The end of the unbeaten home record this week to Swansea City raises further questions of this Coventry City side’s current trajectory. It is now one win in five games, with performance levels having notably dipped in the face of several key players losing form. The Sky Blues may still be in fourth place, but they won’t stay that way unless that trajectory is reversed.
Ideally, Mark Robins and the player would have the international break now, so that they can rest and prepare for this upcoming game against Bristol City. With some difficult fixtures ahead, this could prove to be an important opportunity to put points on the board and turn things around performance-wise. If there is tiredness in the squad, it needs to be put to one side and the team looks for a big effort to maintain a positive start to the campaign.
It is getting close to the sort of time that the manager may be tempted to make big changes to the starting line-up and formation, but now is probably not quite the right time due to a lack of preparation for this game. If there are any changes to the starting line-up, it is likely to be in the order of one or two, rather than anything more drastic.
One possible change may be in defence, where Fankaty Dabo has struggled for form in recent games. While he is a more dynamic presence on the right than Todd Kane, a key issue lately has been the lack of quality in Dabo’s final ball, which is Kane’s strongest area. Other than that, the rest of the defence is likely to stay the same, with it probably being better to wait until after the international break to make any major changes.
In midfield, the one positive to come out of the Swansea City game was just how cohesive Gustavo Hamer and Jamie Allen looked as a central midfield pairing. If there is going to be a change in the middle of the pitch, it may be to hand Callum O’Hare a breather and look to play a central midfield three, with either Liam Kelly or Ben Sheaf the deepest of the three to allow Hamer and Allen to push forward. However, Mark Robins may continue to back O’Hare to play himself into form.
Up front, Viktor Gyokeres and Matt Godden is likely to remain as the partnership given that the former is effectively irreplaceable and the latter has been in good form, Tuesday night aside. There are calls for Fabio Tavares’ inclusion, given his exploits at under-23 level, but it isn’t a lack of a goalscorer that is this team’s problem, especially with Tyler Walker having recently shown that he can chip in as the third or fourth-choice option in attack.
Last Time We Met
Off the back of a chastening Good Friday defeat against Queens Park Rangers, Coventry City were in desperate need of a result to avoid slipping into the relegation zone. A meeting with Bristol City over the Easter period brought back bad memories of the club’s last spell in the Championship, however, the Sky Blues stepped up with a spirited performance at just the right time to reverse the sense of impending doom.
It was a performance that set the blueprint for the final month of the campaign, with the team getting the ball into the strikers quickly and also making good use of set-pieces. Leo Ostigard put Coventry City ahead early, when he bundled in a Sam McCallum long throw to set the Sky Blues on their way to all three points.
Bristol City threatened to get back into the game, but seemed to be lacking conviction in their performance. Once Tyler Walker was tripped in the penalty area in the second-half, and Matt Godden scored from the spot, things were looking very serene for the Sky Blues. However, Kyle McFadzean mindlessly played a sloppy back-pass for Nahki Wells to score from that threatened to set up a tense finale. However, a sweeping counter-attack involving Callum O’Hare and Viktor Gyokeres, saw the latter seal a vital win.
The Manager – Nigel Pearson
Bristol City had harboured realistic aspirations of reaching the Premier League not too long ago, but a few years of poor recruitment has led to a fallow period. With expectations low, they have proved an excellent opportunity for Nigel Pearson to attempt to get his faltering managerial career back on track. The former Leicester City boss picked up the handful of wins required last season to keep the club in the division, earning him the right to build the team in his image.
After a solid start, with Bristol City putting in the kind of robust, spirited performances that had been in short supply in years prior, Nigel Pearson is entering a testing period of his reign at Ashton Gate. Also on a run of one win in five games, some of the goodwill that Pearson benefitted from earlier in his reign is beginning to drain. While Pearson is nowhere the territory of losing his job, he really could do with a win here to burst the bubble rising negativity surrounding his management of Bristol City.
Who To Look Out For?
Nigel Pearson appears to be attempting to build a Bristol City side that isn’t reliant on star individual talent but is a strong collective. Leaning on his successful spell at Leicester City, key recruits for him have been Danny Simpson and Andy King, along with former Coventry City man, Matty James, in establishing the right atmosphere in order to turn around a club that has probably been lacking that in recent years.
While Bristol City have few players who really stand-out as stars at Championship level, it is a side with quite a few really solid, consistent performers. That starts in attack, where Chris Martin remains an excellent target-man at Championship level and the hard-running Andreas Weimann makes Bristol City a team that can really wear down opponents with balls into the channels. In addition, Nahki Wells’s pace and goalscoring instincts provides the team with another reliable Championship performer in attack.
In midfield, French youngster Han-Noah Massengo has had a really encouraging start to the season after seemingly losing his way over the past 18 months or so. Massengo’s biggest strength is the amount of ground he can cover in front of the defence, with his passing ability starting to come to the fore this season too. Alongside him, Bristol City may be without Matty James, Joe Williams and Andy King for this game, which provides an opportunity for the talented Tyreeq Bakinson to show his quality after dropping down the pecking order in recent months.
At the back, Daniel Bentley is, on his day, one of the best goalkeepers in the division with his fantastic shot-stopping reflexes. In front of him, Rob Atkinson has impressed in central defence since signing from Oxford United over the summer and is someone who can pick out long passes to get Weimann and Martin into the game. Alongside him, Tomas Kalas and Nathan Baker are reliable Championship performers.
Where The Game Will Be Won Or Lost
There is a chance that either manager will look to spring a surprise on the other with their team selection and formations for this game, with both looking for a reaction from their side after recent performances. Surprise selections aside, the central midfield battle looks the key area of this game for Coventry City to seek superiority in.
Bristol City’s likely duo of Han-Noah Massengo and Tyreeq Bakinson hasn’t looked a natural fit when it has been tried recently. Both players are probably a little too similar to one another, and are each probably better off when they have a more experienced partner, such as Matty James, to bring the best out of them. That should set Gustavo Hamer up to try and take control of proceedings, although ceding the midfield may well be part of Bristol City’s game-plan.
The Robins have tended to be a fairly direct side, looking to make use of the presences of Chris Martin and Andreas Weimann to unsettle opposing defences. The Sky Blues should probably be looking to press Bristol City high up the pitch in order to cut out the supply to Martin and Weimann. The key danger area for Coventry City is Martin physically occupying the centre-backs and allowing Weimann to run in behind.
If, as is likely, the Sky Blues end up having most of the ball in this game, it is going to be a test of the team’s ability to create chances against a physically robust defence. While the likely inclusion of Todd Kane could well see Coventry City ending up firing in a load of easily-defendable crosses for Bristol City’s defence to lap up, that willingness to put crosses in the box could well be useful in drawing the opposing team’s defenders away from the penalty area in an attempt to close Kane down, whereas Fankaty Dabo’s recent reticence to do so has made it a simpler decision for teams to sit in and defend the box.