Preview: Blackpool

An encouraging performance in defeat away at Barnsley at the weekend indicates that this Coventry City team is on the right path towards establishing itself as a Championship side this season. However, the fickle nature of football is such that Saturday’s performance will be forgotten if it is followed up by a poor result in this upcoming game against newly-promoted Blackpool.

Against a side seeking its first win at a higher level, and in front of its own fans, the Sky Blues have to be wary in this game that they will be viewed as beatable opposition. The players are going to have to be ready for a spirited, committed performance from Blackpool as they look to prove a point to themselves and their fans, while demonstrating more of a ruthless streak in the final third than was seen at Barnsley last time out.

Expected Line-Up

Possible Line-Up (3-4-2-1): Moore; Hyam, McFadzean, Clarke-Salter; Dabo, Hamer, Sheaf, Maatsen; Allen, O'Hare; Gyokeres.
Possible Line-Up

With concerns about the fluency and threat of this Coventry City side in the final third at this early stage of the season, Mark Robins would, ideally, look to change things up in terms of personnel and/or tactics to find the winning formula. However, with Tyler Walker limping off early in the Barnsley game and with Matt Godden at an early stage of building fitness, the manager’s options are currently limited.

Mark Robins has confirmed that Walker looks set to be out for the next few weeks, which could leave the team without a senior striker on the bench for this game if the manager persists with a strike partnership of Viktor Gyokeres and Martyn Waghorn. This could lead to Mark Robins opting for a 3-4-2-1 shape for this game, with either Jordan Shipley or Jamie Allen playing alongside Callum O’Hare just behind a lone striker of, most likely, Viktor Gyokeres. After winning a penalty at the weekend, Allen may well be the man in favour.

At the back, Jake Clarke-Salter could be set to make his first start for the club in this game. That is likely to be ahead of Michael Rose, who doesn’t seem to be quite up to full fitness and may not be in a condition to start a third game in the space of six days.

Last Time We Met

The Sky Blues were still finding their feet at St Andrew’s, early into the League One title winning campaign of 2019/20, when a boisterous Blackpool side visited. Those who had been unable to get to their seats on time would have missed Blackpool taking the lead through Sullay Kaikai, which was the first league goal the Sky Blues had conceded at ‘home’ at St Andrew’s. The same man made it two later in the first-half, with Coventry City debutant, Liam Walsh, muscled off the ball and Kaikai completing his brace with a sumptuous finish, albeit of questionable intent.

Having not come back from conceding first in a home game under Mark Robins since his return to the club, that looked to be that. However, a lifeline was handed to the Sky Blues, when Matt Godden pounced on a poor clearance in the Blackpool penalty area to claw a goal back. Wesley Jobello then scored his first, and only, Coventry City goal just before half-time to erase Blackpool’s comfortable lead in the blink of an eye.

Mark Robins’ side then set about winning the game in the second-half, dominating possession against a Blackpool side that had retreated into its shell, however, a breakthrough didn’t appear to be forthcoming. That was until Callum O’Hare, in one of his first appearances for the club, broke into Blackpool’s penalty area in second-half stoppage time and produced a composed finish to win the game.

The Opposition

The Manager – Neil Critchley

Backed by the club’s new, and popular, owner, Simon Sadler, former Liverpool under-23 manager, Neil Critchley, has had the opportunity to build Blackpool from the ground up since taking over just before the 2019/20 season was curtailed. After starting last season slowly, Blackpool improved markedly under Neil Critchley’s management over the course of the campaign and deservedly won promotion from League One via the play-offs.

For someone with a grounding in youth football, Critchley is a surprisingly pragmatic manager who has built this Blackpool side on a solid defence. Critchley will adjust his set-up based on the strengths and weaknesses on the opponent, tending to focus first on containing threats and then on ways in which his team can pin-point weaknesses. It is that tendency that can make Blackpool are hard to team predict how they will set up for individual games.

Who To Look Out For?

Possible Line-Up (4-4-2): Maxwell; Connolly, Keogh, Husband, Garbutt; Bowler, Dougall, James, Anderson; Yates, Lavery.
Possible Line-Up

While Neil Critchley can be very flexible with his tactics and line-up choices, the two key cornerstones of this Blackpool side are the presences of Chris Maxwell in goal and Jerry Yates in attack. Maxwell is a calm and experienced presence in goal, who is also adept at playing out from the back when Blackpool need to. Yates has been a goal machine in Leagues One and Two in recent years, and is the kind of striker who can produce decisive moments if given time and space in the penalty area, whether he is Championship standard, remains to be seen.

The versatile James Husband – who can operate either at left-back or in central defence – is another key component of Neil Critchley’s defensive set-up for Blackpool, along with defensive-minded midfielders, Callum Connolly and Kenneth Dougall. However, it is less about personnel and more about the overall shape of Blackpool’s defending that can be highly frustrating for opposing teams.

With pace on the counter-attack, via CJ Hamilton, Keshi Anderson and Josh Bowler, Blackpool are the kind of team that can afford to be patient in games, knowing they have the ability to turn defence into attack at speed. Furthermore, the additions of Shayne Lavery and Tyreece John-Jules to Blackpool’s strike options this summer mean that not all eggs are in the basket of Jerry Yates for the team’s goalscoring this season.

Where The Game Will Be Won Or Lost

Blackpool are experiencing similar kinds of growing pains in adapting to Championship level as the Sky Blues did this time last season. In their two games thus far, they have been second-best away at Bristol City and at home to a good Cardiff City side. Nonetheless, this is a side that is off the back of a recent promotion and still has a belief in what it is doing. If Blackpool get the slightest indication that they can win this game, they are going to look to seize it.

Blackpool’s preferred style of play is likely to mean that Coventry City are going to see a lot of the ball in this game, especially if Blackpool take the lead. The question is whether this Sky Blues side possesses the craft and guile in the final third to make it count. It is going to be another game where the opposition will look to keep Callum O’Hare closely shackled, and he’ll have to show a little more composure than he did against Barnsley to stand up to that treatment.

With Blackpool a pacey side on the counter-attack, it is going to be a case of risk versus reward in how far Mark Robins gets the back three to step up the pitch. The extra pace that Jake Clarke-Salter provides, if he starts, could provide the impetus for the defence to play further up in an attempt to squeeze Blackpool in their own half. However, there is still the likelihood that Blackpool will look to isolate the slower Dominic Hyam and Kyle McFadzean in one-on-one situations.

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