The international break has provided time to bask in what has been a remarkable start to the season for Coventry City. 3rd place after 11 games is far beyond what even the most optimistic Sky Blues fan had in mind heading into the campaign, the question now is whether this is a great start or the springboard to something even more memorable. This next month could have a huge bearing on the direction the rest of the campaign takes.
If Coventry City are to sustain their status as bona fide promotion contenders, improving the away form is paramount. With just one win and two goals from five away games thus far, this upcoming trip to Blackburn Rovers may well be about what can be done differently to positively affect results on the road. Against a team in the chase for the play-offs, this is far from optimal conditions to test things out.
On the plus side, Gustavo Hamer is back in contention for this game, on the down side, both Ian Maatsen and Matt Godden are suspended. It means that Mark Robins will have be forced to commit the cardinal sin of football management of changing a winning team after a stirring second-half showing against Fulham last time out.
Most notably, Mark Robins will have to choose from the least worst option at left wing-back. Although the right-footed Todd Kane was signed for such a situation, he struggled in the one brief appearance he made on the left, against Cardiff City, which may lead the manager into considering his options further. With youngster Josh Reid currently injured, there isn’t a fit left-back of any form to call upon, with Fankaty Dabo or Jodi Jones the next-best options, with the remote possibility of moving to a back-four with Jake Clarke-Salter at left-back. All things considered, it is either going to be Todd Kane or Fankaty Dabo filling the void.
The performances of both Liam Kelly and Ben Sheaf in central midfield last time out raise a quandary for Mark Robins as to who to drop in order to restore Gustavo Hamer into the side. The combative qualities the duo displayed against Fulham may be just what this team needs to alter its luck away from home, however, Hamer is a player of such talent that there isn’t really a question as to whether he should play, when available. Liam Kelly’s leadership and defensive assurance are likely to be preferred for this game, which would make Ben Sheaf the unlucky one to miss out.
In attack, there is a question as to whether Mark Robins should persist with two up front away from home. With Matt Godden suspended, Martyn Waghorn only just back in training after a spell out with Covid and Viktor Gyokeres returning from international duty, it provides the manager with further temptation to restore the system the team played in its only away win thus far. However, it was apparent against Fulham just how vital playing a front two can be in giving the team a threat when pressing and the manager may want to keep that up a while longer before considering a change to the team’s set-up on the road.
Last Time We Met
It was a topsy-turvy affair when the Sky Blues last took on Blackburn Rovers back in February. On the hunt for points in order to stay in the division, Coventry City started well but created little. A talented, but out-of-form, Blackburn side slowly turned the game around and took the lead through a forward who was then English and known as Ben Brereton. On top for the rest of the first-half, Blackburn were in a position to take the game completely out of Coventry City’s grasp but didn’t pull the trigger.
Blackburn’s momentum faded in the second-half, allowing the Sky Blues to build a head of steam and level through Matty James. On the verge of gaining control of the game, a second yellow card for Leo Ostigard meant that any hopes of a Coventry City victory had realistically gone. Blackburn should have taken advantage of this, but struggled to turn possession and territory into clear-cut chances as the game faded out into a 1-1 draw that was fair on both sides.
The Manager – Tony Mowbray
After what was a typical second half of the season collapse last year, Tony Mowbray looked to be hanging on by a thread as Blackburn Rovers manager, but has turned things around impressively at the start of this new campaign. As a manager who has built his reputation in recent years on developing the very best loan players, what has been so impressive about Blackburn’s start to this season has been that it’s been built on players contracted by the club.
Whether that was Tony Mowbray’s intention or due to the difficulties of the summer market, only he will know. Regardless, Blackburn Rovers have become an energetic, committed and, at times, irrepressible team unit that has got fans back on side, particularly due to the number of academy graduates in the starting line-up. Capable of playing some pleasing passing football, Blackburn have also been comfortable and efficient with smaller shares of possession this season, making them a dangerous side to pin down.
Who To Look Out For?
If involved, which is a big if considering he will only have returned to the country from international duty hours before the match, Ben Brereton Diaz is clearly Blackburn Rover’s biggest attacking threat. The, now Chilean, forward had always been a player of great potential after bursting on the scene with Nottingham Forest, however, he had struggled for confidence and consistency until being surprisingly called up for the Copa America over the summer and becoming a national sensation in Chile. The kind of forward that loves to breathe down the neck of opposing defenders, backing his pace to get through on goal, Brereton Diaz now has confidence in his finishing ability, which has seen him rise to the top of the Championship scoring charts.
Brereton Diaz has been complemented this season by the lanky Sam Gallagher, who had similarly looked like an flop at Ewood Park in recent years. The former Southampton youngster is another doubt for this game, which could lead Tony Mowbray into selecting a diminutive, but incredibly pacey and skilful, front three of Tyryhs Dolan, Ian Poveda and Reda Khadra – Kyle McFadzean may already be feeling his hamstrings.
In midfield, academy graduates John Buckley and Lewis Travis provide plenty of energy and running that can make it difficult for teams to play though Blackburn – with Travis, in particular, a feisty customer to deal with. Joe Rothwell is a similarly energetic player, but also provides a touch of class with his ability to drift past opponents in the centre of the pitch with his graceful dribbling style.
At the back, Daniel Ayala has been a key presence this season after overcoming injury issues last year. Blackburn are set to be boosted by the return of another leader in central defence in Darragh Lenihan, along with the attacking threat of Ryan Nyambe from right-back. In their stead, youngsters Hayden Carter and Tyler Magloire have struggled, contributing to recent back-to-back defeats. In goal, Thomas Kaminski is one of the best at this level.
Where The Game Will Be Won Or Lost
Whether either or both of Ben Brereton Diaz or Sam Gallagher will be available could define how this match plays out. Brereton Diaz is extremely unlikely to be involved due to his late return to the country ahead of this game, Sam Gallagher has been out ill and Tony Mowbray may be playing his cards close to his chest in not revealing whether he may be available for this game.
If Blackburn are without both forwards, it would leave Tony Mowbray having to play without a recognised centre-forward. While the mobility of Reda Khadra, Ian Poveda and Tyrhys Dolan could cause problems in dragging the Coventry City defence around the pitch, it would clearly be ideal to have someone in the penalty area to benefit from the elusive play of Blackburn’s nimble, skilful attacking players. Nonetheless, the Sky Blues defence are going to have to be wary of being dragged into uncomfortable areas, particularly out wide, as that is where Blackburn can wreak havoc, along with their pressing game.
For the Sky Blues, taking advantage of Blackburn’s attack-minded full-backs may be key to the plan to create opportunities at the other end. With Viktor Gyokeres often tending to pull wide in order to find space, playing him into the areas that Blackburn’s full-backs may vacate is likely to be a key way to turn defence into attack. Callum O’Hare also has an important role to play in exploiting areas Blackburn’s defence may leave unattended.
Additionally, defending set-pieces has consistently been an area of weakness for Blackburn Rovers under Tony Mowbray. Given the loss of the height of both Sam Gallagher and Ben Brereton Diaz for Blackburn, and the return of Gustavo Hamer’s deliveries for Coventry City, this looks to be a key advantage the Sky Blues may hold in this game.