Top of the league for a tantalising few minutes on Friday night, it is getting close to the stage where Coventry City fans can dream about how special this season could be. The Championship is long, hard slog though, these midweek away games can have a habit of sapping away any positivity if even a quantum of complacency seeps in.
In Luton Town, the Sky Blues are taking on an energetic, hungry team that has proven a match for some of the best teams in the division over the past two seasons. Maintaining momentum through this sort of testing away game would further underline Coventry City’s mettle as a potential top six side this season.
On the face of it, there isn’t any real reason to change things up for this game, given the lack of new injuries and the continued absence of Fankaty Dabo. However, Mark Robins demonstrated in the recent trip to Millwall – which came as one leg of a three-game week – that he may rotate one or two players just to keep things fresh. It may be a risky option to take, but the manager might be minded to play his strongest hand for Saturday’s game against 4th-placed Fulham.
With key man, Gustavo Hamer, sitting precariously on four yellow cards, he would appear to be the obvious candidate to take out of the firing line. That might provide a chance for Liam Kelly to make his first start after returning from injury, but Ben Sheaf’s better ability on the ball may make him the best direct replacement for Hamer.
Elsewhere, Martyn Waghorn is the other prime candidate for a night off. The forward was chosen to be rested two games ago, suggesting that he may not quite be at the level of fitness to play three games in a week at full intensity. Mark Robins attempted to pair Viktor Gyokeres and Matt Godden for the Millwall game, which didn’t really work, which may provide an opportunity for Tyler Walker to stake a claim in attack.
Last Time We Met
Off the back of the news that Coventry City would be returning to Coventry and needed just a handful of wins to ensure that return would be in the Championship, Luton Town provided a reminder that there is no such thing as fate in football.
The opening period of the game had been relatively even, with Maxime Biamou spurning an excellent chance to put the Sky Blues ahead, before Luton spotted weakness in the Coventry City back-line – namely, Ben Wilson. The goalkeeper had already flapped at a couple of crosses before he let a tame effort from Luton’s James Bree slip past him. Wilson then made a complete hash of another cross just before half-time, with Kyle McFadzean electing to prevent Luton making it two with a clear hand-ball on the goal-line, leading to a penalty, which was scored, and a red card.
Down to ten men and lacking any kind of quality or verve on the ball, Coventry City were fortunate that Luton failed to add to their two-goal lead in the second-half.
The Manager – Nathan Jones
An effervescent, tigerish presence on the touch-line, Nathan Jones has established a Luton Town side that had looked certain for relegation to League One when he returned to the club over the first lockdown as one of the tougher sides to play in the Championship. After a solid mid-table campaign last time out and some intriguing summer additions, Jones had been tipped to lead Luton to better things this season but injury issues have hampered the team’s progress thus far.
Luton under Nathan Jones are a team that like to press with energy and are capable of controlling possession when at their very best. Likely to be keen to get their season going with a victory over a side in the top six, The Hatters’ intensity is what could make this a tricky game for the Sky Blues to settle into.
Who To Look Out For?
Luton Town are a side that arguably lack star players, but make up for it with their work-rate and organisation. The Hatters have a number of attacking players – such as target-man, Elijah Adebayo, the direct winger Harry Cornick, the goalscoring midfielder, Luke Berry, the box-to-box, Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu, and the experienced striker, Cameron Jerome – who can contribute goals, but they are perhaps missing that leading figure who can reliably convert good performances into wins.
Further back, the width that the team’s full-backs provide remains a key feature of Luton Town’s play. Former Barnsley youngster, James Bree, has gradually got his career back on track after an ill-fated spell with Aston Villa while with the Hatters and is a direct, intelligent presence on the right. On the left, former Nuneaton defender, Amari’i Bell, is a pacey full-back that can stretch the play, while the more physical, Kal Naismith, has played further forward before maturing into a versatile defender.
While the defence has been a bit of an issue for Luton this season, in Tom Lockyer, Sonny Bradley and Reece Burke, they have experienced centre-backs who can be tough nuts to crack on their day. Similarly, Simon Sluga in goal isn’t in the best of form but is fully capable of putting on a goalkeeping clinic when at his best.
Where The Game Will Be Won Or Lost
With Luton Town in need of a win, Nathan Jones looks set to hand out a curveball with his team selection that could make the Hatters difficult to predict in their approach. Nonetheless, it can be expected that they’ll look to press with intensity and force the issue, which is likely to make this a difficult game for the Sky Blues to settle into.
Possessing a physical target-man in attack, in Elijah Adebayo, and centring a lot of their play around forward bursts from their full/wing-backs, it is also likely that Luton are going to look to put a lot of crosses into the box. That makes the efforts of the Coventry City wing-backs important in closing down those situations, as well as just how well Kyle McFadzean and the other centre-backs can keep Adebayo, as well as Cameron Jerome, marshalled.
An area where Luton have really struggled this season has been in defensive midfield, where centre-back, Gabriel Osho, has been deployed to mixed effect. Whether Nathan Jones persists with Osho, which seems unlikely, or switches to a back three, the key area of opportunity for Coventry City in this game is likely to be via both Callum O’Hare and Jamie Allen attacking the space a natural defensive midfielder would be looking to protect.