Preview: Grimsby Town

Any illusions that we might make a game of it against Blackburn on Tuesday night were quickly dispelled when the line-ups revealed Mark Robins had opted for a weakened team. While the performance of Duckens Nazon in attack threatened to things interesting, the sad reality was that we were easily beaten by a (top-drawer) League One side playing in second-gear.

Blackburn are clearly going to be far better than any side we’re going to face in League Two this season, but what was close to a first-choice defence will maybe feel like they could have avoided at least two of Blackburn’s three goals. Whether that was because the midfield struggled to impose themselves on the game is a debate to be had, but I left that game feeling like there was a clear need for a leader in that back four.

The returns of Liam Kelly and Michael Doyle to the midfield should hopefully mitigate for some of those defensive wobbles for this trip to Grimsby. Jordan Willis could well return too, and although it feels like he’s still to show he can be a top-class centre-back in a back four, he would be an improvement on Dominic Hyam who’s done to stake a more regular spot in the side. Additionally, on what could be a difficult away day, Peter Vincenti’s height could prove a useful asset in giving us a reliable out-ball if we’re struggling to keep the ball.

The main selection debate will be which strike partnership to pick from the options of Stuart Beavon, Duckens Nazon, Maxime Biamou, and Marc McNulty (if available for selection after dental surgery). Nazon really should be the first-choice out of those four – not only is he clearly our most skilful player, but he has a drive and awareness to his game which marks him out as something more than just a fancy-Dan. McNulty doesn’t seem a natural partner for Nazon, but could benefit from the space he opens up, Biamou struggled to make an impression against Blackburn, which probably means Beavon is the likeliest strike partner for Le Duck.

The signing this week of goalscoring midfielder Tony Andreu adds something different to the mix, although it’s hard to see him being played with Nazon just ahead of him through the middle, in an away game especially. Unless Robins moves Nazon out wide, as he did later on during Tuesday’s game, where he seems less effective, Andreu may have to start his Coventry City career on the bench.

Last Time We Met

Grimsby will probably be best remembered as an opponent for us in recent-ish times as having handed us a 1-0 defeat at Highfield Road in the first season after relegation from the Premiership in the final days of Gordon Strachan’s reign at the club.

Grimsby hung around in the second-tier for one more season after 2001-02, but were twice beaten by Gary McAllister’s Sky Blues as they suffered a relegation from a level to which they haven’t returned to since.

How Are They Doing?

Grimsby steadily dropped through the divisions and into non-league after 2002-03, before winning promotion back to the Football League two seasons ago via the play-offs. Last season was an odd one for them, where they lost the manager and goalscorer that won them promotion but then sacked their next manager for not picking up results in what was clearly a transitional year, and then appointing Russell Slade.

Slade’s appointment seemed to suggest a degree of ambition at Blundell Park to put together a side capable of challenging for the play-offs, however, the summer transfer activity has only really seen incredibly old veterans and incredibly raw youngsters brought into the club on loans and free transfers. Unless Slade can summon up a strong team-spirit, it’s hard not to conclude that Grimsby have a fairly uninspiring squad that could well see them in danger of the drop.

The main exciting talent at Grimsby this season is winger Siriki Dembele – brother of Celtic wunderkind Karamoko Dembele. Siriki has caught the eye over pre-season having not played professional football until joining Grimsby, and carried that form over into the opening day of the season with a wonderful half-the-length-of-the-pitch assist to help Grimsby to a win over Chesterfield. Dembele’s ability to carry the ball on the counter and deliver a final product makes him a major danger-man.

Possible Line-Up

Sam Jones, brought in by Russell Slade’s predecessor, Marcus Bignot, is another attacking talent to watch. The midfielder scored seven in 18 appearances after signing in January and has been deployed as more of a striker by Slade thus far this season. A bit of a physical presence and an excellent finisher, Jones will have to be well-marshalled.

With a slow and old defence – with Nathan Clarke at 33 years-old likely to partner Danny Collins at 37 in central defence – and a target-man to lump it up to in Scott Vernon, Grimsby are likely to defend deep, play direct and try and hurt us on set-pieces. Knowing what we do about Russell Slade’s tactical approach, they will only sit deeper and deeper should they take the lead, so we’re going to have to ensure we start strongly and try to force them to chase the game.

Prediction

Although Grimsby should be the kind of team we should be beating as a matter of routine if we have serious aspirations of promotion, we are still gelling as a team and this game could prove an early lesson in how to deal with a robust and physical League Two team keen to claim our scalp. I’m still far from convinced by our defence based on the opening two games of the season and they could be found wanting against a direct side if they continue to show poor positional discipline and aggression in their play.

Since returning to the club, Mark Robins is yet to win an away game for us – although away wins were the main feature of his first spell at the club. Getting that first away win of the season before it comes a thing is important. However, I can see this being a frustrating 1-1 draw.

Preview: Notts County

The re-appointment of Mark Robins as manager back in March was all about how ready we would be for the start of this season. Getting those few wins towards the back end of last season, and especially that wonderful afternoon at Wembley, was important in re-energising the fan-base, but the hard work of winning promotion back to League One at the first attempt begins now.

It has been an almost complete overhaul of the squad over the summer, with just four of the starting XI at Wembley likely to start this forthcoming game against Notts County – three, depending on whether Lee Burge is fit. Instead of relying on a relatively young squad packed with a number of homegrown talents, Robins has decided to employ a different model leaning towards more experienced and proven performers, with a veteran Michael Doyle being the poster ‘child’ of this new side.

It means that we are starting from square one as a team this season, although, having had the majority of the squad in place for the entirety of pre-season may hasten the gelling process. They key areas of the squad are whether Rod McDonald and Jordan Willis can form an effective central defensive partnership, Michael Doyle and Liam Kelly can provide dynamism in addition to their sturdiness in central midfield, and whether Marc McNulty is capable of scoring the goals to get us out of this division.

Possible Line-Up

We already have a strong idea of what team Mark Robins is going to pick for this game, based on his team selections in pre-season. The aforementioned five players will provide the spine of the side, along with the experienced Peter Vincenti on the right wing and Stuart Beavon playing slightly ahead of McNulty in attack. Jack Grimmer at right-back is also almost certain to start and, thanks to an injury picked up by Ryan Haynes, Chris Stokes will make up the back four.

After some reasonable performances in pre-season without being overly tested, Liam O’Brien may get a chance to stake a claim for the starting spot in goal if Lee Burge doesn’t prove his fitness in time. The decision to sign O’Brien over a more experienced keeper was a big call from Mark Robins this summer, and it could seriously hamstring us if both he and Burge don’t cut the mustard.

Finally, Jodi Jones’ performance in the final pre-season friendly against Nuneaton where he scored and provided an assist for Stuart Beavon should win him a start on the left wing ahead of Devon Kelly-Evans. This is a big season for Jones after failing to provide a consistent final product last season, he could prove to be one of those players who really benefits from dropping down a level to become a central player for the club.

Last Time We Met

Our last meeting with Notts County was a drab 0-0 draw at Meadow Lane during Tony Mowbray’s attempts to keep us in League One following his arrival back in 2015. Our attacking threat had been stunted by the recent loss of Dominic Samuel to injury, leaving a toothless strike force of Frank Nouble and Simeon Jackson to labour in vain against a Notts County side soon to be doomed to relegation.

Notts County’s last trip to the Ricoh Arena was another drab affair on the face of it, however, it was a game memorable for some of absolutely top notch time-wasting and gamesmanship on the part of a Notts County side then flying in the top six of League One under Shaun Derry. With the Sky Blues in a torpor at the time under Steven Pressley, an error for Andy Webster was ruthlessly punished late in the second-half to hand Shaun Derry, Roy Carroll and the merry men of Notts County all three points.

How Are They Doing?

Notts County are attempting to build something more stable after a soap opera of a past decade which has seen a revolving door of players and managers fail to sustain the occasional promising run of form. Back in January, the club were in a transfer embargo and in danger of dropping into the relegation battle in League Two, however, a takeover by local businessman Alan Hardy and the appointment of Kevin Nolan as manager has seemingly put the club back in right direction.

The January transfer deadline day signings of Shola Ameobi and Jorge Grant – along with left-back Marc Bola who has since joined Bristol Rovers – provided the team with an injection of quality required to make Kevin Nolan’s organisation of the team effective. Ameobi in particular played a crucial role as the figurehead in attack, holding the ball up due to his physical presence and technical skill to bring others into play – he’ll be partnered in attack by the equally experienced Jon Stead, who provides a lot less outside the area for his team.

Possible Line-Up

The aforementioned Grant was a big beneficiary of Ameobi’s hold-up play, coming in off the wing and scoring some excellent goals over the course of the second-half of last season.  Notts County have done well to re-sign the Nottingham Forest youngster on loan, and he’ll be a big danger man for this game. That threat coming in off wide positions has been further bolstered by the arrivals of Lewis Alessandra and Gibraltar international Liam Walker over the summer, who are both potential match-winners at this level on their day.

Notts County’s main area of weakness is in defence, where they lack pace and composure on the ball. The agricultural ex-Sky Blues loanees Carl Dickinson and Richard Duffy could well start this game, and it seems like a sensible game plan to try and press high in order to force errors at the back for Notts rather than try and break them down with a slower style of play. Furthermore, goalkeeper Adam Collin had a difficult previous season and we should be looking to keep him as busy as possible.

Prediction

With Notts County an experienced and physical side, this will be early acid test of our League Two credentials. My main area of concern is in defence, where I’m not sure Rod McDonald and Jordan Willis are capable of standing up to a physical battering from both Shola Ameobi and set-piece situations. If we’re slow and ponderous on the ball too, this has all the makings of a classic Ricoh Arena away team smash and grab, only this time it will be in League Two.

Overall, I’m expecting this to be a real ‘welcome to League Two’ experience for us – similar to the game we played against a recently-relegated Wigan side in League One two seasons ago. If we can show we’re capable of controlling games and creating enough chances, that would be the least I want to see from us in this game. If not, it may be an indication that this could be a harder season than anticipated.

I think Notts County will win this game 2-0.

Preview: EFL Trophy Final

When we went two goals ahead against Wycombe back in February, it didn’t feel real. When the final whistle blew in that game, it didn’t feel real. When I ran on the pitch afterwards, it didn’t feel real. When the tickets went on sale, it didn’t feel real. It won’t be until I take my seat for this game that it will actually feel real, that Coventry City have made it Wembley.

For so long at this football club, it’s been about this quest to make it to the national stadium. We’ve come close on several occasions – those years getting close to making the play-offs, that game against Crewe – but it’s always felt out of our reach, no matter how close we actually were. This is Coventry City, the club that hasn’t made the top six of any division for 47 years, we just don’t do success.

For many, making it to Wembley is a prize, regardless of the result in this game. As someone who, through other sports, has been to big finals and seen my team lose, I’m telling you that is the most sickening experience you can have as a fan of your team. It’s not only that so much went into getting there and you didn’t win, but you’re made to watch the opposition have that amazing moment that you were expecting to have.

Mark Robins’ arrival as manager has been almost perfectly timed to provide us with the shot in the arm required to stand a chance against a strong Oxford side. He’s taken time to assess the options available to him and has now found a way to make us look like a proper team. Players appear to know their roles in their side and we’re playing with a level of intensity that has been lacking for the majority of the campaign.

Possible Line-Up

However, some of that continuity and momentum from the past couple of performances is going to be lost due to the ineligible players for this competition. Significantly, Nathan Clarke and Farrend Rawson looked to have formed a robust central defensive partnership but will both be unavailable. On the one hand, that will likely see Jordan Willis and Jordan Turnbull re-form a defensive partnership that was the root of our problems for much of the season, on the other, they’re both mobile defenders who have a degree of comfort on the ball, against a less direct team than our previous two opponents, that could even prove a blessing in disguise.

Elsewhere, Ruben Lameiras’ impact from the bench last week may have made a case for handing him a start in this game to supply genuine creativity in the final third, but I sense that it’s a choice between Kwame Thomas (if fit) and Jodi Jones for that place alongside Beavon in attack. I would imagine that the rest of the midfield four will remain in place given that they are both functioning as a unit and available for selection for this game.

Finally, there is a choice to be made whether to reward Reice Charles-Cook for his performances in this competition with a start in goal in the final, or to stick with the current first-choice of Lee Burge. My inkling is that Lee Burge will start, although it wouldn’t be shocking were Charles-Cook to get the nod.

Last Time We Met

Our two meetings with Oxford this season have curiously been both our best and worst performances of the league campaign. Back at the Ricoh Arena in October, we produced a remarkably composed and controlling performance with Ben Stevenson smashing in a screamer and Marvin Sordell chasing down a weak back-pass to hand us a comfortable win. However, barely a month later, Oxford eviscerated us at the Kassam Stadium in a game that signalled the beginning of the end for Mark Venus as manager.

How Are They Doing?

Nothing can illustrate the feeling towards this game on Oxford United’s end other than they’ve actually required a marketing campaign to sell tickets for this game. They made the final last year, so they’re not as desperate for the day out at Wembley that we are, they also have a realistic prospect of making the play-offs this season, so this game may not even define their season in the same way that it does ours.

A 5-1 win over Bury on Tuesday night emphasised how Oxford have been moving through the gears over the course of the campaign. They looked disjointed for much of the first half of the season, having lost key players from last year’s promotion-winning side from League Two in Kemar Roofe and Callum O’Dowda to Championship clubs and letting go the experience of defenders Jake Wright and Johnny Mullins, as well as striker Danny Hylton. However, the club made some excellent additions in the transfer market both in the summer and then in January, and that quality is really shining through at the moment.

The two key moves in the summer window were firstly securing set-piece maestro and wind-up merchant Chris Maguire on a permanent deal – any free-kick from him closer than 30 yards from goal is almost a penalty – and bringing in winger Marvin Johnson from Motherwell and then converting him into a marauding left-back. Additionally, they managed to bring in Everton youngster Ryan Ledson on a permanent deal and he has been a class apart in the centre of the park for much of the campaign.

Oxford also added firepower to their attack in January through bringing in Toni Martinez and Conor McAleny on loan from West Ham and Everton respectively. However, we don’t have to worry about them as they have both already featured in this competition for their parent clubs, which is just as well as Toni Martinez scored against us at the Ricoh Arena for West Ham PL2 and Conor McAleny has eight goals in 13 appearances.

Losing those two is likely to see Kane Hemmings step up into a central attacking role, a player who has played very well in patches this season, with Maguire operating just behind him. However, Oxford will still have Rob Hall to utilise going forwards, he’s a pacey and skilful winger with excellent delivery who has five goals and five assists to his name despite spending the first few months of the season out injured.

Captain John Lundstram will play in midfield alongside Ryan Ledson, another former Everton youngster, Lundstram plays in a deep role and is important in providing a defensive platform as well as playing the ball out of defence. Michael Appleton could also pick either Joe Rothwell – a former Manchester United youngster – or Josh Ruffels – a former Coventry City youngster – should he wish to operate with a three-man midfield.

Possible Line-Up

In defence, the big Chey Dunkley has been an ever-present at centre-back this season but former Plymouth captain Curtis Nelson has looked a class act alongside him having returned to fitness following injury struggles in the first few months of the campaign. The previously mentioned Marvin Johnson is a real force of nature from left-back and is being tracked by Championship clubs, Appleton could decide to pick Joe Skarz at left-back and push Johnson further forward should he be feeling cautious about the big occasion.

In goal, Oxford have Simon Eastwood, who was yet another great summer signing they made. The former Blackburn man is one of those keepers who can really shut up shop if they’re in the mood, and has done so on several occasions at a higher-level before dropping down to League One for more regular football.

Overall, Oxford are a similar club right now to how Barnsley were last season (coincidentally, the team that beat them in this final last year) and have maybe just been held back from being a top six side already by the relative lack of experience in their squad. They are very much the favourites for this game and we’ll likely spend extended spells of the 90 minutes without the ball.

Prediction

I was more fearful for this game a couple of weeks ago when we were playing without confidence than I am now even though Oxford are in good form themselves and are a much better side than we are. The key areas for the game for us will be whether we can adapt to the change in personnel in defence and how consistent a threat we can be on the counter-attack. For Oxford, it’s about converting the dominance they’re likely to have into goals, which could be affected by losing their form striker for this game.

Oxford are favourites for this game and it could be a really humiliating defeat on the big stage for us. I can envision scenarios of this game in which we win, but my instinct is that Oxford will beat us, probably 2-0.

Preview: Bradford City

It’s March and we’re nearly already relegated to League Two, however, the re-appointment of Mark Robins as manager has us heading into back-to-back home games against play-off contenders with something approaching optimism. And who knows? Maybe if we won both of these games the situation wouldn’t like quite as hopeless as it currently does.

With that the remote possibility of survival in mind, it will be interesting to see how Robins approaches his first few games in charge. Does he persist with those on loan and short-term contracts order to get results? Will he use these games to lay the foundations for League Two football next season? There is no pressure on Robins to keep us up, but equally, he must be aware that there need to be signs of improvement as a result of his return as manager.

As with any change of manager, predicting the starting line-up for their first game in charge is a difficult task as they are looking at the squad with fresh eyes and a different approach. However, we do have the benefit of knowing Robins’ approach more intimately than we would a normal new manager, so I think there are certain things we can expect to see from a Robins Coventry City side.

In general, the approach during Robins’ first spell in charge was either to defend well and hurt teams on the counter-attack, or to work the ball out wide and create overlaps leading to crosses into the box. The former will favour pacey players like Jodi Jones and Kyel Reid, while the latter should be good news for our attacking full-backs Ryan Haynes and Dion Kelly-Evans. Given that this is a tough game to start with, it’s likely that we’ll look pack the midfield and play a counter-attacking game.

Elsewhere, it will be interesting to see whether Robins makes a break from the brief Slade-era in utilising both Ben Stevenson and Gael Bigirimana in midfield. Stevenson is the kind of intelligent and tactically aware player I think Robins will get a tune out of, Bigirimana is less of a disciplined player who will either make improvements under Robins or struggle to get into the team.

In defence, almost all of the places are up for grabs, with the possible exception of Ryan Haynes at left-back due to lack of competition. I would imagine that Robins will initially place trust Nathan Clarke, so it will be a competition between Jordan Willis, Farrend Rawson and Jordan Turnbull for the remaining spot in central defence. I’ll be intrigued to see whether trusts Dion Kelly-Evans at right-back over Kevin Foley or Jordan Willis.

Last Time We Met

Our last meeting with Bradford almost injected life into our woeful start to the season. Dan Agyei had been signed a few days before as our number nine for the season and he displayed plenty of promise in opening the scoring early in the game and being a general menace in disrupting Bradford from playing out from the back on their home turf. However, we struggled to maintain that level of performance into the second-half and Jordan Turnbull conceded a penalty and got himself sent off in the game’s decisive moment.

Tony McMahon, a player Tony Mowbray had tried to sign for us the year before, emphatically converted the penalty. Almost straight from the kick-off, Mark Marshall (a former player of course) scored a worldie from 25-yards out. McMahon then had another chance to score from the spot to seal the win, which he took and then rubbed salt into the wound by becoming the world’s oldest and most northern player to dab by way of celebration.

How Are They Doing?

In general, it’s been a good season for Bradford. Stuart McCall, something of a club legend from his time at the club as a player before a less successful spell as manager, returned to the club for a second bite of the managerial cherry and had helped the team evolve from the fairly route one stuff of the Phil Parkinson-era into a more entertaining, aesthetically pleasing team to watch. However, they have failed to really threaten the automatic promotion spots due to a number of drawn games and there is a sense at times that they haven’t quite been playing to their potential.

Probably the biggest issue has been the lack of a prolific goalscorer in attack for the Bantams. Huddersfield loanee Jordy Hiwula is blessed with plenty of pace but seems to lack a truly killer instinct to make the most of the good positions his speed lets him get into. The January signings of former Port Vale man (and former Coventry City trialist) Alex Jones and ex-Carlisle striker Charlie Wyke have looked to address this, with some success thus far. Wyke is a real presence in attack, not only being someone capable of getting on the end of crosses, but also linking play very well. Jones is a fairly typical goal poacher in that he doesn’t offer a great deal outside of the box.

In midfield, the creativity of Nicky Law and Mark Marshall out wide has been a major success story of the season for Bradford. Law had been signed over the summer following a fairly unsuccessful spell at Rangers in the Scottish lower divisions but he has offered real drive and energy to Bradford’s midfield. Marshall was overlooked last season by Phil Parkinson in favour of Kyel Reid, but has been involved in more goals than any other Bradford player this season, with four goals and six assists to his name.

Possible Line-Up

Elsewhere, Josh Cullen in the centre of the pitch is another key player to look out for. The West Ham loanee had a successful loan spell last season and has picked up where he left off this season, another player who carries the ball forward from midfield really effectively. It would be remiss of me not to mention Romain Vincelot, one of the heroes for us last season, who is the captain of this Bradford side and has been key when played in either central defence of midfield.

At full-back, Tony McMahon and James Meredith are great attacking outlets to have, further heightening Bradford’s all-round threat. While, Nathaniel Knight-Percival is a composed presence in central defence, operating in front of the experienced and reliable Colin Doyle in goal.

Prediction

The optimism that comes with the arrival of not only a new manager, but the statistically best manager we’ve ever had, has to be tempered by our poor form and the quality of the opposition that we’re up against. A win in this game would be the perfect way to mark the beginning of a new era at the club, but these remaining games of the season could well be about making gradual improvements and figuring out who to keep next year rather than going out to get those seven or eight wins that could keep us up.

I can see us losing 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: Gillingham

We looked set to be seeing out a rare win on Tuesday night, but somehow the three points never felt certain, and thus, it was with dull inevitability that AFC Wimbledon found an equaliser in the dying seconds of the game. It feels like I write this before every game, but we really are in a dire situation right now, and it’s looking like a case of when, not if, we’ll be relegated.

The next three games (against Gillingham, Swindon and Bury) are absolutely crucial, and we probably need to win all three just to give ourselves an outside chances of survival. We’re currently eleven points adrift of Port Vale, but you would hope that three straight wins would reduce that gap by at least five points, and maybe that would probably change the feeling around the club. But what ever a run of victories means for our survival bid is immaterial right now, we need those victories to come now, just to keep ourselves in the conversation.

Possible Line-Up

Possible Line-Up

As was ever thus, Russell Slade drew criticism for a cautious team selection on Tuesday night. Although it almost worked, it highlighted why he’s not the right manager for the situation we’re in. Slade is a defensive manager, but we’re in a situation now where draws are no good, so he’s either going to have to change his approach entirely, or we’ve got to hope that we can edge our way to the nine or ten victories we require for survival.

The team selection for this game feels like it will again be something of a mystery, especially with Jordan Willis and Stuart Beavon likely to be available again. Both seem like they’ll come straight back into the side, which could see us play a back four entirely made-up of central defenders and it’ll be a case of Marcus Tudgay, Kwame Thomas or Yakubu up front alongside Beavon.

Last Time We Met

Our last meeting against Gillingham was a fairly routine 2-1 defeat at the Priestfield Stadium back in September. With not much to write about that game, it is worth returning to our last meeting with Gillingham at the Ricoh Arena, which feels like a lifetime ago. Back in November 2015, Coventry versus Gillingham was a top of the table clash between two of the division’s surprise packages. We produced a 15-minute spell of explosive and clinical football to blow Gillingham away as Jacob Murphy stormed his way to a hat-trick and Ben Turner headed home from a corner-kick to secure victory that was ultimately the high-water mark of Tony Mowbray’s reign at the club.

How Are They Doing?

Gillingham have been remarkably flat this season for a club that came close to promotion the previous season and only lost one key player from that squad, centre-back John Egan, and added proven quality over the summer in the likes of Scott Wagstaff, Paul Konchesky and Jay Emmanuel-Thomas. However, a poor run towards the end of last season seemed to pervade the mentality for the first half of the campaign with manager Justin Edinburgh looking increasingly clueless as to how to reverse the decline.

Edinburgh was swiftly sacked in January with the Gills in danger of dropping into a relegation battle, and he was surprisingly replaced by Ady Pennock, whose only managerial experience came in non-league with Forest Green Rovers. Not only was it a surprise appointment, but also something of a sea-change going from the tidy football of Edinburgh to a manager who had a reputation for physical and direct football at Forest Green.

Pennock is without a win thus far, having lost his first game and drawing the next five, but he seems to have instilled a tougher mentality to a squad that was probably in need of a kick up the backside. As expected, plenty of Gillingham’s goals under Pennock have come from crosses and set-pieces, which, given our inability to defend crosses into the box, stands Gillingham in good stead to get their first win under new management.

On paper, the key threats of this Gillingham side look to be Bradley Dack and Jay Emmanuel-Thomas, both of whom have been, at different times, the best player at this level. However, both have flattered to deceive this season and have not been in great form over the past few months, yet, they’re still players who can win games on their own, regardless of form.

Possible Line-Up

Possible Line-Up

The one player we should probably be playing close attention to is right-back Ryan Jackson, who is not only a menace with his pace and directness from a full-back position, but possesses one of the most potent long throws at this level – again, our inability to defend balls into the box should be ringing the alarm bells.

Elsewhere, Max Ehmer at centre-back has been in decent form of late, getting on the end of one of Ryan Jackson’s long throws in their last game when they so nearly beat Chesterfield. Although similar can’t be said of Cody McDonald, he is a fairly reliable goalscorer at this level and he is a former player, so….

Prediction

At some point, this horrendous winless run will end, but it’s looking like it will be too late to save our season. Gillingham aren’t in great form at the moment, which probably makes this our best opportunity in a while to pick up that elusive win. If we are to give ourselves the faintest hope of survival, we have got to win this game.

However, I just can’t predict us to win at the moment, so I think this will be a 2-1 defeat.

Preview: Fleetwood Town

The wave of optimism that had been building after Russell Slade’s first few games in change fizzled out last Saturday like a half-full balloon that someone could no longer be bothered to inflate. A managerless Chesterfield should really have been there for the taking, instead, we finished the game with 37% possession and it took until stoppage time for us to win our first corner. In short, it was an underwhelming display.

While no-one gets relegated in January, it is imperative that we pick up our first win under Russell Slade in this upcoming game against Fleetwood Town. Although Fleetwood are in great form at the moment, we have shown this season that we can give any team in this division a decent game at the Ricoh Arena, so there should be some confidence that, with the determination to make up for a terrible result last week, we can get the win in this game.

Possible Line-Up

Possible Line-Up

Boosting our prospects is the arrival of Farrend Rawson this week on loan from Derby. He’s a six foot four centre-back who’s played well at a higher-level, in a relegation battle, which makes him a pretty impressive signing for a team currently bottom of League One. I would expect him to slot-in at centre-back alongside Nathan Clarke, with Jordan Willis likely to move to right-back, or possibly left-back if Slade doesn’t fancy playing Haynes in this match.

Elsewhere, there may be the temptation to alter things after the performance against Chesterfield. Rose and Reilly seemingly struggled to get a grip on midfield, which may prompt a recall for Ben Stevenson, if Slade fancies playing someone who’s been our best player this season. The Marcus Tudgay-Stuart Beavon strike partnership doesn’t look wholly convincing either, and George Thomas could be moved into the front two to add dynamism to the attack, with Jodi Jones coming in on the right wing.

Last Time We Met

Losing against Fleetwood in our last meeting was probably the beginning of the end for Tony Mowbray. Having failed to have signed the players he wanted in the summer, and having already started the season in terrible form, losing in such a limp and routine fashion at the start of September at Fleetwood must have caused Mowbray to question just what he was hoping to achieve this season, and how. A decent-enough performance was undermined by weak defending to allow Fleetwood to score two pretty simple goals on the break, as has been the story of our season.

How Are They Doing?

That win back in September was part of a strong start to the season for Fleetwood Town under the management of Uwe Rosler. The former Brentford boss had arrived at the club just one week ahead of the new season, and a fairly underwhelming transfer window following a season of struggle last time out didn’t seem to suggest that Rosler would hit the ground running at the Highbury Stadium.

However, some astute loan signings in the form of Burnley forward Chris Long and Huddersfield’s young creative dynamo Kyle Dempsey saw Fleetwood start the season with a remarkable degree of fluency given how last-minute their preparations were. Rosler didn’t just make good signings though, he turned the frustrating David Ball into one of the division’s most effective attacking players, while young striker Ash Hunter has grown into a more important role this season.

For a while over the Autumn, it looked like Fleetwood were petering out a little, the goals starting drying up and they were struggling to keep pace in the play-off race. However, Rosler has had the astuteness to change things up, switching to a back three that has made Fleetwood one of the best defensive units in the division, and the goals have eventually started to return.

Possible Line-Up

Possible Line-Up

The back three has especially suited the attacking instincts of wing-backs Conor McLaughlin and Amari’i Bell, who are both probably among the best in their respective positions in this division. Forward Devante Cole seems to have become a more important player in light of the tactical switch, despite being a fairly poor finisher (famous last words), Cole’s pace and strength have seen him become an effective provider of goals over the past few months.

Jimmy Ryan in the middle of the park is an incredibly important player for Fleetwood, however an injury in recent weeks has allowed former Manchester City youngster George Glendon a run in the side in which he has impressed. Fleetwood have also managed to bring Bristol City striker/winger Wes Burns back to the club after an impressive loan spell last season, he’s a very energetic, direct and quick forward who should add another dimension to Fleetwood’s attack.

Prediction

As alluded to earlier in this preview, as well as Fleetwood have done over the past month or so, I don’t think this game is necessarily as difficult as it seems to be. Fleetwood have won just three times on the road this season, while we have been much better at home this season than on the road. Rawson coming in should add a physical presence to our defence, it’s a case of whether we can pose more questions in attack than we did last week at Chesterfield.

It’s a game between a team unbeaten in nine in the league, against a team that hasn’t won in ten. So obviously, I’m predicting the latter to win this game. 2-1 to the Sky Blues.