Preview: Southend United

After one of the least convincing wins possible over a team in the division below us on Wednesday night, we head into this upcoming league match against Southend not quite in a full nosedive towards oblivion but at a 179-degree angle.

There’s probably not much that can be seriously read into from Wednesday night’s win over Crawley. Mark Venus named a random assortment of players into a rough 4-4-2 shape and we, as a crappy League One team, beat Crawley, a crappy League Two team. If this is the start of another good run of form, it certainly was an inauspicious one.

Marvin Sordell, Jack McBean, Jodi Jones and George Thomas played as a front four against Wednesday and there’s maybe some promise there. Thomas is a very hardworking player who we could probably do with right now, McBean tends to do a decent job bringing others into play, Sordell’s our one proper ‘number 9’ and Jodi Jones is potentially someone who can create something out of nothing. However, a lack of experience and physicality in the front-line will probably see someone like Kyel Reid or Marcus Tudgay come into the team for this game.

Possible Line-Up

Possible Line-Up

Elsewhere, the return of Chris McCann to fitness on Wednesday night is a huge boost for a side lacking presence and experience. There is a conundrum of how you play him in the same midfield as Andy Rose, but with Jamie Sterry currently injured and the alternative at right-back being the energetic but short and defensively-suspect Dion Kelly-Evans, it might be worth sticking with Rose at right-back for his height against a physical Southend side. However, Ben Stevenson’s suspension may make the need for Rose greater in midfield.

Reice Charles-Cook played in goal against Crawley on Wednesday, as he did in the previous EFL Trophy game under Mark Venus. My own opinion is Charles-Cook is the better all-round goalkeeper than Lee Burge, but it seems like the latter is Venus’ number one and I would expect Burge to return in goal for this game.

Last Time We Met

We headed into our last meeting with Southend fresh off the back of a 2-0 loss to Burton, but still hopeful we could overcome a slight speed-bump along our path to promotion. Speed-bump it was not, Southend completely outplayed us at Roots Hall, taking a 2-0 lead before half-time and then mocking us even further by spending much of the rest of the second-half with ten-men but still managing to be the better side and going on to score a third goal. Also, Stephen Hunt played in this game.

How Are They Doing?

When Southend lost their two star players from last season – Jack Payne and Daniel Bentley – in the summer and manager Phil Brown desperately tried to jump ship to Bolton, it looked like the Shrimpers were set for a season of struggle. However, Brown failed to land the job at Bolton and has done an effective job at rebuilding the squad to probably make them a better team this time around.

Brown’s best summer signings were Simon Cox and Nile Ranger in attack, both players presenting different kinds of risks. Cox was on a downwards career trajectory and hadn’t really had a decent season in six or seven years, but had a high enough reputation still to demand a significant salary. Ranger’s off-the-field problems are well-documented and probably obscure the fact that he’s a very good striker at League One level, having proven it with Swindon a few years ago. Neither have been particularly prolific this season but Ranger has been an excellent focal point in attack, while Cox has provided energy and creativity.

Stephen McLaughlin is Southend’s current top-scorer, although he plays as a winger. McLaughlin is an inconsistent performer but has scored some absolute screamers this season and can be a great player on his day. Anthony Wordsworth has also been a strong contributor of goals this season from midfield, he offers drive and excellent set-piece delivery. Finally, Will Atkinson is of a similar ilk to McLaughlin in that he can be anonymous at times but then all-of-a-sudden pop up with a goal or an assist.

Possible Line-Up

Possible Line-Up

Southend probably possess the best full-back pairing in the division in the form of Jason Demetriou and Ben Coker. Both are very attacking full-backs with great delivery, Demetriou also has a great long-range shot on him and should really have gotten a move to a bigger club than Southend after his exploits for Walsall last season.

With Phil Brown in charge, Southend are a difficult team to predict just who they’re going to play and in what formation with their manager preferring to chop and change depending on the opposition. Just like last season though, Southend are going to be a very physical, tenacious and hard-working team and thus well set-up to punish us if we’re not up for the challenge.

Prediction

Southend are in great form, we are not. Southend have experience and physicality in their side, we do not. Throw our awful away form into the mix and it’s a no-contest really. Southend to win 3-0.

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Preview: Rochdale

Last Saturday was the first time this season that I genuinely thought we were going down. We might have played fairly well against Charlton, but there was such a lack of defensive and attacking effectiveness, that I thought we simply weren’t capable of winning games at this level of football.

Not only did we win on Tuesday night, but to do it in such a confident and assured manner offers hope that not only can we pull ourselves away from the relegation zone, we might just be able to become a genuinely good team. Everyone raised their game, but the midfield three of McCann, Stevenson and Bigirimana were superlative – energetic in their pressing, composed and ambitious in possession, driving the team forward while also providing sufficient protection of the defence.

As good as we were on Tuesday night – I place that performance up there with some of the better showing under Mowbray – it’s worth pointing out that the two goals we scored both had an element of fortune to them. We weren’t that much better than we were in a 3-0 defeat against Charlton, we just managed to avoid making too many mistakes at the back and saw a 30-yard effort fly into the top corner and an opposing defender completely gift us a second goal.

Possible Line-Up

Possible Line-Up

It’s a shame that a planned boycott coincides with an opportunity to build some momentum after a statement win but I suppose, those involved in organising it weren’t to know that. Whether an emptier stadium will impact the team’s performance is hard to tell – on the one hand, it relieves the pressure on the players, on the other, it provides less motivation to raise their games – a lot rests on Mark Venus’ ability to motivate the players.

Venus has suggested that he’ll stick with the same XI from Tuesday’s game, there is no reason not to really. Particularly because Lee Burge justified his place in goal with not only for some excellent saves and a command of his penalty area (barring one notable early error) but also demonstrating improvements in his kicking and distribution of the ball – possibly as a result of having watched Reice Charles-Cook from the sidelines for the best part of a year. It remains to be seen whether Burge can sustain this level of performance, but it makes sense to keep the defence settled while we look to launch ourselves away from the relegation places.

Last Time We Met

I was fortunate enough not to have attended our last game against Rochdale, which was possibly the worst kind of defeat you can experience as a football fan. What was reportedly a dreadfully dull game back in March was only enlivened in the final minutes of the game when John Fleck conceded an avoidable penalty and Ian Henderson stepped up to secure Rochdale the victory. It was our third defeat in a run that pretty much extinguished any hope of salvaging a play-off spot last season.

How Are They Doing?

Rochdale started the season in poor form, failing to win their first seven league games, before winning their next six to take them from below us in the table to fifth place. That excellent recent run of form was curtailed on Tuesday night in a 3-0 away defeat to Swindon that manager Keith Hill blamed on the long travel to the game.

The decision to convert the hard-working but ineffective striker Joe Bunney into an attacking left-back has coincided with Rochdale’s winning streak. Bunney’s excellent delivery from open play and set-pieces has seen him register five assists, although he is still learning his positioning as a left-back and was culpable for Swindon’s second goal on Tuesday night by playing Nathan Delfouneso onside from a Conor Thomas through ball.

However, thanks to Keith Hill’s ability to get the best out of his limited resources at Rochdale, they still have plenty of players that can hurt us. Given our defence’s inability to deal with physicality, target-man Calvin Andrew has to be considered Dale’s biggest threat. From looking like one of the more useless players in the Football League, Andrew has become one of the most effective target-men under Keith Hill’s management and should have no problems dominating either Jordan Willis or Jordan Turnbull in the air.

Talisman Ian Henderson is also looking likely to be a thorn in our side, the forward is not only capable of offering a physical threat but also has the technical ability to unlock defences. With the pacey Nathaniel Mendez-Laing to call upon – another previously written-off player Keith Hill has gotten a tune out of – Rochdale could be in for a field day if everything goes to plan.

Possible Line-Up

Possible Line-Up

The homegrown duo of Jamie Allen and Callum Camps in midfield has consistently provided Rochdale with quality and composure on the ball over the past few years. It’s going to be an interesting test of our newly discovered quality and industry in midfield provided by Rochdale, if we can prevent Allen and Camps getting on the ball, we may be able to ease the physical pressure that Dale will look to inflict upon our defence.

Although Rochdale have conceded as many league goals as we have this season, that strangely means they have one of the better defensive records this season. The signing of Conrad Logan in goal this summer has pushed incumbent keeper Josh Lillis to new heights, Lillis once memorably shut us down while he was at Scunthorpe very early on in his career and is a talented shot-stopper on his day.

Prediction

The boycott (to whatever extent it happens) adds an unknown element to this game, but this game is a massive test of our credentials regardless of that factor. Rochdale are a really well-organised and hard-working side who know how to blend physicality, cynicism with some neat, possession-based football. How our defence stands up to the physical test is going to be crucial here.

The way we’re playing at the moment, the first goal is likely to be decisive in the final result. I’m not sure this team has the ability to come from behind to win a game as we don’t create enough high-quality chances for the possession we have. My optimism from Tuesday night is starting to wear off and I can see this game finishing in a 2-1 defeat.

Preview: Oldham Athletic

Taking a point away at Millwall in a game most were expected a heavy defeat in has to count for something, even if we’re still winless after seven league games. Depending on how we do in this forthcoming fixture against Oldham, it was either a creditable point or a missed opportunity to take all three.

The performances of Gael Bigirimana and Marvin Sordell in particular last week have offered something to cling onto. Both players arrived in the summer with low expectations despite having once been a combined £4 million worth of talent, but showed last week that some of the talent is still there. It says something about our summer transfer activity that two players who weren’t expected to be first-choice are now looking like our leading lights, but a lot now rests on a pair of players who’ve struggled for consistency since big-money early career moves.

In so many different ways, this upcoming game against Oldham is must-win. Oldham are one of the few teams who, on paper, look like we really should be beating. The home fans at the Ricoh Arena are restless – as evidenced by the increasingly vocal ‘SISU out’ chants. We’re also getting to the point where we’ll have to consider changing managers again, eight games without a win at this level for Coventry City is just unacceptable under any circumstance.

Possible Line-Up

Possible Line-Up

Tony Mowbray not only has to get his team selection right for this game, but he has to get the luck that he claims has deserted us over the first seven games of the season. Having had another week to work with the team on the training pitch as well as the returns from injury of Chris McCann and Jodi Jones, there aren’t any excuses to be had for not winning a game we should be winning.

In terms of who he actually picks, it seems likely that Sam Ricketts will once again get the nod over Cian Harries for such a high-pressure game. If McCann is fully fit, I would expect him to come in ahead of Gadzhev to play alongside Gael Bigirimana. Jodi Jones could start this game, but he might be better used as an impact sub to stretch a tired opposing defence if he’s not 100% fit.

Last Time We Met

Our last meeting with Oldham was just four months ago but seems a lifetime away. A game in which we could afford to have Jacob Murphy and Jodi Jones on the bench with James Maddison not even in the squad. In a meaningless final-day encounter, Adam Armstrong marked his final appearance for the club with his 20th league goal to secure an eighth-place finish. Oh for those golden days where we could convince ourselves that this season would be anything other than a long, hard slog, made even worse by what we had just witnessed.

How Are They Doing?

When Oldham finished last season having survived another season in League One, their fans weren’t kidding themselves that this coming season would be much better. Even those more realistic hopes were dashed in the summer though when John Sheridan unexpectedly left to take the job at League Two Notts County, leaving the club managerless and with just four players on their books for the start of pre-season.

To be heading into this coming fixture not only with a competitive squad but currently outside of the relegation zone has to count as some achievement for Steve Robinson, in his first ever managerial role. The former Northern Ireland assistant manager has scrambled a squad together out of freebies, loanees and general mis-fits and is attempting to build a team that resembles something functional.

Oldham’s performances thus far have been full of energy with the teams being set out in a formation somewhere between 4-5-1 and a 4-4-2 diamond with most being expected to contribute in both defence and attack. What is likely to be notable about Oldham in this game though will be their eye-catching set-piece routines which have contributed most of their goals this season – either via Josh Law’s direct free-kicks or the swinging deliveries of Marc Klok.

Possible Line-Up

Possible Line-Up

Steve Robinson’s side have had to rely on set-pieces thus far due to their two key attacking signings – Lee Erwin and Billy McKay – failing to convince in front of goal. McKay has been a prolific scorer in Scotland but seems uncomfortable with being asked to track back as much as his manager is asking him to do. Erwin has been used as more of a focal point in attack, although he struggles to win aerial challenges, and looks more of a threat due to his shoot on sight policy – albeit, to little avail thus far. The lack of goals from those two may convince Robinson to hand a start to Crystal Palace loanee Freddie Ladapo who, at six foot two and lightening quick, could be a real menace.

Oldham’s energy and work-rate on and off-the-ball does seem to result in gaps at the back, despite conceding relatively few goals thus far. Experienced midfielder Paul Green nominally occupies that holding spot in central midfield but is given the brief of pushing forward and closing players down rather than screening the defence. With players such as the athletic but error-prone Charles Dunne playing in defence, there will be opportunities to exploit Oldham’s chaotic defensive organisation.

Prediction

Oldham are potentially tricky opponents and, in particular, I’m worried about the threat they pose from set-pieces. However, they are an eminently beatable team that we should be looking to dominate and finally get that first win of the season from. It’s one of those games where the manner of the win is not particularly important – if it goes in off someone’s backside in the 1st minute and we spend the rest of the game camped on our own line, I’ll take that right now.

We have to win this game and we really should, I’m going to predict a 2-1 victory for the Sky Blues.

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Preview: Millwall

A limp defeat to Fleetwood last week was the addendum to a miserable summer to be a Coventry City fan. With the hope that we can source significant improvements to the team extinguished with the closing of the summer transfer window, it’s hard not to feel like that performance last Saturday wasn’t a strong taste of what is to come for the rest of the season, or at least until the January transfer window or should Tony Mowbray leave the club.

Heading into a daunting away trip to Millwall, there’s are few tangible reasons to believe that we can get a result in what is our toughest game of the season thus far. The only real hope is that something has clicked on the training pitch now that Tony Mowbray has had time to rest players and focus on implementing a workable game-plan. However, it feels like we lack the quality at either end of the pitch to get result even if we successful tactical plan.

16-09-10-millwall-a

Possible Line-Up

In terms of the team for this game, the main selection issues are in midfield and attack, aside from Sam Ricketts being restored to the starting XI ahead of Cian Harries. While the Chris McCann-Vladimir Gadzhev central midfield partnership hasn’t convinced thus far, McCann’s likely absence from this game will surely see Mowbray go for a central three of Bigirimana, Stevenson and Gadzhev, which is likely to struggle physically despite having a numerical advantage against Millwall.

The repercussion of playing a central three is that it neuters our blunt attacking threat further. Dan Agyei and Marcus Tudgay have performed the best out of our attacking options this season but I wonder whether the threat those two pose would suit Millwall’s slow but physical defence. The return of Jodi Jones to fitness is a big boost, it’s just whether we can offer him enough support to stop him being isolated against Millwall’s big, burly defenders.

Last Time We Met

After two defeats against us last season, I would imagine that Millwall will be keen for revenge considering the manner of both games. The first game against them last season was one of those golden afternoons that are all too rare in football, those days where everything goes your way. With Lee Burge saving an early penalty and Adam Armstrong opening the scoring with a lob from 35 yards, it was clear that the afternoon was ours from very early on. A pulsating performance of attacking verve and incision from messrs Armstrong, Lameiras and Maddison eviscerated Millwall in a glorious 4-0 victory for the Sky Blues.

The tables had been turned when Millwall visited the Ricoh back in April, Neil Harris’ side were comfortably in the play-offs while we were in the midst of a tail-spin that had taken us from the top of the table to the middle of it. When Millwall scored from a corner after typically negligent set-piece defending from the Sky Blues, there looked to be only one winner. That was before Millwall’s Shaun Williams needlessly lashed out at Ruben Lameiras in an off-the-ball incident and we managed to grind a resolute Millwall side down with a display of controlled football that resulted in a 2-1 win thanks to a John Fleck stunner and Marcus Tudgay scoring when set through one-on-one.

How Are They Doing?

Millwall were last season’s losing play-off finalists and as such, have been expected by many to be one of the stronger teams in the division this season. Thus far, it looks like that expectation is justified with the Lions sitting comfortably in the play-offs, although a heavy defeat away to Peterborough a couple of weeks ago suggests that this isn’t a team without glaring weaknesses.

Last season, the goals of Lee Gregory went a long way to turning around a sluggish start to the campaign. A combination of injury and rustiness has seen Gregory muster just one goal in four appearances this season and it’s been his veteran strike partner Steve Morison who’s moved into the limelight with four goals from six appearances, making him the league’s joint second-top scorer. In terms of style, both are fairly archetypal lower league centre-forwards – very physical, very competitive and who come to life in the penalty area.

Possible Line-Up

Possible Line-Up

Millwall’s game-plan under Neil Harris is a fairly simple, but effective, 4-4-2 system based around winning physical battles over the pitch and getting crosses into the box. Ben Thompson in central midfield is a classic scrapper who loves to get stuck-in and be the pantomime villain for the opposing fans. Out wide, Harris prefers hard-working and energetic players who can get crosses in the box at every available opportunity in the form of David Worrall, Aiden O’Brien and Shane Ferguson.

While Millwall’s style of play is simple but effective, they can struggle against teams that play with pace and can get in between the lines of their formation. Their defence is made up of grizzled warriors with the giant Byron Webster and captain Tony Craig a formidable, but slow, partnership in the centre. However, with the impressive Jordan Archer in goal, it’s not as simple as beating Millwall’s defence for pace, we’re going to have to find quality with our finishing too.

Prediction

Although I think Millwall are a fallible side, I just don’t think we have the weaponry to take advantage of their weaknesses. With a physically weak defence, we need to find quality in the final third to get anything out of this game, as well as almost every other game in this division, which I don’t think we have.

Millwall are clearly the stronger side, they’re playing at home and they’re in good form – we’re the exact opposite. There isn’t much else to consider before predicting a heavy defeat for us – 4-1 to Millwall.

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If you enjoyed this preview, as well as all the other ones, the semi-regular features and the tri-annual publications that I produce, then it would be appreciated if you could show your thanks by voting for me as the Best Club Blog in the Football Blogging awards.

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Preview: Bury

Can a performance where you had chances but didn’t take them be described as good? While we certainly created more chances over the 90 minutes than Shrewsbury, our opponents may also be considering whether they put in a good performance after they had chances themselves to take all three points. I feel I’m going to write this a lot over the next few weeks, but it’s too early in the season to tell whether that performance on Saturday was good or bad, or unlucky or lucky.

The positives on Saturday were some bright individual performances, the fluidity of our front three and the sense that we’re closer to being an effective team than many had imagined. Add a decent striker to the team that played on Saturday and we probably would have won that. The negatives were the failure to score after some promising chances and the worrying lack of physical strength in this side which allowed a limited Shrewsbury side to create some glorious opportunities.

Getting a first win of the league season in this Tuesday night game against Bury will probably dictate the emotions about the Shrewsbury result. A win would ease the tension around the club, possibly giving way to the hope that we can grow into the season once the transfer window closes. A defeat, or a draw, just adds to the fear that this could be a very difficult season for us.

With the physical threat that Bury are going to offer in this game, I doubt that Tony Mowbray is going to hesitate that much over replacing Ben Stevenson with the now-available Chris McCann in central midfield. Stevenson certainly has the technical ability and attitude to become a great player at this level, but we need to ease him into first-team football carefully.

Possible Line-Up

Possible Line-Up

The only way Stevenson isn’t replaced by McCann in the side is if either Ricketts or Willis are deemed unfit for this game. With Jordan Turnbull having not been signed in time for this game, we’re asking a lot of a back three that is a combination of not 100% fit and inexperienced to make it through this game. You feel that we’re going to have to score more than one goal against a physical Bury side to come out with the win.

With a front three of Kyel Reid, Ruben Lameiras and Jodi Jones likely to start in this game, they are going to need to add cutting edge to their promising approach play. Marcus Tudgay looks to be the only fit, alternative option up front and he could be a useful focal point in attack but I’m not sure who out of Saturday’s front three should be taken out of the side in favour of him.

Last Time We Met

Our last meeting with Bury offered hope that we could move back up the gears after stalling last winter. On Legend’s Day and on the same weekend as the Jimmy Hill memorial service at the cathedral, there was a special atmosphere heading into the game despite having failed to win the previous five games.

It was a near-perfect performance from the Sky Blues with two early goals scored from set-pieces via Chris Stokes and Baily Cargill. James Maddison scored a classic James Maddison goal, drifting past a few defenders and curling the ball accurately into the corner of the net from outside the box. There was time for Leon Clarke to fluff some excellent chances before John Fleck made it four with a long-range effort. The second-half was played at near-walking pace with Adam Armstrong bagging a brace with two identikit goals on the counter-attack.

How Are They Doing?

Bury have been paying the price over the summer for failing to achieve promotion after big splurge in the transfer market last year. The spending on players such as Leon Clarke, Peter Clarke and Tom Pope was reportedly funded by high interest loans secured against the club’s ground and most of the big-earners (barring Tom Pope) have been off-loaded over the past few months.

However, the cloth cutting hasn’t been as dramatic as had been expected, with the proven League One/Championship-level performers in the form of Neil Danns, Ben Williams and Leon Barnett brought into the club to replace the quality they’ve lost. While it’s hard to say that Bury are stronger than they were last season, they certainly aren’t as weak as many thought they would be.

Possible Line-Up

Possible Line-Up

The biggest question mark against this Bury side is not the strength of the squad, but the ability of manager David Flitcroft. Flitcroft is a bit like Chris Coleman, in that his teams can be dire for months on end but occasionally flicker into life over a period of 10 or so games. Bury started last season well only for Flitcroft to fail to arrest a slump that nearly saw them involved in the relegation battle.

As mentioned earlier in this preview, Bury are a team packed with big, physically strong players. Nathan Cameron in central defence, along with a midfield of Tom Soares, Jacob Mellis, Neil Danns and Kelvin Etuhu, with Tom Pope up front will look to impose themselves on the game with physical strength over technical ability.

In comparison to Shrewsbury though, Bury have a little more dynamism and pace to their team via wingers Danny Mayor and Zeli Ismail – both of whom tend to lack in end product – and Greg Leigh at left-back, possibly at the cost of being less secure defensively. We’re going to need to score in this game, but if we can get one early, more should come.

Prediction

Having Chris McCann available to call on for this game is a massive boost given the general lack of physical presence in the side on Saturday. However, we’re still lacking an attacking and defensive physical presence which makes will make this game tougher than it might otherwise be. Bury will be looking to bully us and live off Tom Pope’s knock-downs, we’ve got to stand up to the test and make sure we put the ball into the net when we’re on top.

I’m really struggling to decide on a prediction here. I feel like it’s a game where an early goal for us could lead to an easy win but the longer it stays goalless, Bury are more likely to score. I’m going to sit on the fence and go for a 1-1 draw.

Preview: Wigan Athletic

Optimism had been the watch word at Coventry City for much of this summer but as we approach the actual playing of football, caution and trepidation are more prominent in the mind. A slow summer of transfer activity that has contrasted with the hope that we might be able to challenge for at least the play-offs that came when Tony Mowbray extended his contract with the club has tempered the hopes of many. A poor set of pre-season results featuring zero wins and just two goals has further dampened the mood around the club.

Pre-season is often a poor indicator of the outcome of the season and often bares little relation to even the early season form. Regardless of the disappointing results and performances, it only takes a cursory look at the available squad for the opening day to know that we are far from being fully equipped for the challenges of the season ahead.

It was with some surprise then that Tony Mowbray moved for the young Middlesbrough midfielder Bryn Morris in the loan market this week. As talented as he may be, Morris doesn’t arrive to address an area of the pitch that many are concerned about with John Fleck, Romain Vincelot and even Conor Thomas fairly strong players for the central midfield spots.

Possible Line-Up

Possible Line-Up

The only injury concern heading into this meeting with recently-relegated Wigan Athletic is that of Danny Swanson who limped off in the final pre-season friendly against Oxford. It virtually guarantees that Ruben Lameiras will make his full debut instead, alongside fellow new signings Romain Vincelot and Sam Ricketts who both look certain to make the starting XI.

The main selection issue for Mowbray will be the make-up of his attacking unit. Marcus Tudgay as a starting lone striker may rough up a Wigan defence acclimatising to a lower division but hardly presents an outlet for crosses and passes into the box. Dropping him deeper would compromise James Maddison’s starting spot and reduce the team’s creativity moving forwards. Dropping him altogether would leave a very young attacking unit featuring Maddison, Adam Armstrong and Ruben Lameiras. None of those options sound particularly appealing and only serve to further outline the need for reinforcements.

Last Time We Met

This game will be our fifth ever league fixture against Wigan, with our last four meetings coming between 2003 and 2005 as Wigan quickly rose to Premier League promotion whilst we continued to underwhelm in the Championship. The last meeting came at Highfield Road where Gary Teale gave Wigan the lead before Gary McSheffrey levelled from the penalty spot. Nathan Ellington gave the Latics all three points in front of a crowd of around 12,000 which won’t be too dissimilar from the likely attendance ten years later at the Ricoh Arena in League One.

How Are They Doing?

Along with Sheffield United, Wigan are the hot favourites for promotion due to their significant financial advantage over most in the division and their recent Premier League history. Ex-Sky Blues loanee Gary Caldwell will be managing Wigan in just his sixth competitive game as manager of the club for this fixture, although with the scale of change that has taken place over the summer, this will be a very different Wigan team to the one he oversaw in a 3-0 defeat at Brentford in May.

The sheer amount of player turnover over the summer has been dramatic and risks getting Wigan off to a bad start whilst players are still gelling. Experienced players such as James Perch, Emmerson Boyce and Ali Al-Habsi have been allowed to leave and replaced by younger, fresher-faced players such as Max Power, Jonjoe Kenny and Reece James. The combination of a managerial rookie, the loss of experience and the desire to play a passing style of football could be a cocktail for disaster.

Yet there is also an argument that overhauling a team that suffered relegation in such meek fashion as Wigan did, needed to be disbanded in one fell swoop. Wigan are hoping to avoid falling victim to the motivation problems that overpaid, over-hyped and over-the-hill players can suffer when dropping down to a lower level. The recent additions of the experienced Kevin McNaughton at full-back and Chris Kirkland in goal should give Wigan a competitive edge to the potentially soft under-belly.

WiganhomeWig

Possible Line-Up

Caldwell has been trying to keep his team selection for this game a mystery and with an available squad of nearly 30, he has plenty of options. Given the amount of central defenders signed over the summer, a three-man defence looks likely although the experienced midfielder Chris McCann could be asked to play on the left-side of that defence. Although new signings Sanmi Odelusi and Michael Jacobs are nominally wingers, Caldwell looks to lack the wide options too to play anything other than a wing-back system.

The key area for Wigan this season will be in attack where the link-up play between new additions Will Grigg, Craig Davies and Michael Jacobs in support will define their season. Grigg is a pretty standard penalty area striker who scored over 20 goals last season as he helped MK ‘Dons’ to automatic promotion. Craig Davies has his fitness struggles but is more of a physical presence and will be expected to do more of his work around the box. Jacobs is a dynamic winger who can also operate centrally and had twice been linked with a move to Coventry City before joining Wigan this summer.

Possible Line-Up: (3-4-1-2) O’Donnell; Daniels, Morgan, McCann; Kenny, Power, Perkins, James; Jacobs; Davies, Grigg

Prediction

Despite the clear and present threats that Wigan offer, I have maintained a confidence throughout the summer that we will be able to beat them. Recently-relegated sides to this level always struggle in the opening weeks of the season and given the sheer amount of change that has taken place at Wigan over the summer, the players will need time to gel and with their manager looking to implement a possession-based style of football, the performance may be valued over the result. It’s all about us being proactive in this game, getting in Wigan’s faces and denying them the time on the ball that they will be looking to have.

Although our own squad is in an early phase of bedding-in too and that we look fairly weak at the moment, I am sticking with my gut feeling that we will win this game 1-0.