A win and an excellent performance at Blackpool in the week has raised the excitement level about this Coventry City side at this early stage of the season. While there are improvements that still need to be made at both ends of the pitch, this is a Sky Blues outfit that is really starting to look at home in the Championship, having fought bitterly for survival last season.
Another three points in this upcoming game against Reading would transform what has been a decent start to the season into a good one. It would put the Sky Blues at a points tally after four games that it took them 13 games to get past last year. Even if this Coventry City side might not be able to sustain that kind of form, it would provide a degree of comfort to grow into the campaign, allowing the team the freedom to work on improving its finishing and defensive shape.
Having moved to one up top against Blackpool and produced the team’s best performance of the season, it would be a bold call from Mark Robins to change things up tactically for this game.
Specifically, Viktor Gyokeres seemed to revel in the role as the team’s sole front-man, bringing his team-mates into play as well as getting into dangerous positions himself. Additionally, Gustavo Hamer, Callum O’Hare and Fankaty Dabo also seemed to benefit from having an extra option in midfield to create room for them to excel. Whether Jamie Allen is the long-term option in that second attacking midfield role remains to be seen, but his tactical role seemed to provide the team with a nice balance on Tuesday night.
If there is to be a change in this game it would likely be Michael Rose returning to the back three, in place of Jake Clarke-Salter, after a shaky performance from the Chelsea loanee on his full debut on Tuesday. However, Mark Robins may feel that the team is better off sticking with a settled back-line for a few games in the hope that it solves the recent defensive issues, rather than chopping and changing in the quest for a perfection that may not exist.
Last Time We Met
The last meeting between Coventry City and Reading provided a reminder of the gulf in quality that existed between Coventry City and the upper end of the Championship last season. Despite the recent additions of Viktor Gyokeres and Matty James, the Sky Blues struggled to impose themselves at the Madejski Stadium and went down to a Reading side that were just three points off an automatic promotion place in rather meek fashion.
The first goal epitomised the disparity between the two sides, with Reading’s Lucas Joao swatting aside Dominic Hyam like a fly to fire the Royals ahead. The game was effectively over just after half-time when Andy Rinomhota finished off a swift move to make it 2-0. To underline just how far off the quality of Reading the Sky Blues were, Kyle McFadzean not only got himself sent off for a second yellow after misreading the level of skill of his opponent but John Swift sumptuously curled in the resulting free-kick to make it 3-0.
The Manager – Veljko Paunovic
In difficult circumstances last season, Veljko Paunovic did an excellent job at Reading, as they narrowly missed out on the play-offs. Arriving at the club just two weeks before the start of the season and with limited scope to bring in new players, Paunovic provided a talented set of players of Reading with the belief in their abilities thanks to a very positive attitude, as well as a level of defensive organisation that allowed the Royals to soak up pressure before devastating teams on the counter-attack.
Those difficult circumstances have increased this season, with Reading continuing to be limited in the transfer market due to Financial Fair Play constraints and having lost two star players over the summer in left-back Omar Richards – now of Bayern Munich – and attacking midfielder Michael Olise – now of Crystal Palace. To make matters worse, key players in Lucas Joao and Ovie Ejaria look to be out for quite a while through injury, making the squad look very threadbare. After one win from their opening three games, another defeat would make it look like a poor start and fuel fears of a difficult season ahead.
Who To Look Out For?
It has been a curious start to the season for Reading where they have been able to score goals despite being short on forwards but have been poor at the back despite being relatively well stocked for defenders. Ideally, Veljko Paunovic would want to build this current Reading side around the power and leadership of central defensive duo Liam Moore and Michael Morrison, but it is creative midfielder, John Swift, and academy forward, Femi Azeez, that looked to be the key hub of this Royals outfit.
Azeez has had an opportunity to impress this season due to the club’s issues in the transfer market. Nominally a winger, Azeez has operated as part of a strike partnership, where his pace and desire to get shots away has seen him score twice in three appearances thus far this season. Just behind Azeez, John Swift is a proven class act at Championship level who can supply both creativity and goals from central midfield, able to get into dangerous areas due to the energetic, physical defensive midfield duo of Andy Rinomhota and Josh Laurent.
While Azeez’s early season form has been encouraging, there remains a question mark as to who steps up for this Reading side in the absence of Lucas Joao. The most obvious candidate is Romanian striker George Puscas, who is an excellent player at Championship level on his day but is a little inconsistent and can struggle to combine the duties of leading the line with getting into dangerous areas. The recent addition of former Blackburn Rovers and Cardiff City winger, Junior Hoilett, adds a much-needed additional attacking option, and could perhaps lessen the workload for Puscas outside the penalty area.
Where The Game Will Be Won Or Lost
This is an interesting match-up between two sides with Achilles’ Heels in defence and the capability to produce some exciting football at the other end of the pitch. While the Sky Blues have looked prone on the counter-attack this season, Reading have struggled to defend from set-pieces and crosses in the box – despite Liam Moore and Michael Morrison nominally being defenders who should cope quite well in those situations.
Theoretically, Reading have the greater capability to exploit Coventry City’s weakness than vice versa. The Royals have a quick attack that can get in behind due to the passing ability of John Swift in midfield. However, there were some promising set-pieces against Blackpool – especially from the delivery of Gustavo Hamer – to suggest that the Sky Blues can pinpoint Reading’s weak-spot.
In open play, this is likely to be a game where Coventry City will be allowed to have a fair amount of the ball, with Reading likely to set-up to hit the Sky Blues on the counter. It won’t just be about what moments of quality that the likes of Gustavo Hamer, Ben Sheaf and Callum O’Hare can find, but also about how the midfield sets itself up to avoid leaving opportunities for Reading to counter-attack. Hamer and Sheaf, in particular, are going to have to play with a level of discipline with and without the ball to avoid leaving the defence as exposed as they were in midweek.