Where We Are
After an astounding win over MK Dons in the league last Saturday, this week has been a return to the reality of life at Coventry City this season. An article earlier this week by Guardian journalist David Conn mainly repeated known facts about our situation with an anti-modern football twist added to it, however one throwaway sentence revealed the council has made on offer for the club to return to the Ricoh for the next three seasons, the first of which being for free. Since then it’s later been revealed that what was meant by ‘free’ also included the matchday costs and no access to matchday revenues, the club rejected this seemingly amazing offer as it would allegedly cost more (not factoring in a rise in attendances) than to continue to stage games at Sixfields, and also because they don’t really like the council.
The offer which once sounded like an olive branch from the council could be interpreted as yet another round in the tit-for-tat between the council and the club. Either way you look at it, both parties are seeking to manipulate the fans with loaded statements and the tactical deployment of ‘facts’. Ultimately we’re not tangibly closer to seeing the club return to the Ricoh Arena despite this week’s round of revelations.
The football side has been quiet with the players taking a well-earned break from training at the start of the week in order to fight the recent bout of fatigue going starting to appear around the squad. Callum Wilson’s booking in the MK Dons match though brings about a major selection dilemma ahead of tomorrow’s FA Cup match against Hartlepool. With Chris Dagnall and Chris Maguire ruled ineligible by their parent clubs, Leon Clarke’s continued injury lay-off and Mathieu Manset’s disappearance from his corporeal form, we are left without a recognised first-team striker.
The logical solution would first be to play a 4-5-1 system but that still leaves several issues across the starting line-up. The main one is who is to spearhead the attack, the lone striker role is a difficult one to fulfill and could be troublesome for a youngster making his debut should either one of Ben Maund or Courtney Baker-Richardson start tomorrow’s FA Cup tie. Perhaps then Pressley should go with Billy Daniels who prefers playing up-front despite his struggles against Rotherham recently. That then would leave the issue of who to play behind the striker or whether to go with a flat 3 in central midfield, playing a flat 3 would suit the playing style of Fleck, Thomas and Barton but would likely isolate Daniels up front. The most likely candidate then to play behind the forward would be Franck Moussa which would leave an open position in the starting line-up on the left of midfield, Barton could fill in there or you could put Baker on the left and stick Christie on the right with Phillips moving into right-back. The other option is to play Daniels behind either Maund or Baker-Richardson in either a 4-4-1-1 shape or in our usual 4-4-2.
There are a lot of options available to Pressley but everyone option has its flaws. How Pressley handles this situation could tell us what this Coventry side will look like in a couple of seasons, with Leon Clarke and Callum Wilson both gone. You’d hope that one of the younger players around the first-team sees this as a chance to stake a claim for a place in the league starting line-up although ultimately the judgement of the performance tomorrow will be tempered by the league status of our opposition. I would imagine Pressley would want the team to maintain as high a tempo as possible which makes me assume that the formation will look more like a 4-4-2, the identities of the players lining up in that shape are as of now unknown to me.
Last Time We Met
It was last season during a campaign which saw Hartlepool relegated from the division in 23rd position only by the virtue of Portsmouth having 10 points deducted from their final tally. The two games between the clubs saw Coventry record two straightforward wins with the Pools offering very little threat to Joe Murphy in our goal. The first encounter saw Coventry record their biggest league win of the 2012-13 season with a 5-0 win away from home with all the goals occurring in the second half. The second match was a 1-0 win in what was Steven Pressley’s first home win as Coventry manager.
How Are They Doing?
After surprisingly sacking their manager for the second half of last season John ‘Yogi’ Hughes who seemed like he was getting the side on the right track, his replacement Colin Cooper has slowly built a strong reputation for himself in his first season as a manager. The Pools started the season poorly failing to win until their 7th league game of the season with the club looking to be suffering from a relegation hangover after several seasons of underachievement and under-investment, not unlike where Coventry were at the start of last season. However Colin Cooper’s side jerked into life around about the start of October and are comfortable mid-table in the league and claimed several scalps such as Bradford and Sheffield United in the JPT.
The danger man for Hartlepool is quite clearly their young striker Luke James who leads their scoring charts with 9 goals. After bursting onto the scene a couple of years ago injuries and being in a losing side have stunted his progress but James, a nippy and energetic striker has proven his quality this season and his return to form has led the Pools towards the right end of the League Two table.
Away from James, Scott Flinders is the star of this current Hartlepool side. The goalie has been at the club for several years now and has been a consistently excellent performer and unfortunate to have a relegation on his CV. A commanding presence who belongs in a higher division after been courted by Championship and rich League One sides for a few seasons now. He’ll make his 200th appearance for Hartlepool tomorrow afternoon.
Finally Coventry fans making the long trip north tomorrow will also do well to keep an eye upon Andy Monkhouse, Jack Compton and Christian Burgess. All of whom have shown impressive form this season and also have the potential to play in higher division (although Andy Monkhouse may miss out as a result of his age and injury record). Monkhouse is a club stalwart who would likely be playing elsewhere had he better luck with injuries, he’s an attacking midfielder who can chip in with both goals and assists. Compton has finally flickered into life after several seasons of poor form that saw him released by two different clubs during last season. He’s a winger who likes to cut inside and shoot, and is familiar to Steven Pressley who had him at Falkirk, where the pair fell out with each other. Burgess is a former Arsenal player who is currently on loan from Middlesbrough, he’s a classy centre-back who is displaying qualities that may well see him recalled to his parent club in the New Year.
Without a doubt tomorrow’s FA Cup fixture is going to be testing in a variety of manners. Even without the striker conundrum we’re facing a side who are confident, especially at home, and improving as each game comes. This fixture may prove to be similar to the AFC Wimbledon tie in the first round where we were caught cold in the first half by a team looking to achieve a cup upset, to avoid this we’re going to need a strong start and hope that whoever fills the vacant space up front has a good day.
Presuming the tie tomorrow doesn’t fall victim to the current poor weather conditions I’m going to predict that we’ll lose tomorrow. The lack of a recognised striker seems as if it will result in a disjointed performance and with such a small range of options to change things should we struggle tomorrow I fear the worst. The score will be Coventry 0 Hartlepool 1.