Preview: Birmingham City

Just how valuable Saturday’s draw away at Sheffield United is likely to depend on how the next few games pan out. While there was an opportunity to claim an impressive three points at a typically tough place to go, a clean sheet and point on the road shouldn’t be sniffed at given the team’s struggles away from the Coventry Building Society Arena this season. Following that away draw up with a home win in this upcoming game against Birmingham City would keep Coventry City ticking along in a comfy position in the top six.

While neither Coventry City nor Birmingham City are each other’s respective biggest rivals (just who the Sky Blues’ are is a debate to be had), this is going to be a big crowd and a heated atmosphere for either team to deal with. With Birmingham City a side boasting some experienced and physical players, they have the ability to make things difficult for their lighter blue counterparts. It is set up to be tense, but hopefully engaging, contest.

Expected Line-Up

Possible Line-Up (3-4-1-2) Moore; Hyam, McFadzean, Rose; Kane, Sheaf, Hamer, Maatsen; O'Hare, Godden, Gyokeres.
Possible Line-Up

The availability of Ian Maatsen at left wing-back and the fact that this is a home game is likely to mean that Mark Robins will reverse the two key selection decisions he made last time out against Sheffield United.

While Fankaty Dabo performed capably at left wing-back on Saturday, it was apparent just how limiting it can be to play with a right-footed player on the left wing. The big decision Mark Robins will have to make is over who starts at right wing-back, where Fankaty Dabo has been a key player for the past three seasons but has looked slightly out of sorts lately, while Todd Kane has impressed in cameo roles recently. Form is likely to take precedence here, with Kane coming in to hand Fankaty Dabo a much-needed rest.

In attack, despite there being benefits apparent from playing an extra midfielder in place of a striker against Sheffield United, the lack of attacking threat makes the decision to bring the in-form goalscorer, Matt Godden, back into the side that bit easier.

Elsewhere, convincing displays last time out from Ben Sheaf in midfield and Michael Rose in central defence should put an end to any of the recent debates over the team’s best defensive and midfield line-up, for the time being.

Last Time We Met

With both St Andrew’s occupiers struggling for survival last season, each of the games that Coventry City and Birmingham City contested were tight, cagey contests. After a dull 0-0 draw in November in the Sky Blues’ nominal home game, the follow-up two months later played out in a similar manner.

The difference that time around was that Sam McCallum gave a penalty away after a clumsy foul on his tormentor that January afternoon, Ivan Sanchez, which was converted. Soon after going behind, the Sky Blues rallied, with Callum O’Hare picking up on a lost cause in Birmingham City’s defence, playing the ball to Ben Sheaf, who stuttered over taking a shot long enough to spot Gustavo Hamer in a better position to level the scores.

The Opposition

The Manager – Lee Bowyer

With Birmingham City having been run in a rough-shod manner for much of the past five years, the club’s owners are fortunate to have in charge a man who is a club hero from his playing days, in Lee Bowyer, who also has experience in managing under difficult circumstances, from his time at Charlton Athletic. Primarily, a good motivator, Bowyer quickly galvanised a club that looked to be sinking apathetically towards League One last season and has strengthened over the summer to make Blues a mid-table side that is only a run of better luck away from a play-off challenge.

After a start to the season that was comparable to Coventry City’s, a bad run of luck in front of goal and some injuries have seen Birmingham City slip down the table. Lee Bowyer built that early run of form around a solid tactical structure that allowed the talented Manchester United loanee, Tahith Chong, to flourish in a free role between midfield and attack. However, the loss of Chong to a long-term injury, has been a key reason why Blues’ form has dipped over the past couple of months.

Who To Look Out For?

Possible Line-Up (3-4-1-2): Sarkic; Sanderson, Roberts, Dean; Oakley, Woods, Sunjic, Bela; McGree; Hogan, Deeney.
Possible Line-Up

To make up for the loss of Tahith Chong, Lee Bowyer has looked to the attacking talents of Australian midfielder, Riley McGree, and pacey winger/wing-back, Jeremie Bela. McGree has been in good form of late, and can chip in with goals from midfield, but has had to be shoe-horned in at right wing-back due to the build-up of injuries at the club. Bela, meanwhile, has been much more comfortable in a, nominal, wing-back role.

Big summer signing, Troy Deeney, is another key element in Lee Bowyer’s attempt to service the post-Chong creativity deficit. Although similar in build to his team-mate, Lukas Jutkiewicz, Deeney is much more effective at linking the play in attack, which has benefitted his strike partner, Scott Hogan, who has space to run in behind.

In central midfield, Birmingham City fans may well feel that the ball-playing quality of Ryan Woods alongside Ivan Sunjic’s energy and physicality could give their team an edge. While Birmingham haven’t been a team that have looked to build play through midfield, Woods offers them that option, while Sunjic’s ability to cover a lot of ground without the ball could help Blues break-up play effectively.

At the back, the experience and physicality of Harlee Dean and Marc Roberts can make Birmingham City a really tough nut to crack when they can sit in and soak up pressure. Furthermore, Roberts has a powerful long throw on him and is also a big threat from attacking set-pieces. The addition of Wolves loanee, Dion Sanderson, to the mix has added some much-needed mobility to Blues’ backline.

Where The Game Will Be Won Or Lost

Coventry City are likely to have the lion’s share of possession in this game, which neither manager will be that bothered with. For the Sky Blues, this game will be about finding quality with those spells with the ball. For Birmingham City, it will be about breaking up Coventry City’s rhythm and moving the ball into Troy Deeney and Riley McGree as quickly as possible.

The battle between Troy Deeney and Kyle McFadzean is likely to have a huge bearing on this game. If Deeney can get the edge, it will allow Birmingham City to transition quickly and look to get players such as Jeremie Bela and Scott Hogan in behind the Sky Blues’ backline. If McFadzean gains the edge, it cuts out a key attacking avenue for the opposition.

As for how Coventry City will look to break Birmingham City down, getting Callum O’Hare and Viktor Gyokeres running directly at Harlee Dean and Marc Roberts is a key area of opportunity. That could be difficult to achieve with long spells of possession, as Birmingham are likely to be keen to funnel the Sky Blues out wide and force them into crossing situations that they can defend, rather than the one-on-one defending that will be more uncomfortable for them.

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