The season started last week on a familiar note for Coventry City, scoring a late goal to salvage a point. However, if there is to be improvement this year, it will be in removing the necessity for those late games. The first home game of the campaign, with Rotherham United the opposition, provides the opportunity to prove that this team is getting better and that they can put together the strong form at the CBS Arena that eluded them for the majority of last season.
Rotherham United are a side that have caused Coventry City are fair amount of problems in recent years and are fresh off the back of a promotion-winning season. With the expectation from the crowd being that this will be a relatively straightforward victory, the Sky Blues will need to avoid a similar sense of complacency and attack the game from the off in a manner they have often struggled to over the past 12 months.
Injury and fitness issues mean that there isn’t much that Mark Robins can do to the starting XI that took to the field against Sunderland last week. With Callum O’Hare set to be out for a while, Fankaty Dabo and Kasey Palmer seemingly short of full match fitness, and the manager looking to break recent signing, Tayo Adaramola, in slowly, there is limited scope for change.
After a poor decision to come for a cross last week that cost the team a goal, Simon Moore’s place in goal remains an area for debate. It is probably a little too early in the campaign to be making such a big decision as to change the starting goalkeeper, not least because Moore went some way to redeeming himself over the rest of the Sunderland game by making at least one key save and appearing to settle down in his command of the area. Nonetheless, Moore could do with a big performance over these first few games to re-affirm his authority between the sticks.
The other team selection consideration for Mark Robins looks to be at wing-back, where neither Jake Bidwell nor Josh Eccles made much of an impact last week. If there is to be a change, Fankaty Dabo coming into the side for Eccles on the right looks the likeliest move, otherwise this will be a chance for both Eccles and Bidwell to redeem themselves after sub-par performances against Sunderland.
Unless the manager opts to go for the 4-2-3-1 shape that the team closed the Sunderland game out in, there isn’t really any other scope for change. A move to a back four looks unlikely, for the time being, given that the team has five senior centre-backs on the books and no natural wingers. It would likely take a long run of poor form for Mark Robins to consider such a drastic change that would upset the squad dynamic.
Last Time We Met
It was a key clash in the Championship relegation battle two seasons ago, as Coventry City travelled to Rotherham United knowing that the loser would end the evening in the bottom three. The Millers had momentum going into the match, off the back of a roaring come-from-behind win over Queens Park Rangers, while the Sky Blues had won just one of their past five games. However, it was Coventry City that started brightest, and were only denied a first-half lead by an inspired Viktor Johansson in the Rotherham United goal.
In a cagey contest, there was little sign of a breakthrough either way as the second-half wore on. That was until Sam McCallum won a soft free-kick on the edge of the Rotherham United penalty area, and Leo Ostigard stole a run on the Millers’ defence to head home Matty James’ delivery. It proved to be a significant moment, both in the game and the season itself, with Coventry City going on to claim the three points as part of a run of five wins in seven games that secured survival, while Rotherham failed to pick up another victory and went down in rather meek fashion.
The Manager – Paul Warne
There is a lot to like about Paul Warne as a manager, endlessly positive and inspirational, as well as a serial promotion-winner to boot, however, his methods are starting to wear thin at Rotherham United as safety in the Championship has eluded him. Just how much of that is down to Warne and how much is down to Rotherham not having the resources to compete at this level is a debate to be had, but it feels like this year will be his last shot to achieve at the New York Stadium what he has been unable to thus far in his managerial career.
Placing a big emphasis on motivation and fitness, Rotherham United under Paul Warne have caused good teams in the Championship problems over the years due to their intense, pressing style. The issue has been a lack of killer touch to round off strong performances, which may well be down to Rotherham’s financial limitations, but the Millers are a team under Warne that will keep opponents on their toes and generally give themselves the chance to take points from games.
Who To Look Out For?
The double departure of key centre-back, Michael Ihiekwe, and key striker, Michael Smith, to local rivals Sheffield Wednesday, of League One, has killed a lot of the optimism around Rotherham United heading into the new season. While the Millers have made a few interesting additions to replace the duo, not many of their new signings boast the proven Championship quality that would suggest that the team is much stronger than it was when they were relegated two years ago.
The key area of strength for Rotherham United at the moment looks to be in midfield, where there is a good blend of energy, physicality and craft. Even with the impressive tyro, Ollie Rathbone out, a trio of the schemer, Daniel Barlaser, sitting deep to spray passes around the pitch, Jamie Lindsay and Ben Wiles will push up to both support the attack and join the press when the team loses the ball is an impressive unit. The Millers have the potential to overwhelm opponents in the centre of the park that are not prepared for their energy levels, while there is a enough quality between Barlaser, Lindsay and Wiles to take control of games when they have the opportunity to.
The rapid winger, Chiedozie Ogbene, is the other star performer for Rotherham United. Having played most of last season at right wing-back, Ogbene was pushed into an attacking role for last week’s season-opener against Swansea City, grabbing himself a goal. Ogbene spent most of the club’s previous Championship campaign out injured, having him fully-fit this time around would be a key area of improvement for the team.
At the back, Rotherham United will look to be physical and imposing, generally deploying a back three. Former Coventry City man, Richard Wood, has become a key figure at the club over the past eight years and is likely to feature in the middle of the defensive trio to provide organisation and leadership. Either side of Wood, Grant Hall and Cameron Humphreys are more mobile, technical defenders who can also compete physically. Furthermore, Wes Harding at right wing-back will be another physically imposing threat to deal with.
Where The Game Will Be Won Or Lost
Rotherham United are a side that will come out and look to press Coventry City, which has caused the team problems in recent years. Mark Robins was able to negate Rotherham’s press two years ago by adopting a more direct approach in order to deny them opportunities to squeeze the Sky Blues in possession in their own half, however, the Coventry City of 2022 may not be as suited to such a style. Just how effective Rotherham are as a pressing unit and how capable the Sky Blues may be in playing around it will be the key theme in this game.
For Coventry City, Jonathan Panzo is likely to be a key figure in bringing the ball out of defence, while Gustavo Hamer and Ben Sheaf will drop deep at times in order to present options on the ball for the back three. Having Viktor Gyokeres in attack will further assist the Sky Blues’ efforts to stymie Rotherham United’s press, offering that option to play the ball forward quickly as a release valve for any pressure the opposition look to build.
Rotherham United’s style will present the opportunity for Coventry City to get at their back-line if the team can successfully navigate around that initial pressure in their own half. The Millers tend to push up in order to apply pressure on teams, which leaves their defence stretched when teams can play around them. This is another aspect of the game where Viktor Gyokeres will be a big asset to the Sky Blues’ efforts.