Four points from two games against direct relegation rivals has put us in a position to pull away from danger if we can get a positive result from this upcoming game against Nottingham Forest. Belief looks to have been bolstered by putting points on the board, with signs that there is quite a decent team-unit being forged in this new 4-3-3 shape.
However, anyone following this team this season will know how brittle confidence is and it’s essential that we milk this feeling for as long as possible – especially with some tricky fixtures up ahead after this game. This feels like a crucial juncture of the season where we’ll either pull away from danger or continue to scrap for the points needed to survive.
As much as the team is looking like it’s starting to settle into the 4-3-3 – with the midfield and front three beginning to develop the combinations that could make us a more fluent attacking unit – fitness concerns could well force Mark Robins make one or two changes for this game.
The chief concern at the moment surrounds the fitness of Maxime Biamou, who has played most of the last two games through injury. Tyler Walker’s return to training over the past week helps take the burden off the Frenchman but it seems way too early for Walker to challenge for a starting place in the side. With Amadou Bakayoko out of favour and Viktor Gyokeres preferred for a wide role, Biamou may well be asked to play on and risk being out for the longer-term.
Despite an end to his suspension, Kyle McFadzean missed Saturday’s game through illness and may not be available for this game. While the new-look back four hasn’t been breached in open play in the two games where McFadzean has been unavailable, there is still clear signs of shakiness there, particularly with Josh Pask operating out of position at right-back. If McFadzean can play, there may well be a temptation to revert to a back three – especially with Michael Rose making the bench at the weekend.
Last Time We Met
After falling behind fairly ignominiously to a poorly-defended set-piece in the first-half, the Sky Blues produced one of their best performances of the season – perhaps only surpassed by the Millwall and Rotherham United wins – to dominate Nottingham Forest at the City Ground, level the scores and push for a late winner.
Just when it looked like the team would have to settle for a draw, Maxime Biamou played a loose pass in midfield that was seized upon by Joe Lolley, who played through Lyle Taylor. Kyle McFadzean, being Kyle McFadzean, elected to bundle the Nottingham Forest striker to the floor just as he looked to be pulling too wide to get a shot on goal. Lyle Taylor, being Lyle Taylor, confidently dispatched the penalty in what was a sickening blow for the Sky Blues.
The Manager – Chris Hughton
The former Brighton and Newcastle manager has not quite made the impact expected of him at the City Ground but there are signs that he is starting to slowly turn things around. With a monstrously bloated squad – which has been added to during the January transfer window – Hughton has taken time to impose a structure and preferred starting XI, but they have posted the 10th best form in the division over the past 10 games.
The football under Hughton hasn’t been enthralling but, like ourselves over the past couple of months, keeping things tight has seen the team pick up points and remain just above the relegation zone. Forest are still in a pretty precarious position in the league and can ill-afford to lose this game with Rotherham just three points behind them with two games in hand. This is a game they need to win.
Who To Look Out For
Like Sabri Lamouchi last season – who had the team in the play-offs for much of the campaign – Hughton has built this Forest side around a solid defensive unit, looking to use the pace in wide areas to feed one of their experienced centre-forwards.
Starting in goal, Brice Samba is an excellent shot-stopper who can help Nottingham Forest soak up pressure if they need to. In Joe Worrall, Scott McKenna (who is injured for this game), and Tobias Figueiredo, Forest have three very capable centre-backs at Championship level, with Hughton rotating between each of them as his preferred partnership.
With former Sky Blues star, Cyrus Christie, and Yuri Ribeiro capable of getting forward from the full-back positions, the solidity provided by the central midfield pairing of Ryan Yates and the physically dominant, Samba Sow, further protects the back-line. With Yates injured, Forest have opted for another physical destroyer in Cafu – not the former Brazil international – which has left them lacking in creativity in the middle of the pitch, with the loan signing of Manchester United youngster, James Garner, looking to address that.
Out wide, Nottingham Forest have three proven top-standard Championship performers in Joe Lolley, Sammy Ameobi and Anthony Knockaert to call upon and rotate between. Even if they haven’t been at their best this season, they are still capable of winning games on the counter-attack if given the opportunity. The addition of former West Brom creative midfielder, Filip Krovinovic is another piece of January business Forest are hoping will help provide creativity in possession to support that pace and skill in wide areas.
Leading the attack, Lewis Grabban’s struggles with injury and form this season have been a blow for Forest, with Lyle Taylor – while a more well-rounded striker – not finding form either. That has led to the signing of veteran, Glenn Murray, after an underwhelming stint at Watford earlier this season.
Where The Game Will Be Won Or Lost
The chief area of concern from a Sky Blues perspective heading into this game is the threat that Nottingham Forest pose in wide areas. Although Joe Lolley, Sammy Ameobi and Anthony Knockaert aren’t playing at the levels they’ve been at in previous years, we look very exposed out wide last time out against Birmingham City and Forest not only have players capable of exploiting that but they can further press home that advantage late-on by adding a fresh winger from the bench.
Whether the importance of this game to Nottingham Forest in particular will alter their main approach of looking to be solid at the back remains to be seen. If they continue to rely upon their defensive solidity, it will be up to us to take the game to them and look to open them up. It not only risks leaving space on the counter for Forest’s wingers to exploit but we haven’t had much experience this season of breaking defences down through sustained pressure and it’s arguable whether we have the quality to do so.