A thumping win at Huddersfield Town last week has helped stave off fears that Coventry City’s play-off bid could be threatened by having the absolute bare bones of a squad. However, it is one thing to win a single game with so few players to call upon, it is another to sustain form over three matches, which is the challenge in the week ahead for the Sky Blues.
This first game, against a Hull City side that have had patches of being very good for at least a couple periods of this season, looks to be the toughest of the week. The only home game of the month, and with expectations having been raised by February’s form, there is the potential for this to be banana skin for Coventry City if they take this lightly.
Mark Robins really could do with absentees starting to return from injury at some point this week, otherwise any further knocks will leave the manager almost all out of options and having to rely on either players playing out of position or untested youngsters. Ben Sheaf looks to be the only absentee likely to return any time soon but there being no sign yet that he is close to being back.
That leaves the one of the key team selection decisions for this game being whether the youngster, Ryan Howley, keeps his place in midfield. with Mark Robins likely considering whether it might be a little bit too much, too soon for the 19 year-old. However, that call might be one to make over the course of the coming week, rather than for this game. The youngster acquitted himself reasonably well in his first start last week and, in the absence of a strong, viable alternative, has probably done enough for another chance.
The two other decisions that Mark Robins may be considering look set to be at right wing-back and in attack. It was a huge positive to see Fankaty Dabo back last week on the right at something reminiscent of his previous levels, but his minutes will need to be managed, which could see Brooke Norton-Cuffy come into the side – if not for this game, then at some point over the next week. In attack, Tyler Walker scoring from the bench last week may well provide the manager with a realistic alternative for Matt Godden, who may benefit both physically and form-wise from a spell on the bench.
Last Time We Met
Hull City were flying near the top of the league back in August when the two teams last met, with Coventry City near the bottom due to having barely played as a result of the CBS Arena pitch issues. The Tigers were ahead early when in-form Colombian striker, Oscar Estupinan, was presented a tap-in after Simon Moore parried a tame cross into his path. However, the Sky Blues rallied to level from the spot, after Kasey Palmer was tripped in the penalty area.
It was two goals either side of half-time that were similarly sloppy to concede as the first one was that killed off Coventry City’s hopes. First, butter-fingers, Simon Moore, got into a tangle with Kyle McFadzean to present Estupinan with another tap-in. Then, the Colombian completed a hat-trick scored from a combined total of about 10 yards from goal, after a cross from the right side deflected into his path from a team-mate. Remarkably, the Sky Blues might have been able to salvage a draw, with Matt Godden making the final score close amid some other good chances, but the defensive calamities on the day made it too big of a task.
The Manager – Liam Rosenior
Not many managers get the opportunity to move up a league within months of being sacked in the division below, but such is Liam Rosenior’s reputation as a coach, he was able to parlay a decent, but inconsistent, few months at Derby County in League One earlier this season into the Hull City’s manager job back in November. A manager who likes to get his sides playing a very possession-heavy style, Rosenior turned around a flagging Hull campaign upon his arrival into nearly an unlikely play-off bid, but has had to settle for mid-table after a poor recent month of form.
Having inherited a big squad made up a of a mish-mash of relatively high-profile overseas players – many of which had played in the owner, Acun Ilicali’s, home country of Turkey – and more workmanlike Championship and League One players, Liam Rosenior has done a good job at making some sense of his resources and forming a clearer sense of identity than before. With little to play for between now and the end of the campaign, the focus right now is on the manager refining the team’s style and figuring out which players he wants to stick around for next year.
Who To Look Out For?
Hull City’s hat-trick hero back in August, Oscar Estupinan, has had an inconsistent campaign, despite still ranking among the Championship’s top-scorers. A bustling physical presence, but someone who is better in the penalty area than outside of it, there is increasingly the sense that he is not quite Liam Rosenior’s cup of tea at centre-forward. Instead, the manager turned to the even bigger presence of Benjamin Tetteh last week, who rewarded his manager’s faith with an excellent goal that set them on the way to victory against play-off chasers, West Bromwich Albion.
Nowhere best demonstrates the crossroads Hull City are between a team that was in League One two years ago and one that is now has an ambitious new owner than in midfield. One-time Barcelona target, Jean-Michael Seri, could be set to return to the side for this game, with his passing range clearly belonging to a higher-level. Alongside him could be Ozan Tufan, a Turkey international who is also supremely good technically, albeit somewhat immobile. That is why hard-running lesser lights, such as Greg Docherty and Regan Slater are so important for Hull in providing balance in the middle of the pitch.
Hull have a good blend of wide options, with Ryan Longman another hard-working player who is important for the team’s shape, while Allahyar Sayyadmanesh and Malcolm Ebiowei are useful game-changing options for pace and skill on the flanks from the bench. Ask Fankaty Dabo just how difficult Ebiowei can be to deal with after the winger tormented him for Derby County last season.
At the back, Hull City have generally leant on the core of defenders that got them out of League One, with Alfie Jones and Sean McLoughlin currently the preferred centre-back pairing, leaving the impressive Jacob Greaves as a bench option currently. At full-back, Lewie Coyle and Callum Elder are very well-rounded players between attacking and defensive responsibilities. In goal, Karl Darlow has recently come into the side after signing on loan from Newcastle United in January and has shown his quality as a Premier League goalkeeper.
Where The Game Will Be Won Or Lost
With Hull City having won last week against West Bromwich Albion after abandoning Liam Rosenior’s preferred possession-heavy style, that is likely to be the template they will turn to here. With Coventry City so good on the counter-attack, opponents may start to want to present the Sky Blues with possession and avoid opportunities for Viktor Gyokeres and Gustavo Hamer to devastate them after quickly turning over the ball.
For a Coventry City midfield with Josh Eccles and Ryan Howley likely to be filling two of three places, this could well be a big test of the youngsters’ abilities to pick telling passes in the opposing half, which they didn’t really have to do last week against Huddersfield Town. It is likely that, ultimately, Gustavo Hamer is going to have to shoulder a lot of responsibility for the creative work in this game. If Hull City end up sitting off the Sky Blues, Fankaty Dabo and Jake Bidwell at wing-back will also have a big role to play in stretching the play out wide.
At the other end, Coventry City are going to have to be wary of Hull City’s own threat on the counter-attack. The giant presence of Benjamin Tetteh is likely to occupy a lot of Kyle McFadzean’s attention, with Hull’s energetic midfield likely to be looking to make runs into the space that opens up. Luke McNally and Callum Doyle will likely have to sweep up behind McFadzean as he keeps Tetteh marked, while Gustavo Hamer and Josh Eccles will need to keep track of Hull’s midfield runners.