Getting a first win on the season on Saturday was an important milestone for Coventry City. However, how soon that second win comes could provide a more definitive indication as to where this campaign is heading for the Sky Blues.
A trip away to a free-scoring Bristol City side is going to be a big test of Coventry City’s newfound defensive resilience. It is one thing to have kept clean sheets against Birmingham City and a struggling Middlesbrough, it will be a challenge of a higher order to do so against the division’s top-scorers. It feels as if this game will go some way to proving whether or not recent improvements are sustainable.
After finally finding a winning formula at the weekend, it would be surprising if Mark Robins made many changes for this game. With no fresh injuries, the main consideration for the manager heading into this match is fatigue as a manic run of fixtures gets underway.
The most likely candidate for rotation is Kasey Palmer, given how carefully the club has had to manage his fitness to get him to the point where he could impact a game as he did at the weekend. Only Palmer and Mark Robins will know just whether he is at a level of fitness yet to start two games in a row in such a short space of time, the likelihood is that he isn’t quite there yet.
In Palmer’s possible absence, Jamie Allen seems set to be shifted further forward, with Josh Eccles taking his place in central midfield. Martyn Waghorn is another candidate for that role just behind the strikers, but that would probably unsettle the midfield too much for what is a tough away game against a strong attacking opponent.
Elsewhere, there may be a case to drop Matt Godden in place of either Martyn Waghorn or Tyler Walker, but it still feels like Mark Robins is hoping that Godden and Gyokeres will eventually click as a partnership. Were Kasey Palmer to be of a higher standard of fitness, a move to rest Godden in order to solidify the midfield would probably be the go-to for this kind of game.
Last Time We Met
It may have only been the second game of the season for Coventry City, but both the performance and circumstances of August’s defeat to Bristol City in the League Cup laid bare the difficult situation the club had found itself in at the start of the campaign.
Played at Burton Albion’s Pirelli Stadium due to the CBS Arena pitch being declared unsafe, a second-string Coventry City side were torn apart by a strong and confident Bristol City outfit. The Robins were 3-0 up at half-time, after scoring from a set-piece and then two goals from youngster Tommy Conway. Jamie Allen mustered a reply around the hour mark, but a late Andreas Weimann goal rubberstamped what was a complete mismatch between the two teams.
The Manager – Nigel Pearson
Having taken a year to clear the decks at Bristol City, the aim for Nigel Pearson and the club this season is to put together a concerted run at the play-offs. Pearson has re-energised Bristol City around some devastating attacking players, with the focus this season being on trying to find better balance at the back.
Bristol City have been somewhat inconsistent to start the campaign. While the goals have continued to flow, it has been occasional defensive errors and moments of sloppiness that threaten to undermine the good that Nigel Pearson has done at Ashton Gate. The Robins have scored in every league game thus far, but have the second-worst goals against record in the division. On a run of three defeats in a row – albeit, against good teams – Pearson will be looking for a reaction in this game to get Bristol City back on track.
Who To Look Out For?
In Chris Martin, Antoine Semenyo and Andreas Weimann, Bristol City already had one of the most dangerous forward lines in the division, it has been bolstered this year by the form of the experienced Nahki Wells and the emergence of youngster, Tommy Conway. All five are very different kinds of forwards, providing Nigel Pearson with the ability to chop and change based on the opposition. Wells is more of a standard goal-poacher, Tommy Conway brings pace to run in behind, Antoine Semenyo is both an excellent ball-carrier and physical battering ram, Chris Martin is an effective back-to-goal target-man, while Andreas Weimann is an intelligent and hard-running link player just behind the attacking line.
Bristol City will be without star academy product, Alex Scott, for this game through suspension, however, that should allow the skilful and industrious Han-Noah Massengo to come to the fore in this game. The French youngster can really conduct matches at this level when on form, making it important that the Sky Blues look to close him down whenever possible.
Further back, Kal Naismith in the heart of Bristol City’s back-line is another key dangerman. A player who started his career as a skilful winger, before filling in further and further back, Naismith’s technical grounding from having played as an attacking player is a huge asset in terms of distributing the ball from the back. While he isn’t the most comfortable player defensively, he adds to Bristol City’s ability to play dominant and quick attacking football.
Where The Game Will Be Won Or Lost
After back-to-back clean sheets for Coventry City, this game is going to provide an indication as to whether this recent run represents genuine improvement at the back or was more to do with the nature of the opposition faced. While the Sky Blues did well to limit Middlesbrough at the weekend, there were still some moments of sloppy decision-making that may have been punished by a better opponent – Bristol City are that better opponent.
The overall game-plan for Coventry City here is likely to be similar as to what was seen against Middlesbrough at the weekend, where the team will look to sit fairly deep and play the ball forward quickly in an attempt to utilise Viktor Gyokeres’ physicality and running to stretch the opposing defence. If the Sky Blues can isolate the Swede against Bristol City’s defenders, there should be joy to be found. It would be helpful if the players around Gyokeres in attack can make runs to further take advantage of any space that opens up.
How successful that game-plan is will rest entirely on how tight Coventry City can keep things at the back. Recently, Bristol City have paired the in-form Nahki Wells with Tommy Conway, which the Sky Blues back-line may feel they have a better chance of containing by sitting deep and looking to limit the space they get in behind. Were the Robins to opt for the more physical Antoine Semenyo and/or Chris Martin, that would cause bigger issues for Coventry City’s defence.