A disappointing home result has largely been overshadowed this week with the mania of the transfer market. In addition to the arrivals of Dominic Samuel and Sanmi Odelusi, both of whom excelled on their debuts, Middlesbrough forward Luke Williams and West Ham winger Blair Turgott have joined the Sky Blues with the eternal square peg in round hole Danny Swanson taking his talents to St Johnstone.
With minds now back on the business of league football, Coventry City are not in a healthy position heading into a tough month of February. This trip to Preston North End is the start of a four match run of games against sides with varying aspirations of finishing in the general top six area of this division. Currently four games without a win, it is crucial that we can come out of this tough period of the season in a decent position, both in the league and in terms of morale, otherwise this season could get away from us.
This relegation battle has largely been the product of poor planning and instability at this football club, the goalkeeping situation for this game summing it all up. Unsure whether to put faith in Lee Burge or sign an experienced keeper to replace Joe Murphy, the club ended up doing neither in bringing Ryan Allsop for half a season. After improving towards the end of his loan, we dallied on making a decision on keeping Allsop and he has now decided to take his chances as third-choice keeper at Bournemouth. Desperate for a body to fill between the sticks, the club brought in Jamie Jones on a month’s long loan, a month containing a game where he would be ineligible. Once again this club has averted a short-term crisis by creating a bigger one for the future.
Enter Lee Burge. The youngster was clearly nervous in his last spell in goal for the club and made a series of errors and not just limited to the conceding of goals, or getting sent-off against Worcester. His loan spell at Nuneaton, where he kept our neighbours up in the Conference two years ago, shows that he has a degree of mental strength. This game though could decide whether he is capable of playing professional football, a far greater pressure than he will have ever faced.
With Reda Johnson out injured again and Danny Pugh now out for the season, we have an out-of-form Ryan Haynes as our only option at left-back. Whilst Haynes has improved as a defender over the course of the season, his attacking play has struggled ever since he played a big role in our comeback win over Peterborough. Ideally, you don’t want to be throwing youngsters into these kinds of tests if they’re out of form but once again, this has been a product of poor planning, albeit with some bad luck thrown in.
The front four positions last Saturday where the bright spot of a performance that regressed to the mean as the game wore on. Jim O’Brien on the left looked like he playing with far less burden and had the confidence to roam from his position and try some really eye-catching pieces of skill. Frank Nouble likewise benefited from the pace of Dominic Samuel and Sanmi Odelusi opening up space for him to operate in. New signing Luke Williams could be a more reliable source of creativity operating just behind the striker, but Pressley may want to stick with what worked against Rochdale.
Possible Line-Up: (4-4-2) Burge; Willis, Martin, Webster, Haynes; Odelusi, Finch, Fleck, O’Brien; Nouble, Samuel.
Last Time We Met
Preston fully exploited a lack of confidence in our ranks after back-to-back defeats to Scunthorpe and Rochdale with an assured performance in victory at the Ricoh Arena. A goal from a set-piece gave Preston the lead before Joe Garner sealed the win with a penalty. That goal for Garner would have been especially sweet after Pressley branded the former Watford and Carlisle striker a diver before the game.
Our last trip to Preston included this memorable YouTube moment.
How Are They Doing?
After keeping pace with the top three for much of the first half of the season, Preston have lost form in the league quite alarmingly ever since Boxing Day. Last week they lost to Crawley thanks to a goal from Nuneaton Town loanee Lee Fowler but thanks to their early season form, Preston remain firmly ensconced in the play-off positions. Simon Grayson’s side have shaken that defeat off with a win against Sheffield United in the cup but will be desperate to reignite their league form for this fixture.
Part of the reason why Preston have struggled so badly over the past month or so has been the absence of Joe Garner through injury. His form over the past 18 months has been instrumental to Preston’s revitalisation after Graham Westley’s disastrous reign and they struggled to find a reliable source of goals without him, despite turning to Jermaine Beckford and Sylvan Ebanks-Blake. Garner has returned to fitness this week and should make the bench, damn.
Elsewhere in the side, the man to look out for Paul Gallagher, a creative forward who likes to play just behind the strikers. The Leicester loanee has been a key figure during Simon Grayson’s reign at the club and we should be especially wary of the threat Gallagher poses with his spectacular set-piece deliveries.
The other element of Preston’s threat is the pace they have in wide positions. Chris Humphrey on the right is one of the quickest and most consistent wingers in the division and has been drawing admiring glances from club’s higher up the league pyramid ever since signing for the club 18 months ago. Likewise on the left-side, Kyel Reid provides a similar threat having established himself in the first-team of late.
Kevin Davies and John Welsh provide the experience and game-winning nous to the side. Davies has not managed the goal return that many expected of him when he joined, but his ability to win free-kicks in the opposition half allows the team to get in dangerous positions or wind the clock down. John Welsh in central midfield is a fierce competitor and enforces the midfield with aggression, it’s hard to imagine him being out-competed by Jack Finch and John Fleck.
Possible Line-Up: (4-2-3-1) Johnstone; Woods, Clarke, Huntington, Buchanan; Welsh, Brownhill; Humphrey, Gallagher, Reid; Davies.
This is a tough game made harder by our farcical situation in goal. Throw in our poor overall record at Deepdale and Preston’s own desperation to get their season back on track, oh, and the return of their top-scorer who will want to get his own-back on a manager who branded him a cheat, there is little reason to believe that we can get anything out of this match. Our main hope is that the new loan players will add some fresh energy to the squad but in the face of the footballing machine that is Simon Grayson’s Preston North End, it’s hard seeing them making too much of a difference.
It seems like it will be a case of damage control for this fixture, hoping that we won’t get too disheartened in defeat and can then attack the more important game on Tuesday night against Scunthorpe.