Three points at the weekend has put Coventry City back in the play-off picture, but there is clearly a lot of work to do in order to translate that narrow win into a play-off push. Fatigue has clearly been a factor in the recent sloppy displays, making the prospect of another two games before the end of the week far from enticing.
Against a Bristol City side that have won four home games in a row, even a Sky Blues side at peak freshness would have cause to be pessimistic about there prospects in this game. If this team can keep the points ticking over here, it will keep the interest in this season going a while longer, but it remains to be seen whether this set of players is in a condition to pick up results on a consistent basis.
The return of Gustavo Hamer from suspension is a significant boost to Mark Robins’ team selection options for this game. The simple fact of having another central midfielder available gives the manager genuine options as to how to set the rest of the team up, let alone the quality that Hamer provides in possession.
The most likely move upon Hamer’s return would be for him to replace Jamie Allen in central midfield, with the latter taking Martyn Waghorn’s place in the team further forward. However, it might be an option for Hamer to come in for Ben Sheaf, who showed signs at the weekend of maybe needing a rest.
That call over Sheaf may rest on how Mark Robins wants to set the team up in attack. The move to a front two on Saturday didn’t really deliver the team with the extra presence and cutting edge that had been hoped, while it seems doubtful that Martyn Waghorn has another (close to) 90 minutes in his legs in such a short turnaround. With Jordan Shipley having struggled to make an impact and Ian Maatsen probably needed more at left wing-back, if he starts at all, Ben Sheaf may have to play so that Jamie Allen can start alongside Callum O’Hare in the attacking midfield berths, with Fabio Tavares starting alongside Viktor Gyokeres a very remote possibility.
Once again, just who starts at wing-back remains in a state of flux. Ian Maatsen was one of the team’s better performers at the weekend from left wing-back, but may be handed a rest or pushed further forward as Mark Robins looks to keep the squad fresh. On the right, Fankaty Dabo made a return to action in stoppage time on Saturday, but is unlikely to be in a state to last 90 minutes, handing a reprieve for Todd Kane.
Last Time We Met
The meeting between Coventry City and Bristol City back in November feels like the last big, winning performance that this Sky Blues side has produced. After struggling to get going in the first-half, Coventry City appeared to shoot themselves in the foot on the stroke of half-time, with Ian Maatsen conceding a fairly needless penalty and getting himself sent-off in the process.
In normal circumstances, that should have been game over, however, the ten men of Coventry City produced a stirring second-half performance, getting over their earlier torpor. A typical surging run from Viktor Gyokeres saw him felled in the Bristol City penalty area to allow Matt Godden to level the scores. With the Sky Blues pushing to take the lead, a rare foray into the opposing half for the away side produced a goal that should have killed off any hope of a comeback.
That was until the rarest of things happened, Callum O’Hare scored a goal. A placed effort from the edge of the penalty area looked like it had salvaged a point for Coventry City, with Mark Robins seeming to settle for the draw by introducing the defensive presence of Liam Kelly in the closing stages.
Yet, there was still time for the Sky Blues captain – a man who one wore the number 10 shirt for Bristol City – to produce a wonderfully-weighted assist for Matt Godden to fire home and mark one of the greatest come-from-behind performances from Coventry City at the CBS/Ricoh Arena.
The Manager – Nigel Pearson
A year into the job at Bristol City, it is still not fully clear what impact Nigel Pearson has made and where he may eventually be able to take the club. It has to be taken into account that Bristol City have been forced to significantly trim their wage bill during Pearson’s time in charge, which has meant that he is still not working with a squad of his own liking. However, for every positive thing Nigel Pearson has done in his first year in charge, it has often been counteracted by something equally negative.
On the plus side, Pearson has addressed the team’s previously horrendous home form, blooded a number of youngsters and got some excellent performances out of forwards, Andreas Weimann and Antoine Semenyo. However, the team’s overall form is incredibly inconsistent, they have a habit of surrendering leads and Nigel Pearson is still passing on the responsibility for bad performances onto his players, despite having worked with them for 12 months now. Pearson has bought himself enough time to further rebuild the squad over the summer, but it remains to be seen whether he is capable of fully transforming Bristol City back into the play-off hopefuls that they previously were.
Who To Look Out For?
As noted above, Bristol City have two forwards in Andreas Weimann and Antoine Semenyo in incredible form, with both enjoying the best season in their careers. Weimann, having often been someone who has worked hard for the benefit of other players, has now added a more consistent goal threat to his game, while retaining excellent work-rate and creative ability. Semenyo has been in a similar position at an earlier stage of his career but has found a rich vein of form of late. Tall, quick and skilful, Semenyo is one of those forward players who is effectively impossible to stop when they’re in full flow.
Aiding Weimann and Semenyo’s efforts has been the efforts of Chris Martin as the team’s focal point in attack. Not just a big, burly target-man, Martin is also very good with the ball at his feet, picking out passes to get his quicker forward partners into dangerous areas. With Martin drawing defenders out of position, creating space for Weimann and Semenyo to run in behind, it is a highly effective formula.
In central midfield, Han-Noah Massengo has enjoyed an excellent season after seemingly taking a step back last year. The Frenchman, once the youngest player to feature in the Champions League, at 17 years old with Monaco, is a ball of energy in the middle of the park, covering a lot of ground without the ball, while showing quality and drive when he gets on it. He has been partnered by another impressive youngster, Alex Scott, who offers further creative quality, with former Sky Blue, Matty James, currently out injured.
In defence, Bristol City have two players in Timm Klose and Tomas Kalas who have won promotion from this level before, although, they haven’t addressed the team’s leakiness at the back. In goal, Daniel Bentley is one of the best keepers operating at this level and has returned to the starting XI after a recent spell out of favour.
Where This Game Will Be Won Or Lost
The big concern for Coventry City heading into this game is just how their back-line can hope to contain Andreas Weimann, Antoine Semenyo and Chris Martin. With Martin likely to draw Kyle McFadzean’s attention, Dominic Hyam and Jake Clarke-Salter are going to have to deal with being left one-on-one on occasion with Weimann and Semenyo. Given that neither Hyam nor Clarke-Salter are particularly impressive one-on-one defenders, that is a major concern.
Moreover, Bristol City are a side that are content to allow the opposition to have the ball, because they know just how much of a threat they carry on the counter-attack. That raises the risk of Coventry City’s defence being caught up the pitch and having to deal with the home side’s forwards in full flight. Don’t be surprised to see some yellow cards picked up for tactical fouling.
With the Sky Blues likely to be handed the lion’s share of possession, the return of Gustavo Hamer couldn’t be more timely. Nonetheless, navigating a path around Han-Noah Massengo will be crucial, as the Bristol City midfielder has the potential to disrupt and break-up any rhythm Coventry City will be hoping for in possession. Starting Jamie Allen in one of the attacking midfield roles could help, with his energy helping to give the Sky Blues superiority in the middle, allowing Hamer, Ben Sheaf and Callum O’Hare to get up to their best creative work.