Another defeat, another ‘protest’, more arguing over the rights and wrongs of it all, and we’re still limping into the abyss. The defeat to Millwall on Saturday that was as predictable as they come, extending a 13-match winless run in the league and making the question right now not whether we can survive, but whether we’ll win again this season.
Had it not been for this remarkable run to the semi-finals of the Checkatrade Trophy, this season would have been an unremittingly awful compendium of torture for Sky Blues fans. Yet, there’s a rather large part of me wondering whether would be even worse torture to get this far and not make it to Wembley at this point, than it would have been to have quietly made an exit from this competition when nobody was looking.
On the face of it, drawing a League Two side and playing at home in a one-off semi-final should be a massive advantage for us. However, we are a terrible team in no kind of form and will only have about half our full-strength squad to pick from thanks to various players being ineligible, suspended and injured for this game. i’s not so much about Slade picking a team he feels is best-suited for overcoming a physical and cynical Wycombe side, it’s about picking a combination of the players available to him that bear the closest semblance to a functional team.
In defence, Jordan Willis, Nathan Clarke, Farrend Rawson and Kevin Foley are all unavailable, which is absolutely killer for us given how effective Wycombe are from set-pieces and long balls. Cian Harries and Jordan Turnbull are just about the only central defensive pairing Slade can pick. Dion Kelly-Evans is going to have to grow a foot taller in time for this game for dealing with the aforementioned aerial threats Wycombe pose. But at least we have Ryan Haynes available at left-back, who scored twice the last time we played them.
In midfield, there are fewer selection issues for Slade to contend with in terms of players being unavailable, it’s just about how cautious he wants to be. Jodi Jones and Ruben Lameiras seem to have saved their best performances this season for this competition, but are so inconsistent that it’s as much a risk to play them in this game as it is not to. Hopefully, Ben Stevenson will be available for selection in the middle of the park as Callum Reilly just does not offer a similar level of quality and composure.
We really need Stuart Beavon to replicate his debut performance against Bolton if we are to stand any chance of scoring in this game. His work-rate and physical presence could unlock the door for our other players, but he’s clearly an ageing player who struggles to last a full 90 minutes and it’s not helping that the ball is being hoofed towards him rather than played into his feet or the channels.
Last Time We Met
It was a bizarre game the last time we played Wycombe, in this competition back in November. We were still on that decent run under Mark Venus but the signs that the wheels were about to come off were getting increasingly apparent. Wycombe, who were on a poor run of form at the time, took a fairly straightforward two-goal early into the second-half, before we sparked to life.
Ryan Haynes started playing like a ginger Gareth Bale and quickly cancelled out Wycombe’s lead with two goals in three minutes from typical barnstorming, is-he-going-to-shoot-or-pass runs that he’s occasionally capable of. George Thomas did something he had never done at senior level, and scored, to put us in front. Then, Gael Bigirimana got in on the act to make it 4-2, scoring what was also his first senior goal for the club.
How Are They Doing?
That defeat seemed to spark Wycombe to life, having started the season somewhat listlessly in lower mid-table of League Two. They have only lost twice in the 19 games they’ve played since our last meeting and have forward Scott Kashket in red-hot form, having scored 11 goals in his past 15 games in all competitions.
Wycombe are a very direct and cynical side who will be a nightmare to play against, especially if we fall behind. Manager Gareth Ainsworth has regularly deployed his side in a 4-3-3 formation where target-man, and social media famous, Adebayo Akinfenwa is absolutely pivotal in winning headers and providing flick-ons to the supporting runners. They showed against Spurs recently that their style of play can unsettle even top-level defenders, so we’ll have to be at our very best to repel Wycombe’s threat.
Alongside Akinfenwa and Kashket in attack, Gareth Ainsworth can either call upon the experienced Paul Hayes, who scored an excellent goal against Spurs, Garry Thompson, also on the scoresheet at White Hart Lane, or the pacey Paris Cowan-Hall, who has just re-joined the club for a fourth spell. This is a team that absolutely thrive off winning second-balls and often, the actual formation they play matters less than who is around Akinfenwa to benefit from his physical prowess.
At the back, Wycombe have two full-backs in Sido Jombati and Joe Jacobson who provide energy and quality from their delivery, which is counter-typical for such a direct team. Centre-Back Aaron Pierre is a real domineering presence at the heart of their defence and is someone who should really be playing at a higher level.
In goal is Chelsea loanee Jamal Blackman, who is an interesting keeper because he has the capability to produce some absolutely spectacular saves, while also being susceptible to some fairly routine errors. Which Jamal Blackman they get in this game could well be crucial in either winning or losing the tie for Wycombe, if that is we can manage to challenge him with enough efforts on goal.
Every bone in my body is telling me that we’re going to monumentally screw-up this big opportunity. Not only is this Coventry City we’re talking about, but we are in terrible form and the manager has to pick from a patched-up team. Even though we’re one game away from Wembley, it still doesn’t feel like tangible possibility.
I predict a 3-0 loss, and an absolutely infuriating evening for everyone in Sky Blue.