Another game, another loss as the rudderless ship Coventry City gets cast adrift at the bottom of League One. It’s now nine games without a win to start the season and with Tony Mowbray looking increasingly like he doesn’t know what he wants from this team, this upcoming game against AFC Wimbledon is looking set to be one of those painful midweek games at the Ricoh Arena, an experience we had nearly forgotten about last season.
Despite the woeful start to the season, the only way it seems Tony Mowbray will lose his job is if he chooses to resign. In a sense, it’s commendable that we’re sticking by a manager, but with the club in a state of chaos at the moment and relegation to League Two looking a more-than realistic prospect, but it would be preferrable if there was more of a determination apparent to get ourselves out of the on-the-pitch mess that we are in.
At this stage, it’s almost pointless to try and guess which players Tony Mowbray will pick for this game and what formation he’ll play them in. The shift to a 3-4-3 at the end of last season was because teams had figured us out in that 4-2-3-1 system, but now Tony Mowbray can’t seemingly get that 3-4-3 right and he’s vacillating between two formations that aren’t working. It’s a tactical problem that’s made worse by a lack of consistency in team selection, which means players aren’t allowed time to build an understanding to make a system work.
Chris McCann and Andy Rose are close to full fitness but seemingly won’t be involved in this game, which leaves this team seriously lacking in a physical presence. Given AFC Wimbledon can be a fairly direct side, I would imagine that the 5 ft 5 Dion Kelly-Evans won’t continue at right wing-back, which will either mean a return for Jamie Sterry or the use of Jordan Willis or Sam Ricketts at right-back with the other at centre-back. But as I wrote in the last paragraph, it’s nigh-on impossible to accurately speculate on Mowbray’s thinking.
Last Time We Met
This is our first league meeting with the reincarnated AFC Wimbledon, who possibly provide a case study of where our future may be, but it isn’t our first competitive game because we played them in the FA Cup back in the Sixfields season. Back then, Steven Pressley’s Sky Blues were in their best run of form of the season but had to draft Adam Barton into the side following a suspension to John Fleck, although we were able to welcome Cyrus Christie back after a spell out injured.
Without Fleck, we struggled to find out rhythm and probably deserved to fall behind to a Michael Smith goal early in the second-half. AFC’s goalkeeper Seb Brown dropped a clanger that fell at the feet of Callum Wilson for the equaliser and we quickly gained the lead when Carl Baker tapped in a Franck Moussa cross. Another defensive error sealed the win when AFC Wimbledon’s left-back inadvertently diverted Carl Baker’s free-kick past the helpless Brown.
Just writing some of those names makes me feel a bit sad.
How Are They Doing?
AFC Wimbledon were last season’s League Two play-off winners after finding form towards the end of last season to sneak into that final play-off spot. For a club on fairly limited resources, adapting to the third-tier was always going to be a difficult task but Neal Ardley’s side have shown, after a difficult start, that they’ll at least be competitive at this level this season.
AFC Wimbledon are almost the parallel opposite to us in terms of their squad, we’ve used the most players in League One, they’ve used the fewest. We have the second-youngest squad in the division, they have the oldest. It could very well be a battle of men against boys.
Lyle Taylor is the most obvious threat that AFC Wimbledon have, not only was he their top-scorer last season and is joint-top this season, but he has scored three goals in his past two appearances against us – those three goals represented 60% of his tally at this level before this season. Taylor is a penalty area presence who formed an effective partnership with target-man Tom Elliott last season, with AFC Wimbledon deploying a ‘Crazy Gang’-esque style of approach-play at times last season.
Neal Ardley has however made moves this summer to broaden AFC’s attacking threat beyond long balls and set-pieces. The ultra-quick Dominic Poleon, along with Andy Barcham, offer pace on the counter and have scored five goals between them. Jake Reeves and summer signing Dean Parrett offer quality on the ball in the centre of the park, although both also provide quality from set-piece deliveries too.
With two brutes at centre-back in Paul Robinson (the former Millwall one) and Darius Charles, AFC Wimbledon possess a physical presence at the back and from set-pieces. There is uncertainty in goal at the moment though after summer signing Ryan Clarke left the club after some poor performances and last season’s back-up James Shea has had to step up in recent weeks. However, Shea impressed in a win at Charlton and trained with the England senior team once when he was on the books with Arsenal.
It’s hard to summon up any positivity heading into this game and I can only really consult the law of averages that we must soon be due a win rather than actually believing in this side. AFC Wimbledon are going to be a physically assertive side, a threat from set-pieces but also with pace on the counter – an effective formula for beating any Coventry City side at the Ricoh Arena, not least one completely bereft of confidence.
I’ve got nothing else to write, other than I think we will lose this one 2-1.