Preview: Luton Town

After a performance on Saturday against Swansea City where absolutely no-one played well, Coventry City will be hoping that ‘just one of those days’ can be quickly cast into the shade. The chase for the top six remains on, but building some good form over these next four games will be crucial in keeping the Sky Blues in the chase.

Against a Luton Town side that picked apart Coventry City back in September in a 5-0 win, this will surely be a test of how switched-on this Sky Blues side is right now. There are a lot of excuses as to why this team looks to be in a bit of a rut at this moment in time, but now is the time to grind out performances and results, rather than when the going gets easier after the upcoming international break.

Expected Line-Up

Possible Line-Up (3-5-2): Moore; Rose, McFadzean, Clarke-Salter; Kane, Hamer, Sheaf, Allen, Maatsen; Waghorn, Gyokeres.
Possible Line-Up

The big issue for Mark Robins remains the number of injured and unfit players in the first-team squad, which looks unlikely to improve for this game. There is a possibility that both Callum O’Hare and Dominic Hyam could return to some form of selection consideration here, but the manager’s options remain severely limited at the moment.

Just how the midfield and attack is set up depends on quite a few factors. With this game probably coming slightly too soon to start either or both of Matt Godden and Martyn Waghorn, a 3-4-2-1 looks the likeliest starting formation. However, there is a shortage of options of players to operate behind Viktor Gyokeres, with Callum O’Hare probably not fit enough to start here, Jodi Jones not match-fit either, Jordan Shipley injured, and Ian Maatsen likely to start at left wing-back due to a knock that Jake Bidwell has apparently picked up.

With Callum O’Hare, Martyn Waghorn and Matt Godden all possibly unable to last 90 minutes, that leaves the possibility of first league start for Fabio Tavares, however, Mark Robins may be reticent to throw the youngster in at the deep end. Behind a possible front-pairing is likely to be Jamie Allen, but it may be wiser to play him in a midfield three as he lacks the technical quality to operate as a lone number ten.

Elsewhere, the back three will probably stay the same but Dominic Hyam could come in for Kyle McFadzean to add some pace to the back-line. Also, a reminder that Fankaty Dabo will miss this game as part of the second game of his two-game ban for a second red card of the season.

Last Time We Met

It may have started with a dodgy penalty decision, but it was, another, of those games when Coventry City met Luton Town back in September, that happen over the course of a season where no-one plays well and every mistake gets punished.

It began with a penalty call within the first five minutes for a foul by Jake Clarke-Salter on Elijah Adebayo that was, probably, committed outside the penalty area. However, even that moment reflected how overwhelmed by Luton the Sky Blues were. It just didn’t get better from that point onwards, with Luton rattling home another three goals before the half-time break, with Coventry City unable to get the breather they clearly needed.

It really could have been more had Luton not stepped off the gas in the second-half. Instead, they were content with pouncing on a Ben Sheaf error to make it 5-0 just before the hour, before holding Coventry City at arm’s length for the remainder of the 90 minutes.

The Opposition

The Manager – Nathan Jones

Like Mark Robins, Nathan Jones is a manager who seems to fit the club he manages very well. After an initial spell at Kenilworth Road that saw the club promoted from League Two in the same season as Coventry City were, Jones oversaw most of the subsequent campaign that ended in promotion to the Championship, before departing for an ill-fated stint at Stoke City.

Returning to Luton during the first lockdown, Jones kept the club in the Championship, before gradually building the Hatters into genuine play-off contenders over the course of the past season and a half. Adopting a high-intensity brand of football, Luton are greater than the sum of their parts under Jones, with players and formations capable of being interchanged seamlessly due to the clear sense of identity and purpose that the team’s manager instils.

Who To Look Out For?

Possible Line-Up (4-1-2-1-2): Palmer; Bree, Burke, Lockyer, Bell; Mpanzu; Clark, Berry; Hylton; Adebayo, Cornick.
Possible Line-Up

The attacking duo of Elijah Adebayo and Harry Cornick has been a key cornerstone for Luton Town’s success this season. Not only are both very talented individual attacking players, but they run the hard yards without the ball to get into the faces and unsettle opponents. Cornick, more naturally a winger, provides quick and direct running with and without the ball, while Adebayo combines excellent physicality with a surprising amount of pace that can be all but impossible to contain.

Luton Town ordinarily have quite a few options in midfield and attack to support Adebayo and Cornick, but the Hatters’ injury issues is likely to restrict Nathan Jones’ options for this game. Midfielders, Luke Berry and Jordan Clark, are likely to be the key supporting players for Luton Town’s attack, while they will be hoping that key dynamo, Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu is fit enough to start this game in order to provide the tempo at the base of the midfield that can get the Hatters playing.

Providing further support to Luton Town’s attack will be their enterprising full-back pairing of James Bree and Amari’i Bell. On the right, Bree has enjoyed an excellent campaign as he has started to look more and more like the player who was such a big prospect at Barnsley a few years ago. Bree’s energy and delivery from right-back is excellent and he could be an especially hard player for Coventry City to shut down given the system the Sky Blues play.

In defence, the possible absence of Sonny Bradley robs Luton Town of a key leadership figure at the back, even if Reece Burke and Tom Lockyer are perfectly solid Championship centre-backs. In goal, West Bromwich Albion’s, Alex Palmer (who impressed mightily on loan at Lincoln City in League One last year) has had to be drafted in after injuries to James Shea and Jed Steer.

Where The Game Will Be Won Or Lost

The first task for Coventry City in this game will be getting out of the fug that the team was consumed by at Swansea City. The concern is that was down to continuing issues with fatigue, as well as confidence seemingly having dipped, but anything less than the team’s best levels is likely to be punished in this game.

Secondly, it is crucial that Coventry City find a way to deal with Luton Town’s pressing style a lot better than they did in the reverse fixture. It won’t be as simple as playing more forward passes, because this Sky Blues side isn’t used to playing from back to front quickly. Viktor Gyokeres will have a big role to play in providing the focal point to help Coventry City get up the pitch, but that could rest on his fitness levels to help win individual battles with the opposing centre-backs.

The availability of Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu for Luton Town in this game could have a huge factor on how it plays out. As mentioned earlier, Mpanzu’s ability to distribute the ball quickly and accurately in front of Luton’s defence is really important to how they play. If he isn’t involved, his likely replacement, Henri Lansbury doesn’t quite have those qualities in possession, and can struggle in his defensive responsibilities too.

For both sides, the team-sheets look set to make interesting reading.

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