Victory over Birmingham City on Good Friday has put the top six within touching distance ahead of this Easter Monday clash with Bournemouth. Taking that next step won’t be easy, but that is the nature of challenging for the play-offs. Now would be a good time for Coventry City to win a third game in a row for the first time this season.
A positive result in this game against second-place Bournemouth really would be a demonstration of this team’s end-of-season credentials. While the Cherries are in relatively indifferent form, they are a team packed to the brim with stand-out performers at this level. Anything other than a stand-out performance from the Sky Blues may not be enough to attain victory here.
Mark Robins looks to have settled on a 3-5-1-1 shape, which has led to victories in the past two games. While there were issues in the first-half of Friday’s game in providing adequate support for Viktor Gyokeres in attack, that should be less of an issue against a Bournemouth side likely to commit more players forward than Birmingham City.
The likeliest change to the starting XI is set to be Todd Kane coming in for Fankaty Dabo, who limped off mid-way through the last game with an injury. That does leave Mark Robins with an even thinner bench than would be ideal, but it is a case having to play the cards that have been dealt his way.
Elsewhere, Kyle McFadzean is a consideration to return to the back three but that may prove to be a bigger disruption to the sense of continuity at the back than is necessary. Having McFadzean on the bench would at least provide the manager something in the way of an option to change things up later on in this game if the team needs to hold onto a lead.
Other than that, there really is little scope for further change. The only thing to keep an eye on is how Gustavo Hamer is managed as the spectre of him missing the rest of the campaign through suspension for his 15th booking of the season looms.
Last Time We Met
Bournemouth looked the far superior side when these two teams met back in November at Dean Court. Although the Cherries created relatively little, a wind-swept Jaidon Anthony cross put the home side ahead, punishing a timid Coventry City first-half display.
With the second-half following a familiar pattern of few chances but Bournemouth dominance, another moment of quality from Jaidon Anthony, in assisting Philip Billing to double their lead, looked to have rendered the game over. Even when Jefferson Lerma was sent-off for a cynical foul on Matt Godden, Bournemouth looked the likelier side to score the next goal.
That was until Matt Godden poked home a Todd Kane cross and the Cherries began a panicked, and needless, retreat towards their own penalty area. That invited the Sky Blues to try their luck in seeking an equaliser, with it taking another bluster of the South Coast wind to send a Todd Kane cross into the back of the net to seal what had looked an unlikely comeback.
The Manager – Scott Parker
For a manager who looks set to win his second promotion in a three-season-long career, the jury remains out as to whether Scott Parker is actually good at his job. After eking Fulham over the line two years ago before getting them immediately relegated from the top-flight, Bournemouth decided last summer that Parker was the man to lead them out of the second-tier. An impressive start to the season has given way to an inconsistent rest of the campaign, however, the sheer weight of individual talent at Bournemouth may well mean that it doesn’t matter that they seem to be less than the sum of their parts.
Parker had done a good job earlier in the season in promoting young talents into the starting XI, with Mark Travers in goal, Jordan Zemura at left-back, and Jaidon Anthony out wide the prime examples, but that promise has faded over the course of the campaign. Despite a January transfer market trolley dash, questions remain over Scott Parker’s cautious approach, reflected by a pretty miserable recent run in front of goal – zero goals in the past three games, with just four shots on target taken – as Bournemouth look set to stumble over the line ahead of a return to the top-flight.
Who To Look Out For?
If there is one player to epitomises this Bournemouth side, it is probably Dominic Solanke in attack. The division’s second top-scorer with 25 goals to his name, there can be little doubt that Solanke is of a level of talent above the Championship. However, there remains something a little unconvincing in Solanke’s style of play, with the striker often a relatively peripheral figure in games and capable of fluffing decent chances, yet he still has the quality about him to win games on a consistent basis at this level.
The talent that Bournemouth have in support of Solanke is, frankly, ludicrous. At the moment, Scott Parker is opting for the creative, ball-playing trio of Todd Cantwell, Philip Billing and Ryan Christie. All three are attacking midfielders who would prefer to be operating centrally, offering the ability to interchange positions and overload opponents, before producing quality in their final ball. If that doesn’t work, the pace and skill of wide-men, Siriki Dembele and Jaidon Anthony, provides Bournemouth with something different. Furthermore, striker/winger, Jamal Lowe is another injection of pace among the substitutes.
In central midfield, Scott Parker has opted for the duo of Lewis Cook and Jefferson Lerma, who could, quite comfortably, be slotted right into a mid-table Premier League side. Colombia international, Lerma, is famed for his aggression but also provides a languid quality in possession to get Bournemouth going from the base of midfield. Cook provides further quality on the ball, generally looking to push forward and drift past opponents to get his team on the front foot. That someone of the quality of Ben Pearson is not starting for this Bournemouth side is another example of their embarrassment of riches.
At the back, Bournemouth look to play attacking full-backs in Ethan Laird (who excelled earlier in the season on loan at Swansea City) and Adam Smith. The centre-back duo of Liverpool loanee, Nat Phillips, and the left-footed, Lloyd Kelly, is of a quality enough to keep Gary Cahill out of the starting XI. In goal, Mark Travers has performed to such a high standard this year that Freddie Woodman, one of last season’s best goalkeepers in the Championship, has been kept on the bench.
Where The Game Will Be Won Or Lost
This is a game that Bournemouth will look to take control of, with their primary ambition being to take the sting out of the contest so that their individual talent can win the game through one or two moments of quality. That may well suit Coventry City, with the Fulham game showing that this current set-up can be particularly effective on the counter, but there is every chance that it may not matter what the Sky Blues do if Bournemouth produce anything close to the standard that they are capable of.
Defending that area between the lines of defence and midfield for Coventry City will be an important area. With Bournemouth’s attacking midfielders tending to drift into the centre, against the Sky Blues’ midfield diamond, it could make for a really congested battle in that area of the pitch. Lewis Cook and Jefferson Lerma could provide Bournemouth the quality to stretch Coventry City, using their full-backs to widen the pitch, meaning that Jamie Allen and Gustavo Hamer will have an important role to play in shutting those two players down.
For the Sky Blues, carrying a threat, and scoring, on the counter-attack is likely to be the key strategy for success in this game. With Bournemouth likely to push their full-backs forward, that should leave Viktor Gyokeres in favourable situations against the opposition back-line, if Callum O’Hare, Jamie Allen and Gustavo Hamer can offer quality in support, Coventry City could have opportunities to overload the Cherries’ defence on the transition.