Preview: Peterborough United

You could say that Wednesday night’s defeat away at Sheffield United was a cold, hard dose of reality, but that was one game versus a lifetime of waiting to see this club win something. If you’re going to let an individual defeat sour the experience of Sunday, football just might not be for you.

Possible Line-Up

That being said, failing to win this upcoming game against Peterborough and having relegation confirmed would be a major buzzkill less than a week after winning at Wembley. Although relegation is inevitable at this point, it would be nice to preserve the sense of pride about supporting this club that came from last Sunday for as long as possible. These remaining home games are a chance to win new fans over and tempt old ones back, we cannot allow apathy to set back in so easily.

The line-up against Sheffield United indicated just how many injuries we’re carrying in the squad at this point. It’s likely then that the team selection for this forthcoming game will be a case of who’s fit rather than picking a team specifically designed to beat the opposition. Just who will be available is unclear, but don’t be too surprised to see further starts for Marcus Tudgay and Kevin Foley – maybe we’ll even get to see Michael Folivi finally.

Last Time We Met

In an alternate reality, Peterborough don’t score in the final minute at London Road back on New Year’s Eve, Russell Slade gets his first win, that confidence boost gives us an edge over Slade’s first few games in charge, we remain competitive in the league, Slade leads us out at Wembley, and his name and face are etched into our memories in a positive way. But that didn’t happen and the 1-1 draw against Peterborough earlier in the season was a sign of things to come under Slade.

It’s worth pointing out though that our home record against Peterborough is not only good in recent years, but we always seem to pull off remarkable comebacks against them. The last two meetings at the Ricoh Arena have seen us be two goals behind in each game, only to win 3-2. It was the same scoreline back at Sixfields, only Peterborough were 1-0, then 2-1 up before succumbing to a Leon Clarke masterclass in the second-half.

How Are They Doing?

It’s been a frustrating season for Peterborough where things just haven’t quite clicked for them on a consistent basis. They have a squad jam-packed with exciting attacking players such as Marcus Maddison, Tom Nichols, Paul Taylor, Leo da Silva Lopes, Brad Inman, Martin Samuelsen and Gwion Edwards, but have only demonstrated their potential on intermittent occasions, which is why they’re currently in mid-table rather than in the play-off position they really should be.

Peterborough’s bloated squad is probably the reason why they haven’t achieved what they should have this season. When there were on the fringes of the play-offs in January, Grant McCann wanted the squad trimmed, instead, five first-choice players were signed and it took too long for McCann to integrate them into the side.

The strength in depth though has to be considered a major threat heading into this game. The rangy and mercurial winger Marcus Maddison stands out as Peterborough’s best players and probably one of the best in the division when he’s at his best. He has an absolutely thunderous left-foot and can strike long-range efforts at an angle from long distance from both dead ball situations and set-pieces.

Currently, it is a strike pairing of Tom Nichols and Junior Morias for the Posh. Nichols has had a decent season in front of goal, registering 10 as well as a fair few assists, but hasn’t quite been a reliable finisher. Morias has come in from non-league Boreham Wood and scored some absolutely stunning goals and is a fairly pacey player as well, so he’ll have to be watched carefully.

Possible Line-Up

In midfield, Peterborough have dynamic players in Chris Forrester and Leo da Silva Lopes who’ll play in the wide positions of a 4-4-2 diamond formation. Sitting at the base will be Anthony Grant, who is an absolute bastard, probably the best at what he does at this level of football. He’s a fairly tidy midfield player and a decent tackler, but it’s that he’s an expert in winning soft free-kicks, making nasty, niggly tackles that seem to go unnoticed by referees and wasting time – a nightmare to play against when you fall behind.

Peterborough’s defence is probably the weak area of the side, they have good players for this level in the form of Michael Bostwick, Jack Baldwin and Michael Smith, it’s just that their playing style can leave them open at the back. In goal, they have Tottenham youngster Luke McGee who has had a decent season, especially considering he was a bit of a panic signing at the end of the summer transfer window.

Prediction

I’m in two minds about this game. I’m concerned that the number of injured players we’re carrying is going to make this a tired and disjointed performance against a team with a number of very talented attacking players. However, I’m hoping that the sense of goodwill following the win at Wembley will give the team the shot in the arm they require to get the win here to stave off relegation.

Given Peterborough’s inconsistent nature this season, I’m going to go for positivity heading into this game. I think we’ll win, and it will be a 2-1 scoreline.

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: Bury

If there was any further proof needed that this is a relegation season, then Saturday supplied just that. It wasn’t just that we lost the game in such a poor manner, it’s that the game was such a big opportunity to inject a sense of momentum into the season and we failed to take it. Being unable to win important games, or to build momentum at any point in the season, is what relegates teams – in addition to being crap.

The three goals we conceded against Swindon demonstrate just why we’ve struggled since Slade’s appointment. Given his reputation as a defensive manager, it was to be expected that we’d defend deep, however, failing to not only prevent crosses going into the box but also to deal with them renders his entire raison d’etre for being here pointless. If you’re going to be defensive, defend well, if you can’t defend, you’ve got to be more attacking.

This upcoming game against Bury is not so much last chance saloon as it is earning the right to call future games ‘last chance saloon’. We’re 11 points adrift of safety and the requirements to survive are getting bigger with each passing week. A three or four game winning streak may change the mood around the club, but it’s not something that would be nice if it happened, it simply has to happen over the next three or four games.

Possible Line-Up

Possible Line-Up

Having picked an unchanged team for the Swindon game, Russell Slade has promised changes for this game. It’s likely to be bad news for Dion Kelly-Evans, who seems likely to make way for Jordan Willis now that he’s available. Farrend Rawson could well step back into the defence too, likely to be in place of Jordan Turnbull given that Nathan Clarke is seemingly Slade’s man.

That rule is likely to keep Kevin Foley in the side too, although where he’ll be shoe-horned in will be of some interest. The 4-3-3 Slade deployed in the past few games could well be abandoned to allow Kyel Reid and/or Jodi Jones to play as wingers, while Stuart Beavon is likely to be given a partner to play alongside in attack. If I had to guess, that could mean Foley will be played as a central midfielder in a 4-4-2, along with Callum Reilly.

Last Time We Met

It was one of the least memorable games of the season when we last faced Bury, back in August at the Ricoh Arena. Off the back of a somewhat unfortunate draw against Shrewsbury, this game looked a chance to kick-start our season with a win. However, the game transpired to underline just how lacking we were in physicality and experience in an insipid display that somehow ended in a 0-0 draw – although Dion Kelly-Evans had a great chance in the second-half to win the game.

How Are They Doing?

It’s been an odd season for an erratic Bury side who have been through three managers and have used more players than any other team in this division. Having cut the budget massively over the summer, Bury started the season in excellent form under David Flitcroft. However, that good start quickly petered out, the club went on a record winless run, replaced Flitcroft with the academy manager, Chris Brass, and seemed content with blooding a few youngsters and finishing bottom of the division.

However, results improved around the turn of the year, they signed basically any player they could get their hands on, then they somehow managed to lure Lee Clark from a job at Kilmarnock to help them out of the relegation zone. Two games into Clark’s tenure, and Bury have had two wins to help them out of the relegation zone and now seem to have some real momentum behind them.

Bury currently have the division’s second top-scorer in their ranks in the form of James Vaughan, who has missed the past few games but could be fit for this one. They also have beanpole centre-forward Tom Pope in attack who has proved a pretty effective foil for Vaughan in attack this season. A 38 year-old Ryan Lowe scored the winner for Bury in their most game against Charlton, while there’s also the sprightly youngster George Miller who’s proving to be an effective attacking option from the bench, with five goals to his name this season.

Possible Line-Up

Possible Line-Up

In the middle of the park, Jacob Mellis has proven a useful creative outlet this season with five assists and offers both drive from a central midfield position and composure on the ball. Also in midfield, Callum Styles, born in the year 2000, and Scott Burgess have emerged as bright prospects in recent months. While winger Danny Mayor could be available for selection after returning from injury recently.

Bury boast some useful experience in defence in the form of Antony Kay and Leon Barnett, who’ve been used as part of a back-three recently. That change in system has allowed the impressive Greg Leigh at left wing-back greater freedom to demonstrate his attacking instincts, while the recent addition of former Birmingham City talisman Paul Caddis provides Bury with further quality from right wing-back. Additionally, Bury have added Joe Murphy to play in goal to provide them with additional quality and experience at the back.

Prediction

Bury’s recent form, and the possibility that they could select the division’s second top-scorer tonight, should render them pretty heavy favourites for this game. Russell Slade has made noises this week about wanting to stay beyond the end of the season, but failing to win either of these next two games should really be grounds for sacking, even though that it would be unlikely affect our hopes of staying up.

All signs point towards a Bury win, I’m guessing it will be 2-0.

Preview: Millwall

Another must-win game that we’ve lost since Russell Slade took charge and it’s almost impossible not to foresee League Two on the horizon. Yet, there is the opportunity with a congested month of fixtures ahead to quickly turn things around, yet performances have been steadily getting worse under Slade since the 2-2 draw with Bolton at the start of last month.

Although we’ve somehow managed to hold onto all of our prized ‘assets’ over the January transfer window, the reinforcements brought in seem of a distinctly similar vintage to the loanees we let go.  The signing of Michael Folivi as the transfer window closed on Tuesday evening felt like a repeat of the late signing of Andre Wright back in the summer, strongly intimating that things aren’t going to be much better over the next few months.

Possible Line-Up

Possible Line-Up

We head into a home game against a Millwall side who are almost the exact mirror opposite of ourselves. While we descend down the plug-hole with a team in no discernible form and all hope of owning our stadium lost, Millwall are on the rise, in red-hot form and have successfully campaigned to avoid a council-led death sentence. We have a load of weak, limp players devoid of confidence, Millwall are muscular and robust. Writing the rest of this preview almost feels redundant.

Somehow, Russell Slade has to raise the performance levels of this team, and having failed to bring in a target-man centre-forward, has to move away from the dunder-headed long-ball strategy he’s gone for over the past few games. Jordan Willis is unavailable for this game after his sending-off at Northampton last weekend, which should see Kevin Foley return to the side. Michael Folivi comes into contention after arriving this week, and he’s going to have to be some player to score goals in this team.

Last Time We Met

It’s worth pointing out that Millwall have failed to beat us since returning to League One at the start of last season, and have seemingly saved their poorer performances for those games. The 4-0 win in the second game of last season seems like a distant fever dream these days, as days a remarkable 2-1 victory last April that was swung by an idiotic red-card from Millwall’s Shaun Williams.

Our most recent meeting came in September when morale was similarly low on our end while Millwall had started the campaign slowly. A wonder-goal from Marvin Sordell in the first-half looked like setting us on the way to victory, only for Millwall to capitalise on a Jordan Turnbull error in the second-half to salvage a point.

How Are They Doing?

As mentioned earlier, Millwall are in sensational form at the moment, and are unbeaten in their past seven league games, having dumped Premier League Bournemouth and Watford during that same run. After a poor start to the season, Millwall look to be moving up through the gears as the season enters its crucial phase, and they’re likely to see an away trip to the bottom team in the division as a routine win.

The returns to fitness of Steve Morison and Lee Gregory in attack over the past few months has been a big reason behind Millwall’s rise up the division. The experienced Steve Morison is that target-man for Millwall’s direct style of play, his nous and physicality have been proven to trouble even Premier League standard defenders, so Nathan Clarke and Farrend Rawson are going to be in for a severe inspection of their credentials. Lee Gregory is a classic goal poacher who has developed a good understanding with Morison in reading his flick-ons to garner chances on goal.

It’s not only Morison and Gregory who give Millwall a cutting edge, Aiden O’Brien, who plays off the left-wing despite not really being a winger, has nine league goals to his name, thanks to his ability to read Morison’s flick-ons. The rapid Fred Onyedinma has finally carved out a starting spot in this Millwall side in recent weeks having played the role of promising youngster for almost too long, his runs down the wing provide Millwall boss Neil Harris with the ability to mix things up.

Possible Line-Up

Possible Line-Up

The impressive Jed Wallace has recently returned to Millwall on a loan deal from Wolves and, along with the deliveries of Shane Ferguson, offers Neil Harris further quality on the wings should plan A fail. Also in midfield, Ben Thompson’s running, and nasty streak, provides Millwall with their beating heart in the centre of the park, allowing the talented Shaun Williams to get on the ball and showcase his passing ability.

With Jordan Archer in goal, Millwall have one of the division’s best goalkeepers and Byron Webster at centre-back is one of the most dominant defenders at this level. Jake Cooper has arrived on loan from Reading recently and offers quality on the ball, along with his considerable six foot four stature. Shaun Cummings at right-back has returned recently from injury and has provided energy and experience to step-in for Mahlon Romeo who struggled to build on a promising end to last season.

Prediction

Millwall are clearly the better team here in any way, shape or form you can imagine. It’s hard to see how what Russell Slade can do to avoid defeat here, not least because he seems to have made this team worse than they already were.

Millwall to win this game 3-0.