Coventry City’s failure to win since the international break has yet to truly dampen their play-off hopes, but they must know that won’t continue to be so lucky as the season’s finale approaches. While there is a chance that the Sky Blues could get away with not winning this upcoming game against Queens Park Rangers and still be within three points of the play-offs, the team cannot afford to continue stuttering with the finishing line in sight.
It is a return for Coventry City to the kind of relegation battling opposition that they gleefully rattled past back in March to fuel this tilt for the top six. However, the Sky Blues will have to be wary that games at this juncture of the campaign are much more meaningful, especially for teams at the bottom who are fighting for their lives. At a ground that they haven’t won at since 2007, this is not a game for Coventry to take lightly.
Losing Jamie Allen for seemingly the rest of the season over the Easter period looks like it will mean that the current Coventry City XI will have to carry the team through for the rest of the campaign. That Mark Robins elected not to make any substitutions during Monday’s game against Watford spoke volumes as to the manager’s opinion of the current starting players versus their closest, available alternatives.
If there are to be any changes, it is likely to be at wing-back, which remains the only area of the team that the manager has genuine choice in. After some impressive recent showings from Josh Wilson-Esbrand at left wing-back, the Manchester City loanee looks to have locked in his place in the side. On the right flank, Brooke Norton-Cuffy was probably in danger of losing his place after some pretty timid showings over the Easter period, however, a strong second-half on Monday should keep him in the team.
With Matt Godden involved in both of Monday’s goals against Watford, justifying his inclusion in the starting XI, there really is nothing else to write about Coventry City’s team news.
Last Time We Met
The game against Queens Park Rangers back in November underlined all that had become good about Coventry City during their revival in the build-up to the World Cup break. Against a high-flying QPR side, the Sky Blues looked confident and in control as they came out of the traps to win the game early. Coventry’s confidence seemed to make the ball constantly bounce in their favour, summed up by an opening goal where Callum O’Hare managed to play a one-two with a Hoops defender on the byline, before his cross was perfectly deflected by a Jamie Allen air-kick into the path of a free Viktor Gyokeres, who produced a neat shimmy before firing in off the crossbar.
QPR improved after the half-time break, but Coventry City were always in control and looked the likeliest to score next. The game was settled late-on, when Callum O’Hare was free on the edge the area, drew in a defender, before laying the ball off to a completely free Viktor Gyokeres – it would sure be nice to have an attacking midfielder who could do that right now. 11th and two points off the play-offs heading into the World Cup break, Coventry City were on the up.
The Manager – Gareth Ainsworth
The third manager of a Queens Park Rangers season that started so promisingly and is in danger of ending in tatters, Gareth Ainsworth inherited a squad whose confidence was shot to pieces and has struggled to lift spirits – no matter how many Maori war dances he’s paid for – with relegation looming ever larger for the West London club. A popular figure at Loftus Road during his playing days, there are doubts as to whether he is the right manager for a set of players that had done so well in recent years under technically-orientated coaches such as Mark Warburton and Mick Beale.
Gareth Ainsworth as a manager is famed for a rather brutalist style during his time at a resource-limited Wycombe Wanderers, characterised by both long balls and timewasting. During his final years at Adams Park, Wycombe were a more attractive side to watch as he was able to recruit more skilful attacking players and the hope was that he could further develop his approach with a much more talented Queens Park Rangers outfit. However, the Hoops’ complete lack of confidence and dire situation in the league table has forced a focus on playing a more prosaic style, with a lack of physicality at the back and in central midfield making it challenging to pull off successfully.
Who To Look Out For?
The two stand-out players for Queens Park Rangers over the past few years have been the creative duo of Ilias Chair and Chris Willock, if they are on form, Coventry City could be up against a very different QPR side than the one seen for much of the past few months. Chair’s ability to float between the lines and produce spectacular moments out of nowhere is something that the Sky Blues will have to keep a close eye on. Willock, meanwhile, will look to pick up the ball and drive forward with it to draw defenders away from the team’s other attacking players. In tandem, the duo make it difficult for teams to feel comfortable defending the away directly in front of their penalty area.
Given Gareth Ainsworth’s preference for direct football, having a big strike pairing of Chris Martin and Lyndon Dykes is the one area of this QPR team that is suited to the manager’s style. Scotland international, Dykes. has often been pretty much the only striker the Hoops have had to call upon for much of the past three seasons, with his form dipping at times under the weight of that responsibility. At his best, Dykes really can batter opposing defenders, making him a great foil for the team’s other small attacking players. Martin, meanwhile, arrived in February after leaving Bristol City and is still very good at using his body and intelligence to link the play in the final third, potentially providing opportunities for the likes of Dykes, Chair and Willock to get into space in dangerous areas.
Elsewhere, Albert Adomah on the right wing is another key experienced figure in this team right now. The winger will be drilled to get forward whenever possible from wing-back and put crosses into the box for Lyndon Dykes and Chris Martin to attack. Additionally, Sam Field and Stefan Johansen in central midfield can be pretty tenacious when they have the bit between their respective teeth.
In defence, Queens Park Rangers have some pretty good players, even if they have lost a level of confidence this season. Seny Dieng in goal was one of the best goalkeepers in the Championship a few years ago, and is a really big presence with his command of the penalty area, shot-stopping ability and confidence with the ball at his feet when at his best. Similarly, Rob Dickie is an excellent, commanding, ball-playing defender when at his very best but has suffered along with the rest of the team during this season’s lowest points.
Where The Game Will Be Won Or Lost
Coventry City are going to have to be ready for a Queens Park Rangers who are fighting for their lives. QPR’s terrible form over the past few months aside, there isn’t really much between these two teams in terms of talent and it could be argued that the Hoops even have a better team, on paper. QPR showed on Monday away at West Bromwich Albion – where they scored twice against a team that had only conceded once at home all year – that they can cause good teams problems, this won’t be easy, especially at this stage of the season.
If Queens Park Rangers come out on the front-foot, that could play into Coventry City’s hands, as the Sky Blues are a much better team playing on the counter-attack than when having to play more slowly with long spells of possession. If Viktor Gyokeres can add some of the sharpness to his game that has been missing since the international break, that would allow Coventry to use QPR’s desperation to win against them. Additionally, if the rest of the team can be proactive in making runs around and beyond Gyokeres, as they did in the second-half against Watford, that will make Coventry more direct and threatening on the counter.
At the other end, Coventry City will have to be wary of crosses into the box being played into the big pairing of Chris Martin and Lyndon Dykes. In particular, the concern is whether a likely wing-back pairing of Josh Wilson-Esbrand and Brooke Norton-Cuffy will be aggressive enough in stopping crosses, even if Kyle McFadzean and Luke McNally should be capable of keeping a handle on balls into the box. If the Sky Blues can cut out the threat from out wide, there is still the danger that Ilias Chair and Chris Willock can pose just outside the penalty area to be concerned with, which is why the midfield trio will have to be disciplined without the ball.