be Rotherham’s attacking set-plays, due to their combination of physicality and having an excellent set-piece taker in Daniel Barlaser. While we haven’t conceded too many from set-piece situations this season, our zonal marking system combined with Marko Marosi’s tendency to stay on his line has consistently made watching us defend them feel uncomfortable. It would be a shame if we produced a good performance here but got stung from a set-piece.