Saturday’s performance against Southampton in the FA Cup furthered the case that this Coventry City side is tantalising close to reaching the next level. However, the 120 minutes of football that it took to eventually lose the tie was far from ideal ahead of a heinously congested month of fixtures.
The next few weeks are as much about endurance as they are about adding that extra touch of quality that could lift the team towards the top six. At a time when the pedal needs to be pushed to the floor, Mark Robins and the players are going to have to be mindful of leaving something behind for future challenges. It’s a difficult balancing act and any miscalculation could easily see the team sink into the bottom-half, which is what could happen with defeat in this upcoming game against Blackpool.
There were some very tired bodies on the pitch from the second-half onwards at the weekend, which isn’t a promising start to this hectic month of football. With limited ability to replace quality with quality, Mark Robins is going to have to do the best he can to find ways to keep key players fresh without significantly weakening the team.
Most notably, Viktor Gyokeres in attack looked flat on his feet in the closing stages of Saturday’s game and there isn’t really the option to hand him a night off. Not only has the Swede been vital for the team’s recent improved performances, but there isn’t a direct replacement from the available squad. Martyn Waghorn would be the closest to that, but he may not be up to full fitness yet and isn’t really an out-and-out centre-forward who can lead the line on his own. Mark Robins will have to cross his fingers that he find a way to simultaneously manage Gyokeres’ fitness and win games over the next few weeks.
As for the rest of the team, it will be interesting to see whether Ian Maatsen continues in an attacking midfield role after a decent performance at the weekend. However, the manner in which he faded from the game may well see him relegated to the bench, in favour of Jordan Shipley or Jamie Allen. At right wing-back, Todd Kane may well start here, despite recent good performances from Josh Eccles in his stead, again, due to the need to keep the team fresh.
Another area of interest is whether Kyle McFadzean is restored to the central defence. As well as the experienced centre-back has played this season, there have been one or two signs of late that his lack of pace hinders the team in their efforts to push up the pitch to dominate games. Although, Jake Clarke-Salter’s clear signs of fatigue in the latter stages of Saturday’s game may well provide an opportunity for McFadzean to reassert his importance to the side.
Last Time We Met
For a large chunk of this season, Coventry City’s visit to Blackpool in August was the only away win the team had achieved. With Blackpool still getting to grips with Championship football, the Sky Blues gave them a lesson in what this division is all about. Viktor Gyokeres gave a Blackpool defence led by Richard Keogh the runaround for much of the opening hour, but somehow only had a goal that was probably offside to show for it.
Unable to add to the lead, a dominant performance became a nervy one in the closing stages. With Blackpool realising they had the quality in a few areas (most notably, the bandy-legged winger, Josh Bowler) to vex the Coventry City defence, the Seasiders were a touch unfortunate not to haul a goal back to salvage a point.
The Manager – Neil Critchley
The former Liverpool under-23 manager has continued to prove this season that he is a canny operator in the dug-out. Off the back of quickly transforming Blackpool from a mid-table League One side going nowhere into promotion-winners, Critchley has the Tangerines comfortably in the bosom of the middle of the Championship (no mean feat, as anyone who remembers last season for Coventry City would attest).
Critchley has both recruited well and demonstrated the tactical acumen to get the best out of his available resources. He isn’t someone necessarily aligned to a single tactical approach, but has a knack of making his teams difficult to break down and threatening enough at the other end in order to consistently claim points. Had it not been for a period earlier in the campaign of adapting to this division, Blackpool would be well within the play-off conversation (and could well be with victory in this game).
Who To Look Out For?
Blackpool are built around a solid defensive platform with quick and skilful players further forward that can sting opponents that get frustrated in attempting to break them down. Having already had the attacking quality last year of pacey wingers CJ Hamilton and Keshi Anderson, along with Jerry Yates in attack, the additions of the ultra-skilful wide-man, Josh Bowler, and nippy goal poacher, Shayne Lavery, have made Blackpool even more dangerous, providing Neil Critchley with the ability to rotate and switch-up his attacking options between and in games.
Further back, Blackpool have rarely had a settled backline or central midfield partnership but have been able to bring players in and out of the side relatively seamlessly due to Neil Critchley’s organisational skills. The presences of Kenny Dougall in midfield, with Richard Keogh and Marvin Ekipeta in central defence, have been the most consistent areas of selection, allowing the manager to chop and change elsewhere as he sees fit.
In goal, Daniel Grimshaw has been another gem that Blackpool have found in the transfer market. Having already had a quality presence between the sticks in Chris Maxwell, a serious injury to the first-choice goalkeeper could have been a hammer blow to the team’s survival hopes, instead, Grimshaw has seamlessly stepped into the side, further highlighting Neil Critchley’s recruitment, man-management and organisational skills.
Where The Game Will Be Won Or Lost
Blackpool are a team that tend to have little of the ball, but instead focus on counter-attacking with speed and purpose. In an away game, they are going to place the onus on Coventry City to attempt to break them down, looking to pounce on any loose play in order to generate their chances. Quick attacking players, Josh Bowler and Shayne Lavery, are ones in particular that the Sky Blues will have to be mindful of.
In contrast to the earlier meeting between the two teams this season, Blackpool are unlikely to present Viktor Gyokeres with the space to run directly at their defence. That makes it important for the Sky Blues to produce quick combination play around the Blackpool penalty area in order to generate chances. This could easily become quite a frustrating contest if Coventry City attempt to rely on just giving the ball to Gyokeres (who is likely to tire in the second-half), rather than supporting him with quality both with and without the ball.