When last Coventry City were action, there was no inclination of a takeover, the club had somewhere to play and a shirt to wear. A lot has happened in the four-week period since then, which distracts from what a strong position in the league table the Sky Blues have found themselves in. Two points off the play-offs with two games in hand, this team could well go on to do something special this season, but it is not known yet just how much of an impact the combination of off-field issues and a four-week break may have.
Coventry City resume action with a trip to a Reading side that are the mirror image of the Sky Blues. While Coventry started slowly and have found excellent form to push themselves into mid-table, Reading have been the exact opposite, drifting down from the play-offs as their early season form has faded. For both teams, this re-start to league action could be important in setting aspirations for the rest of the campaign.
Mark Robins looked to have settled on a formula prior to the World Cup break of determined defending as a platform for increasingly confident attacking play, however, the combination of a healthy buffer from danger and time on the training ground may shift what the manager wants to see from his team. Had this game occurred a month ago, the priority would have been a clean sheet and anything else as a bonus, whether the Sky Blues look to be more proactive in this game could provide a flavour for what the priorities are for the rest of the season.
A four-week pause in proceedings will have eased the injury situation that Mark Robins had to navigate during the mad pre-World Cup fixture rush. The headline news is that Liam Kelly, Martyn Waghorn and Fankaty Dabo should all be available for this game, although the team’s current form could well see none of those players start.
On the flip-side, Kyle McFadzean is suspended for this game and Kasey Palmer unlikely to be in contention to start due to the need to manage a knee injury. McFadzean is an especially big blow as there isn’t a like-for-like replacement available who can lead the defence in the manner he is capable of. While Callum Doyle impressed in McFadzean’s place for the Blackburn Rovers game, the lack of physicality in the back-line is particular concern against a team with Andy Carroll and Lucas Joao to call upon in attack.
Aside from that change in defence, any further changes are highly unlikely unless someone has caught Mark Robins’ eye in training over the last few weeks.
Last Time We Met
Both teams were in desperate need of a win back in February when a Coventry City side looking to keep its play-off hopes alive travelled to a Reading team in relegation danger. After a golden early opportunity for Viktor Gyokeres, Reading punished the Sky Blues’ profligacy as Lucas Joao was left with a little too much space in the box from which to convert a Junior Hoilett cross. Fortunately, Coventry found an equaliser on the cusp of half-time, with Dominic Hyam scoring against the team he came through the academy at, which proved to be one of the game’s key moments.
Coventry City hit the Royals with a one-two either side of the break, with Michael Rose turning in another Gustavo Hamer corner-kick delivery to turn the game on its head. That was until the Sky Blues again lost focus and allowed Andy Yiadom to level the scores. With the game starting to become frantic, Junior Hoilett picked up two silly bookings in quick succession to tip the odds in favour of Coventry, which was quickly taken advantage of as Ian Maatsen put the away team back in front. Aside from a big Tom Ince miss later on, that was that on a nervy afternoon for both teams.
The Manager – Paul Ince
After an eight-year gap in his managerial CV, Paul Ince showed up at Reading at the back end of last season to keep the Royals in the Championship. With the club operating under tight restrictions in the transfer market, Ince has prioritised organisation and fighting spirit in an attempt to maintain the club’s second-tier status until such a time as those restrictions may ease – whether that is any time soon is anyone’s guess. While the team started the season surprisingly well, both Ince and the Royals’ limitations have started to become apparent over the past month or so as form has faded with few performances to suggest it may soon return.
Reading are a team primarily built around physicality and work-rate, with a fair few smatterings of flair across the park to try and take advantage of that solid template. When they have the bit between their teeth, they can be a very tough nut to crack as they can soak up pressure before hitting opponents with the sucker punch. It is when opponents ask the Royals to find different ways through them where they have come unstuck/
Who To Look Out For?
The headline names for this Reading side are in attack, where a potential strike duo of Andy Carroll and Lucas Joao, with Shane Long to come on from the bench, is particularly eye-catching. The aforementioned Carroll and Joao’s effectiveness tends to be dependent on the quality of service they get elsewhere in the team, while Long’s work-rate is primarily useful these days in closing out games rather than making things happen for himself.
Tom Ince is the key source of creativity for Reading, with the manager’s son having revitalised his career since rocking up in Berkshire last January. Once the undisputed best player in the Championship, Ince has shown that he still retains the skill and decisiveness on the ball that once made him so good. Another ex-best player in the Championship, Jeff Hendrick, has been another source of inspiration for Reading this year, albeit less consistently.
With another creative figure in Junior Hoilett probably set to sit this game out after his involvement for Canada in the World Cup, Reading could do with another form of service for their attack. The talented, but inconsistent, Ovie Ejaria has been made to sit out this game due to apparent disciplinary issues, while Yakou Meite, who was so good from the bench with his pace and physicality out wide in the last meeting between the two teams, is yet to get up to full speed following a serious injury last year. That could pave the way for exciting academy youngster, Femi Azeez, who was excellent at the start of last season with his ability to beat defenders and get in scoring positions from out wide, to impress after he has returned from a serious injury of his own recently.
Further back, the priority for this Reading side is keeping things tight. With either or both of the holding midfield duo of Tyrese Fornah and Mamadou Loum to call upon, Reading have some very aggressive central defenders that will fight for every ball, typified by the experienced Sam Hutchinson. Additionally, Andy Yiadom at right-back is a very solid performer, while Joe Lumley in goal has been surprisingly impressive with his shot-stopping exploits this season, having been something of a figure of fun at various Championship teams in recent years.
Where The Game Will Be Won Or Lost
With Reading unlikely to change their approach for this game, just what Mark Robins does with his Coventry City side is likely to be the key factor in proceedings. The pragmatic option would be to look to sit back and hit the opposition on the counter in the fashion that has proven successful for much of the past month, however, the Sky Blues manager could well look to be more proactive, which could open the game up for both teams.
The absence of Kyle McFadzean is likely to push Mark Robins towards a more forward-thinking approach, as sitting back would invite Reading into sending crosses into the box for Andy Carroll to attack against Coventry City’s youthful and physically slight defence. Playing a higher line may risk Tom Ince and Yakou Meite making dangerous runs in behind on the counter, but it would significantly reduce the threat of Reading’s physical centre-forwards, Carroll and Lucas Joao.
Finding a way to play though Reading could still be a challenge, even with a higher defensive line, but there is plenty of quality on the ball in the forms of Ben Sheaf, Gustavo Hamer and Callum Doyle to pick passes into dangerous areas. Being able to call on pacier players in wide areas than Jake Bidwell and Josh Eccles would help Coventry City stretch Reading, which could make Fankaty Dabo a valuable option from the bench in this game.