Preview: Wrexham

Coventry City’s FA Cup campaign starts with an intriguing tie with a Hollywood-funded Wrexham, who are set to bring a bumper away following, but all eyes in Sky Blue are on the finalisation of Doug King’s prospective takeover ahead of a transfer window where additions are desperately required to add to a thin and fatigued squad. The main motivation for victory in this game is the preservation of pride, however, defeat would be quickly forgotten about were there to be a successful January window and Coventry City picked up the points required to get back into the play-off race.

There may be a three division gap between Coventry City and Wrexham, but that is a disparity that could well be narrowed by the Red Dragon’s excellent form and the low priority Mark Robins places on cup competitions. With the Sky Blues likely to rest as many key players as possible, any supposed superior quality could be counteracted by having a team on the pitch that is not familiar with one another. It is almost certain that this game will not be as straightforward as it may as the positions in the league ladder would suggest

Expected Line-Up

Possible Line-Up (3-4-1-2): Moore; Rose, Doyle, Panzo; Dabo, Kelly, Hamer, J. Burroughs; Palmer; Tavares, Gyokeres.

It is anticipated that Mark Robins will look to rotate the starting XI as much as possible after the hectic festive period, however, that may not lead to much of a significant weakening of the team due to how first-team squad options are available. Unless the manager is willing to parachute in some untested under-23 players, the line-up for this game may not look all that different to the one put out against Bristol City in the last league game.

One notable area where Mark Robins can change things up is in goal, where Simon Moore, the first-choice goalkeeper heading into the season, has been waiting for an opportunity to reclaim his place in the team since Ben Wilson took his place in September and helped limit the flow of opposition goals. For all the frustrations with Ben Wilson’s distribution and lack of authority, it’s hard to see what Simon Moore could do in one game to instantly usurp his place. For Moore’s sake, however, he will at least want to show he can avoid the kind of uncharacteristic mistakes that saw him lose his place in the team earlier in the season, to demonstrate to the manager he is a viable option to come into the side if faith in Wilson wanes.

The back three ahead of Simon Moore cannot change because there is simply no-one available to come in. At wing-back, Jack Burroughs will probably start on the left, with it being a toss-up between Todd Kane and Fankaty Dabo on the right. With there being a need to build up Dabo’s fitness after a spell out injured, he will probably be favoured here.

In central midfield, Liam Kelly seems almost certain to be handed his first start of the season in this game after recovering from injury. It is likely to be a call between Ben Sheaf and Gustavo Hamer to start alongside Kelly – unless youngster, Ryan Howley, is deemed ready – with Hamer seeming the less fatigued of the two regular midfield starters and likeliest to be handed the start.

One of the key team names on the team sheet to keep an eye on will be Viktor Gyokeres. The Swede is just about the only candidate available to Mark Robins right now who can genuinely lead the line in attack, making it a step too far in terms of hamstringing the side not to start him in this game. Unless the manager is genuinely concerned about fatigue with Gyokeres, the only other reason not to start him would be if a transfer was in the offing. Alongside him could really be any combination of Jamie Allen, Kasey Palmer, Martyn Waghorn or Fabio Tavares.

Last Time We Met

With Coventry City and Wrexham only having been in the same division for four seasons of their respective existences, meetings between these two clubs have been incredibly rare. The most recent encounter between the two teams was a League Cup tie back in the 1994/95 season, back when all rounds were settled over two legs. Phil Neal’s Sky Blues edged out the first leg at the Racecourse Ground against a spirited Wrexham outfit (extended footage below) thanks to goals from Julian Darby and Sean Flynn.

The second leg was also settled by a single goal in Coventry City’s favour, with new recruit, Dion Dublin, grabbing himself a brace at Highfield Road, before Roy Wegerle sealed the Sky Blues’ progress into the next round, where they were eliminated by a Blackburn Rovers side who went on to win the Premiership title that year.

The Opposition

The Manager – Phil Parkinson

A man with plenty of, mostly good, experience in the Football League, Phil Parkinson was lured to Wrexham shortly after the takeover of the club by actors/entrepreneurs Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney. Parkinson has been well-backed in the transfer market to put together a squad that can quickly get the club back into the Football League after what has been a long and painful stay in the National League. Last year saw the Red Dragons start slowly but come painfully close to promotion, missing out on the one automatic promotion place on the final day, before defeat in the play-off semi-final. This year, they have started better but are in tight battle for promotion with an excellent Notts County side.

Phil Parkinson has moulded this Wrexham side around physicality and experience as they look to batter the downs down to promotion. With powerful strikers and defenders to call upon, Wrexham can be an intense and imposing side at the best. At their worst, they still carry an immense threat from set-pieces – their centre-back, Aaron Hayden has scored 17 goals in 62 appearances for the club. With the resources available to Parkinson, this isn’t an ordinary National League side that Coventry City are facing, but much closer to a top League Two or even a half-decent League One outfit.

Who To Look Out For?

Possible Line-Up (3-4-1-2): Howard; Hayden, Tozer, Tunnicliffe; Forde, Young, O'Connor, Mendy; Lee; Mullin, Palmer.

The headline name in this Wrexham side is Paul Mullin in attack. After being something of a journeyman striker, Mullin scored 32 goals in one season for Cambridge United in League Two two years ago, leading to talk that Championship clubs were considering making a move for the 28 year-old. That he was lured to Wrexham in his prime years in to play in the fifth-tier is no better example of the pulling power the club has under its current ownership. Mullin has proved that form at Cambridge was no one-off, scoring 43 in 62 at Wrexham, while also being an incredibly hard-working physical presence in the attack.

Alongside Mullin, Ollie Palmer has proved to be the perfect foil after joining last January. Another player lured to drop a few divisions to Wrexham, Palmer is a traditional target-man, capable of out-competing defenders both in the air and on the ground physically to make space for Mullin. Making up the attacking unit for the Red Dragons is Ollie Lee, an intelligent support striker who can get into good areas to shoot but also create for the team.

One of the most notable aspects of Wrexham’s play in this game will be the long-throws of Ben Tozer. The defender is so powerful and accurate with his throw-ins that it may even be a strategy in this game for Coventry City to put the ball out for corners, rather than into touch. With some big defenders and strikers to attack those long-throws, most notably, Aaron Hayden, the Sky Blues are going to have to be switched on every time the ball goes out of play in their half of the pitch.

It is not all about big strikers and defenders for Wrexham, with the attacking midfielder, Jordan Davies, having been a key source of creative inspiration over the past few seasons, however, he is out injured for this game. Instead, the subtlety will come from the supremely talented, but injury-prone, Luke Young in central midfield, while Anthony Forde at right wing-back offers further talent on the ball.

Where The Game Will Be Won Or Lost

Where Coventry City’s superior quality is likely to tell in this game will be in possession. The more the Sky Blues can horde it, the less of an influence Wrexham’s physicality and set-piece threat should have on the game. Wrexham are likely to be energetic, at least to start off the game, to try and knock Coventry off their rhythm, but if Gustavo Hamer and Callum Doyle can get on the ball, they should be able to target some of the gaps that Wrexham tend to leave at the back.

Wrexham’s weakness is mainly in defence, where they have had a habit of leaving space as they look to attack and leak soft goals as a result. The recent inclusion of Jordan Tunnicliffe into the defence, along with a move to a back three, has improved matters, and there is also an argument that they may be less likely to be caught out pushing up in a game where they are not obliged to go all-out attack in. Nonetheless, the Sky Blues should be looking to try and drag Wrexham’s back-line across the pitch to isolate them and look to create opportunities from that.

In order to convert possession in to threat and chances, Coventry City are probably going to have to use wide areas more effectively than they usually do. If it’s Jack Burroughs and Fankaty Dabo selected at wing-back, that possibly represents the team’s most attacking pair from that position, the aim for the final ball will probably have to be pull-backs to further drag Wrexham’s defence around, rather than floated, early crosses their big centre-backs will likely lap up.

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