Preview: Walsall

Where We Are

We’re coming to the end of our most difficult run of fixtures so far this season. So far we’re unbeaten on this run, having beaten Sheffield United and Leyton Orient at home and drawing away to Wolves. Tuesday night’s win against Leyton Orient may prove to be the most important as it was against a side previously unbeaten, hopefully proving to this side that they belong at the top of the league. Leyton Orient may be criticised for being off the pace on Tuesday night, maybe they wouldn’t have been unbeaten for so long had this week not provided the first midweek round of league fixtures this season, but given that they spurned an opportunity to level the game from the spot, I’m putting the result down to our performance.

What’s been interesting about this recent run of form has been that it has coincided with Cyrus Christie, our best player, being absent from the team following an injury against Stevenage a few weeks ago. The deputy thus far has been Jordan Willis who’s been solid defensively but provided little going forward. A knee problem seems likely to keep him out of tomorrow’s sort-of-derby match against Walsall which means Aaron Phillips will be handed his first start for the club after scoring in Coventry’s last game in the Black Country.

The other team news is that Conor Thomas is struggling for fitness ahead of tomorrow’s match, there are conflicting reports but it seems that it will be a close run thing. Adam Barton will deputise should Thomas fail to prove his fitness. Additionally Billy Daniels will be absent from the bench meaning that Louis Garner will be likely to make a cameo tomorrow afternoon.

Finally, this morning we were greeted with the news that Mathieu Manset could be loaned out next week with the Frenchman unhappy at being back-up to the in-form Leon Clarke and Callum Wilson. Personally I was disappointed with this news, firstly because Manset has made an impact as a substitute and secondly because it makes him sound like a whinger. However as a footballer it must be frustrating not to play and I can understand him for seeking first-team football, reportedly he won’t even have to change his satnav to get to his home ground. If this rumour proves to be true then it also suggests that trialist Jake Jervis is set to sign a permanent contract, which could be great news (more on him when/if that happens).

Last Time We Met

The two games we played against Walsall last season averaged 5 goals a game with the aggregate score of 5-5. The two scorelines of 5-1 and 0-4 though indicate the topsy-turvy seasons both sides had and the worlds that aligned to bring the teams together at their respective highs and lows of the season. That 4-0 defeat at the Bescot Stadium still sticks in the memory of the poorest we’d been last season, worse than even the 4-1 at Shrewsbury as City’s prospects after losing to Walsall were much grimmer. In that match we struggled to get a grip on the passing style of football that Pressley, not made any better by the potato field that the game was played on, Jordan Stewart’s red card and Edjenguele’s worst performance for the club. I think that Pressley learned important lessons from that match not only about individual players but also the importance of moving the ball forward quickly in this league and I’m not fearing a repeat.

How Are They Doing?

It says a lot about both ours and Walsall’s seasons that this is in-effect a promotion contenders’ match. While our problems are well documented, Walsall began the summer by losing their 3 best attacking players, Jamie Paterson (to Forest), Will Grigg (to Brentford) and Febian Brandy (to Sheffield United), and didn’t have a goalkeeper in their first-team squad. It seemed like this season would see Walsall regress to their supposed mean by attempting to stave off relegation. However their manager, Dean Smith, has been savvy in the transfer market and has built a new team which is now more consistent to the side that in falling short of the play-offs also went on a 16-match winless run.

Their new side has largely been built from players who dropped out of bigger side’s academies. Paul Downing (a centre-back), Romaine Sawyers (attacking midfield) and Sam Mantom (central midfielder) all came from their local rivals West Brom’s academy. In addition they can call upon Ashley Hemmings (striker/winger, ex-Wolves), Milan Lalkovic (winger, on loan from Chelsea) and Richard O’Donnell (goalkeeper, ex-Sheffield Wednesday) who’ve all been strong performers this season.

One of the main challenges that Dean Smith has faced this season has been finding a balance between home and away performances. At home they struggle to break teams down and away from home they struggle to keep a clean sheet. Recently the solution has been to play Romaine Sawyers, who’s an attacking midfielder a bit like Franck Moussa, instead of the more orthodox central midfielder Nicky Featherstone at home in order to put the opposition on the back foot. However with Coventry being such a gung-ho side anyway he may elect to keep things tight although selecting Sawyers could make for a much more entertaining affair at the Bescot on Saturday.

Prediction

Before I go into the process of predicting the scoreline tomorrow I think it’s important to take a step back and look at the moment that this game sits upon. It’s rare as a Coventry that you can describe a game involving the club as being potentially the most exciting in the league. Had we not had our points deducted in August then this would have been the third in a row of important promotion deciding fixtures, that it might turn out to be anyway is a massively exciting prospect.

Both teams tomorrow are going in confident that they can beat the best in the league and that will give both sides the impetus to attack this game and attempt impose their style of play on the match. This then makes it yet another test of where this Coventry side stands in the league in terms of ability. The absence of Thomas may make it tougher to do so with the more languid Adam Barton in central midfield as opposed to Thomas’s energy and physicality. I’ll say this once again that tomorrow should be a very entertaining fixture due to the confidence and ability both sides currently possess and a win or draw, as opposed to defeat, tomorrow could define our season’s prospects.

I predict that tomorrow will produce a 2-2 draw.

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