A first round League Cup exit is standard course for Coventry City – it was the tenth elimination from the competition at that stage in the past 14 years – but to be hammered in the manner that the team was threatens to put the Sky Blues on the back-foot at an early stage of the season. While it was pretty much a second-string team that lost to Bristol City, the combination of a lack of high-profile summer signings, a winless start (albeit, having played just two games), and the re-emergence of issues over the club’s home ground has dampened enthusiasm at this early stage of the campaign.
Getting a first win of the season under this team’s belt would go a long way to calming the mood around the club. An away trip to Millwall isn’t hardly a straightforward opportunity to register that first three points, which is why victory would be an especially significant boost to morale. Perhaps concerns right now are being overblown, but it would be helpful if this Coventry City served up a reminder of why there had been a level of optimism about this season just a few weeks ago.
It was perhaps a little surprising that Mark Robins elected to make wholesale changes to the team for Wednesday night’s League Cup tie with Bristol City, but it is understandable given that this game is the start of a three-match week at a time where the majority of the squad is not up to full fitness. Nonetheless, it is a little concerning how much of a drop-off there seemingly is between first and second-string.
With few of those involved on Wednesday night making a convincing case for a first-team place, it can be expected that the line-up for this game is going to be a very similar one to the side that started against Sunderland just under two weeks ago. There are only two areas that look up for debate, wing-back and how to shape the attack around a Callum O’Hare-shaped hole.
The first topic depends on how the fitness level of Fankaty Dabo is assessed after he managed an hour on Wednesday night. There will be pressure on Dabo to get up to full match fitness given how much Josh Eccles has struggled over these first two games, with the alternatives being Todd Kane, who looks completely out of favour, and Jack Burroughs, who is probably too inexperienced to start in a tough-looking away match. On the left, Jake Bidwell looks to have the edge on Tayo Adaramola for the time being.
Further forward, Mark Robins has yet to find a solution to not having Callum O’Hare to call upon to link midfield and attack. Jamie Allen, despite scoring on Wednesday night, doesn’t come close to offering Callum O’Hare’s dynamism and verve in the final third, while Kasey Palmer is clearly going to need some time to build fitness and confidence. However, there doesn’t look to be too much room for further experimentation in that area of the pitch, with the hope at the moment being that someone can take the step up in responsibility to replace O’Hare.
Last Time We Met
In the one festive fixture that survived the winter Covid outbreak, Coventry City put out a depleted and unfit team at the CBS Arena to take on a similarly depleted and unfit Millwall side. In a low-quality contest of few chances, Tyler Walker fluffed an excellent opportunity in the first-half to put the Sky Blues ahead.
With Millwall offering little threat of their own, the deadlock looked like it would remain, only for Coventry City to switch off at a set-piece in the final 15 minutes and hand the Lions the opportunity to snatch the three points.
The Manager – Gary Rowett
A thoroughly competent and experienced manager at Championship level, Gary Rowett has consistently kept Millwall in the top-half of the division despite operating on a smaller budget than the teams around them. Rowett’s formula for success has been predicated on keeping games tight, meaning that only a few small things have to go in his team’s favour to win games. It is hardly exciting, but has proven successful for several season now.
This season for Rowett and Millwall will be about how they navigate the departure of the inspirational attacking figure of Jed Wallace. The club have made some interesting additions, but it still very early days to assess what this new-look Millwall is capable of. The Lions eased past Stoke City on the opening day with two goals from set-pieces, but have since endured a first round League Cup exit and a thorough dismantling at Sheffield United. Nonetheless, they look in a good place to finish in the top-half again, making this a useful acid test for where this Coventry City ranks at this early stage of the campaign.
Who To Look Out For?
The man who has been signed to replace Jed Wallace for Millwall is the Dutch attacking-midfielder, Zian Flemming. A tall, competitive and skilful player, it is clear to see why Millwall view him as a viable replacement for Wallace, however, the Dutchman is being broken in slowly by Gary Rowett and is seemingly carrying a knock that may render him out of the side for this game.
Instead, Benik Afobe is likely to be the key figure in Millwall’s attack for this game. An excellent figurehead up front who can play with his back to goal, link the play but also catch opponents out with sudden bursts of acceleration or skill, his presence in the side allows Millwall to get smaller, pacier players into the game. Those smaller, pacey players are Mason Bennett and Tyler Burey, the latter being capable of match-winning moments of skill.
Further back, Millwall have an energetic, hard-working midfield, which has been bolstered by the additions of Leeds United loanee, Jamie Shackleton, and Hull City talisman, George Honeyman. The wing-back duo of Danny McNamara and Scott Malone provides further willing running to the team, while the latter’s delivery from set-pieces could swing this game in Milllwall’s favour.
In defence, the old guard of Bartosz Bialkowski in goal, and Jake Cooper and Murray Wallace in central defence remains as strong as ever. Another Leeds United loanee, Charlie Cresswell, has been added to the mix and has endured an up-and-down start, scoring twice on his debut before making a glaring error in last week’s defeat to Sheffield United.
Where The Game Will Be Won Or Lost
Millwall’s energy and physicality will make this a difficult test for a Coventry City side short on match fitness. As a team that wants to play out from the back, Millwall will look to shut down passing lanes in midfield and occasionally overwhelm the Sky Blues in the press close to their own goal. It will be essential that the defence, as well as Gustavo Hamer and Ben Sheaf in midfield, are switched-on in possession from the off here, or the game could quickly slip away from this team.
Playing out from the back has looked a key issue for this Coventry City side over the first couple of games. With the wing-backs tending to drop into the back five, it leaves the defence and midfield with limited options to play the ball forward quickly. It is why Viktor Gyokeres is such an important player at this moment in time as he provides the main release valve for when the defence is forced to play long. Against a physical and resolute Millwall side, Gyokeres is going to have to do a lot of hard running for this team if there continues to be a lack of support from the wing-backs and midfielders in making enterprising runs that can open up attacking space.
Another important area of this game will be at set-pieces. A big reason why Millwall have been so successful in recent years has been in the confidence they have that they can score from dead balls situations, meaning they can nick goals and wins without necessarily having to be free-flowing in possession to open teams up. The Sky Blues have generally been pretty good from set-pieces over the past couple of seasons, but the last meeting between the two teams demonstrated just how important it will be to defend every dead ball with 100% concentration.