Preview: Sheffield United

How to put Sunday into words? It was just a beautiful day and 43,000 Sky Blues fans were there to witness it. For a while, it didn’t feel like any other game of football, and by the time that it did, we were a goal up and were then not only playing at Wembley, but were winning at Wembley.

While Oxford were clearly the better team, the difference between the two teams on the day was that it mattered more to us. Seven academy players played for us, two got on the scoresheet and one lifted the cup – it was very much a homegrown triumph. What we witnessed was a group of local lads coming together to win something for their city, that made the win especially sweet.

If ever you needed reminding though how fleeting moments of success in football are, look no further than to this upcoming midweek game against Sheffield United. While Mark Robins and the players are outwardly stating that they still feel survival can be achieved, we would have to break the club’s record league winning streak in order to do so and still have to hope that other results fall in our favour. This game is more about Sheffield United winning a game to potentially secure promotion than it is about winning a game to keep us in this division.

Possible Line-Up

Making things even more difficult for Mark Robins is the current injury situation. Kwame Thomas and Callum Reilly were both out injured for Sunday’s game and it’s unclear whether they’ll be back fit for this game. Jordan Willis limped off injured in the closing stages on Sunday and may not recover in time for this game. Then Robins has got to contend with the fatigue that comes with playing games in such quick succession – especially as so many put everything on the line for Sunday’s triumph.

There is a decision to be made in defence where Farrend Rawson and Nathan Clarke have both done well in the past few league games but Jordan Turnbull and Chris Stokes excelled in central defence against Oxford. With all four players presumably available for this game, Robins may be tempted to keep at least Jordan Turnbull in the side from Sunday given that he not only played so well, but is contracted for next season. Equally though, Sheffield United’s physical threat may see Robins plump for Rawson.

Last Time We Met

If you wanted another reminder of what a terrible season this has been, cast your minds back to December 2016 when we last played Sheffield United. Sky TV cameras were in attendance to capture a sparsely-attended game that was heavily disrupted in the second-half by a pitch invasion led by fans protesting SISU’s ownership of the club. The game looked like somehow playing out into an unlikely 1-1 draw, before Sheffield United won the game in the final minutes to make a depressing evening even worse from a Sky Blues perspective.

How Are They Doing?

As mentioned earlier in this post, Sheffield United are on the verge of a long-awaited promotion back to the Championship, with a win in this game possibly enough to seal it. Having spent the past five seasons with one of the division’s biggest budgets and best attendances, this has been an inevitable moment that has somehow been delayed by a combination of bad managerial appointments, rewarding average players with expensive salaries and bad luck. This season has been different thanks to the appointment of Chris Wilder, cutting the dead wood from the squad and dominating games to the extent that luck has rarely been a factor.

Wilder was ruthless in the summer in releasing and transfer-listing unwanted players, making a few smart additions to the squad and quickly establishing a winning formula. Much like Antonio Conte at Chelsea, some poor performances in the early part of the season led to a change to a three-man defensive system which has turned the team into an irresistible force.

The goals of Billy Sharp have been a huge factor in Sheffield United’s bid for the League One title this season. He has 26 to his name this campaign, with the next highest-scoring striker in the squad being Caolan Lavery with four goals. However, goals have come from all areas of the team with wing-back Kieron Freeman on an impressive 10 goals for the campaign and centre-back Ethan Ebanks-Landell on five.

Possible Line-Up

Another key player for the Blades has been Mark Duffy, who leads the team with nine assists this season. Duffy played a major role in Burton’s promotion from this level last season as a winger, but has played just behind a front two for Sheffield United for much of the campaign. John Fleck and Paul Coutts in midfield both offer creativity from a deeper-lying position, while the wing-backs Kieron Freeman and Danny Lafferty provide valuable width.

At the back, the signing of Simon Moore in goal has proved to be a pivotal moment of Sheffield United’s campaign. Academy graduate George Long had looked set to be the number one goalkeeper this season after a promising previous campaign, however, some sloppy errors in the opening few games saw Chris Wilder act decisively in bringing Moore in from Cardiff before the end of the summer transfer window and Wilder has never been offered pause for thought on that decision following some solid goalkeeping displays from Simon Moore.

Prediction

It’s a shame that we’ve got to play such a difficult away game just days after the club’s greatest triumph in a generation. It would be easy to take the foot off the gas for this game as we’re not expected to win and the players could easily point to fatigue as an excuse. However, Mark Robins is clearly someone who’s not going to accept taking such a mentality, and he may see this game as an opportunity to assess which players he can trust for next season.

Taking a rational look at how these two teams compare against each other, Sheffield United are clear favourites for this game and should be able to win with ease. I think this will be a 2-0 loss.

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Preview: Swindon Town

Well, a win is indeed a win and that’s all that matters. It would have been unacceptable to lose five on the bounce and Blackpool were a poor side. Let’s not kid ourselves that a 1-0 win via a goal that could easily have been disallowed is a sign that everything’s hunky dory.

This forthcoming game against a resurgent Swindon Town side who’ll be backed by a large away following is going to be a much sterner test of our play-off credentials. They may be seven places below is in the league but are in much better form, scoring goals and will still believe that they can still get into the play-offs. If we win this game, it’s time to believe again. If we don’t, then we’re entering the ‘hail Mary’ stage of salvaging our season.

Whether we can take anything from the Blackpool game aside from the points is debatable. Having Aaron Martin back and looking like the player he was before the injury was nice, but still we gave a poor Blackpool side some good chances to score. Marc-Antoine Fortuné had his fourth good game for the club out of 20 league appearances, let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet.

Possible Line-Up

Possible Line-Up

In defence, we’re having to deal with the injury to Chris Stokes, although he’s not out for the season, the campaign could effectively be over by the time he returns in around about a month. Sam Ricketts seems like the most natural replacement, although I’m not sure I’m too happy about him playing out-of-position against a free-flowing attacking side. The alternative is another out-of-position player in Stephen Hunt, which should really be a non-starter (literally). Mowbray has talked about bringing in another loan player for this position, which is odd considering we could do with using that loan slot elsewhere and we have Ryan Haynes out on loan who we could recall.

Further forward, it’s once again a case of deciding who is in form and smushing them into a coherent line-up with Marc-Antoine Fortuné on top. Jacob Murphy and Adam Armstrong look like being in the best form out of our current options but both could do with a goal. Maddison has been out-of-sorts in recent weeks but it’s then a choice of a Joe Cole in the midst of an existential crisis or Ruben Lameiras who blows hot and cold.

Last Time We Met

I usually try to avoid mentioning these kind of things because I don’t think they have too much of an effect on individual games of football, but we have an awful record against Swindon. It’s not a mystery as to why over recent given that Swindon have simply been a better team than us, although last time was probably the exception.

It wasn’t a great performance at the County Ground but we sure enough took the lead through Romain Vincelot after a lapse in concentration from Swindon’s keeper Lawrence Vigouroux. Marcus Tudgay gave us what looked to be an unassailable lead 10 minutes from time after scoring the rebound from his own penalty miss. We sat back though a little too much and were punished for it, Ben Gladwin smacked in a great effort from just outside the box before Nicky Ajose scored from the spot in stoppage time after Aaron Martin and Aaron Phillips contrived to give away a penalty at the death.

How Are They Doing?

Back in October, Swindon were managed by their chairman, Lee Power, following the sacking of Mark Cooper, the man who ostensibly led them into the play-offs last season. I say ostensibly, because Cooper was reportedly merely the front man for Lee Power who signed the players and Luke Williams who coached them.

Swindon have decided to dispense with this third wheel in their well-oiled machine following the surprise departure of Martin Ling after two months in charge. Williams is now the organ grinder and the monkey, having accepted the role of manager reluctantly and subsequently being tied down to a five-year deal.

Williams though has proven to be a pretty good manager in addition to being the coach who turned the likes of Nathan Byrne, Massimo Luongo and Ben Gladwin from freebies into multi-million pound players. Restoring the possession-oriented approach of the last two seasons, Swindon under Williams have seen the goals flow in as they’ve risen away from relegation danger and into a late play-off push.

Nicky Ajose is the man in the limelight with an excellent return of 21 goals this season for a player who has previously struggled for consistency. Jon Obika is another pacey forward alongside Ajose who’ll relish running at our slow backline, he has 11 for the season. Midfielder Michael Doughty is on four having joined in January on loan from QPR, a spell which has coincided with their upturn in form.

Possible Line-Up

Possible Line-Up

Doughty, alongside midfielders Fabien Robert and Louis Thompson make up a strong central unit who could monopolise the ball in this fixture. Thompson is the legs of the midfield, with Doughty and Robert the more technical operators. Robert possesses a fearsome shot from long range and set-pieces.

Williams is still deciding whether he prefers a three or four-man backline, having flickered between the two over the past couple of months. Whatever defensive set-up he choses, Nathan Thompson (older brother of Louis) will be crucial. Not the biggest defender, he’s mobile and can play the ball out from the back adeptly while also being a cynical so-and-so who can dive, kick and time waste with the best of them. Expect full/wing-backs Bradley (Gareth’s nephew) Barry and Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill to get forward with every opportunity to stretch the game.

Prediction

If you ignore the league table, then there’s no way that Swindon aren’t favourites for this game. In fact, the nature of where the two teams sit in the league table with Swindon playing for their season and us trying to hold onto our spot swings things further in Swindon’s favour. Add to that a large (not quite 5,000 though) away following, our terrible record against Swindon and our awful record at the Ricoh Arena since the turn of the year, then there can only be one winner in this game.

I’m sorry if this isn’t very positive but I can’t ignore so many of those things stacked against us heading into this game. The team right now simply doesn’t have the mental strength or confidence to overcome so many negative factors. A 3-0 defeat is coming.

 

Preview: Burton Albion

It’s only been in the days since Tuesday night’s dropped points against Walsall that I’ve really come to terms with how much of a missed opportunity that really was. For at least the first 60 minutes or so, we were the better team and reduced a really good Walsall side to mere scraps going forward, creating several excellent chances to score a decisive second goal.

I have noticed in some quarters there has been a desperation to scapegoat a whole range of individuals for that failure to take all three points on Tuesday night. From my point of view, it really was a collective dropping-off, in position and mentally, that cost us the points rather than any noticeably poor individual performance. We tried going defensive but without making specific tweaks to make us more secure.

Walsall could not breach us down the centre but eventually used the width of the pitch by bringing on a right-sided attacking full-back to complement their left-sided one and had the ability to quickly switch the play. It’s something that’s been Walsall’s strength all season and Mowbray really should have been more aware of that, instead he set us up to defend narrowly and deeply which played into Walsall’s hands.

Despite that, it was only one really golden opportunity that Walsall created but we are at the stage of the season where the old ‘on another day…’ excuse cannot be used when points are dropped. Thanks to a few too many ‘on another day…’ performances recently, we have lost ground on our promotion rivals and not beating Walsall means that this is as close to a must-win game in January as you’re going to get.

The challenge for Mowbray is for the first time this season, to find a way to produce two high-intensity performances in a week. Whereas in the past he has rotated his squad to navigate these pesky two-game weeks, he has to make sure that the strongest team is on the pitch rather than being saved for other games, this is the game you save your best players for.

Possible Line-Up

Possible Line-Up

James Maddison‘s exclusion from the starting line-up against Walsall was clearly with this game in mind though and there is no way he doesn’t start this game with Joe Cole dropping out of the team. With Mowbray’s predilection for rotation in mind, I can see either Jim O’Brien or Jacob Murphy being dropped. Stephen Hunt has been talked up pre-match making him the most likely candidate to replace O’Brien or Murphy.

In defence, it’s been finally confirmed (by Romain Vincelot in this interview) what’s up with Aaron Martin and that he is out for around 4 weeks. After another convincing Chris Stokes showing in central defence, Mowbray might keep things as is but could also hand Peter Ramage his debut with Aaron Phillips dropping to the bench.

Last Time We Met

Our one and only league meeting against Burton Albion witnessed our grittiest win of the season. After starting sluggishly, handing an organised Burton side the ascendancy, Aaron Martin scored an unfortunate own goal before we got any kind of foothold in the game. Our equaliser was a goal of genuine quality with Fleck making a defence splitting pass, Ruben Lameiras with a rabona pass to Jacob Murphy, who then squared it to Marcus Tudgay who slotted it into the bottom corner.

The winner came in initially controversial circumstances when it appeared that an offside Romain Vincelot got the final touch on Aaron Martin’s header from a set-piece. As it transpired, Vincelot was behind the ball after Martin’s header making the goal completely legitimate, to the confusion of most watching the game. Despite a few nervy moments at the back, the Sky Blues saw out the win, the first since losing James Maddison to injury.

How Are They Doing?

For much of the season it’s been a case of waiting for Burton to regress back to the mean. It’s not just that they’re Burton Albion that they’re perceived to be massively overachieving, but they have a squad made up of League Two stalwarts and have generally struggled to score, mustering just 32 from 24 games thus far. Added to that, they lost the influential Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink from the managerial dug-out just over a month ago, their resilience at the top of the league is genuinely befuddling.

What they do have is an absolutely rock solid foundation to the team, having conceded just 19 goals all season. Without having any particularly outstanding individuals, Burton are incredibly organised and hard-working in how they’re set up. Generally sticking to at least two banks of four, they are hard to break down and their forwards do tireless work closing down opponents which can make it tough to even get in a position to attempt to break them down.

BurtonhomeBur

Possible Line-Up

If there are stars in this Burton side, they are Mark Duffy (on loan from Birmingham) and Nasser El Khayati. Duffy has been influential this season with his directness down either wing and delivery from both open play and set-pieces. El Khayati is a languid presence who can play either out wide or behind the striker but is the kind of player who can produce a moment of magic out of nowhere. The pacey Lucas Akins is a threat too but it’s really Duffy and El Khayati who are the individual mavericks in a solid team-unit at Burton.

The recent appointment of Nigel Clough as manager adds an unknown quantity to the sturdiness of Burton, although they have yet to lose in the three games since his arrival. In contrast to Hasselbaink, Nigel Clough prefers a more open style of football and absolutely loves making tactical tweaks involving playing players out of position. Thus far though, Clough has resisted the temptation to change things, resulting in two wins and a draw since taking over.

Prediction

The situation of having the nominal advantage of fitness over our opponents has been reversed with Burton not having played since January 2nd. Burton should be heading into this game fitter and much better prepared for the contest than we are. Furthermore, this is probably the club’s biggest day out in a league game in terms of away following, stature of opponent and gravity of fixture in their history. Don’t be surprised to see an ultra-motivated Burton side race out of the traps, looking to play up to the occasion.

Really though, I think we have a better team than they do and the fact that they are currently top of the division is driving me a little crazy. Tuesday night’s dropped points can be forgiven somewhat if we not only show Burton what the best side in the division plays like but then put together a series of victories over the ensuing games. This has to be the week where we stop messing around and assume the mantle that the quality of this side deserves.

As ever, I’m feeling uncertain as to whether we have that killer instinct to take advantage of this opportunity that awaits us. But I’m going to remain positive and predict a 2-0 victory.

Without Reda

The news has come through that Reda Johnson will now miss the rest of the season with a serious hamstring injury. After 17 league appearances in a row, the thought that Reda was at any moment susceptible to injury was fading away, until it returned more emphatically then ever.

The debate over what precisely Reda Johnson brings to the team can be more complex than it seems. We tell ourselves that Reda is this dominant centre-back who provides a one-man defensive blockade, a player we cannot cope without. Even without the injuries, there has been recklessness to his approach on and off the pitch that has raised the question of whether we’d have been better off had we not signed him at all.

You can’t analyse the impact of Reda Johnson though without injuries being the consideration. It’s the exact reason why he ended up with Coventry City in League One and why there’s any debate over what his impact at all. Maybe it’s best to view him like it’s some kind of video game where you can only use your special power once you charge up your energy bar. Ordinarily you cannot rely on that special power, but once you’ve got it, it completely changes the game.

The ‘special power’ that Reda Johnson provided last season was that he turned an entirely turgid side that was in danger of relegation into one capable of edging their way to important wins. The arrivals of Romain Vincelot and Sam Ricketts along with the improving Aaron Martin, Chris Stokes and Reice Charles-Cook have made us a better defensive unit overall. In the side this season, Reda has been akin to a missile defence system, stopping danger before danger can be spotted.

Reda Johnson is not only dominant physically but he’s character gives him a force of personality that doesn’t just win one-on-one battles but it can cut off the hope of an opposing strike force. That force of personality has at times contributed to a weakness in his game, an impulsiveness to charge out for balls he only has a small chance of winning which leaves gaps behind him. It was more a problem last season when we didn’t have a Romain Vincelot or Sam Ricketts to slot into the space left behind, but it does hint at another reason why Reda’s career hasn’t been what it could have been.

Reda has looked like a much better player this season because our defence is playing much better. Chris Stokes and Aaron Martin in particular are looking like much better players and you have to credit that to the work that Tony Mowbray has been doing on the training pitch. As Tuesday night’s clean sheet against Rochdale demonstrated, we’re more than capable of coping without Reda Johnson.

With Jordan Willis returning to fitness within the next few weeks, there may not even be a need to sign another defender to take Reda Johnson’s place in the team. It’s a sign of the progress we’ve made under Tony Mowbray that not bringing someone in immediately to replace him is even a consideration.

Preview: Leyton Orient

This traditional Wednesday-before-Easter clash with Leyton Orient sits right on the precipice between gloom and glory. A victory would set up a rather kind looking month of fixtures with us only needing a couple more victories to secure survival. Another embarrassing home defeat would send us right back into the mire with a potentially toxic atmosphere at home games for the players to endure.

Saturday’s win over Peterborough has taken some of the pressure off this game with a draw still being a decent result for us. However if we replicate that performance against the Posh, we will struggle to create chances and are then only one mistake on this terrible Ricoh Arena pitch from defeat. The nature of that performance against Peterborough could only have been fostered at an away game where a point was deemed a decent result, under the pressure of greater expectations and against a side scrapping for their lives, it will not be good enough.

A victory of effort and endeavour rather than skill and craft.

A victory of effort and endeavour rather than skill and craft.

The main positive to take from that performance last weekend was the solid manner of our defending. The back four made zero mistakes, which was a welcome tonic after the slap-stick defending against Doncaster. To what degree though Peterborough played right into our hands by sending aimless balls towards their 5 foot 10 strikers is hard to tell, reproducing that assuredness at the Ricoh Arena will be a true test of any new found defensive confidence.

That solidity in defence means that Tony Mowbray can be more cautious in restoring Reda Johnson back into the team. Aaron Martin and Chris Stokes, whose positions are most at threat from Johnson, responded brilliantly to poor performances against Doncaster and were arguably the best players in Sky Blue. My main worry with Stokes is a lack of fitness, given the way his performances have seemed to deteriorate as games have worn on. The Forest Green loanee seemed to have benefited more than most from a week off and is steadily rising to the challenge of the step up.

With Marcus Tudgay limping off in the first-half against Peterborough, there could be a temptation to hand the impressive Blair Turgott his first start after Saturday’s match-winning performance. It seems unlikely though given that Mowbray seems reluctant to give Turgott too much, too soon and that the ex-West Ham youth-teamer started Monday night’s under-21 fixture against Ipswich. A reshuffle looks more likely with O’Brien moving into his more effective central position and Barton possibly getting the nod over Odelusi, with the latter a more effective impact sub than starter.

Possible Line-Up: (4-2-3-1) Burge; Willis, Pennington, Martin, Stokes; Ward, Fleck; Barton, O’Brien, Nouble; Samuel

Last Time We Met

It’s nice to have played Leyton Orient just the once this season, last season we met them in every possible competition except for the FA Cup. Our last game against the O’s was a real missed opportunity to build on that big comeback win against Peterborough United. Having strengthened the team with the loan signings of Gary Madine and Aaron Martin, Steven Pressley’s Sky Blues should really have walked away from Brisbane Road with all three points given Leyton Orient’s struggles on home turf at that point in the season.

After taking the lead through Jim O’Brien, some poor goalkeeping from Lee Burge allowed Orient to surge into the lead with the home fans wondering if their luck had finally changed. Fortunately for us, O’Brien scored a second to level the scores and give us fans some hope that maybe our season still could be turned around.

Then came Worcester City…

How Are They Doing?

Leyton Orient were in an excellent position to build on last season’s near misses in both the race for promotion and in the play-off final. New chairman Francesco Becchetti wanted to take Orient into the Championship and had backed the popular Russell Slade in the transfer market. Minus Moses Odubajo, the core of a successful team had been kept and, in the form of Jobi McAnuff and Darius Henderson, had been improved.

What has ensued at Brisbane Road has been nothing short of a disaster, Russell Slade departed to take the Cardiff City job after being hounded out by the new chairman. Current manager Fabio Liverani is the club’s fourth manager of the season and his only previous managerial experience has been six games in charge of Genoa in Serie A. There are rumours, emphatically denied by the club, that Liverani is unable to communicate to his squad and that key players are effectively managing the team themselves.

A stirring comeback on Saturday will have Orient believing they can use this came as a springboard to safety.

A stirring comeback on Saturday will have Orient believing they can use this came as a springboard to safety.

On Saturday, Darius Henderson failed to show up to the ground on time due to traffic and the team were 1-0 down to Port Vale at half-time. Things took a bizarre turn after the chairman Francesco Becchetti issued a statement castigating Henderson through the proxy of the club’s tannoy announcer. Yet somehow Orient turned it around, in part down to a shocking second-half performance from Port Vale with their keeper getting sent off, winning 3-1.

Regardless of the chaos surrounding Leyton Orient, they are still a dangerous team who can raise their game when their backs are against the wall. Dean Cox is their most dangerous player, providing a goal threat from out wide. David Mooney was deadly last season, even if he has struggled to replicate that form this time around. A defence featuring Scott Cuthbert, Nathan Clarke, Mathieu Baudry and potentially ex-Liverpool left-back Andrea Dossena, possesses quality, experience and robustness.

We should not make the mistake of taking the wounded animal Leyton Orient lightly.

Possible Line-Up: (4-4-2) Cisak; Cuthbert, Baudry, Clarke, Sawyer; Cox, Wright, Bartley, Taylor; Mooney, Dagnall

Prediction

Whilst we can get away with a draw, or even a defeat, in this game, the target has to be all three points. This home form needs to be sorted out soon or it will eventually drag us down. The term ‘six-pointer’ can be a bit of a cliche, but the points tally required for survival could get really out of hand and we have the opportunity to make it more manageable for us. Both teams are also right on the verge of building some momentum, a win for us lifts us further away from the relegation scrap, a win for Orient takes them out of the bottom four and gives them the belief they can keep going.

I would be more confident going into this game were our home form anywhere near being acceptable. I can really see Leyton Orient being fired up for this and my worry is that this group of players lacks the character to respond to that. That being said, I am going for a 1-1 draw which wouldn’t be the end of the world.

Preview: Doncaster Rovers

Change the destinations on your sat-navs people, Accrington will have to wait another year as Tony Mowbray’s Sky Blue army are heading for Wembley!

Don’t get ahead yourselves? We’re only three points above the relegation zone? We’re terrible at home? We’ve only won three games in a row once in four seasons? Our opponents Doncaster are one of the best away teams in the division?

This week has been fun, so much so that the fact that we were beaten in the last minute to the loan signing of Sam Ricketts has barely been commented on when otherwise it would have been used to condemn the way this club is being run. It’s all about perception and perception in football is driven by results.

Finally, a sense of togetherness for a team that has looked like a set of individuals for much of the season.

Finally, a sense of togetherness for a team that has looked like a set of individuals for much of the season.

For much of this season we have believed that this group of players was a poor one that was beyond all hope, exactly where they deserved to be in the division. Suddenly, this looks like a really good squad with depth and big performances coming from all angles. In fact, in Jordan Willis, Matthew Pennington, John Fleck, Jim O’Brien, Sanmi Odelusi, Dominic Samuel, Frank Nouble and new loan signing Grant Ward, we have players here who could, and probably will, play in the level above next season.

That we’re in a relegation battle with the squad we have is proving to be ridiculous as well kind of suspected, it’s hard though to watch a team struggle for months on end and not think they’re a bit crap. Tuesday night’s win was nice but we need to get everything we can out of what is starting to look like a hot streak. With big home games coming up in April, it will be especially important to get Tony Mowbray’s first home win as early as possible to build a positive atmosphere at the Ricoh Arena.

To overcome a tough Doncaster Rovers side, Mowbray will be without the services of the fans’ favourite forward Marcus Tudgay after he picked up a hamstring strain against Fleetwood. The manager has alluded to the idea that Jim O’Brien could play a more advanced role with O’Brien and Tudgay sharing a similar work-rate. A front pairing of Frank Nouble and Dominic Samuel is the alternative, more attacking option.

Having lost out on Sam Ricketts, Chris Stokes’ loan has been extended. The Forest Green loanee has been fairly solid although he has made a few mistakes and really needs to work on his delivery from crosses. I’m happy he’s here until the end of the season as Ryan Haynes is clearly lacking confidence but he would really have to raise his game to be more of an impact performer to warrant a longer stay.

Possible Line-Up: (4-2-3-1) Burge; Willis, Pennington, Martin, Stokes; Ward, Fleck; Barton, O’Brien, Nouble; Samuel.

Last Time We Met

Our last meeting against Doncaster Rovers was a fiasco back on Boxing Day. Our hosts on that day had struggled to win at home for most of the season but the Sky Blues handed the momentum to Donny by conceding an early goal from a poorly defended set-piece. This allowed a tenacious Doncaster side to do what they do best, sit on a lead and counter-attack. As we struggled to create meaningful chances, frustrations grew with James Maddison and then Adam Barton picking up red cards. The defeat ended a semi-decent run of form for Steven Pressley’s Coventry City who had won their previous two away games prior to that disastrous visit to the Keepmoat Stadium.

How Are They Doing?

That win was only Doncaster’s second home win of the season, Paul Dickov’s side have won four home games since then and that combined with some more impressive away form has had them flirting with the play-offs. It’s a far cry from a disastrous summer off the pitch that involved a failed takeover, a slashing of the playing budget and taking until the end of July to sign their first player.

After a slow start to the season, the quality of Doncaster’s squad leftover from their recent spells in the Championship has helped propel Paul Dickov’s side into the upper echelons of the division. The former Oldham manager has been a divisive figure since taking over at the start of last season. He has never quite escaped the sense that he is naturally a cautious manager and therefore incapable of getting the very best out of a decent squad at Doncaster.

Doncaster’s star player this season has been Harry Forrester, the attacking midfielder’s set-pieces has allowed Dickov to shoe-horn his fancy Dan-ery into the team. The rest of Doncaster’s midfield is functional and robust with the South Africa captain Dean Furman providing the steel and veteran midfielder Richie Wellens the creativity.

Clarke Jonson-Harris has forged a decent career after his untimely release from our academy.

Harris Clarke-Jonson has forged a decent career after his untimely release from our academy.

Another attacking threat to watch out for will be Jonson Clarke-Harris on loan from Rotherham. The forward was released from our academy at a young age for undisclosed, thought to be disciplinary, reasons and has since rebuilt his career with spells at Peterborough and Oldham. Harris Jonson-Clarke joined Rotherham for big money in the summer but hasn’t quite found the form to justify the million pound fee and has been shipped out on loan. Making his first return to the Ricoh Arena, the odds must be fairly short for Clarke Harris-Jonson to score against his old club.

Donny’s defence is rather sturdy, as you could probably guess from the tone of this preview thus far. Ex-Walsall captain Andy Butler has returned to the club after a mysterious spell at Sheffield United where he was frozen out before he’d been given a run in the team. Northern Ireland international Luke McCullough is maturing into an excellent centre-back alongside Butler. Enda Stevens, on loan from Villa, has shown the capability to play at a much higher level than League One at times.

Possible Line-Up: (4-4-1-1) Bywater; Wabara, McCullough, Butler, Stevens; Bennett, Furman, Wellens, Clarke-Harris; Forrester; Main.

Prediction

Doncaster are a team who simply love to play away from home, they are a side that struggles to take the initiative in games but are at their best when frustrating teams and either countering or scoring from set-pieces. They have all the ingredients of a side that tends to beat Coventry City at the Ricoh Arena, especially when there is optimism and the expectation of a home win. As great as Tuesday night’s win was, the goals did come very late on and for the most part it appeared that we struggled to convert possession into clear-cut chances.

With the form of teams in the bottom four continuing to be strong over the past week, we cannot let up after a decent run and need to push on. Whilst we have the benefit of playing teams in the bottom half in April, it would be nice not to have to rely upon those games too heavily to decide our fate. Because it is so rare to see Coventry City winning three league games in a row, I can see this ending in a 2-2 draw.