Preview: Morecambe

Having emphatically avoided a potentially embarrassing cup exit to Boreham Wood last week, attention turns back on the league, and finally mounting the kind of run to put ourselves into genuine promotion contention.

Like many of our wins this season, the performance against Boreham Wood was hardly a complete one, but we clicked at the right moments in order to ensure victory. Given our strength at the back, we don’t need to control games and pummel the opposition with shots, however, that lack of consistent attacking fluency has often left us struggling for ideas when our opponents are capable of nullifying our plan A.

Possible Line-Up

Mark Robins will be hoping that the line-up of the attack deployed against Boreham Wood is one that can solve the problem of what to do without Jodi Jones. Maxime Biamou as the focal point in attack played an important role in allowing Duckens Nazon and the, now in-form, Marc McNulty to get into the game, while Jordan Shipley on the left-wing looks to be further staking his claim for a regular spot in the starting XI. However, it is an attacking solution that involves playing either Nazon or McNulty on the wing, which could run into issues.

Fitness issues surrounding Liam Kelly and Rod McDonald are the main selection issues for the rest of the side. While Ben Stevenson has shown in the past couple of games that he has a role to play as a ball-playing central midfielder, Kelly’s experience and solidity could prove invaluable in this potentially bruising upcoming game against Morecambe. As far as McDonald’s concerned, Tom Davies’ recent performances have shown that we can get by without him for the odd game.

Last Time We Met

Our most recent meeting with Morecambe came in the FA Cup last season, back in the days when we were still muddling through with Mark Venus. We were probably lucky to come away from the Globe Arena with a replay, with Jamie Sterry scoring a late equaliser, but made relatively light work of Morecambe at the Ricoh Arena, despite falling behind early on, with Marvin Sordell (remember him?) scoring twice.

How Are They Doing?

Morecambe are famed at this level for starting the season strongly before falling off the rails over the course of the campaign. This season, they’ve failed to start the season in anything resembling decent form and the worry is that they’ve lost an important cushion to avoid relegation that they’ve usually been able to depend upon.

They are also a club in a dire financial situation, following a ‘takeover’ by a mysterious Brazilian businessman last summer which turned out to be too good to be true. While things looked to have settled down from the parlous state they were in last season, Morecambe’s manager, Jim Bentley, recently revealed that the club has been struggling to find a regular venue for training.

Bentley though is a manager well-accustomed to working with meagre financial resources, and has generally turned to a core of veterans to keep his side going. Target-man/winger Kevin Ellison sums up this Morecambe side, now at the age of 38, Ellison continues to produce the goods and is their leading goalscorer this season.

There is further experience in attack in the form of Garry Thompson (not the one that played for us in the 80s) while the talented but inconsistent Adam McGurk offers some spark to an otherwise functional team unit. However, Morecambe have struggled badly for goals this season – they are the division’s lowest scorers – which is another worrying sign for the club as under Jim Bentley, they have had a reputation for scoring loads and struggling to keep it tight at the back.

Possible Line-Up

However, that trend has brought the benefit that Morecambe have been better than usual in defence this season, regularly deploying a back three/five – although injuries and suspensions mean they may lack the personnel to utilise it for this fixture. Summer signings Sam Lavelle – suspended by the FA for this game for ‘deceiving a match official – and Steven Old have added defensive steel to an experienced unit with their 35 year-old goalkeeper, Barry Roche, enjoying a good season as well.

Elsewhere, former Cardiff City youngster Aaron Wildig has consistently been a class act in midfield for Morecambe over the past few years. A box-to-box midfielder with a bit of quality on the ball, he is probably one of the few players in this side who could do something at a higher level.

Prediction

I’m not particularly worried about this side this season not being able to deal with a physical tussle on a difficult away day, we have typical thrived in these kind of fixtures this season. It’s all about whether we can put away the chances we’ll inevitably get in this game, but it appears that Duckens Nazon and Marc McNulty have come into decent form over the past few weeks, so I’m confident about us in that regard too.

Put simply, I expect us to win this game. I doubt it will be a classic, but I think we’ll get the job done, by a 1-0 scoreline.

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Preview: Boreham Wood

A point at home against Crawley continued an encouraging streak this season of (occasionally) winning points from losing positions. However, a tepid first half wherein the team struggled to adapt to a new system has done little to convince that we can absorb the blow of losing Jodi Jones for the season.

This FA Cup game is another opportunity for Mark Robins to experiment with the line-up and formation to find the solution of how to cope without Jones. However, the sense of occasion of this FA Cup Second Round tie – for our opponents at least – makes this far from a pressure-free environment to try some things out. If we do find ourselves behind, it will be a team playing for their biggest ever result against one struggling for a sense of purpose and ideas in attack.

As discussed last week, the creativity of Duckens Nazon and Ryan Haynes is especially important at the moment – underlined by how they combined for McNulty’s equaliser against Crawley. Ben Stevenson though was almost glossed over by myself, an encouraging second-half cameo shows how useful a ball-playing midfielder such as Stevenson can be for a team playing against a deep and organised opposition defence. A year ago we wouldn’t have accepted £1 million for him, now he’s in need of some big performances to get into a League Two side, individual footballing fortunes can change incredibly quickly.

The biggest selection decision is likely to be whether Mark Robins sticks with a back three that didn’t really work in the first-half against Crawley, or reverts to a back four. While there are different ways to play back threes that don’t require ball-playing centre-backs, the Crawley game demonstrated how difficult it can be to play out with a back three against a side sitting off you. Given that this Boreham Wood game is likely to be more of the same, Mark Robins will surely ditch the back three experiment, for now at least.

The make-up of our attack, particularly in the wide positions, will be intriguing. Mark Robins appears resistant to deploy Ryan Haynes as an out-and-out winger, while it also seems as if he’s aware that he can’t really shoe-horn in Duckens Nazon or Marc McNulty to a wide berth. That could hand Devon Kelly-Evans an opportunity to be our dynamic wide player in the set-up, particularly if Jordan Shipley or Peter Vincenti are played on the other flank.

Last Time We Met

It may surprise you to know that we haven’t played Boreham Wood in a competitive fixture, and it seems we haven’t even come up against them in a friendly game.

Weirdly though, we have played and won at their ground, in a friendly victory over Watford in the post-Callum Wilson phase of Steven Pressley’s reign. It was a showing that offered hope that we could make a 3-5-2 system work, hope that proved to be entirely false.

How Are They Doing?

After a few fairly underwhelming years in the National League, Boreham Wood have really come to the fore this season. The Hertfordshire side sit seventh in the table, are 11 games unbeaten, and came from behind to dump Blackpool out of the FA Cup in the earlier rounds.

They are a team packed with quick players who had shown promise in their early careers with much bigger clubs, only to lose their way a little. Ex-QPR winger Bruno Andrade had led the way for the Wood this season with nine goals, while they have depth in wide positions in the form of ex-Sky Blues winger Blair Turgott and another former QPR youth-teamer Angelo Balanta.

Given the career trajectories of some of their more talented players, it’s likely that several Boreham Wood players will be looking to prove a point in this game that they can make it in the Football League. The three aforementioned wingers have shown earlier in their careers during Football League loan spells that they can be match-winners on their day, and a big performance from anyone of those three could provide their careers an immediate shot in the arm.

Possible Line-Up

Someone else likely to be setting out to prove a point is ex-Sky Blues youth-teamer Shaun Jeffers – at one point rated higher than Callum Wilson in the academy pecking order. Jeffers has taken time to adapt to senior football, but earned a move to Boreham Wood over the summer after an impressive 21 goals in 42 appearances in the division below with Chelmsford City. He has however, struggled to get on the scoresheet consistently since his summer move.

Additionally, their right-back, Kane Smith, was on trial with us last summer when Tony Mowbray was still manager, but was not offered a contract.

With pace in attack, Boreham Wood have some experienced campaigners further back, with Dean Wells in central defence and defensive midfielder Tom Champion proven performers over several years at National League level. Given the balance of the side, it’s highly likely that Boreham Wood will look to sit deep before hitting us on the counter, which is likely to be a further indication that Mark Robins cannot play a back three of fairly slow (except Jordan Willis) centre-backs who aren’t the best on the ball.

Prediction

Our ongoing creative issues – inexorably exacerbated by Jodi Jones’ injury – makes it hard to be confident heading into what is, in theory at least, a relatively kind FA Cup draw. As mentioned earlier, if we concede the first goal in this game, we could find ourselves in a Ricoh Arena bear-pit fighting to avoid a cup elimination and the pressure starting to mount on our wider season.

I can’t tell whether I think we can come through this test or whether I’m simply hoping we do. Regardless, I can see this being a dull and edgy 1-0 win, which is all that really matters in these kind of cup ties.

Preview: Crawley Town

Tuesday night’s game against Stevenage feels like more of an afterthought following the news this week that Jodi Jones – directly involved in 45% of our league goals this season – has been ruled out for the season. That his exit from affairs against Stevenage coincided with the concession of a late goal to see us drop two points served as an omen of what might be to come over the coming weeks and months.

However, the season is far from over and the task for Mark Robins and the rest of the squad is to step up to the extra burden that comes from losing our best player. The two players who seem most capable of taking on Jones’ mantle are Duckens Nazon and Ryan Haynes, who are the only other players in the squad who appear capable of beating their man and carrying the ball into dangerous positions.

This may be the time now for Ryan Haynes to be pushed further forward, which would hopefully negate the temptation for Robins to shoehorn Nazon into a wide position where he’s less effective. There is also a need for the likes of Peter Vincenti, Marc McNulty and Maxime Biamou in attack to start providing a more tangible impact in the final third, while Jones’ injury should allow the likes of Jordan Shipley and Devon Kelly-Evans further opportunities to nail down a first-team place.

Possible Line-Up

There are still plenty of options for Robins, it’s just about how he can mould them into a cohesive and effective attacking unit – of which we’ve arguably lacked despite having had Jones for most of the season until now.

Elsewhere, with the extent of the injuries to Liam Kelly and Jack Grimmer not fully known either, the tight defensive unit that we’ve built up is in danger of being broken up. Should Haynes be played further forward, it leaves us with a rather prosaic back four of three centre-backs and Chris Stokes, while Jordan Shipley, Ben Stevenson, or even Callum Maycock, aren’t exactly the experienced, calming presence in midfield that Kelly provides, although possibly offer more dynamism going on the ball.

All in all, it’s going to be an interesting starting XI.

Last Time We Met

The most recent meeting between the two sides came in a dull 1-0 Checkatrade Trophy win for us at the Ricoh last December with Marvin Sordell on the scoresheet during a rare occasion he was played as a striker rather than a winger.

Crawley though might have the meeting beforehand still on their minds, when goals from Frank Nouble and James Maddison turned around a 1-0 deficit on the final day of Tony Mowbray’s first season in charge, which kept us up and sent them down in the process.

Although, they have had a heavy squad turnover since that date, which may render any grievances moot.

How Are They Doing?

Crawley made the bold decision this summer to appoint Harry Kewell as manager. It wasn’t just the Australian international’s high profile playing career versus Crawley’s stature in the game that was odd about the appointment, Kewell’s only managerial experience had been a pretty disastrous spell with Watford’s reserve side which featured two defeats by seven goals.

A poor start to the season, featuring several heavy defeats, set expectations further lower, but Crawley have improved as the season has progressed, although they have been incredibly inconsistent over the past month or so. To sum things up for Kewell thus far, his side were thrashed 4-0 by Wycombe on Saturday, before improving to beat Exeter 3-1 on Tuesday.

Crawley’s main threat is based on the pace throughout the side, with wingers Enzio Boldewijn and Jordan Roberts their chief attacking players. Boldewijn is a rare example of a fancy Dan foreign player who has thrived at this level, although fairly inconsistent, he is up there with one of the best attackers at this level when he’s on form. Jordan Roberts was reportedly lined up by Peterborough as a replacement for their star player Marcus Maddison, who had been linked with a move away over the summer, and is versatile enough to play as both a winger and auxiliary forward. Attacking full-back Cedric Evina further adds to the pace in Crawley’s ranks.

While Crawley can be a fairly flighty and flaky side at times, they do possess a level of grit in their ranks in the form of Jimmy Smith and Dannie Bulman in midfield and defender Mark Connolly. Smith is enjoying a particularly productive season having been given more attacking responsibilities by Kewell, he has four goals and three assists to his name already – although he has been out with injury recently. Dannie Bulman is a vastly experienced campaigner in central midfield, while Connolly is a determined and versatile centre-back who can also fill in at right-back.

Possible Line-Up

A potential joker in Harry Kewell’s pack is Dutch centre-forward Thomas Verheydt. Standing at over six foot three and weighing in at around 14 and a half stone, Verheydt has the attributes to be a real nightmare for our defence to contain, although he has struggled to get into Crawley’s starting XI on a consistent basis.

They also have former Leyton Orient star Dean Cox in their ranks, although he has confusingly been frozen out of the mix over the past couple of months – something that’s happened rather too often for him over the past few seasons.

Prediction

It’s worth noting heading into this game that Crawley’s away form – although hardly the most impressive in the division – has been where they’ve been stronger this season. If they can stick to a game-plan, they have the pace on the counter to really put our often ponderous style of football to the sword.

While we need collective improvements to overcome the loss of Jodi Jones, someone coming out in this game and accepting the responsibility to be our main man could be a real shot in the arm given the anxiety losing Jones will inevitably cause. Starting this game with intent and getting on the scoresheet could go a long way here.

Given what I’ve seen from this team this season, even with Jones in the side, I can see this being a 0-0 draw.

Preview: Stevenage

A win over Lincoln on Saturday came at a welcome time with our promotion bid in danger of going off the rails. It continues a habit we seem to have this season of picking up wins just before a crisis of confidence sets in, but it would be nice now if we can take the cue to put together a more concerted run of form and establish ourselves as one of the serious automatic promotion contenders.

As has continued to be our problem this season, resolving our creative issues is going to go a long way towards us putting together a run of wins. Even in victory against Lincoln on Saturday, we peppered the opposition goal with a large number of shots, but only a handful were of sufficient quality to test the keeper – fortunately, Jodi Jones scored from a ridiculous angle and Duckens Nazon was in the right place to turn a rebound home.

Nazon being out for this upcoming trip to Stevenage, it limits the attacking potential of the side. Most of our strikers are hard-working players prepared to put a shift in for the side, however, they are predictable players who are fairly easy to contain on most days, Nazon is almost the exact opposite of that. Nazon being out inevitably puts more pressure on Jodi Jones to be our creative lynchpin, although this might be a chance for Ryan Haynes to step up and make an impact in the final third.

Possible Line-Up

As for our striking options, Nazon’s suspension seems like good news for Marc McNulty, who is getting closer to the point where we can expect automatic opportunities to play himself into goalscoring form. McNulty’s work-rate is commendable, however, he rarely gets into positions where he can score from and when he does, you can sense the pressure to be the team’s main goalscorer causing him to second-guess himself.

Unless Jack Grimmer returns to fitness, the starting XI is likely to be similar to the one that started against Lincoln. Jordan Willis being at right-back reduces our options in attack further, but it does allow us to have the physical presence of Tom Davies in defence, making us less prone to long balls forward from the opposition.

Last Time We Met

Overall, we have a strong record against Stevenage in the two previous seasons where we’ve been in the same division as them. Memorably, we came from behind in a game on Boxing Day in 2012, with David McGoldrick scoring an absurd 35-yard chip to seal the win. More recently, a Danny Seaborne goal at Sixfields secured an important win for Steven Pressley’s Sky Blues who had been nosediving down the division at the time.

But let’s watch that McGoldrick beauty again!

How Are They Doing?

It’s been an inconsistent season for Stevenage, all the more so as they had been considered strong candidates for the play-offs after an impressive previous campaign that had them on the fringes of the automatic promotion spots in March before an end-of-season collapse. Under Darren Sarll, Stevenage look to play quick, attacking football and can be devastating on their day, but have been slightly too open at times.

Unsurprisingly then, Stevenage’s forward players are the ones we’ll need to be wary of. Matt Godden scored 20 goals last season, and has been complemented this time out by Danny Newton, who has seven goals to his name already. A penalty area striker, Godden had been overshadowed in the opening weeks of the season by the pacier Newton, but has been improving over the past couple of months.

Possible Line-Up

Northern Irish playmaker Ben Kennedy will be out of this game with an injury, but the  presence of Tom Pett out wide still provides Stevenage with creativity. Transfer-listed over the summer after failing to agree a new contract, Pett was a key part of Stevenage’s excellent run towards the end of last season and has three goals an two assists this time out. Harry Beautyman is another creative player for Stevenage who can make the difference on his day.

In defence, Stevenage boast experienced campaigners in the form of Jack King, Luke Wilkinson and Ronnie Henry. King and Henry are over 30 and made their careers by working their way up from non-league, so they’ll be more than prepared for a physical battle, although they do leave Stevenage a little short of pace at the back.

Prediction

With Duckens Nazon out, I’m pessimistic about our ability to create and take chances for this game. Stevenage are a dangerous side to play when they’re on form, but I’m hopeful that the experience and physicality we have in our side can take the potential sting out of this game somewhat.

I can see this being a 0-0 draw, which would be a decent result to take off the back of the win over Lincoln and the Crawley game on Saturday.

Preview: Lincoln City

How can a team be in a position we they simultaneously have won one in their previous six, but also three in their previous four?

It’s probably the most interesting thing to say about the previous couple of months at Coventry City. Whereas in previous season when we’ve been around the play-off places, it’s been hard to contain the excitement, this season has felt more akin to a dull mid-table season than a promotion season.

Ultimately, the ends will justify the means. If Mark Robins can become the first Coventry City manager since Jimmy Hill to achieve promotion, then it won’t matter how dull the football has been. The concern right now is whether the means are the correct ones in a division where most teams are seeking to avoid defeat against us.

While it would be harsh on Mansfield to describe their performance last Saturday as defensive, they were another organised side that we struggled to break down before quickly running out of ideas. If Jodi Jones isn’t at his best, this team struggles to create chances, even if he is, there are too few players committed to getting on the end of his good work. Very few promotions are won off the back of having one good winger in your side.

Possible Line-Up

Mark Robins has to consider whether he has got the balance right in this side between attack and defence. However, this upcoming game is one of the trickiest away trips of the season, which probably behoves Robins to set the team up in our typical cautious manner. Oddly, the increased difficulty of this fixture arguably gives us a better chance of result.

The only question with the team selection for this trip to Lincoln is whether Mark Robins tweaks things again up front or persists with what worked against Luton and Maidenhead. Jordan Ponticelli and Marc McNulty had their moments against Mansfield, but it felt like we were missing a presence up front of whom we could build our attacking play around, whether the alternative options solve that conundrum is another question.

Last Time We Met

As with a lot of our league games this season, this is the first competitive meeting between us and our opponents in quite a while. The aforementioned last Coventry City manager to win promotion – Jimmy Hill – was in charge as the Sky Blues comfortably navigated past Lincoln City in the FA Cup Third Round in 1963 via a 5-1 scoreline. Hugh Barr, Terry Bly, Ron Farmer, Jimmy Whitehouse and an own goal were on the scoresheet.

How Are They Doing?

Lincoln are a club re-energised over the past 18 months, dating back to the appointment of Danny Cowley – and his brother Nicky – as manager prior to the start of last season. The Imps had settled into being a fairly unremarkable mid-table National League side before the former PE teacher Danny Cowley instantly galvanised the place, storming their way back into the Football League and embarking on a memorable FA Cup run that took them into the Sixth Round.

The club are still riding the crest of that wave, boasting the largest attendances in the division and finding themselves on the fringes of the play-offs. However, a failure to convert chances has held them back at times this season but they are a team that could find themselves challenging for automatic promotion if they can get a run together.

The Cowley have also been trying to make Lincoln a more attractive side to watch this season, which may also have played a part in the somewhat underwhelming opening few months of the campaign. Target man centre-forward Matt Rhead – standing at around six foot three and weighing in around 16 stone – was a key player last year but has been relegated to more of a reserve role, with the more mobile Matt Green preferred, playing ahead of the number 10 Billy Knott.

Possible Line-Up

Lincoln’s pace from wide positions is a key element of their threat, with Josh Ginnelly – who is from Coventry – and Harry Anderson among their better performers this season. In particular, Anderson is one to stop, a skilful wide man with a level of directness to his game, he is currently Lincoln’s top goalscorer this season.

Towards the back of the side, Lincoln are assertive and energetic, with the tireless Alex Woodyard and Michael Bostwick sitting in front of the defence both arguably being of at least League One quality. The dominant Sean Raggett in central defence impressed so much last season that he earned a move to Norwich, before being loaned back to the Imps on a half-season deal (Norwich have form for that).

Prediction

If we are going to continue to struggle at home as we have done over the past month or so, putting together a more imperious run of results away from home is imperative. While it seems that this team is more suited to playing away, we’ve won just three of our eight games on the road this season, which is okay, but not enough to rely upon during what we hope is a promotion campaign.

As mentioned earlier, Lincoln being one of our toughest away trips of the season arguably makes this a more beneficial game for us right now. However, we saw against Mansfield that this defence struggles against teams that have both physicality and pace in attack, which could make for another difficult afternoon – especially if our attack remains blunt.

I’m not optimistic for this game, I can see us losing 2-0.

Preview: Mansfield Town

That’s three wins in a row now after victories in the FA Cup and Checkatrade Trophy over the past week, although it doesn’t quite feel that way. The Maidenhead game was about simply avoiding an upset, while Tuesday’s Checkatrade Trophy clash with West Brom’s under-21s was essentially a glorified reserve match.

Nonetheless, we’ve gone from being on the verge of a month without either a win or a goal to three wins in a row and seven goals in three games. This season though won’t be judged on how we do in the FA Cup or whether we got knocked out of the Checkatrade Trophy in the group phase, it’s about promotion but hopefully this gives us a sense of momentum heading into a tricky fixture against Mansfield Town – one of the pre-season promotion favourites.

Possible Line-Up

Probably the biggest thing to come out of the past week was Jordan Ponticelli’s goals against Maidenhead. His inclusion against Luton seemed almost a last throw of the dice by Mark Robins to find a goalscorer, and yet his two finishes against Maidenhead justified that gamble, demonstrating both excellent technique and movement. It’s way too early to be expecting him now to shoulder the burden of being our main goalscorer, but Ponticelli has shown that he can at least be another weapon in our arsenal.

Liam Kelly’s fitness permitting, it’s hard to see the line-up for this Mansfield game being all too different from the Luton game. While Jordan Shipley and Tom Davies impressed in the FA Cup, they unfortunately occupy the positions of some of our most reliable performers this season in Liam Kelly and Jordan Willis. With Ryan Haynes and Jack Grimmer looking threatening from full-back in recent games, our attacking threat has diversified from just giving the ball to Jodi Jones.

Last Time We Met

You have to go back a long way to find our last competitive meeting with Mansfield Town, with the most recent clash between us and them coming in the League Cup in 1975. Gordon Milne’s Sky Blues were the victims of a cup upset against then-Division Three (League One in today’s money) Mansfield Town at Field Mill.

The last league meeting between the two sides came in the 1963-64 season, this season is only the fourth season that we’ve been in the same division as Mansfield Town.

How Are They Doing?

Mansfield were, justifiably, one of the heavy favourites for promotion heading into this season. Having ended last year fairly strongly, manager and serial promotion-winner Steve Evans made some big early moves in the summer transfer window to further strengthen his squad. Only Luton looked to be on a par with Mansfield heading into this campaign.

However, Mansfield have struggled to get going this season, despite occasionally showing signs that they can be a force to be reckoned with at this level. Evans’ overhaul of the squad over the summer arguably brought in quantity over quality, in particular, failing to add the proven goalscorer to the ranks that Evans clearly sought after.

While Mansfield have a lot of physical and powerful players at the back in the form of Zander Diamond, David Mirfin, Rhys Bennett and Krystian Pearce, keeping goals out has been a particular problem for the Stags this season. Evans has tended to chop and change his back-line on a fairly consistent basis, which hasn’t helped matters – for example playing winger Paul Anderson at right-back.

There also has seemingly not been adequate protection from midfield, with Mansfield looking the same level of physical presence in the centre of the pitch as they do at the back. With the more creative Jacob Mellis suspended for this game, Mansfield are likely to operate with two box-to-box midfielders in the centre of the park, Calum Butcher – who scored for Burton in a win over us a few seasons ago – and Joel Byrom – who has been a key creator of chances for Mansfield since signing in January.

Possible Line-Up

The pace and industry of winger Alex MacDonald will have to be contained, while there are further pacey wide options in the form of CJ Hamilton and ex-Solihull Moors star Omari Sterling-James. While summer signings Kane Hemmings and Lee Angol haven’t clicked yet up front for Mansfield, the former was absolutely lethal during spells in Scotland and the latter was Peterborough’s top-scorer in League One only two seasons ago, so shouldn’t be written-off.

Mansfield’s most reliable forward this season though has undoubtedly been Danny Rose. A hard-working striker and surprisingly good in the air for his size, Rose has eight league goals in 14 games this season. Interestingly, he was linked this week with a move to either us or Notts County, which seems unlikely to happen given the investment Mansfield have made in attaining promotion this season.

Prediction

Despite an underwhelming start to the season, Mansfield cannot be treated lightly and are a side that should finish in at least the top seven this season once they get going. They are a physically powerful side and with Steve Evans in charge, they will undoubtedly be incredibly tough and frustrating to break down should they take the lead in this game. Additionally, they are one of the few teams at this level who have the firepower to really put us to the sword if they can hit their stride.

While I think the character of our squad means we’ll be up for the battle of this game, my main concern is whether a front two of Marc McNulty and Jordan Ponticelli will be able to get into the game against the physicality of Mansfield’s back-line. If we don’t get the first goal, this could be an immensely frustrating afternoon for us.

I predict that this will be a 0-0 draw.

Preview: Maidenhead United

After an unexpectedly brilliant win away at the then league leaders Luton, a looming crisis of confidence has been averted. However, this FA Cup tie in what could be an especially soulless Ricoh Arena against non-league opposition could quickly render McNulty’s header, Shipley’s free-kick and Nazon’s late coup de grace at Kenilworth Road into distant memories.

After humbling exits in each of the past three years – Cambridge last year, Northampton the year before, and notably, Worcester the year before that – it should be abundantly clear that a tie against a supposedly lesser club in the FA Cup is far from straightforward. Mark Robins hasn’t treated the cup competitions seriously thus far this season but given the tradition of the FA Cup, as well as the revenue a good run would generate, it would be negligent for him to disregard this competition.

Moreover, the squad has had a week’s rest heading into this game and there’s only a Checkatrade Trophy tie to play the following midweek. There are no excuses for not naming our strongest line-up here and treating it as we would a normal league game, albeit one that takes us a step closer to a potential trip to a big Premier League side.

Possible Line-Up

Just what our full-strength team at the moment is something of a debate, despite the performance against Luton. While the back six or seven players looks to be fairly settled, the make-up of our strongest attacking line-up is yet to be resolved. While there is the temptation for Robins to stick with a winning team, Maidenhead United are going to be vastly different opponents to Luton Town, and he may consider adjusting the personnel accordingly.

In an ideal world, this is probably a game to bring Ben Stevenson into the midfield in place of either Michael Doyle or Liam Kelly so that we have someone who can get their foot on the ball and orchestrate extended periods of possession more comfortably – that’s not going to happen though. I would expect Maxime Biamou to come in for Jordan Ponticelli in order to give the side a focal point to aim crosses into the box. A more dynamic wide option than Peter Vincenti is another must, but that could mean shunting Duckens Nazon or Marc McNulty onto the wing.

Last Time We Met

We’ve never played Maidenhead United in a competitive fixture, not once.

How Are They Doing?

A town most famous for its Isambard Kingdom Brunel-built bridge and for being the constituency of the legendary UK Prime Minister Theresa May, its local football club are on the up. Promoted into the National League last season as National League South champions, Maidenhead stormed the opening month of the National League campaign thanks to the goals of Dave Tarpey.

Tarpey, reportedly offered the chance to sign for us over the summer, scored a suspiciously impressive 44 goals in 41 appearances for Maidenhead in the National League South last season. After seven goals in six appearances at the start of the season, Tarpey took the decision to sign for Barnet, before picking up a serious injury in his second appearance for the club.

Maidenhead manager and former West Ham legend Alan Devonshire is a wily operator in non-league, having turned part-time Braintree into a competitive outfit in the National League in his previous managerial posting. Devonshire has struggled at times to adjust his side to the loss of their goal machine, although midfielder Adrian Clifton has helped ease the burden with six goals from the centre of the park this season.

Possible Line-Up

Clifton looks the biggest danger-man among Maidenhead’s ranks, an attack-minded central player with skill and pace with the ball. In a counter-attacking unit, Clifton is important in not only carrying the ball forward but in supplying an end product in and around the penalty area. Winger Harry Pritchard is another key element of Maidenhead’s counter-attacking play, while the pacey Moses Emmanuel out wide has been a reliable National League goalscorer in recent years.

Even in the National League, Maidenhead look to defend deep and try and nick something either on the break or from set-pieces – with centre-backs Jake Goodman and Alan Massey someone we’ll need to make sure to mark. It was already apparent from the respective statures of the sides that this game would be about us looking to break-down a dogged and determined part-time side, but we are up against one with plenty of practice doing so this season.

Prediction

Not to be patronising towards Maidenhead, but this game, and certainly the stadium, will be their biggest in a long time. While they are a part-time side, they are only in the division below us so the gulf in quality between the two sides isn’t going to be as large as the respective histories of the clubs would suggest. This is a dangerous game for us if we show up expecting to stroll to victory.

Even if we do show the right attitude, this game presents the challenge of breaking down an organised defence at the Ricoh, which we’ve struggled on multiple occasions already this season. If we can get an early goal to settle the nerves, this game should be more straightforward than I fear it will be.

This is a game we should win, and I’m going to back us to get the job done with a 1-0 scoreline.