Preview: Blackburn Rovers

A fairly disjointed opening day performance was to be expected, however, an explosive and clinical showing from Jodi Jones was a pleasant surprise and ensured that we hit the ground running results-wise.

It’s too early to tell how much we’ll need to improve to win promotion. However, we should aspire to be able to retain possession better than we did in the second-half where we went too direct and allowed Notts County to build some attacking momentum, which they made little of. By that same token, the defence seemed fortunate too that the opposition lacked ideas in attack.

Having got the win on Saturday, it would have been nice to either have a week’s rest or be able to build some momentum in the league. Mark Robins stated after the game on Saturday that he will rest players for this game against Blackburn, so this game will be a bit of a free-hit against opposition from a higher division.

With a slightly imbalanced squad at this moment in time, Robins only has so much wiggle room in which to make changes. Liam O’Brien is likely to retain his place in goal, with Rod McDonald and Dominic Hyam also looking certain to start too. Chris Stokes reportedly played through an injury on Saturday, which could see Chris Camwell or Darragh Leahy handed a chance at left-back. Robins could also be tempted to see what Dion Kelly-Evans can do at right-back after a nervy performance from Jack Grimmer against Notts County.

Possible Line-Up

In midfield, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Ben Stevenson step in to allow either Liam Kelly or Michael Doyle a rest. Devon Kelly-Evans seems likely to make his first start for the club, although it’s hard to tell who out of Jodi Jones and Peter Vincenti Robins would want to rest, one of those two will have to start given our lack of wide options.

Finally, Stuart Beavon and Marc McNulty both look set for a rest too after finding themselves in the wars on Saturday. Duckens Nazon and Maxime Biamou each made excellent contributions from the bench against Notts County which should see them get the chance to start this game. However, Kwame Thomas and possibly even Jordan Ponticelli could find themselves involved in this game at some point.

Last Time We Met

When we last met Blackburn, back in 2009, we were a Championship side and they were an established Premier League team, how times change. After a 2-2 draw at Ewood Park, Sam Allardyce’s Blackburn Rovers were on the wrong end of an FA Cup upset at the Ricoh Arena. Leon Best scored the winning goal for Chris Coleman’s Coventry City, back in the days when we were still fairly happy about our new owners SISU, how times change.

How Are They Doing?

In case you weren’t aware, Blackburn’s current manager is Tony Mowbray. Mowbray’s reign at Ewood Park thus far has drawn uncanny parallels with this time here, except for a few important differences. Firstly, Mowbray was unable to save Blackburn from the drop despite providing an initial lift upon his arrival in the second half of the season. Secondly, Mowbray has attempted to quickly re-model the team, only he’s had much better backing to do so than he had at Coventry City.

Mowbray’s recruitment at Blackburn over the summer could easily be confused for the signings he would have made at Coventry City had he the funds. Dominic Samuel is a player he managed while with us, and had seemingly tried hard to bring back to the club, while, Ben Gladwin was someone we were linked with back in January 2016, before it all fell apart. In addition, Middlesbrough winger Harry Chapman seems to fit in with the profile of young, exciting, England youth international that saw Ryan Kent, Adam Armstrong and Jacob Murphy signed by Mowbray for the Sky Blues, while Bradley Dack was someone who had his best season for Gillingham in the same year that Mowbray’s Coventry City were challenging for promotion with the Gills.

However, unlike in Mowbray’s first full season with us, his side lost on opening day and were seemingly fairly insipid in doing so. Mowbray could well see this game as an opportunity to bed his new-look side together, however, they appear to be carrying a few injuries which will necessitate making a number of changes to the line-up.

Possible Line-Up

After playing 3-4-3 for much of last season, Mowbray has seemingly built this Blackburn side to play the 4-2-3-1 that has been fairly typical of his career. On Saturday, things didn’t quite click into gear in attack, with Dominic Samuel used out wide, where he’s much less effective. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Samuel moved into the lone striker role, with an energetic and creative trio of Liam Feeney, Ben Gladwin and Harry Chapman just behind him.

Blackburn are fairly short in numbers in defence, which could well see free-kick expert and centre-back Charlie Mulgrew, who has been strongly linked with a move away from the club, used in this League Cup tie.  Right-back Ryan Nyambe is another to look out for, he’ll provide energy and a physical presence from full-back, although he was seemingly targeted fairly successfully by Southend on Saturday.

Prediction

Given the number of changes both managers are likely to make, this is a tough game to predict. The onus will be on the players selected by either side to view the game as an opportunity to impress, rather than go through the notions in the knowledge they’ll return to the bench on Saturday.

The depth of quality in Blackburn’s squad should make them heavy favourites for this game, however, they are in the early stages of coming together as a team and this should be viewed as an opportunity to cause a bit of an upset. Whether Mark Robins sees this game the same way remains to be seen until he names his side. I think we’ll win this game 1-0.

Preview: Swindon Town

An absolutely vital win over Gillingham last week has given us the faintest signs of life in our survival prospects. Realistically though, we need to back that win up with another in this upcoming game against Swindon, and at least one more win in the two games following this one, to provide genuine hope that we can claw our way out of this mess.

Gillingham were probably the ideal opponents for us to beat last week, not only were they lacking confidence but they were simultaneously poor in preventing and dealing with crosses into the box, that led to both our goals. Even then, it still required a 45-minute display of desperate, backs-to-the-wall defending to hold onto a narrow win, which underlines the need to make further improvements if we want to put together a run of victories.

That being said, the first-half showing was fairly encouraging in demonstrating the work-rate and commitment of this limited side we had. The 4-3-3 formation Russell Slade deployed was a fairly risky move in that it left two inexperienced full-backs vulnerable from time-to-time, but that was made up for, in the opening 45 minutes, by an energetic midfield performance that allowed the front three to get into good goalscoring positions, and being able to take their chances.

Possible Line-Up

Possible Line-Up

With Stuart Beavon, and several others, returning to contention for this game against Swindon, Russell Slade has something of a selection dilemma on his hands. A front three of Kwame Thomas, George Thomas and Marcus Tudgay was effective against Gillingham, but it’s feels hard to describe any of those players as reliable performers yet. Beavon’s evident lack of fitness might see that forward-line stay in place, although Jodi Jones has been pushing for a start with recent performances, and his pace could prove effective against a possession-hungry Swindon side.

Elsewhere, there’s a question of whether to shoe-horn captain Jordan Willis back into the side somewhere. Nathan Clarke and Jordan Turnbull put in, respectively, one of their best performances for the club in central defence last week and it would be unncecessary to disrupt that. Slade may feel that Willis will be best deployed at right-back, just to provide height and solidity, however, that would take away what was an effective outlet in Dion Kelly-Evans, who seems to be improving with each game. An unchanged team seems like it would make the best sense.

Last Time We Met

As confident as many are feeling about this game, our record against Swindon in recent years should sound a significant note of caution. In our last nine meetings against them, we’ve picked up just three points, and have had a habit of conceding goals in the final minutes of the game against them.

Our last game against Swindon, on the opening day of the season, played out like many of our previous encounters against them. On okay performance on our part with little to pick between the two sides, only for Swindon to score a decisive goal in the final minutes to secure the points. We’re going to have to end the hoodoo for this upcoming match.

How Are They Doing?

It’s been a difficult and directionless season from Swindon Town, who have struggled for form or any sense of momentum for much of the campaign. That hasn’t been helped by a ridiculous situation regarding the identity of the actual manager of the club, with Head Coach Luke Williams nominally in that position but Director of Football Tim Sherwood playing a big role in signing players, as well as picking who plays.

That being said, Sherwood’s presence at the club helped Swindon to make some significant moves in the January transfer market, notably in bringing both Nicky Ajose and Ben Gladwin back to the club on loan. Further quality was added via an array of Chelsea loanees such as Charlie Colkett and Fankaty Dabo, along with several Brighton youngsters who conspicuously had spent time earlier in their careers with Chelsea, such as Rohan Ince.

Swindon’s biggest issue this season has been the lack of a credible goal threat, with their top-scorer position currently being shared between three players on just three goals. Nicky Ajose’s return to the club should be a big boost to their goals scored column, however, he’s struggled to replicate last season’s form since being signed by Russell Slade at Charlton, who couldn’t find a consistent role for him in his side. While Ajose offers little else other than a penalty-area presence, Jon Obika and Luke Norris can do more outside of the box, although neither have been able to do so on a regular-basis this season.

Possible Line-Up

Possible Line-Up

As you would expect from Swindon, they boast a number of tidy, ball-playing midfielders in their ranks. Yaser Kasim has been one of the best midfielders in this division for a number of years and could tear us apart if we stand off him and allow him time and space to operate in. So too could Ben Gladwin, who struggled to make the step up to the Championship, but is clearly a class above at this level. Others to watch out for include Charlie Colkett and John Goddard, as well as the more robust Rohan Ince, who played for Brighton Under-23s at the Ricoh Arena last month in the Checkatrade Trophy – without note.

Elsewhere, Swindon’s defence has been fairly decent this season, despite lacking outstanding individuals. Right-back/sweeper Nathan Thompson is adept at bringing the ball out of defence, as well as making the sort of niggly fouls that break up attacks. Lawrence Vigouroux in goal is one of those erratic young keepers that can either win or lose you a game depending on what kind of mood their in. Swindon’s wing-backs will look to stretch the game, and their success in getting forward could decide the contest.

Prediction

Swindon are one the rarest of beasts in League One, a team with less experience than us who we can physically intimidate. However, we’re going to need to press with intelligence as Swindon’s passing game has the potential to leave us chasing shadows as holes open up in our defence. With players like Nicky Ajose, Yaser Kasim and Ben Gladwin in their ranks, they could really tear us apart if they hit their stride.

Whether we’re able to disrupt Swindon or whether they find their groove, this is unlikely to be a fun game to watch from a Coventry City perspective. I’m worried that we lack the presence in the middle of the pitch to really throw Swindon off-rhythm, so it’s about whether they can convert their likely dominance of the game into goals. Hedging my bets here, I’m calling this a 1-1 draw.

Preview: Swindon Town

Two draws in a row is always a good way to find out which of our fans our optimists and which of our fans our pessimists. Whilst we are in the midst of the season, there is no context to define whether we should be happy that we’re two games unbeaten or disappointed that we’ve failed to win for the past two games. At the moment we’re both at once, we’re Schrödinger’s football team.

Tony Mowbray’s quantum physics experiment travel to Swindon Town for our next game with a great opportunity to open that box and reveal an unbeaten side ready to continue a promotion push. The main positive is that we’ve looked solid at the back, although we perhaps rode our luck against Rochdale, with Aaron Martin, Reice Charles-Cook and Chris Stokes in good form over the past few weeks, there’s hope that there is life without Reda after all.

There are however reasons to believe that in that box is a dead cat (or a rubbish football team? I’m not sure what the next extension of this metaphor is). Reda Johnson is a massive loss, as impressive as Martin, Charles-Cook and also Stokes have been, you worry that they’re one error away from losing the confidence they’ve been oozing of late. If we continue our recent inability to create or take clear-cut chances, that’s going to put increasing pressure on our defence to stay strong. Right now, we’re either waiting for our attack to suddenly click or our defence to fall apart to define this run of results.

Possible Line-Up

Possible Line-Up

The introduction of Joe Cole has changed the dynamic of how our forward options can be utilised. You would imagine that he would prefer to have Armstrong to play in that striker position ahead of him to spring the forward’s pace in behind the opposing defence. With Cole wanting to put his foot on the ball more in the final third, there is less of a need for the battering force of Marc-Antoine Fortuné. However configures the forward line though, there has to be more of an emphasis on getting players in support of one another as it’s been a little too disparate of late.

John Fleck returning to starting contention is a welcome boost though, offering our defence the comfort of playing it out from the back a little more calmly and our attack better quality ball to feed off. With Joe Cole now playing ahead of him, we have an axis of creativity running through the team which should help bring our exciting young forward players into the game much more rather than they having to do everything on their own.

Last Time We Met

Given our strong start to the season and Swindon’s poor one, this game comes as almost a complete reversal to where the two teams were back in January. In front of the Sky cameras, Swindon were at the top of their game as they completely passed us off the park, pausing only to score the requisite number of goals to kill off any vain hopes we had of winning. It was probably that game on a freezing Monday night at the Ricoh Arena that saw Steven Pressley lose the majority of support from home fans, ironically instigating the changes that have seen our fortunes change so markedly since then.

How Are They Doing?

As mentioned above, Swindon are having an absolutely torrid time of it this season having reached the play-off final in the previous campaign. Since being eviscerated by Preston back in May, all but seven of the 18-man squad have left the club (although a further three have since returned on loan) which has meant they’ve had to completely rebuild the squad with a bunch of free transfers and loans of players with little pedigree at League One level.

Things got off to a decent start though with Nathan Byrne banging goals in and winning games almost on his own. Byrne though was sold off to Wolves and things have unravelled at pace, helped on by an injury crisis that has at times taken as many as 11 first-choice players out of contention. The team’s form and performance levels have gotten worse and worse as the season has progressed, culminating in manager Mark Cooper’s sacking last Saturday.

Possible-Line-Up

Possible-Line-Up

If you were unaware, Cooper has been replaced on a caretaker basis by chairman Lee Power. Power is not your ordinary chairman though, heavily involved in signing players and reportedly in tactics and team selection too, he is a proper football man with strong views on how the game should be played. As the previous sentence would suggest, the sacking of Cooper may not herald that big a change to how things are going, especially too as first-team coach Luke Williams is reportedly the key figure on the training ground.

Despite the complete gutting of last season’s successful side, Swindon do still possess quality that could sting us in what looks like an eminently winnable fixture. They key players will be in midfield where Yaser Kasim, an international with Iraq, has a passing range to rival John Fleck and has Ben Gladwin playing slightly ahead of him who can provide further inspiration. Attacking left-back Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill, a former Arsenal youngster, can beat defenders at will and may be played further forward with the classy Jordan Turnbull returning from suspension to fill in at full-back. There is also Nicky Ajose who is a useful striker at this level, probably not worth the opprobrium that surrounded our failure to sign him back in August.

Prediction

There has to be a strong degree of confidence heading into this fixture, we’re in pretty good shape at the moment and Swindon are decidedly not. Perhaps the biggest reason to see this game as a potential win for us is that Swindon are still looking to play the ball out from the back rather than attempt to set up shop and nick points for their relegation battle. We’ve tended to do much better against teams with ambitions of playing good football and thus leave space for us to exploit at the back.

As someone who sat in those cold Ricoh Arena stands back in January and questioned just what the point of watching football even is, it would be nice to see us inflict some form of payback against the Swindon lot. I’m fairly confident that we’re competent enough as a team to take advantage of another’s complete loss of form, even despite our current lack of goals. A 2-0 win for the Sky Blues is my call.