If a last-minute equaliser in, perhaps, the toughest away game of the season cannot get Coventry City back on track, it’s hard to see what else will. With the spark having faded over the past few games, that late show against Bournemouth demonstrated that this team’s spirit remains indefatigable.
A home game against recently-relegated West Bromwich Albion offers the opportunity to follow up that comeback with a statement result to prove that this Sky Blues outfit has the staying power to last the course in the top six of this Championship season. Despite West Brom’s being on an indifferent run of their own, it won’t be easy, but the buoyancy of the last result and a return to the Coventry Building Society Arena puts wind in the Coventry City sails.
With just six substitutes on the bench for last Saturday’s trip to Bournemouth, it underlines just how thin Mark Robins’ options currently are. Having either or both of Michael Rose and Jake Clarke-Salter available for this game would be a boost to the manager’s ability to put forward his strongest plan of attack.
Just how serious the illness suffered by Michael Rose last week is not clear, but he seems likelier to return to the starting line-up than Jake Clarke-Salter, who may be back from a longer-term absence. Having at least one additional senior centre-back available would put pressure on Mark Robins to make the decision he has seemed to have been reticent to lately, dropping an out-of-form Fankaty Dabo. Todd Kane’s positive contribution to last week’s comeback against Bournemouth further underlines the case for a change at right wing-back, however, Dabo’s place in the side has been a stubborn sticking point for the manager recently.
Elsewhere, a fully-fit Gustavo Hamer would be another boost for Mark Robins ahead of this game. Like other injuries in the squad, it’s not quite clear how serious the knock that kept Hamer out of the last game is – clearly, an attempt to make it harder for the opposition to guess Coventry City’s likely starting line-up. Given West Bromwich Albion’s direct, physical approach under Valerien Ismael, Liam Kelly seems a likely midfield partner to either Hamer or Sheaf, depending on Hamer’s fitness.
In attack, a reversion to two up front looks set to occur for this is home game. A brief period of rest should be helpful for Viktor Gyokeres, who has an important role to play in this game in getting the team up the pitch and in behind the high West Brom defensive line. There may be a case to play the taller, faster Tyler Walker in place of Matt Godden to further exploit that ultra-high line West Brom are likely to deploy, but that seems unlikely given Godden’s strong form of late.
Last Time We Met
It’s been over a decade since Coventry City and West Bromwich Albion have been in the same division. In the interim, the Sky Blues have dropped almost as low as it’s possible to go, while the Baggies have largely spent that time in the top-flight. Back in 2010, it was a routine home victory for Roberto Di Matteo’s West Bromwich Albion, against a Coventry City side that were in the final of those miserable end-of-season runs that Chris Coleman produced at the club before he was eventually sacked.
Steven Reid scored the only goal of a game that took place so long ago, there aren’t even highlights of it on YouTube. Instead, enjoy some out-of-focus footage of the game from the West Bromwich Albion end.
The Manager – Valerien Ismael
Having taken Barnsley from the relegation places to the top six last season with a brutally effective brand of direct, high-pressing football, the challenge for Valerien Ismael has been to take a style that worked with less talented players and apply it to a more individually-gifted squad. There were some promising signs earlier in the season, however, the style of play has started to rub both players and fans the wrong way now that results have dipped. There is genuine pressure on Ismael’s job, with automatic promotion looking an increasingly distant prospect.
The issue with Valerian Ismael’s approach at West Bromwich Albion is that it has stifled the creativity of the team’s skilful attacking players – stymied further by a lack of a reliable target-man to get the ball into, a la Daryl Dike at Barnsley last season. Although the Baggies have one of the best defensive records in the division, that lack of fluency going forward has been where a decent start to the campaign has turned sour. There is a bad mood brewing at the Hawthorns, which a poor result in this game would only add to.
Who To Look Out For?
Any hopes of the Sky Blues getting something out of this game could be snuffed out by West Bromwich Albion’s strong defensive unit. With regular England international squad member, Sam Johnstone, between the sticks, West Brom were always likely to have a good defensive record this season. Johnstone plays behind a trio of the physical Kyle Bartley and Cedric Kipre, while the more mobile Matt Clarke offers cover and the ability to carry the ball out of defence.
At wing-back, Darnell Furlong has been a solid presence on the right, with his long throws a key weapon in Valerien Ismael’s attacking arsenal. On the left, Conor Townsend has impressed this season with his directness and delivery from out wide. Together, the duo provide West Brom with both solidity and threat from wide areas.
In central midfield, Alex Mowatt’s energy levels, reading of the game and ability to contribute to the attack make him a key cog in West Brom’s set-up under Valerien Ismael, having followed the manager from Barnsley. He has generally operated alongside the sturdy, experienced Jake Livermore, which can make West Brom especially difficult to play through.
While attack has been an issue for West Bromwich Albion this season, a trio of Callum Robinson, Karlan Grant and Grady Diangana is not only exceptionally quick, but has the ability to produce something out of nothing, if allowed the opportunity to get into dangerous areas. Grant has tended to be the team’s goalscorer this season, demonstrating some excellent predatory instincts at times, while Robinson’s direct running as the team’s focal-point and Diangana’s natural skill with the ball could be difficult to contain.
Where The Game Will Be Won Or Lost
Mark Robins may well feel confident heading into this game given how well he got this Coventry City side to deal with Valerien Ismael’s Barnsley last season. However, that could well require a change in approach to what the team have generally tried to do this season, which could make it a difficult trick to repeat against a more talented side.
A key reason why the Sky Blue saw off Ismael’s Barnsley last year was by adopting a direct approach of their own, refusing to allow them the opportunity to press in dangerous areas and dropping long balls in behind that incredibly high defensive line. However, that is not something this Coventry City side has done much of this season, with players like Ben Sheaf and Gustavo Hamer allowed more time to elaborate on the ball, which will be where West Brom will look to catch the Sky Blues out, if the play out from the back is too slow.
Nonetheless, Coventry City have shown this season that they can threaten with those longer balls into the channels for Viktor Gyokeres to chase and muscle off his opposing centre-backs. The hope is that Gyokeres will be fresh enough after a week’s rest to be able to get the better of physical competitors in Cedric Kipre, Kyle Bartley and Matt Clarke, if he can, there could be a lot of joy to exploit in getting behind that ridiculously high defensive line that Valerien Ismael likes to deploy.
At the other end, a chief concern is what West Brom’s attacking players could do in one-against-one situations against Coventry City’s back three. While Kyle McFadzean is likely to be particularly important for the team in defending against West Brom’s direct balls into their forwards, he could really struggle if he ends up having to deal with any one of Karlan Grant, Callum Robinson or Grady Diangana on his own – similar could be said of the other centre-backs. Liam Kelly is likely to be important in helping protect the defence, while the wing-backs are going to have to be diligent in their defensive duties as well.