With Friday’s seemingly crunch CVA meeting still to come it might be slightly premature to assess fully our prospects for the coming season. The meeting seems to have two outcomes, return to Ricoh and administration ends after transfer window (not so much of a problem as we’re after frees and loan signings) or liquidation of Limited and what looks like an immediate 15 point deduction (not sure what impact it will have on the transfer front). As much as I believe that there is quality within this squad, perhaps enough to achieve promotion, I feel that we would struggle to overcome the psychological impact of a 15 point deduction. Furthermore I don’t see how either outcome improves our long-term future, agreeing to the new rent deal may just be delaying the inevitable, rejecting it and moving to Northampton would reduce our support base greatly. Also given the amount of hatred out there for SISU I think that either way there’ll be a large drop in support and general positivity around the club, even if SISU build a new stadium and financially support a promotion worthy team.
With that out of the way, I shall begin my season preview. My basis for my season preview is that we don’t get a points deduction, meaning that we’ll be playing at the Ricoh and leaving administration in September.
In my pre-season round-up I looked at several players who either performed well in pre-season or are looking to be important players for the coming season. With the benefit of just under a week to think more about it, I will now list the 5 key players currently at the club and why they are so important.
Last season was another typical season for Leon Clarke, essentially under contract at 3 different clubs, yet last season was without a doubt his best in front of goal. This season he faces the prospect of being at a club where he’s under contract, wanted and in form, this is his chance to show what he can do under a stable environment as the number one striker at the club. Leon Clarke doubled his best ever season in front of goal last time out, which either suggests he’s at his peak or that it was something of a fluke. For our sake we have to hope that Leon’s capable of repeating last season’s trick as the lack of reliable back-up options (i.e. Callum Wilson) means that much of the goal-scoring burden will be placed on his shoulders. Clarke’s importance to the team will not just be his goal-scoring, he’ll need to lead the line as well as mentor his under-study/strike partner Callum Wilson. The difference between survival and a successful season rests a large amount on whether Leon Clarke has both the ability and mental strength required to live up to the expectations being placed on him, I believe that the confidence of the team may rest on Leon Clarke’s ability to score consistently.
A surprise choice as captain last year paid dividends in the form of goals, even if his actual performance levels varied extremely. On his day he was one of the best goal-scoring midfielders in the league, unfortunately on that same day he could also be incapable of even trapping the ball. Given last season’s plummet in performances as a team following the points deduction, Baker’s role in captain could be important in setting the mentality of the team should we start struggling for wins or even goals. His comments in the media have been encouraging surrounding both his personal goals for the season and in trying to show his sympathy for the continued troubles of the Coventry City fans. I still doubt Baker’s mental strength though, after seeing his performances early last season where he was regularly very poor and also his nonchalance during our relegation season from the Championship, I wonder whether Baker is truly able to overcome the crushing pressures of what looks to be a long and hard season.
When Pressley was appointed his first move seemed to be to build the team around John Fleck. Moved into a deep-lying position, Fleck was tasked with providing the tempo for the team to play at. After a disappointing season in and out of the first-team Fleck’s range of passing was clearly what attracted Pressley to his fellow Scot. The two main question marks are whether Fleck has the fitness levels to play two games a week, as he’ll so often be asked to do, and also whether Fleck has the ability to make his passing count. The end of last season definitely showed us how well Fleck was on the ball but it’s whether he has the decision making ability to both mantain possession and also provide penetration. Another player who’s performance levels have to remain high to keep our heads above water.
For many people Murphy should be the man in possession of the captain’s armband currently possessed by Carl Baker. After a difficult first season, enduring relegation from the Championship, Joe Murphy should why Andy Thorn thought he could replace Keiren Westwood in goal. Although clearly not Westwood’s equal in terms of shot-stopping, at League One level we saw how important having a keeper regularly capable of getting the basics of goalkeeping right can be. It’s hard to point to specific games where Murphy made the difference between wins and draws/defeats his consistency finally won over many Coventry fans. Furthermore Murphy’s prediliction for shouting at his defenders is perhaps the reason why we see him as perfect captain material. This season he’ll be asked to repeat his consistent performances as well as provide the distribution in order to maintain Pressley’s passing style.
There were many players I was thinking of who could have been included in this important 5 but mainly by virtue of being currently the only first-team centre-back in the squad Willis exceeded the other candidates. In just 4 first-team appearances Willis has seemed to have the raw potential to become a top professional footballer, but we have too often seen this potential fail to be converted into professional appearances from other academy products. Willis though has been thrown into the deep-end for the start of the season with no new signings at least until September and a likely points deduction, it will be important that we get off to a strong start, or at least pick up a few wins. It definitely seems like Willis could be able to step up, despite the little we’ve seen of him, he looks relatively strong and fast and has a good reading of the game. You do wonder though whether a difficult start to the season may effect Jordan Willis’s future career as a footballer, it could definitely set him back. Another player whose mental strength will be strongly tested.
If and when we get out of administration and have the embargo lifted it seems almost certain that the first move to be made will be for our trialist Mathieu Manset. He’ll provide another different option up front and will decrease the pressure on Leon Clarke and Callum Wilson. As far as elsewhere is concerned, we’re not too sure, the embargo reduces our ability to pick out who he want to sign so a lot will depend upon who’s available come September. This may be depressing for some fans, but given that we signed Franck Moussa and Leon Clarke both outside of the transfer window it’s clear that there’s still value available even after August 31st.
It almost goes without saying that we’re going to be needing a new centre-back or three, there’s talks that Aaron Martin will re-join, either permanantly or more likely on a long-term loan. Also Scottish defender Craig Reid apparantly impressed Pressley whilst on trial and could be offered a full-time deal. However if those moves never come to fruition there’s also the extensive stock of free agents available. The more realistic options available seem to be ex-Charlton and Exeter man Matt Taylor, who impressed in the former’s promotion season, ex-Leeds and Carlisle Lubomir Michalik and the injury prone Matthew Bates and Patrick Kisnorbo. None of whom will be relatively cheap but I personally anticpate that SISU will look to invest in the team as much as possible to try and keep the remaining fans onside.
The other area where we currently lack is probably out wide, Pressley has talked about adding pace to the squad but thus far failed to sign ex-Burton winger Jacques Maghoma (now at Sheffield Wednesday) and trialists Fabio Martins and Zavon Hines both failed to impress. Gerardo Bruna is perhaps the most intriguing and realistic name on the PFA list at the moment, suggesting that we’ll probably be looking to sign players on loan in order to fill this current deficit.
It’s frankly ridiculous to think that after a start that almost mirrors Mark Robins’s, Pressley is under pressure from a section of our support. For me those last few games of the season were a right-off, essentially glorified pre-season friendlies, on Saturday the real beginning of Pressley’s reign is underway. In his early few games, before the points deduction, his results were quite encouraging, leading me to wonder whether Pressley might have got us into the play-offs had we not suffered the points deduction. Come Saturday though all the speculating about Pressley’s merits and demerits will end as we’ll find out better whether he’s able to produce winning football under his passing style.
On the plus side for Pressley the doom and gloom may improve fan’s patience to facilitate his passing style before results are produced. On the down side is that the team are under pressure to get off to a good start in order to avoid a relegation battle, especially if they’re deducted 15 points. Furthermore is Andy Thorn’s recent attempt to get us playing passing football which saw us relegated from the Championship, telling from much of Pressley’s criticism is this very scar.
Given that many of our better players from last season have been retained, as of the time of writing, it is not absurd to expect more than simply a fight against relegation. In addition to the 5 players I’ve outlined above players like Blair Adams, Cyrus Christie, Adam Barton, Conor Thomas and Franck Moussa all have the ability to be top players at this level. In the back of my mind I still have the feeling that we could reach the play-offs this season. We’ve seen before that it only takes a few things to click into place in order to build a winning mentality, the team last season were not far away and with a good start we still have much of the basis of that side and could perhaps go one further. For our hopes this season a lot is dependent on Friday’s meeting, staying at the Ricoh, getting off to a decent start then we’re already doing better than last time out where we came close.