If ever there was an example of how much of a difference winning in midweek makes, compare and contrast this week with last. Seven days ago, Coventry City looked to be one bad result away from their season being over. Seven days later, one good result could put the team level with the top six.
Coming out of a challenging Tuesday night encounter away at Bristol City with all three points feels a significant moment in Coventry City’s campaign. While this is still a thin squad battling through a hectic fixture list, that felt like a win that could re-energise tired legs. Upcoming opponents, Preston North End, who have been excellent on the road this season, will be a big test of this uptick in belief, another positive result here really will be cause to believe that this season may be a memorable one.
While Mark Robins’ hand hasn’t been improved by anyone returning to fitness, there are a couple of areas of team selection that are worth keeping an eye on. Primarily, it will be how the attack is set up following an impressive performance in midweek by makeshift attacking midfielder, Ian Maatsen.
Given the continued unavailability of Matt Godden, and with Martyn Waghorn and Jordan Shipley failing to convince recently, it would make a lot of sense to continue with Maatsen in an advanced position. However, Mark Robins may be mindful of the need to rotate the team in order to keep things fresh, with the possibility of starting Waghorn alongside Viktor Gyokeres potentially taking some much-needed workload off the latter. Furthermore, Maatsen may have worked in an advanced role in away games, where he’s been able to attack open space, which may not present itself in a home game.
Another reason not to start Ian Maatsen in an attacking position would be due to concerns over Jake Bidwell’s effectiveness from left wing-back. In a home game, where the onus may be on Coventry City to stretch an opponent, Maatsen may well be more useful at left wing-back. However, despite all of those arguments, Mark Robins may just want to see what Maatsen playing further forward in a home game would look like, with this fixture as good an opportunity as any to do so.
Elsewhere, Fankaty Dabo continues to close on a return to the starting line-up, aided by Todd Kane looking somewhat out of sorts in recent performances – although, it’s still not clear whether Dabo is fit enough to last 90 minutes. Another thing to keep an eye on is who partners Gustavo Hamer in central midfield, with Jamie Allen doing a reasonable job on Tuesday night, with Ben Sheaf, one of the team’s best performers this season, having been handed a rest.
Last Time We Met
Coventry City had the opportunity to do Preston North End something of a favour and hand out a defeat that could have spelled an earlier end for their previous manager, Frankie McAvoy. In front of a demoralised Deepdale crowd back in October, a confident Tyler Walker finish just before half-time should really have been enough to set the Sky Blues on their way to victory, instead, they surrendered all momentum to the home side in the second-half.
In a familiar fashion to Tuesday night’s game against Bristol City, Coventry City, from a leading position away from home, sat too deep and struggled to get out of their own half. That allowed Preston North End to build a head of steam, before eventually equalising via a powerful Patrick Bauer header, after the Sky Blues reacted slowly after a second phase of a set-piece. Unable to get out of their torpor, an excellent strike from Emil Riis Jakobsen – again, aided, by the defence reacting slowly to a set-piece – allowed Preston, specifically, Frankie McAvoy, to secure a crucial win.
The Manager – Ryan Lowe
With Frankie McAvoy’s lifeless reign at Deepdale eventually brought to an end in early December, the appointment of Ryan Lowe has re-energised a club that has looked on a downward spiral for much of the past two seasons. Lowe is the kind of manager any fan would love to be in charge of their club, charismatic, positive and deploying an attack-minded brand of football, he has been an infectious influence at Preston North End since taking over two-and-a-half months ago.
Any hopes of making an unlikely run to the play-offs this season look to have been killed off by a couple of underwhelming recent results, but it is clear that Preston are in a good place under Ryan Lowe’s charge. A hard-working squad that have a handful of really talented, technical footballers, Preston have taken well to Lowe’s brand of football, but they are still short of one or two vital ingredients to properly execute his style – notably, pacey wing-backs.
Who To Look Out For?
For much of this season, the emergence of the giant Dane, Emil Riis Jakobsen, as a goalscorer, on top of being an occupying physical presence, had been one of the key areas of positivity at Deepdale. The January addition of the lively, Cameron Archer, on loan from Aston Villa, has provided Preston North End with another deadly presence in attack. Archer, tentatively linked with Coventry City last month, has excellent goalscoring instincts, constantly able to peel off the back of defenders and into space, along with being incredibly quick too. With Jakobsen’s form dipping off late, Ched Evans has become Archer’s strike partner, with his work-rate valuable in getting the Villa loanee into dangerous areas.
Central midfield remains an area in which Preston North End are incredibly well-stocked in. Creative midfielder, Daniel Johnson, remains a classy performer at this level who can hypnotise with his fluidity with the ball at his feet. Supporting him have been the prodigiously hard-working, Alan Browne, and Ben Whiteman, who combines steel with class. That means that Ali McCann, another incredibly talented, technical and hard-working midfielder, has struggled to get into the starting XI.
At the back, another Dane, Daniel Iversen, has been a key, stand-out performer for the Lilywhites. The Leicester City loanee is a commanding presence between the sticks and a fantastic shot-stopper, whose heroics had been one of the big reasons why Preston avoided the relegation battle in the first half of the campaign. One of the best goalkeepers at Championship level, if not the best, Iversen could well end up as Leicester City’s first-choice keeper next season.
In front of Iversen, Patrick Bauer is another important presence in this Preston North End side. The giant German is a powerful and organising figure in central defence, whose inclusion has tended to correlate with the team’s better performances. Alongside him, Liam Lindsay is a solid Championship performer, while the versatile Liverpool loanee, Sepp van den Berg, offers a touch of quality on the ball at the back.
Where The Game Will Be Won Or Lost
Preston North End under Ryan Lowe are not going to be a side that will rock up to the CBS Arena and look to sit in for a clean sheet. Lowe is an attack-minded manager who likes his wing-backs and central midfielders to push up into advanced areas in order to pen the opposition in and play quick, combination football around the penalty area. The Sky Blues will have to be prepared to whether periods of onslaught, although that should create opportunities on the counter-attack.
The battle between Kyle McFadzean and Ched Evans could be a key area of this contest. Even if Evans doesn’t win the majority of his aerial duels, his ability to occupy the opposing defence can create space for Cameron Archer, as well as Preston’s advancing midfield players, which could be enough to provide the opportunities for the away side to win this game. If Liam Kelly was available, this might have been the type of game that suited him, in aiding the back three in that physical battle from central midfield.
For Coventry City, one of the key aims for this game may well be in looking to get behind Preston North End’s wing-backs, with neither being particularly pacey. This possibly furthers the case for starting Ian Maatsen at wing-back, with Fankaty Dabo on the other side (if fully fit), to give the team the width and ball-carrying ability in wide areas to take full advantage over Preston’s biggest area of weakness.