Preview: Bristol City

The soap opera that is Coventry City’s stadium woes surprised viewers with yet another bizarre twist this week. With the CBS Arena pitch in an unsafe condition following a summer of hot weather, music concerts and rugby sevens, the Sky Blues have been forced into a fifth different ground since the turn of the millennium, this time at Burton Albion’s Pirelli Stadium.

Whether this is just a one-off oddity or the start of a new spell in exile remains to be seen. Just how much of an impact this might make to Mark Robins’ plans this season also remains to be seen. As unimportant as the first round of the League Cup tends to be, it feels like a win in this tie with Bristol City could prove to be valuable in staving off any sense of crisis around the club.

Expected Line-Up

Possible Line-Up (3-5-2): Wilson; Hyam, McFadzean, Panzo; Dabo, Allen, Sheaf, Hamer, Adaramola; Godden, Gyokeres.
Possible Line-Up

Mark Robins has tended to use the first round of the League Cup to deploy a completely changed starting XI, looking to avoid overworking the team in the early weeks of the season. After the postponement of Sunday’s game against Rotherham United, however, it may be more valuable to stick with a team closer to the one that will line up in the next league game in order to build up match sharpness.

Despite that, Ben Wilson may be handed the starting jersey in goal as part of his duties as back-up goalkeeper. In light of Simon Moore’s costly error against Sunderland last time out, Wilson may view this as an opportunity to underline his viability as a starting number one. Just how much that will matter will become apparent when Saturday’s starting line-up is named.

Elsewhere, an extra few days of training could provide opportunities for Fankaty Dabo and Tayo Adaramola to start at wing-back. After the issues the team had with Josh Eccles and Jake Bidwell in the opening game, it might be a smart move to attempt to get the pacier duo of Dabo and Adaramola up to speed as quickly as possible.

Just how the rest of the team lines up will depend on just how seriously Mark Robins will look to take this game. A key area of interest may be just how the attack lines up now that it’s apparent that Callum O’Hare will be out for a while. The front two looked somewhat isolated against Sunderland due to Jamie Allen playing in a deep midfield role as O’Hare’s replacement, introducing Fabio Tavares in a wide role instead may be something worth trying here.

Last Time We Met

In one of the team’s better away performances last season, Coventry City utilised their counter-attacking threat expertly to navigate past a strong Bristol City side. Taking the lead in the first-half thanks to Gustavo Hamer picking out Ian Maatsen for a smart finish, the Robins put the Sky Blues’ defence under severe pressure from that point onwards and levelled after half-time with an emphatic Chris Martin header.

There looked only one winner from that point, as Bristol City mustered further chances. However, Gustavo Hamer produced another key contribution, winning the ball in his own half, carrying it to the edge of the penalty area and picking out Viktor Gyokeres, who produced a finish that snatched a hard-fought victory for the Sky Blues.

The Opposition

The Manager – Nigel Pearson

Having had a big job to do last year in reducing Bristol City’s wage bill and trying to turn around an apathetic culture at the club, the target for Nigel Pearson this season is to demonstrate more tangible progress at Ashton Gate. After putting together one of the Championship’s most lethal front-lines, made up of Andi Weimann, Chris Martin and Antoine Semenyo, the emphasis over the summer has been on improving a leaky back-line. Two defeats featuring five pretty sloppy goals to concede has not been the start Pearson would have wanted.

The emphasis for this game from a Bristol City perspective is likely to be in allowing first-choice players a rest and handing opportunities to those on the fringe. Following those early poor defensive performances, the Robins are likely to being targeting a sterner showing at the back, with those selected in defence in with a good chance of earning a starting place with a positive showing.

Who To Look Out For?

Possible Line-Up (3-5-2): Bajic; Vyner, Klose, Towler; Wilson, King, Massengo, Bennarous, Pring; Wells, Conway.
Possible Line-Up

There is plenty of promising young talent around this Bristol City squad that may be viewing this League Cup tie as a chance to break into the first-team. One name to watch out for here may be Tommy Conway in attack, who has scored freely at youth-level for the Robins and has been kept around the first-team over the past few seasons, rather than being sent out on loan. This could be a breakthrough year for the nippy goal poacher. Pacey winger, Sam Bell, and central midfielder, Ayman Bennarous, are other academy products who may get a run out in this game.

Summer signing, Kane Wilson, has been broken in softly thus far but is likely to be unleashed in this game. The rampaging right wing-back starred in League Two last season with Forest Green Rovers. While Wilson’s attacking instincts from wing-back may not necessarily address the team’s defensive issues, if he can pin opponents back with his forward runs, it may reduce the pressure on the defence.

In midfield, Han-Noah Massengo may well be involved in this game and will provide energy and physicality in the centre of the pitch. With Matty James out injured for a few weeks and Joe Williams in need of having his minutes managed due to fitness issues, former Leicester City man, Andy King, could well be given a run-out here too.

Where The Game Will Be Won Or Lost

Leaving aside the surreal circumstances in which this game is being played, a key factor heading into this match is just how seriously either manager will take this League Cup first round tie. Mark Robins has the stronger temptation to name as close to his first-choice team as possible due to the postponement of last Sunday’s game, while Nigel Pearson looks likelier to experiment with his team selection here.

Provided Coventry City name a strong team, a key area of this game will be in how Gustavo Hamer and Ben Sheaf connect the attack with the rest of the team. It was something that took too long to get going in the Sunderland game, and is especially important right now, in light of Callum O’Hare’s extended absence. The energy of Han-Noah Massengo for Bristol City, if selected, would make Hamer and Sheaf’s quest for control much more difficult.

Bristol City are likely to have a lot of pace in attack to utilise, which is where Jonathan Panzo could be an asset for the Coventry City defence in providing cover. Whomever is selected at left wing-back for the Sky Blues is likely to have a big task on in shutting down Kane Wilson on Bristol City’s right in order to limit their attacking threat.

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