It isn’t mathematically certain yet, but Wednesday night’s win over Stoke City has effectively put the guarantee on Championship football for Coventry City for another year. Now, thinking can turn to preparations for next season, with these final three games effectively the first part of our pre-season.
Against a Preston North End side in the same boat, it sets up what could be a fun, free-flowing contest between two teams with nothing at stake. Or, it could be one of those typical, dull, end of season games with each side going through the motions.
After a massive effort over the past week to win three in a row, Mark Robins is likely to rotate in order to hand those most in need of it a rest. Aside from handing fringe players an opportunity to stake a claim for next season, the shape of the team for this game could be instructive of where the manager wants to take this side next season.
Based on what we’ve seen this year, it will either be a formation involving a strike partnership in order to facilitate playing Matt Godden and Tyler Walker together or a return to the 3-4-2-1 that was so successful last season. For this game, it could mean opportunities for either Maxime Biamou and Viktor Gyokeres to show they could play a role next year in attack, or for Jordan Shipley and Jamie Allen to be handed what could be their final attempt to show what they’re capable of at Championship level.
Elsewhere, these remaining games could be set to provide players like Josh Reid, Michael Rose and Josh Eccles chances to break into next season’s starting XI. In addition, the likes of Gustavo Hamer and Callum O’Hare now have the opportunity to show what they’re capable of as creative forces away from the pressure of needing to dig out results.
In short, this looks set to be quite a hard line-up to predict.
Last Time We Met
Preston North End provided a ruthless lesson in Championship football when the Sky Blues travelled to Deepdale around the festive period. Coventry City played some bright stuff around Preston’s penalty area but lacked the ability to turn that into chances and goals. Instead, Preston pounced on a sloppy pass from Ben Sheaf to take the lead and spent the rest of the game holding the Sky Blues at arm’s length, before killing the game off with a second goal early in the second-half.
The Manager – Frankie McAvoy (Interim)
With several key players out of contract this summer, this looked set to be a transitional campaign for Preston North End and has proved to be so. A solid first half of the season under Alex Neil had the team in a comfortable mid-table position before a few key players were sold in January, leading to mid-season rebuild of the side and an alarming dip in results.
Relegation suddenly became a remote threat for North End, forcing the club to act in sacking Neil and handing his assistant, Frankie McAvoy, the reins until the end of the campaign. The Scot has lost just one of his five games in charge, steering the team to safety, and possibly even advancing a case to be appointed as permanent manager.
Who To Look Out For
Despite the loss of the influential Ben Pearson in January, midfield remains Preston North End’s key area of strength. Former Doncaster Rovers man, Ben Whiteman, looks set to be a key element of Preston’s rebuild, capable of both controlling games and stepping up with key goals from midfield. In addition, the energetic Alan Browne and tigerish Ryan Ledson form a high-calibre, hard-working trio that would get into most teams at this level.
Further forward, Daniel Johnson and Scott Sinclair are useful sources of goals for a team bereft of a leading scorer. Released by Fleetwood Town last December, Ched Evans has been a surprisingly effective addition to Preston’s attack, with his work-rate and aggression supplying an edge the team had lacked earlier in the campaign.
Tom Barkhuizen’s pace and work-rate in attack for Preston can be hard to contain when he’s at his best. He forms a series of useful attacking options, including Emil Riis Jakobsen, Sean Maguire and Brad Potts, who are capable of being effective at this level but have been a little inconsistent this season.
Where The Game Will Be Won Or Lost
While both teams have nothing to play for, the key difference between Coventry City and Preston North End is in the dug-out, where Mark Robins knows he’ll be in the job next season and Frankie McAvoy seems to want to be. As such, while Mark Robins will probably rotate the team quite heavily for this game, McAvoy looks set to name a reasonably strong Preston North End side.
The battle in midfield looks a key area of the game. The trio of Ryan Ledson, Ben Whiteman and Alan Browne are very energetic and combative, which could make it hard for the Sky Blues’ likely midfield partnership of Josh Eccles and Gustavo Hamer to get on the ball and create. Given Preston’s impressive away record this season, they are likely to relish Coventry City attempting to play a possession game, looking to pounce and counter on any errors made.
Another important battle will be between the Coventry City defence and Ched Evans’ energy and physicality in Preston’s attack. If he can be kept quiet, it limits Preston’s ability to get the ball into dangerous positions. If not, Evans will not only be a direct threat to the Coventry City goal but will open up space for players like Tom Barkhuizen and Scott Sinclair to get into threatening positions.