The most important game of the season thus far is upon us.
Win, and survival will be almost within touching distance. Lose, and we drop into the relegation zone at, near enough, the worst time of the season. Draw, and risk being dragged into that bottom three over the next fortnight.
This looks set to be a battle between momentum and fitness. Rotherham United, after a potentially season-changing come-from-behind win over Queens Park Rangers on Tuesday night look to be on a high. However, we have had three extra day’s rest from our last game, which should, theoretically, be a key advantage.
For the Sky Blues, the key for this game will be in trying to take the sting out of any spirit Rotherham have conjured from their midweek win, before making our fitness advantage count as the game wears on. However, it seems unlikely that it will impact Mark Robins’ potential starting line-up for this game given that we seem to have settled on a formula over the past couple of games that looks like the best use of our squad.
The main area of concern is in defence, where Josh Pask was stretchered off against Bournemouth after a nasty facial injury, Kyle McFadzean looked to have hurt himself making a silly challenge in our previous game, and Dominic Hyam is only just returning from a spell out with an illness. Fortunately, Leo Ostigard’s tenth booking of the season came after the time of the campaign when it would have resulted in a two-game ban, and both Hyam and McFadzean look set to be available for this game too. While it looks like we won’t have to cobble together a defence of makeshifts and under-23s, at least two of our back three may not be at 100% fitness.
Pask’s absence not only means that Dominic Hyam is assured of a return to the side but also that Josh Eccles will continue at right wing-back. Against a physically intense Rotherham side with pace in wide areas, Eccles is likely to be targeted, meaning he will need more help from the players around him than he got against Bournemouth.
Elsewhere, there isn’t really a need to change things up. However, there may be a chance that Maxime Biamou replaces Matt Godden in attack given how well the former played in the meeting between these two sides back in December.
Last Time We Met
On that subject, we produced probably our best performance of the season when we last took on Rotherham United. Perhaps with last season’s second-best showings against the Millers in mind, Mark Robins opted to make the team more direct in order to avoid Rotherham getting on top of us with their physically intense pressing game.
It worked an absolute treat as it isolated a ragged Rotherham United back three against the physicality and pace of Maxime Biamou and Tyler Walker. From two simple punts forward, Rotherham’s defence crumbled against the combination of Biamou and Walker, with the former scoring a composed finish for the first goal and the latter tapping in a rebounded Callum O’Hare effort for the second.
Rotherham didn’t seem to have much of an idea of how to get back into the game from that point, seeming to almost go through the motions in the second-half. A third goal was scored after Leo Ostigard’s goalbound header was diverted into the back of the net off a Rotherham defender. Rotherham then won the softest of penalties late on, after Ben Wilson made the brushed an eager Kyle Vassell with his boost, but it was too little and too late to reverse an emphatic victory for the Sky Blues.
The Manager – Paul Warne
An excellent man-motivator and keen on fitness levels, Paul Warne has built a physically intense Rotherham United side that have caused a lot of teams in this division problems this season, but have lacked the cutting edge to consistently get the points their overall performance levels have deserved.
Having typically been better at home than away under Warne, Rotherham have been the reverse this season. Prior to Tuesday night’s win over QPR, they had lost their last five home games. However, stopping that run feels a significant moment in their season.
Given Paul Warne’s emphasis on physical intensity, it will be interesting to see just how much Rotherham can apply themselves in this game with just a one-day break since their previous game and with other important games ahead. This isn’t a big squad with loads of options to rotate, but if they can get close to their top-levels, they are fully capable of putting us to the sword.
Who To Look Out For
With Rotherham’s fixture congestion in mind, the key danger-men for this game are likely to be among those that didn’t start Tuesday night’s game. Most notably, three of Rotherham’s most important players – Michael Smith, Jamie Lindsay and Chiedozie Ogbene – were on the bench against QPR, along with Lewis Wing, who made a big impact after coming on in the second-half.
We should know full well how dangerous a presence in attack Michael Smith can be. The giant, burly target-man has an excellent record against the Sky Blues – scoring five times in eight appearances against us. Lindsay’s energy in midfield is going to be a key way in which Rotherham can freshen things up after a big effort on Tuesday night, while Wing will provide a creative touch in the final third and Ogbene pace out wide.
With those four likely starters in mind, it seems likely that Rotherham will switch to something like a 4-2-3-1 system, looking to utilise the pace of Chiedozie Ogbene out wide in conjunction with Michael Smith’s physicality in attack. That should mean that Ryan Giles won’t start this game against us, with the pacey left wing-back likely to have wanted to prove a point against Mark Robins after he was oddly frozen out of our team earlier in the season.
Where The Game Will Be Won Or Lost
The biggest area of intrigue around this game will be just how much Rotherham United are affected by the short turnaround between this game and their last one. It shouldn’t matter too much in the early stages of this game, but is likely to be a factor in just how much of an effort Rotherham can put in as the game wears on – particularly given how much their game depends on physical intensity.
The key areas of the game looks set to be the battle between Kyle McFadzean and Michael Smith, along with how we defend in wide areas against Rotherham’s pace. While McFadzean should match up well with Smith, our consistent weakness out wide is an area of concern.
Additionally, our attacking players are going to have a key role to play for us in helping us get up the pitch as we look to avoid allowing Rotherham to get on top of us with their pressing game. Going direct worked for us in the previous meeting back at St Andrew’s, but it relied upon Maxime Biamou and Tyler Walker consistently winning physical battles which may not be guaranteed in this game – especially if Matt Godden starts ahead of Biamou, reducing the inherent physicality of our attack.