Three points at the weekend has breathed life into Coventry City’s top six hopes. The challenge now is to string together wins in a manner that hasn’t been done since the early part of the campaign. With a thin, tired squad, yet another midweek game is far from ideal, but being able to grind out another positive result under those circumstances is the kind of thing that will decide whether the Sky Blues remain in the play-off conversation.
Against a lowly Cardiff City side that have struggled at home for much of the campaign, this is a fixture that looks, on paper, to be another presentable opportunity for three points. However, the Bluebirds have signed well in January and improved in recent weeks, making this far from a straightforward fixture.
Mark Robins continues to be limited with what he can do with the set of players available to him, with a two-game suspension for Gustavo Hamer, adding to the absences of Martyn Waghorn, Liam Kelly, Josh Eccles, Fankaty Dabo and Matt Godden. It leaves the manager with just 13 senior outfield players to pick from.
As such, it is likely to be almost exactly the same side that won at Reading on Saturday, barring whomever replaces Gustavo Hamer in central midfield. That person is almost certain to be Jamie Allen, who has proven to be a more than able option in that area of the pitch over the course of the season, with Jordan Shipley or the untested youngster, Ryan Howley, the alternatives.
While that is the big team selection consideration, there may be one or two other changes elsewhere that the manager may be contemplating. With Mark Robins commenting that Todd Kane was playing with an injury at the weekend, it is a possibility that Ian Maatsen could fill in at right wing-back here in order to hand Kane a breather – with Jordan Shipley slotting in further forward.
Additionally, given the nature of Reading’s goals at the weekend – an unmarked header from a cross and a set-piece – Kyle McFadzean could be called back into the side in order to deal with the threat of Cardiff City’s two giant centre-forwards, Jordan Hugill and Uche Ikpeazu. That could be as a direct replacement for Michael Rose, or for Jake Clarke-Salter, with Rose moving to the left of the back three.
Last Time We Met
It was an early test of Coventry City’s top six credentials to take on a Cardiff City side at the CBS Arena who had started the season well under Mick McCarthy. It was a case of youthful verve against experienced physicality, with a vibrant Sky Blues looking the better team over the course of the 90 minutes.
From one of the many long throws that Cardiff looked to launch into the Coventry City penalty area, swift play between Gustavo Hamer, Jamie Allen and Callum O’Hare sent Viktor Gyokeres through for a confident finish that proved to be the game’s winning goal. There was little doubt from that point onwards as to the direction of the three points, but a big James Collins miss for the Bluebirds and a Fankaty Dabo red card in second-half stoppage time added a level of jeopardy to the eventual win.
The Manager – Steve Morison (Interim)
Having stood out in the Championship over the past few years for placing their faith in experience on the pitch and the likes of Neil Warnock, Neil Harris and Mick McCarthy in the dugout, the appointment of under-23 boss, Steve Morison, represents a much-needed change in approach at Cardiff City. Recently-retired as a player, Morison has promoted youth and attempted to foment a more patient, possession-based style of football.
The results thus far have been inconsistent, but good enough to keep Cardiff City away from danger. Morison has been aided by some key additions in the January transfer market – funded by the departure of star striker, Kieffer Moore – which have added the fresh legs and quality needed to both implement the changes to the team’s style and garner the points to keep Cardiff in this division. Whether Morison will become the long-term manager at the Cardiff City Stadium remains to be seen, but he is laying the groundwork for the club to head in a more progressive direction in the years to come.
Who To Look Out For?
For all of Steve Morison’s talk of attempting to evolve Cardiff City’s style, it has been the addition of two big, experienced, strikers in January that have helped the team pull away from danger. Jordan Hugill, off the back of a bit-part spell at West Bromwich Albion earlier in the season, has been the club’s direct replacement for similar bean-pole striker, Kieffer Moore, and has scored twice in four starts already. The more explosive, Uche Ikpeazu, has been used exclusively from the bench against tired defences to good effect, and has also registered two goals since joining on loan from Middlesbrough.
Another key bit of January transfer business has been the signing of full-back, Cody Drameh, from Leeds United. A player that Marcelo Bielsa wasn’t happy to be parted with, Drameh has quickly proved his quality at both left and right wing-back. Additionally, central midfielder, Tommy Doyle, has joined on loan from Manchester City to help Cardiff City improve in their efforts as a possession team.
It hasn’t just been about new signings for Cardiff City under Steve Morison, with ball-playing midfielder, Ryan Wintle, slotting in after being recalled from Blackpool, and the experienced, Joe Ralls, flourishing in that area of the pitch as a result of the change in style. In addition, Morison has utilised his experience with the under-23 side in order to promote forward, Isaak Davies, to the first-team to good effect, with further youngsters finding first-team opportunities as well.
The Bluebirds haven’t completely abandoned the old ways, with the veteran, Aden Flint, still a key presence in central defence (and the team’s top-scorer, due to his presence at set-pieces), while Alex Smithies remains a reliable presence between the sticks at Championship level.
Where The Game Will Be Won Or Lost
The fitness levels of either side will be a key factor in how this game goes. Cardiff City are likely to have the advantage in that regard given that they have a deeper squad than Coventry City – even if they are carrying a few injuries as well, with Rubin Colwill and Alfie Doughty key absentees – meaning that Steve Morison has a greater ability to rotate and freshen up his side for this game.
A key area of this game is likely to be the battle in central midfield. Being without Gustavo Hamer will be a key blow for Coventry City, with Cardiff City’s trio of Tommy Doyle, Joe Ralls and Ryan Wintle capable of dominating possession. Despite Steve Morison’s talk of evolving Cardiff’s style, their average possession over their past four league games has been just 35%, with the team instead attempting more of a direct counter-attacking style. That could well make this a game about what the Sky Blues can do with long spells of possession.
A fresh Viktor Gyokeres would likely be relishing taking on this Cardiff City defence. Having toyed with Aden Flint in the previous meeting between the two sides, Gyokeres would also fancy his chances against make-shift centre-back, Perry Ng, in Cardiff’s back three. Fatigue may limit the Swede’s opportunities to get in full flow against Cardiff’s back-line, but his direct running, alongside Callum O’Hare and Ian Maatsen looks to be a key area of opportunity.