Preview: Birmingham City

A creditable point against Luton Town gives Coventry City something to work with heading into a derby clash with Birmingham City. However, it is just two points and zero wins from the opening six games. It shouldn’t be lost on anyone that wins are absolutely essential at this stage.

The hope is that the positive aspects of the performance against Luton Town can be harnessed into a victory in this game. The Sky Blues have star players that can hurt opponents at this level, the key is to restrict the flow of goals that are leaking at the back. Against an in-form and well-coached Birmingham City side, any nascent feelings of confidence will be under stern examination.

Expected Line-Up

Possible Line-Up (3-4-1-2): Wilson; Doyle, McFadzean, Panzo; Dabo, Sheaf, Hamer, Bidwell; Allen; Godden, Gyokeres.
Possible Line-Up

It really shouldn’t be more complicated than sticking with the team that came played out the final hour of the Luton Town game to a 1-0 scoreline. After all the tinkering across the back-line, all of the resting of key players, that final period of Wednesday night’s game was a rare moment this season when this team has looked simultaneously competitive at the back and a threat at the other end.

While the severity of the injury that saw Michael Rose taken off in the opening half hour of Wednesday’s game is not yet know, the Scot was on thin ice in terms of keeping his place in the side and the fact the team did not concede following his exit from the Luton Town match may have resulted in him sitting out on the sidelines regardless. To have two left-footers either side of Kyle McFadzean in defence isn’t ideal, but it looks to be better to select the team’s three best central defenders right now rather than what would be the most aesthetically pleasing combination at the back.

The only other area of change would depend on whether Mark Robins sees the need to inject fresh legs into the team due to the short turnaround from Wednesday night and the lack of substitutions made in that game. Candidates to come into the team would be Kasey Palmer, Martyn Waghorn and Tyler Walker, but their respective styles of play may be seen as a little too disruptive after what was largely a cohesive showing against Luton Town.

Last Time We Met

True to form for 2022, Coventry City handed a desperately out-of-sorts Birmingham City side the lead back on Good Friday. Sloppy defending from one set-piece preceded sloppy defending from another to give the Blues a 2-0 lead, which somehow didn’t feel a comfortable one. Thus it was that the Sky Blues were level by half-time, with Ben Sheaf twice getting on the end of two of the team’s own set-pieces to establish what was probably a fair parity.

Coventry City stepped things up nicely in the second-half, starting to move through the gears as Michael Rose flicked in a corner-kick to put the away side ahead. While Birmingham City had chances to level things up again, it was the Sky Blues that were largely on top, with a rare Callum O’Hare goal from a swift counter-attack sealing the victory with an iconic celebration.

The Opposition

The Manager – John Eustace

A Coventry City youth-team graduate who was tentatively linked with the manager’s job following Tony Mowbray’s resignation from the club back in 2016, John Eustace has carved out a reputation as one of the brightest young coaching prospects in the country. After producing some eye-catching football with Kidderminster Harriers in the National League North, Eustace joined the coaching set-up at Queens Park Rangers and the Republic of Ireland to glowing reviews. Having reportedly turned down managerial offers from Swansea City and Watford over the past year, it is quite the coup for Birmingham City that they lured him over the summer – especially given the state the club is on off-the-pitch.

With limited resources, relying largely on free transfers and loan players on top of a disorganised and ageing Blues squad, John Eustace has Birmingham City playing smart, purposeful football. Having had a reputation during his time at Kidderminster for playing a very possession-heavy style, Eustace has altered that approach in order to harness the talents of the players at his disposal. More than anything, Eustace has brought organisation and purpose to a club in Birmingham City that has been and remains anything but.

Who To Look Out For?

Possible Line-Up (3-4-1-2): Ruddy; Collin, Sanderson, Trusty; Williams, James, Chong, Leko; Bacuna; Hogan, Deeney.
Possible Line-Up

This is a Birmingham City side without too many star individual players to call upon, but it is that team ethic that John Eustace has instilled that is the star at the moment. Competitive in the middle of the pitch and with enough in the final third to hurt opponents, Blues will be a tough nut to crack here.

In Scott Hogan, Troy Deeney and Juninho Bacuna, Birmingham City look to have a really awkward attacking line-up to deal with. Hogan is a pure goal poacher who will relish being able to peel off the back of Kyle McFadzean and test the tracking instincts of the Sky Blues’ inexperienced wide defenders. Deeney has been revitalised under John Eustace and has the ability to occupy multiple opposing defenders to open out more space for Hogan. Bacuna is the flash of inspiration in this Blues line-up, a skilful midfielder with a great engine and eye for a pass who will further ramp up the pressure on Coventry City’s defence.

On top of that front three, Birmingham City have the recently recruited Tahith Chong pushing up from a central midfield position. The Dutchman starred on loan last season in a more advanced role with his explosive running and skill on the ball that could take multiple defenders out of the game. Additionally, Manchester United starlet, Hannibal Mejbri, is another gifted footballer who could cause the Sky Blues further problems, likely from the bench.

At the back, John Eustace has made an odd combination of individuals work over the opening period of the season. While loanees, Dion Sanderson and Auston Trusty, look like high-calibre centre-backs, they have often been surrounded either by youngsters or senior players being deployed out of position. An injury to midfield lynchpin, Krystian Bielik, only adds to Eustace’s need to be creative at the back. Having a reliable veteran in John Ruddy between the sticks has proven a valuable last line of defence.

Where The Game Will Be Won Or Lost

With the defence remaining the key area of focus for Coventry City in this game, it wouldn’t be all that surprising to see a slight change-up in approach in order to ease the burden on the back-line. Don’t be surprised to see Ben Sheaf and Gustavo Hamer handed less of a licence to get on the ball in their own half in an attempt to control possession and more of a no-nonsense attitude in possession when the Sky Blues are in their own defensive third.

As ever, Viktor Gyokeres is likely to be a crucial player in trying to make things work for Coventry City here. If the ball is moved from back to front more quickly, Gyokeres’ ability to chase down seemingly lost causes – as seen in his goal on Wednesday night – has the potential to unsettle Birmingham City’s defence and potentially hand the Sky Blues a lead from which they can look to continue with a counter-attacking approach.

The big question here is whether a back three of a creaking Kyle McFadzean alongside an inexperienced duo of Callum Doyle and Jonathan Panzo can keep a hold on not only Troy Deeney’s physical presence but the space he may open up for Scott Hogan and Juninho Bacuna alongside him. This is going to be a big test of that back-line’s determination and concentration levels at a time when confidence may be low.

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