Preview: Cardiff City

Boxing Day’s trip to Sheffield United felt an opportunity to launch Coventry City into bona fide play-off contention, only for it to end in a rather chastening defeat – with a seemingly serious injury suffered to one of the team’s most important players, Callum O’Hare, to rub salt into the wound. However, seasons are not defined by individual games, instead, it is the ability to quickly cast set-backs to one side and get back on track that separates the teams that achieve things from those that don’t, which is the task for the Sky Blues in this upcoming home game against Cardiff City.

On the face of it, a home game against a side in rather indifferent form and struggling at the wrong end of the table looks a good opportunity for Coventry City to get back into the swing of things, but the current paper-thin nature of this Sky Blues squad makes any game right now a challenge. Mark Robins would surely dearly like it to be January already, but there are two games to navigate without picking up further injuries to stretch limited resources before that safe haven is reached.

Expected Line-Up

Possible Line-Up (3-4-2-1): Wilson; Rose, Doyle, Panzo; Burroughs, Sheaf, Hamer, Bidwell; Allen. Palmer; Gyokeres.

It hasn’t yet been confirmed just how serious the injury Callum O’Hare picked up in the opening minutes of the Sheffield United game is, but the whispers are that it is not good. Whether or not those rumours are true, O’Hare will certainly be out of this game, which will force Mark Robins into making just a second change to the starting XI since the return from the World Cup break.

Kasey Palmer looks the likeliest to step into the fray, however, there remains the concern with him that he isn’t capable yet of lasting 90 minutes. While Martyn Waghorn provides an alternative, that it would involve a tactical alteration makes Palmer the preferred option here. This is a big opportunity for Palmer to demonstrate that he can affect and win games for this team.

Elsewhere, the return of Fankaty Dabo to action on Boxing Day possibly puts Jack Burroughs’ position in the side under pressure. However, the youngster has largely been fine during this run in the side he has enjoyed, which takes the pressure off rushing Dabo back too quickly.

Finally, it is possible that there may be other changes made with the need to keep legs fresh over the festive period in mind. Mark Robins’ options to do so are limited, but there is a chance that someone like Liam Kelly could be given a surprise run-out here just so that the manager isn’t forced into making changes later down the line.

Last Time We Met

Coventry City were pretty poor for most of their away trip against Cardiff City back in October, yet somehow came out with the win. After Viktor Gyokeres missed an early sitter, it was pretty much all Cardiff pressure, with the Sky Blues repeatedly giving the ball away in dangerous areas to encourage their opponents onto them. Then, out of nowhere, the away side produced a confident passing move, which resulted in a Jamie Allen shot that was palmed into the feet of Viktor Gyokeres by Ryan Allsop in the Bluebirds’ goal.

The second-half started with Cardiff City believing they had equalised, via Callum Robinson pouncing on a sliced Kyle McFadzean clearance in the Coventry City penalty area, however, the referee deemed McFadzean’s attempted pass as unintentional and ruled it out for offside. After that let-off, the remainder of the game was more serene from a Sky Blues perspective as Cardiff ran out of steam, making for a valuable away win.

The Opposition

The Manager – Mark Hudson

After handing a rookie their first managerial job, in Steve Morison, and getting frustrated at early teething issues, Cardiff City have decided to replace him with another rookie in their first managerial job, in Mark Hudson. The former Cardiff City centre-back, Hudson, has achieved little more than par since taking over in September, bringing some level of organisation but results have remained inconsistent as he works with a squad that is probably not much better then the team’s current league position.

Cardiff City appear to have bigger fish to fry right now than the identity of their manager, as they have recently been placed under a three-window transfer embargo for their attempts to wiggle out of a deal for the late Emiliano Sala that dated back to their last spell in the Premier League. Having attempted to re-energise their squad with younger, and cheaper, players last summer, the prospective embargo comes at an awkward time as Cardiff seek an injection of quality to keep them in the Championship. There is probably enough about this team already to do so, but a few new recruits would be handy – all eyes at the Cardiff City Stadium are on a potential appeals process against that transfer ban.

Who To Look Out For?

Possible Line-Up (4-2-3-1): Allsop; Romeo, Ng, Kipre, O'Dowda; Wintle, Ralls; Philogene, Colwill, Robinson; Etete.

On the topic of transfers, the best that Cardiff City made over the summer was undoubtedly the late one to prise Callum Robinson away from West Bromwich Albion. The former Preston North End forward, who can play either out wide or centrally, has been a strong performer at this level for quite a while now and has provided this Cardiff side with the directness, drive and a little niggle in the final third that they otherwise lack with quite a young attacking unit.

On their day, Cardiff City’s other attackers have the ability to be very exciting and effective. Jaden Philogene, on loan from Aston Villa, is a supremely skilful and evasive winger with his pace and close control, while Rubin Colwill is an excellent technician out of the club’s academy who has already been involved in the Wales set-up and is now starting to find regular minutes with his hometown club. Kion Etete in the number nine role is another who is starting to be trusted to play regularly, with his physical size, touch and intelligence making him potentially a very effective leading man, just someone who is maybe playing at Championship level a year or two too early.

In central midfield, Ryan Wintle is another player in this Cardiff City side who should develop into one of the better players in their position at this level, with his range of passing offering the ability to dictate games, but who isn’t quite there yet. He is generally partnered by the more experienced Joe Ralls, but there is the leggy Andy Rinomhota available to provide running and energy in the middle of the park to open things up for Wintle.

At the back, Cedric Kipre is the kind of centre-back who can absolutely dominate on his day, but he is surrounded by players who aren’t quite natural defenders, in Perry Ng (a right-back playing at centre-back) and Callum O’Dowda (a winger playing at left-back). In goal, Ryan Allsop has developed into a solid performer at Championship-level, some years after being nowhere near that standard for Coventry City in League One.

Where The Game Will Be Won Or Lost

The amount of pace that this Cardiff City side has to utilise on the counter-attack should be a particular concern for Coventry City in this game given how susceptible they have looked on the break over the past couple of games. While there is a difference between having pace and utilising it effectively to create chances, Cardiff may only have to get it right once or twice to make this a more difficult game for the Sky Blues than it appears on paper.

In contrast to the last meeting between these two teams, it is likely to be Coventry City in charge of possession for much of this game. Presuming that Gustavo Hamer and Ben Sheaf are paired in midfield, that should give the home side a level of control as they start to look to break the opposition down. The attacking instincts of Jack Burroughs at right wing-back are likely to be useful here, whether Kasey Palmer and Jamie Allen are capable of linking play up around Viktor Gyokeres could well be the difference between having the ball and creating chances with it.

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