Preview: Sunderland

Two wins on the bounce has put the scent of the play-offs back into Coventry City’s nostrils. It goes to show why it is always too early to give up on a campaign until it is genuinely over, but it is imperative that the Sky Blues keep their foot on the pedal in order to make up the ground that had been lost during that post-World Cup slump.

A potentially decisive three-game week of fixtures begins with a home clash against a play-off rival, in 8th-placed Sunderland. This really is one of the biggest games of the season for Coventry City, a win could put the top six within an attainable distance, while a defeat would add to both the number of points and teams the Sky Blues would need to close in on the top six.

Expected Line-Up

Possible Line-Up (3-4-2-1): Wilson; McNally, McFadzean, Doyle; Norton-Cuffy, Eccles, Hamer, Bidwell; Palmer, Allen; Gyokeres.

Matt Godden returning to the bench, and coming on, last weekend provides Mark Robins with the option to change up his starting XI for the first time in a few games. It is not clear, at the time of writing, whether there may be other absentees returning, but it is the decision as to what to do in attack that is likely to be the manager’s biggest call to make here.

After seeing Matt Godden limp off just a fortnight ago, having probably been rushed back to full involvement too soon, it seems unlikely that Mark Robins will be tempted to throw the striker straight back into the starting XI. That is a decision that has been made easier by the team having won both the games since Godden dropped out of starting contention, however, there is a concern as to whether the current set-up is not a little too defensive for a game that Coventry City may be obliged to come out and attack, at least for periods of it.

There is the option to change things up in the wing-back positions if Mark Robins does want to try something a little different in this game. It could be an option to move Josh Eccles back to right wing-back in order to make the team more solid against a fluent, attacking Sunderland side. Alternatively, starting Josh Wilson-Esbrand at left wing-back could be a wildcard option to add some pace to the team in order to take the game to the Black Cats. However, a shortage of midfield options is likely to keep Eccles in the centre of the park and it would be harsh to drop Jake Bidwell after an assist for Jamie Allen’s goal last week.

Last Time We Met

In a rare July league fixture, Coventry City travelled up to Sunderland on the opening day of the campaign, unaware at that point of how bad a condition their home pitch at the CBS Arena was and how much that would ultimately set the team back for the next few months. Against a newly-promoted Sunderland, the Sky Blues took much too long to get going and found themselves behind after Lynden Gooch eased past Jake Bidwell and put in a cross that Simon Moore got nowhere near, making it easy for Jack Clarke to head in.

Coventry City gradually improved in the second-half but struggled to create against a Sunderland side doing a good job of protecting their penalty area and slowing the flow of the game down. That was until Viktor Gyokeres scored a classic Viktor Gyokeres, after receiving the ball some way outside the Sunderland penalty area, the Swede eased past a couple of defenders before hammering a strike in from range (much like the goal he scored last week against Millwall). It secured a valuable early season point in somewhat fortunate circumstances.

The Opposition

The Manager – Tony Mowbray

The combination of the man who not only failed to get that Coventry City team promoted but was largely responsible for relegation to League Two and Sunderland is nightmare fuel for most Sky Blues supporters. After a decent five-year spell at Blackburn Rovers, Tony Mowbray stepped into the breach at the Stadium of Light earlier this season following the intriguing decision by his predecessor, Alex Neil, to jump ship to Stoke City and has steered the Black Cats to the verge of the play-off places.

Sunderland have been very deliberate in their recruitment over the past couple of seasons, tapping largely into the French and Premier League youth markets, to build an exciting, young. technical set of footballers that is a good match for the kind of ethos Tony Mowbray likes to instil in his teams. The team has been in excellent form over the past couple of months, even if a midweek defeat at Rotherham United hinted at a level of fatigue that may be setting in.

Who To Look Out For?

Possible Line-Up (4-2-3-1): Patterson; Hume, Batth, Ballard, Cirkin; O'Nien, Neil; Roberts, Pritchard, Clarke; Gelhardt.

If you like small, technical attacking midfielders, then Sunderland are very much the team for you. The Black Cats have eight very similar attacking midfield/wide players in Patrick Roberts, Alex Pritchard, Amad Diallo, Jack Clarke, Lynden Gooch, Jewison Bennette, Elliot Embleton and Isaac Lihadji, which provides Tony Mowbray with the ability to chop and change in attacking areas with ease, it has also allowed the team to compensate for having been without a fit centre-forward for much of the campaign.

It is the combination of Patrick Roberts, Alex Pritchard and Amad Diallo that is probably Sunderland’s most devastating, although, Jack Clarke has been in good form lately to break up that trio. Roberts and Pritchard are highly nimble technical operators who boast more experience than most of Sunderland’s other attacking options, with Roberts causing chaos with his control of the ball in tight areas, while Pritchard’s intelligent positioning and use of the ball can really make the Black Cats tick. Winger, Amad Diallo, has had a breakout year on loan from Manchester United with his direct pace and skill, but has dropped off recently and could be replaced in that role in this game by the similarly quick and direct Jack Clarke.

For all those attacking midfield/wide options, the centre-forward position has been an issue this season for Sunderland, with leading man, Ross Stewart, having missed much of the campaign through injury, and loan signing, Ellis Simms having been recalled at the start of last month. Joe Gelhardt was recruited in January on loan from Leeds United, and is, on the face of it, perhaps a little too small and nimble to stand out from the players buzzing behind him, however, his ability to chase, harry and dazzle with short, sharp bursts of energy can be devastating, even at Premier League level.

Further back, the challenge for Tony Mowbray has been in trying to find the balance between keeping things solid without completely bifurcating the team between attack and defence. Playing the technical, but lightweight, combination of Edouard Michut and Dan Neil in central midfield has been an attempt to tie things together, but a limp performance from Michut in particular in midweek is likely to see the battler, Luke O’Nien, step in to make things more solid in the middle.

At the back, the return of Dan Ballard from injury in recent weeks has been a huge boost for Sunderland, providing an aggressive and mobile leader at the back. Additionally, Dennis Cirkin at left-back is another recent returnee who has made the Black Cats more solid defensively. In goal, Anthony Patterson has impressed out of the academy over the past 18 months and looks to be on the verge of an England under-21 call-up.

Where The Game Will Be Won Or Lost

The task for Coventry City in this game will be to disrupt Sunderland’s fluid and nimble attacking midfield area by making it hard for them to play through the Sky Blues defensive third, thus forcing their less technical, creative players to take the mantle to create chances. It is easier said than done because players like Alex Pritchard and Patrick Roberts not only take up good positions in creative areas but are good in tight spaces, but if Coventry City can cut off that supply line, Sunderland can be frustrated.

With Kyle McFadzean in central defence against a quick, inventive Sunderland side, Coventry City will have to be careful about being caught for pace at the back. It is likely that the Sky Blues will look to defend fairly deep not only to avoid McFadzean being outpaced, but as part of a strategy to frustrate and slow Sunderland down in the defensive third of the pitch. Having Josh Eccles in central midfield to sit and break up play will be important in that strategy too.

If Coventry City can win the battle in front of their own goal, that should provide the platform for players like Gustavo Hamer, Kasey Palmer and Viktor Gyokeres to cause Sunderland issues at the other end. Counter-attacks are likely to be a key source of threat for the Sky Blues, especially as Sunderland aren’t particularly aggressive in the centre of the park, leaving themselves open to be ran at when they lose the ball in midfield. They are likely to utilise Luke O’Nien, Dan Ballard and Danny Batth to try and crowd Viktor Gyokeres out of the game, but that will be hard for Sunderland to do if the Sky Blues can move the ball quickly to isolate their defenders in one-against-one races with the Swede they will be second-favourites for.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this:
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close