Monday’s defeat at home to Bournemouth felt a significant blow to Coventry City’s play-off hopes, but the table shows there is a chance still. Victory in this upcoming trip to West Bromwich Albion has the potential to move the Sky Blues to within a win of the top six with two games to go. The season is very much still alive.
To retain interest in this season, Coventry City are going to have to beat a team that were in the Premier League last season, in West Bromwich Albion, who also have one of the best home records in the division. This is going to be a tough game but there is no reason for the Sky Blues to throw anything less than everything they’ve got at this final challenge of the season.
Just how much the defeat at Bournemouth changes Mark Robins’ mind about his best available team at the moment remains to be seen. While there continue to be few options available to the manager, there are one or two things that he can do.
The most obvious area for change would be to bring Kyle McFadzean back into the heart of the defence. Against a team with a physical battering ram, in Andy Carroll, up front, it would make a lot of sense to do this – especially, after a poor set of performances from the current back three last time out.
Bringing Kyle McFadzean in would probably see Jake Bidwell drop out of the back three, but would make the former Swansea City defender an option in his preferred position of left wing-back. It is unlikely, given that Ian Maatsen’s pace and skill on the left is a key feature of this team’s play, but Maatsen could come into consideration for an attacking midfield role in order to provide Viktor Gyokeres with greater support than he has in the current 3-5-1-1 system.
However, with the current set-up having generally worked quite well over the past few weeks, any change up to the starting formation seems unlikely. The other thing to watch would be how Gustavo Hamer goes about avoiding a season-ending 15th yellow card of the season.
Last Time We Met
The biggest lesson from the meeting between these two teams back in December was probably that Fankaty Dabo is not a centre-back. Against a West Bromwich Albion side in poor form in front of goal, a ball played in just behind Dabo saw Karlan Grant race in one-on-one with Simon Moore to put the Baggies ahead.
From that point onwards, it looked like being an uphill battle against a physical and pacey West Bromwich Albion side. With the Sky Blues struggling to deal with their set-piece and crossing threat, it was from a cross from which West Brom gained a two-goal advantage before the first-half was out.
Despite a Kyle McFadzean goal from a corner-kick routine in the second-half, there was little danger of Coventry City turning the game around against a team that looked a little better than them in just about every area.
The Manager – Steve Bruce
With Valerien Ismael unable to get a tune out of this West Bromwich Albion side, replacing a man with a very specific style of play with Steve Bruce speaks to the lack of a strategy at The Hawthorns. Although Bruce has been unable to make much of an impact at West Brom since arriving in February, he hasn’t really been given the chance to succeed with such an imbalanced squad that has been lacking in confidence since the early months of the campaign.
Although there remains a chance of making the play-offs this season, West Bromwich Albion look to have downed tools a while ago. Due to the talent available in their squad, it would be dangerous to underestimate them, but the focus at The Hawthorns looks to be on a potential rebuild over the summer. Whether Steve Bruce is the man to oversee it may well depend on an upturn in results over the final few games of the season.
Who To Look Out For?
The two key elements to this West Bromwich Albion side is their physically powerful defence and the collection of quick, skilful forward players that they possess. For Coventry City, navigating around a central defensive trio of Dara O’Shea, Kyle Bartley and Matt Clarke could well be the primary challenge in this game. Not only is it a physically dominant back-line, but Clarke’s pace in cover makes them especially difficult to navigate past.
In attack, West Bromwich Albion have a number of pacey forwards to choose from. Karlan Grant has tended to be first-choice this season due to his finishing ability, but being able to call upon Callum Robinson, Grady Diangana and Matt Phillips gives the Baggies plenty of threat on the counter when they get the opportunity. That pace can be especially threatening with the physical presence of Andy Carroll occupying opposing defences and creating space.
Knitting the defence and attack together has been the issue for West Bromwich Albion this season. The energy of the versatile academy youngster Taylor Gardner-Hickman has been useful, but the team has lacked someone capable of getting their foot on the ball and dictating in the centre of the pitch, with the physical, Jake Livermore, remaining a key presence in the team in midfield.
Where The Game Will Be Won Or Lost
It would be foolish for Coventry City to enter this game with the mentality other than they are up against a really tough opponent. While West Bromwich Albion don’t look to be in a great place as a club right now, there is not only quality enough in their ranks to win this game through individual quality but there is strong argument that they are uniquely set up to beat the Sky Blues.
That is because their physical back-line, with Matt Clarke providing pace to cover for it, could mark Viktor Gyokeres completely out of the game and make it very difficult, as a result, for Coventry City to move quickly from back to front. That could then force the Sky Blues to look to push up and attempt to play through West Brom, leaving space on the counter for someone like Karlan Grant to exploit.
Furthermore, West Bromwich Albion’s physicality will make them a big danger from set-pieces and crosses, which Coventry City have struggled to defend in recent times. Even if the Sky Blues can hold West Brom at arm’s length for much of this game, there will always be a chance that the Baggies can nick a goal from just one set-piece or cross.
For this to be a good game for Coventry City, Viktor Gyokeres will have a key role to play. While there is a danger he could be well-marshalled by the West Brom defence, if he can win his duels that is where the Sky Blues could begin to cause problems for the home side. That would allow Callum O’Hare, Gustavo Hamer and Jamie Allen to get into the game further up the pitch and play the kind of quick, snappy football that led to the recent wins over Fulham and Birmingham City.