Preview: Blackburn Rovers

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

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

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

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

Possible Line-Up

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

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

Last Time We Met

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

How Are They Doing?

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

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

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

Possible Line-Up

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

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

Prediction

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

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

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Preview: Norwich City

For 45 minutes it seemed that something had clicked for us this season. With Dan Agyei providing everything we’d lacked up front this season – pace, physicality and a goal – to add to the platform of defensive stability that we’d put together thus far. A red card, a penalty and a wonder-strike from Mark Marshall turned the game on its head and we had no way of turning the game back in our favour.

The positives are that we look to finally have added a goal threat to this team, we have the likes of Jodi Jones, Marvin Sordell and a few others to add to that, and it’s tempting to wonder whether we might have held onto something had Jordan Turnbull kept his head when bundling Billy Clarke to the floor. There are plenty of reasons to be concerned though, we were comprehensively outplayed for the final hour against Bradford and there wasn’t much Tony Mowbray could do to change it from the bench. Bradford are a good side, especially at home, but the question for us right now is just how much better will we actually be after the transfer window closes and with a less hectic run of fixtures.

Possible Line-Up

Possible Line-Up

The last thing this team really needs right now is a Tuesday night away trip to one of the Championship promotion favourites. You get the sense that Tony Mowbray would happily allow Norwich a bye to the next round of the League Cup if it meant he had more time to work with the squad on the training pitch and allow the players to recuperate from the run of games we’ve already played.

A weakened team is likely but it’s hard to identify just which players we can actually rest right now. Unless the likes of Jack Finch, Callum Maycock and Darragh Leahy are thrown in at the deep end here, it’s likely to be a very similar team to the one that faced Bradford with only those deemed to be struggling most for fitness given a night off.

Last Time We Met

Our last meeting with Norwich came back on the final day of the 2010/11 season with the Canaries celebrating promotion to the Premier League while we were celebrating safety after Andy Thorn had lifted us from the doldrums of Aidy Boothroyd. Richard Keogh gave us the lead before Grant Holt levelled soon after. Dani Pacheco gave Norwich a deserved lead after they had dominated much of the game but Lukas Jutkiewicz tapped in a Chris Hussey cross to share the points.

The fortunes of the two clubs over the ensuing five seasons strikes some contrast, with Norwich establishing themselves as a yo-yo club between the Premier League and Championship and us sinking to mid-table League One status via a season in Northampton.

How Are They Doing?

Norwich were relegated from the Premier League last season pretty much because they just didn’t have the resources to truly compete in the top-flight despite having a squad that has proven itself to be too good from the Championship. Alex Neil’s astute management of the club saw them put up more of a fight than was really expected of them, although a heavy defeat to Newcastle in October was the turning point of their season after a promising start.

Neil’s position as manager was never really in doubt despite relegation and a decent start to the season for Norwich suggests they’ll challenge for an immediate return for the top-flight under his tutelage. Success in the League Cup will be a bonus at Carrow Road, especially with this fixture arriving just two days after the East Anglian derby.

It’s possible that just like Portsmouth, Norwich could name an entirely changed starting XI for this fixture, the difference being that Norwich’s back-up brigade would easily compete for the Championship play-offs on their own. Norwich have been wise over the past few years to invest in promising young talents from around the country to complement their productive academy, which leaves them with plenty of players desperate to prove themselves ready for a chance in the starting XI.

Possible Line-Up

We all know about James Maddison, and given the space we leave between the lines of midfield and defence, he could be set for a productive evening. Another former Sky Blue in Jacob Murphy has already shown what he can do in the Norwich first-team this season with a stunning goal on the opening day against Blackburn. His twin brother, Josh, has long been seen as the bigger talent, having been a shining light at MK ‘Dons’ in the second-tier last season, he’ll be desperate to prove that he’s still the most talented Murphy twin.

Kyle Lafferty is likely to be given a start having not featured against Ipswich on Sunday, the big Northern Irish striker has never really done it at club level and having dropped out of the starting XI for his national side over the summer, he’ll be determined to prove a point too. Others to look out for are attacking left-back Harry Toffolo who excelled for Swindon two seasons ago, alongside the box-to-box presence in midfield of Louis Thompson, another formerly of Swindon.

Prediction

There is almost nothing about this tie that suggests that we can win it. Playing away with a paper-thin and half-fit squad against a team flush with Premier League parachute payment money and a squad packed full of exciting young talents determined to prove a point. As we demonstrated against Bradford on Saturday, we can’t even sit back and grind out a win even if we do manage to nick a goal at the other end.

It’s a case of just how many we’ll lose by, I reckon it will be a 3-0 loss.

Preview: Portsmouth

You just can’t draw any definitive conclusions from an opening day fixture. Not only were we at least three first-choice signings short of where we are likely to be in September, but Saturday was just one game. To say that this is definitely going to be a difficult season based off one game is ridiculously reactionary.

Although it seems like it was far from a great performance, we had three shots on target versus Swindon’s one, it’s a game we could have won. You can’t tell at this point whether that inability to convert chances is going to plague us this entire season, just as much as you can’t fully say that we were unlucky not to win on Saturday. We can only wait to see what trends emerge over the coming weeks and months of football.

Onto everyone’s favourite fixture of the new season, the First Round of the League Cup. You wait all year for it and now it’s finally come around. The chance to see two weakened and half-arsed teams battling out in a competition they both know they have no chance of winning. What’s not to love?

Possible Line-Up

Possible Line-Up

Aside from the likely arrival of Lewis Page on loan from West Ham in time for this game, the midfield and defence pretty much pick themselves. A question mark over the fitness of Sam Ricketts could see Page make his debut in the back three, rather than at left wing-back where you imagine he’s been signed to play. Unless Tony Mowbray wants to give a chance to someone untested at senior level in Ben Stevenson or Darragh Leahy, the only selection dilemma comes in those front three positions

I would imagine that Marcus Tudgay is nailed-on to start as the focal point in attack, it’s a question of which two out of George Thomas, Kwame Thomas, Ruben Lameiras, Kyel Reid, Jodi Jones or Kyle Spence does Mowbray want to give the opportunity to play themselves into the new season. There are convincing arguments for starting any of those six players, I’ve got no real idea of how Tony Mowbray will be thinking about them.

Last Time We Met

It was March 2013 the last time we played Portsmouth, we had just gone into administration while Portsmouth were close to being taken over by their fans. A lachrymose Sky Blues side were easily bested by a Portsmouth side that had long given up hope of surviving at League One level that season. Both clubs have had to endure some tough times since that last playing each other, Portsmouth not only won the match that day though but won the battle for their clubs’ future while we limp on hoping some day for salvation from the mess we’re in.

How Are They Doing?

A 1-1 draw at home to Carlisle on the opening day summed up Portsmouth under the management of former Sky Blues defender Paul Cook. The home side dominated the contest, mustering nearly 30 shots to Carlisle’s 2 but failed to come away with all three points. Despite Paul Cook making some marked improvements at Portsmouth over the past year or so, they still struggle to break League Two sides down on their big day out at Fratton Park.

Which should make them tough opposition, potentially the favourites, for this match where they should have more space to thrive on. That being said, Paul Cook has stated that he intends to rest almost all of the side that played last Saturday so it’s hard to tell what kind of Portsmouth side we’ll be up against and what their motivation will be.

The intrigue of coming up against former players such as Carl Baker, Michael Doyle and Adam Barton then is watered down by the likelihood that at least the former two could be rested. It’s possible then that we could up against an Adam Barton playing in central defence, which will be interesting, but given that we failed to trouble Conor Thomas playing in central defence on Saturday, it may not be quite the field-day that you would be hoping for.

Possible Line-Up

Possible Line-Up

Trying to pick out the Portsmouth back-up brigade that may be deployed in this fixture, winger Kyle Bennett and striker Conor Chaplin seem the most dangerous players who weren’t started on the opening day. Bennett is a winger with absolutely frightening pace, and no shortage of skill, who has done well at League One level and is only playing in the league below because of the wages Portsmouth can offer. Chaplin is an academy product and an energetic striker who has never quite won over manager Paul Cook despite finishing as the club’s joint top-scorer last season.

Portsmouth’s defence is the main area of weakness, but only because they’re so used to dominating games at League Two level that the focus is on pinning teams back rather than defending itself. Portsmouth’s full-backs are likely to be asked to bomb forward to support attacks, which will leave a central defence likely to include Adam Barton rather exposed.

Prediction

With both managers likely to name weakened teams for this game, it’s a tough one to predict. Although we’re nominally the higher-placed team in this encounter, it would be one of those cup upsets that isn’t that much of an upset. Last season in the League Cup, a weakened Portsmouth side defeated Derby County quite convincingly, this isn’t an average League Two side we’re up against.

With the increasing negativity around the club at this moment, a win would be welcome, but not as much as three points against Shrewsbury on Saturday would be. Because Portsmouth are likely to name an entirely different starting XI to the one they played at the weekend, I think we should be able to win what is a tricky cup tie. My prediction is 2-1 for the Sky Blues.

Preview: Leyton Orient

Where We Are

After another in the endless procession of last-minute defeats that this club seems to go through we find our selves at the bottom of League One, 10 points behind the rest of the league. Despite this the team’s ability to recover from a 2 goal deficit, albeit to ultimately lose the match, should offer encouragement that our depleted squad can still mix it with the rest of the league. The goals of Moussa and Wilson also offer hope that we can rely much less on a single front-man for our goals this season. That being said it’s difficult to really read too much into the first game of the season.

Wilson’s goal though may perhaps tempt Pressley to persevere with the 4-4-2 formation despite the lack of midfield stability that arguably cost us at least one of the three Crawley goals. Tonight’s match though may offer another chance for our manager to experiment with formation and shape and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see a large number of Saturday’s starters rested. With a difficult and busy few weeks ahead it may even be in Pressley’s desire to play with as few first-team players as possible, especially given our current transfer embargo and wafer-thin squad. However with confidence seemingly brittle at the club it may also be in Pressley’s interests to grab a win in order to give fans and players alike something to take into the coming weeks.

Last Time We Played Them

Another of our post-points deduction opponents of last season and another who narrowly won. Despite a promising performance in our last home game at the Ricoh Arena, Orient edged the game with a typical counter attack, scoring from one of their few attempts on target. The scorer that day was attacking midfielder Dean Cox as Orient showed nous and pace on the break. Pressley experimented during that game with Danny Philliskirk up front, who tried but lacked the killer instinct to be a lone striker at this level, that he was subsequently released perhaps suggests that the previous encounter has little more than a glorified friendly match in Pressley’s mind.

How Are They Doing?

Orient started their league season away to Carlisle and after a thumping 5-1 win currently sit top of the embryonic league table. Counter-typically for a Russell Slade side it seems like they are pumped up on all cylinders early in the season, carrying on last year’s encouraging finish. Although very early in the season it appears that by keeping together much of last year’s squad, Slade has managed to coax out a strong group mentality, and has only added sparingly giving the squad a rather lean look. However with such a small squad the League Cup may come as an unwanted pressure on resources so early in the campaign. Yet with so little to choose from Slade may find it difficult to even rest players so will most likely be looking to maintain momentum.

The key players for Orient are Dean Cox and Kevin Lisbie who provide most of the attacking threat for the East Londoners. Cox is a winger who has been converted into an attacking midfielder playing in the hole just behind the lone striker, his two goals in Saturday were of supreme quality and is perhaps a player capable of playing at a much higher level. Lisbie is an experienced striker who has found a new home recently at Leyton Orient with a scoring record of just under one every two games. Aside from that wingers Shaun Batt and Moses Odubajo as well as striker David Mooney are all potential match winners. Orient are a close knit team unit and the problem will most likely be finding gaps to exploit rather than defending against star individuals.

Prediction

It’s hard to judge just how either manager will approach this match with reasons for either to both rest players or try to build confidence and momentum at an early stage in the season. With Orient playing their first home game of the season and getting off to such an impressive start I anticipate that they go into the match with a significant advantage. Recent events such as rumours surrounding Leon Clarke, Murphy and Baker as well as the charity match adding further to the sense of instability at the club it could push the team on to overcome adversity. However with the game coming in a cup competition that we have little chance of winning and with the league taking on far more importance as the result of the points deduction I predict a 2-0 loss which will only take importance amongst the increasingly rabid SISU-out campaginers.

The Season In Review Part 1 – August & September

So the season that was 2012/13 is over, we’ve now got a long summer ahead of us but before we look forward I think it’s only fair that we should look back. This 4 part review is an attempt to look back at the highs and the lows to try and piece things together and figure what went right as much as what went wrong. The review will include looks back at the moments both on and off the pitch that made this season what it was.

August

Andy Thorn’s Coventry City were looking to bounce back at the first attempt. Out were Clive Platt, James McPake, Sammy Clingan (sob, sob), Martin Cranie, Freddy Eastwood, Gael Bigirimana and Richard Keogh. In were the new signings of Stephen Elliott, Kevin Kilbane, Kevin Malaga, William Edjenguele, Callum Ball, Reece Brown and the great white hope that was John Fleck. Out of the players from last season I think many fans were looking forward to Cody McDonald filling his boots at a lower level, Richard Wood was looking like our captain in waiting and players like McSheffrey, Conor Thomas and Chris Hussey seemed like players who had the opportunity to impress.

We began August though on the back of that embarrassing defeat at Wrexham which had been preceded by an equally poor defeat at Nuneaton in pre-season friendlies. For many the hope that Thorn would be able to bring back the football of his caretaker spell was looking thin. This is where the pressure started to mount on Thorn, the thought that he would be unable to instil a winning mentality required for promotion. However the Sky Blues went on to win the next 3 friendlies at Accrington, Port Vale and Bristol Rovers to install some optimism before that League Cup match at Dagenham.

Before the cup match away to Dagenham, Adam Barton was signed from Preston and Gary Deegan had been sold to Hibs. The match itself was a turgid affair and settled a late Kevin Kilbane penalty to prevent an unwanted extra-time just before the opening league game of the season. The less said about that game the better.

The match away to Yeovil was the real starter for the season, a large travelling contingent against what looked like inferior opposition. There was genuine hope that Coventry might just win more than one away game unlike last season. The week building up also saw Steve Jennings finally sign permanently after a protracted trial spell. New captain Kilbane led out a side containing co-debutants Reece Brown, John Fleck, Adam Barton, Callum Ball and youth-team striker Billy Daniels playing in midfield. Coventry took the lead through Cody McDonald but 11 minutes later we conceded from a poorly defended corner. The match finished 1-1 with Yeovil dominating play, yet Coventry were unlucky not to have a penalty in the second half to steal an undeserved win.

After a lucky draw away to Yeovil the sentiment was that the team had to raise their performance levels if they wanted to win promotion, the responsibility for that lay with Andy Thorn. The following Tuesday saw the first home game of the season against title favourites Sheffield United. A 1-1 draw was again the result but this time we were feeling unlucky ourselves not to take all three points after Kevin Malaga had an effort that arguably crossed the line.

The Bury home game felt incredibly important in defining our season under Thorn. Win and belief would grow that we were one of the better teams in this league. Fail to win and its starting to look like the typical flatter to deceive cycle of last season under Thorn. A wonderful first half performance saw the side play some of they had played at the Ricoh. A two goal lead hardly flattered Coventry with Barton and Baker both scoring good goals. The second half though was almost the polar opposite, we simply stopped attacking, once Bury pulled one back through a David Healy’s penalty there was no doubt that Bury were getting a second. Just over 10 minutes later that happened and Coventry were lucky in the end to not lose a match they had controlled in the first-half. The feeling was one of anger for most Coventry fans, it was just like last season, incapable of holding on to leads and a simple lack of fight once things turned against us.

It was with great relief then when Thorn was sacked, he tried his hardest but he wasn’t up to the job. The problem though was that the club had no time to bring in a new manager before the closing of the transfer window, it seemed strange in a way that the board had decided to get rid of Thorn after giving him the summer to build his own team.

Never mind, Richard Shaw was given the caretaker role so that Waggott and Fisher could interview applicants. He had a league cup match to prepare for now and it was the small matter of a local derby against Birmingham City. And what a performance that was from Coventry, but in particular Carl Baker who was simply brilliant, driving the team on with both skill and willpower and scoring the winner in extra time. Wonderful, one of the highlights of the season.

One more signing was made in the transfer window, the Forest flop David McGoldrick.

September

September began with the first defeat of the season, away to Crewe (we’ll hear more about them later) after the high of the Birmingham game this was an awfully flat performance. The frustration was summed up when Kevin Kilbane was involved with an ‘altercation’ with a Coventry fan.

Three days later we had our first Johnstone’s Paint Trophy match, at home to Burton. Another dreadful performance against lower league opposition, this time it went to extra-time and then penalties. Enter Joe Murphy who much to his own embarrassment had to step up for the 11th penalty and put Coventry through to the next round of this irrelevant cup competition.

Back in the league it was another defeat, at home to Stevenage despite McGoldrick’s first goal for the club. This was followed up by yet another defeat to Tranmere and the pressure was mounting for the first win of the season. More importantly though there was pressure for the club to finally make an appointment, even such footballing luminaries as Kevin Blackwell, Paul Ince and Phil Brown were looming around, we just wanted something sorted.

Without a manager though the team was limping around from one game to the next, I doubt the players even felt they could win, the confidence had clearly gone. So next up was an away trip to Shrewsbury, surely we could beat Shrewsbury this had to be it. But no it wasn’t, was it? It was the poorest performance of the season, no desire, no skill, no quality absolutely nothing was on display there from Coventry. Getting 1 in a 4-1 defeat felt like it flattered the team quite frankly. However hope was abound that we were finally to get our new manager, the first ‘proper’ one of the season.

And then he came, Mr Mark Robins, we furiously researched his history, achievements, win ratio. It seemed okay, slightly underwhelming but he said the right things and more importantly he wasn’t Phil Brown or any of the other losers who’d filled the manager’s seat this season.

Also were 3 new signings, the 2 loanees of Conor Henderson and Jamie Reckord and the permanent signing of Franck Moussa. Excitement was there for Robins’s first game in charge and it was at home to Carlisle. And the we lost it, the season was getting away from us, it was no longer a bad start but it was turning into a bad season entirely. After being relegated we were looking forward to winning some matches but that was clearly not happening yet.

Worse was that our next match was in the League Cup away to Arsenal. At least we could console ourselves another loan player, James Bailey from Derby. Nonetheless we weren’t ready for this game and it showed in a 6-1 defeat despite only being 1 down by half-time. If we needed a reminder of how far we’d sunk this was it. We had more important matters to tend to though, it was September’s final match and we were still looking for our first league win.

So we travelled to Oldham hoping that the worm would finally turn, Robins had his feet under the table, had got a few players in and now he had to deliver or we would be in serious trouble.

And we got that win. In what was one of the worst goals I have ever witnessed, somehow claimed by Cody McDonald, we had found our first 3-point haul. To put that in further perspective it was our first win in the league since Hull away in March that year. However that win only moved us into 22nd, the real work would be to get us out of this mess entirely.

On that note then is where we leave part one, to be picked up in part two where Robins begins to really turn things round.