Preview: Morecambe

Having emphatically avoided a potentially embarrassing cup exit to Boreham Wood last week, attention turns back on the league, and finally mounting the kind of run to put ourselves into genuine promotion contention.

Like many of our wins this season, the performance against Boreham Wood was hardly a complete one, but we clicked at the right moments in order to ensure victory. Given our strength at the back, we don’t need to control games and pummel the opposition with shots, however, that lack of consistent attacking fluency has often left us struggling for ideas when our opponents are capable of nullifying our plan A.

Possible Line-Up

Mark Robins will be hoping that the line-up of the attack deployed against Boreham Wood is one that can solve the problem of what to do without Jodi Jones. Maxime Biamou as the focal point in attack played an important role in allowing Duckens Nazon and the, now in-form, Marc McNulty to get into the game, while Jordan Shipley on the left-wing looks to be further staking his claim for a regular spot in the starting XI. However, it is an attacking solution that involves playing either Nazon or McNulty on the wing, which could run into issues.

Fitness issues surrounding Liam Kelly and Rod McDonald are the main selection issues for the rest of the side. While Ben Stevenson has shown in the past couple of games that he has a role to play as a ball-playing central midfielder, Kelly’s experience and solidity could prove invaluable in this potentially bruising upcoming game against Morecambe. As far as McDonald’s concerned, Tom Davies’ recent performances have shown that we can get by without him for the odd game.

Last Time We Met

Our most recent meeting with Morecambe came in the FA Cup last season, back in the days when we were still muddling through with Mark Venus. We were probably lucky to come away from the Globe Arena with a replay, with Jamie Sterry scoring a late equaliser, but made relatively light work of Morecambe at the Ricoh Arena, despite falling behind early on, with Marvin Sordell (remember him?) scoring twice.

How Are They Doing?

Morecambe are famed at this level for starting the season strongly before falling off the rails over the course of the campaign. This season, they’ve failed to start the season in anything resembling decent form and the worry is that they’ve lost an important cushion to avoid relegation that they’ve usually been able to depend upon.

They are also a club in a dire financial situation, following a ‘takeover’ by a mysterious Brazilian businessman last summer which turned out to be too good to be true. While things looked to have settled down from the parlous state they were in last season, Morecambe’s manager, Jim Bentley, recently revealed that the club has been struggling to find a regular venue for training.

Bentley though is a manager well-accustomed to working with meagre financial resources, and has generally turned to a core of veterans to keep his side going. Target-man/winger Kevin Ellison sums up this Morecambe side, now at the age of 38, Ellison continues to produce the goods and is their leading goalscorer this season.

There is further experience in attack in the form of Garry Thompson (not the one that played for us in the 80s) while the talented but inconsistent Adam McGurk offers some spark to an otherwise functional team unit. However, Morecambe have struggled badly for goals this season – they are the division’s lowest scorers – which is another worrying sign for the club as under Jim Bentley, they have had a reputation for scoring loads and struggling to keep it tight at the back.

Possible Line-Up

However, that trend has brought the benefit that Morecambe have been better than usual in defence this season, regularly deploying a back three/five – although injuries and suspensions mean they may lack the personnel to utilise it for this fixture. Summer signings Sam Lavelle – suspended by the FA for this game for ‘deceiving a match official – and Steven Old have added defensive steel to an experienced unit with their 35 year-old goalkeeper, Barry Roche, enjoying a good season as well.

Elsewhere, former Cardiff City youngster Aaron Wildig has consistently been a class act in midfield for Morecambe over the past few years. A box-to-box midfielder with a bit of quality on the ball, he is probably one of the few players in this side who could do something at a higher level.

Prediction

I’m not particularly worried about this side this season not being able to deal with a physical tussle on a difficult away day, we have typical thrived in these kind of fixtures this season. It’s all about whether we can put away the chances we’ll inevitably get in this game, but it appears that Duckens Nazon and Marc McNulty have come into decent form over the past few weeks, so I’m confident about us in that regard too.

Put simply, I expect us to win this game. I doubt it will be a classic, but I think we’ll get the job done, by a 1-0 scoreline.

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Preview: Crawley Town

Tuesday night’s game against Stevenage feels like more of an afterthought following the news this week that Jodi Jones – directly involved in 45% of our league goals this season – has been ruled out for the season. That his exit from affairs against Stevenage coincided with the concession of a late goal to see us drop two points served as an omen of what might be to come over the coming weeks and months.

However, the season is far from over and the task for Mark Robins and the rest of the squad is to step up to the extra burden that comes from losing our best player. The two players who seem most capable of taking on Jones’ mantle are Duckens Nazon and Ryan Haynes, who are the only other players in the squad who appear capable of beating their man and carrying the ball into dangerous positions.

This may be the time now for Ryan Haynes to be pushed further forward, which would hopefully negate the temptation for Robins to shoehorn Nazon into a wide position where he’s less effective. There is also a need for the likes of Peter Vincenti, Marc McNulty and Maxime Biamou in attack to start providing a more tangible impact in the final third, while Jones’ injury should allow the likes of Jordan Shipley and Devon Kelly-Evans further opportunities to nail down a first-team place.

Possible Line-Up

There are still plenty of options for Robins, it’s just about how he can mould them into a cohesive and effective attacking unit – of which we’ve arguably lacked despite having had Jones for most of the season until now.

Elsewhere, with the extent of the injuries to Liam Kelly and Jack Grimmer not fully known either, the tight defensive unit that we’ve built up is in danger of being broken up. Should Haynes be played further forward, it leaves us with a rather prosaic back four of three centre-backs and Chris Stokes, while Jordan Shipley, Ben Stevenson, or even Callum Maycock, aren’t exactly the experienced, calming presence in midfield that Kelly provides, although possibly offer more dynamism going on the ball.

All in all, it’s going to be an interesting starting XI.

Last Time We Met

The most recent meeting between the two sides came in a dull 1-0 Checkatrade Trophy win for us at the Ricoh last December with Marvin Sordell on the scoresheet during a rare occasion he was played as a striker rather than a winger.

Crawley though might have the meeting beforehand still on their minds, when goals from Frank Nouble and James Maddison turned around a 1-0 deficit on the final day of Tony Mowbray’s first season in charge, which kept us up and sent them down in the process.

Although, they have had a heavy squad turnover since that date, which may render any grievances moot.

How Are They Doing?

Crawley made the bold decision this summer to appoint Harry Kewell as manager. It wasn’t just the Australian international’s high profile playing career versus Crawley’s stature in the game that was odd about the appointment, Kewell’s only managerial experience had been a pretty disastrous spell with Watford’s reserve side which featured two defeats by seven goals.

A poor start to the season, featuring several heavy defeats, set expectations further lower, but Crawley have improved as the season has progressed, although they have been incredibly inconsistent over the past month or so. To sum things up for Kewell thus far, his side were thrashed 4-0 by Wycombe on Saturday, before improving to beat Exeter 3-1 on Tuesday.

Crawley’s main threat is based on the pace throughout the side, with wingers Enzio Boldewijn and Jordan Roberts their chief attacking players. Boldewijn is a rare example of a fancy Dan foreign player who has thrived at this level, although fairly inconsistent, he is up there with one of the best attackers at this level when he’s on form. Jordan Roberts was reportedly lined up by Peterborough as a replacement for their star player Marcus Maddison, who had been linked with a move away over the summer, and is versatile enough to play as both a winger and auxiliary forward. Attacking full-back Cedric Evina further adds to the pace in Crawley’s ranks.

While Crawley can be a fairly flighty and flaky side at times, they do possess a level of grit in their ranks in the form of Jimmy Smith and Dannie Bulman in midfield and defender Mark Connolly. Smith is enjoying a particularly productive season having been given more attacking responsibilities by Kewell, he has four goals and three assists to his name already – although he has been out with injury recently. Dannie Bulman is a vastly experienced campaigner in central midfield, while Connolly is a determined and versatile centre-back who can also fill in at right-back.

Possible Line-Up

A potential joker in Harry Kewell’s pack is Dutch centre-forward Thomas Verheydt. Standing at over six foot three and weighing in at around 14 and a half stone, Verheydt has the attributes to be a real nightmare for our defence to contain, although he has struggled to get into Crawley’s starting XI on a consistent basis.

They also have former Leyton Orient star Dean Cox in their ranks, although he has confusingly been frozen out of the mix over the past couple of months – something that’s happened rather too often for him over the past few seasons.

Prediction

It’s worth noting heading into this game that Crawley’s away form – although hardly the most impressive in the division – has been where they’ve been stronger this season. If they can stick to a game-plan, they have the pace on the counter to really put our often ponderous style of football to the sword.

While we need collective improvements to overcome the loss of Jodi Jones, someone coming out in this game and accepting the responsibility to be our main man could be a real shot in the arm given the anxiety losing Jones will inevitably cause. Starting this game with intent and getting on the scoresheet could go a long way here.

Given what I’ve seen from this team this season, even with Jones in the side, I can see this being a 0-0 draw.

Preview: Stevenage

A win over Lincoln on Saturday came at a welcome time with our promotion bid in danger of going off the rails. It continues a habit we seem to have this season of picking up wins just before a crisis of confidence sets in, but it would be nice now if we can take the cue to put together a more concerted run of form and establish ourselves as one of the serious automatic promotion contenders.

As has continued to be our problem this season, resolving our creative issues is going to go a long way towards us putting together a run of wins. Even in victory against Lincoln on Saturday, we peppered the opposition goal with a large number of shots, but only a handful were of sufficient quality to test the keeper – fortunately, Jodi Jones scored from a ridiculous angle and Duckens Nazon was in the right place to turn a rebound home.

Nazon being out for this upcoming trip to Stevenage, it limits the attacking potential of the side. Most of our strikers are hard-working players prepared to put a shift in for the side, however, they are predictable players who are fairly easy to contain on most days, Nazon is almost the exact opposite of that. Nazon being out inevitably puts more pressure on Jodi Jones to be our creative lynchpin, although this might be a chance for Ryan Haynes to step up and make an impact in the final third.

Possible Line-Up

As for our striking options, Nazon’s suspension seems like good news for Marc McNulty, who is getting closer to the point where we can expect automatic opportunities to play himself into goalscoring form. McNulty’s work-rate is commendable, however, he rarely gets into positions where he can score from and when he does, you can sense the pressure to be the team’s main goalscorer causing him to second-guess himself.

Unless Jack Grimmer returns to fitness, the starting XI is likely to be similar to the one that started against Lincoln. Jordan Willis being at right-back reduces our options in attack further, but it does allow us to have the physical presence of Tom Davies in defence, making us less prone to long balls forward from the opposition.

Last Time We Met

Overall, we have a strong record against Stevenage in the two previous seasons where we’ve been in the same division as them. Memorably, we came from behind in a game on Boxing Day in 2012, with David McGoldrick scoring an absurd 35-yard chip to seal the win. More recently, a Danny Seaborne goal at Sixfields secured an important win for Steven Pressley’s Sky Blues who had been nosediving down the division at the time.

But let’s watch that McGoldrick beauty again!

How Are They Doing?

It’s been an inconsistent season for Stevenage, all the more so as they had been considered strong candidates for the play-offs after an impressive previous campaign that had them on the fringes of the automatic promotion spots in March before an end-of-season collapse. Under Darren Sarll, Stevenage look to play quick, attacking football and can be devastating on their day, but have been slightly too open at times.

Unsurprisingly then, Stevenage’s forward players are the ones we’ll need to be wary of. Matt Godden scored 20 goals last season, and has been complemented this time out by Danny Newton, who has seven goals to his name already. A penalty area striker, Godden had been overshadowed in the opening weeks of the season by the pacier Newton, but has been improving over the past couple of months.

Possible Line-Up

Northern Irish playmaker Ben Kennedy will be out of this game with an injury, but the  presence of Tom Pett out wide still provides Stevenage with creativity. Transfer-listed over the summer after failing to agree a new contract, Pett was a key part of Stevenage’s excellent run towards the end of last season and has three goals an two assists this time out. Harry Beautyman is another creative player for Stevenage who can make the difference on his day.

In defence, Stevenage boast experienced campaigners in the form of Jack King, Luke Wilkinson and Ronnie Henry. King and Henry are over 30 and made their careers by working their way up from non-league, so they’ll be more than prepared for a physical battle, although they do leave Stevenage a little short of pace at the back.

Prediction

With Duckens Nazon out, I’m pessimistic about our ability to create and take chances for this game. Stevenage are a dangerous side to play when they’re on form, but I’m hopeful that the experience and physicality we have in our side can take the potential sting out of this game somewhat.

I can see this being a 0-0 draw, which would be a decent result to take off the back of the win over Lincoln and the Crawley game on Saturday.

Preview: Lincoln City

How can a team be in a position we they simultaneously have won one in their previous six, but also three in their previous four?

It’s probably the most interesting thing to say about the previous couple of months at Coventry City. Whereas in previous season when we’ve been around the play-off places, it’s been hard to contain the excitement, this season has felt more akin to a dull mid-table season than a promotion season.

Ultimately, the ends will justify the means. If Mark Robins can become the first Coventry City manager since Jimmy Hill to achieve promotion, then it won’t matter how dull the football has been. The concern right now is whether the means are the correct ones in a division where most teams are seeking to avoid defeat against us.

While it would be harsh on Mansfield to describe their performance last Saturday as defensive, they were another organised side that we struggled to break down before quickly running out of ideas. If Jodi Jones isn’t at his best, this team struggles to create chances, even if he is, there are too few players committed to getting on the end of his good work. Very few promotions are won off the back of having one good winger in your side.

Possible Line-Up

Mark Robins has to consider whether he has got the balance right in this side between attack and defence. However, this upcoming game is one of the trickiest away trips of the season, which probably behoves Robins to set the team up in our typical cautious manner. Oddly, the increased difficulty of this fixture arguably gives us a better chance of result.

The only question with the team selection for this trip to Lincoln is whether Mark Robins tweaks things again up front or persists with what worked against Luton and Maidenhead. Jordan Ponticelli and Marc McNulty had their moments against Mansfield, but it felt like we were missing a presence up front of whom we could build our attacking play around, whether the alternative options solve that conundrum is another question.

Last Time We Met

As with a lot of our league games this season, this is the first competitive meeting between us and our opponents in quite a while. The aforementioned last Coventry City manager to win promotion – Jimmy Hill – was in charge as the Sky Blues comfortably navigated past Lincoln City in the FA Cup Third Round in 1963 via a 5-1 scoreline. Hugh Barr, Terry Bly, Ron Farmer, Jimmy Whitehouse and an own goal were on the scoresheet.

How Are They Doing?

Lincoln are a club re-energised over the past 18 months, dating back to the appointment of Danny Cowley – and his brother Nicky – as manager prior to the start of last season. The Imps had settled into being a fairly unremarkable mid-table National League side before the former PE teacher Danny Cowley instantly galvanised the place, storming their way back into the Football League and embarking on a memorable FA Cup run that took them into the Sixth Round.

The club are still riding the crest of that wave, boasting the largest attendances in the division and finding themselves on the fringes of the play-offs. However, a failure to convert chances has held them back at times this season but they are a team that could find themselves challenging for automatic promotion if they can get a run together.

The Cowley have also been trying to make Lincoln a more attractive side to watch this season, which may also have played a part in the somewhat underwhelming opening few months of the campaign. Target man centre-forward Matt Rhead – standing at around six foot three and weighing in around 16 stone – was a key player last year but has been relegated to more of a reserve role, with the more mobile Matt Green preferred, playing ahead of the number 10 Billy Knott.

Possible Line-Up

Lincoln’s pace from wide positions is a key element of their threat, with Josh Ginnelly – who is from Coventry – and Harry Anderson among their better performers this season. In particular, Anderson is one to stop, a skilful wide man with a level of directness to his game, he is currently Lincoln’s top goalscorer this season.

Towards the back of the side, Lincoln are assertive and energetic, with the tireless Alex Woodyard and Michael Bostwick sitting in front of the defence both arguably being of at least League One quality. The dominant Sean Raggett in central defence impressed so much last season that he earned a move to Norwich, before being loaned back to the Imps on a half-season deal (Norwich have form for that).

Prediction

If we are going to continue to struggle at home as we have done over the past month or so, putting together a more imperious run of results away from home is imperative. While it seems that this team is more suited to playing away, we’ve won just three of our eight games on the road this season, which is okay, but not enough to rely upon during what we hope is a promotion campaign.

As mentioned earlier, Lincoln being one of our toughest away trips of the season arguably makes this a more beneficial game for us right now. However, we saw against Mansfield that this defence struggles against teams that have both physicality and pace in attack, which could make for another difficult afternoon – especially if our attack remains blunt.

I’m not optimistic for this game, I can see us losing 2-0.

Preview: Mansfield Town

That’s three wins in a row now after victories in the FA Cup and Checkatrade Trophy over the past week, although it doesn’t quite feel that way. The Maidenhead game was about simply avoiding an upset, while Tuesday’s Checkatrade Trophy clash with West Brom’s under-21s was essentially a glorified reserve match.

Nonetheless, we’ve gone from being on the verge of a month without either a win or a goal to three wins in a row and seven goals in three games. This season though won’t be judged on how we do in the FA Cup or whether we got knocked out of the Checkatrade Trophy in the group phase, it’s about promotion but hopefully this gives us a sense of momentum heading into a tricky fixture against Mansfield Town – one of the pre-season promotion favourites.

Possible Line-Up

Probably the biggest thing to come out of the past week was Jordan Ponticelli’s goals against Maidenhead. His inclusion against Luton seemed almost a last throw of the dice by Mark Robins to find a goalscorer, and yet his two finishes against Maidenhead justified that gamble, demonstrating both excellent technique and movement. It’s way too early to be expecting him now to shoulder the burden of being our main goalscorer, but Ponticelli has shown that he can at least be another weapon in our arsenal.

Liam Kelly’s fitness permitting, it’s hard to see the line-up for this Mansfield game being all too different from the Luton game. While Jordan Shipley and Tom Davies impressed in the FA Cup, they unfortunately occupy the positions of some of our most reliable performers this season in Liam Kelly and Jordan Willis. With Ryan Haynes and Jack Grimmer looking threatening from full-back in recent games, our attacking threat has diversified from just giving the ball to Jodi Jones.

Last Time We Met

You have to go back a long way to find our last competitive meeting with Mansfield Town, with the most recent clash between us and them coming in the League Cup in 1975. Gordon Milne’s Sky Blues were the victims of a cup upset against then-Division Three (League One in today’s money) Mansfield Town at Field Mill.

The last league meeting between the two sides came in the 1963-64 season, this season is only the fourth season that we’ve been in the same division as Mansfield Town.

How Are They Doing?

Mansfield were, justifiably, one of the heavy favourites for promotion heading into this season. Having ended last year fairly strongly, manager and serial promotion-winner Steve Evans made some big early moves in the summer transfer window to further strengthen his squad. Only Luton looked to be on a par with Mansfield heading into this campaign.

However, Mansfield have struggled to get going this season, despite occasionally showing signs that they can be a force to be reckoned with at this level. Evans’ overhaul of the squad over the summer arguably brought in quantity over quality, in particular, failing to add the proven goalscorer to the ranks that Evans clearly sought after.

While Mansfield have a lot of physical and powerful players at the back in the form of Zander Diamond, David Mirfin, Rhys Bennett and Krystian Pearce, keeping goals out has been a particular problem for the Stags this season. Evans has tended to chop and change his back-line on a fairly consistent basis, which hasn’t helped matters – for example playing winger Paul Anderson at right-back.

There also has seemingly not been adequate protection from midfield, with Mansfield looking the same level of physical presence in the centre of the pitch as they do at the back. With the more creative Jacob Mellis suspended for this game, Mansfield are likely to operate with two box-to-box midfielders in the centre of the park, Calum Butcher – who scored for Burton in a win over us a few seasons ago – and Joel Byrom – who has been a key creator of chances for Mansfield since signing in January.

Possible Line-Up

The pace and industry of winger Alex MacDonald will have to be contained, while there are further pacey wide options in the form of CJ Hamilton and ex-Solihull Moors star Omari Sterling-James. While summer signings Kane Hemmings and Lee Angol haven’t clicked yet up front for Mansfield, the former was absolutely lethal during spells in Scotland and the latter was Peterborough’s top-scorer in League One only two seasons ago, so shouldn’t be written-off.

Mansfield’s most reliable forward this season though has undoubtedly been Danny Rose. A hard-working striker and surprisingly good in the air for his size, Rose has eight league goals in 14 games this season. Interestingly, he was linked this week with a move to either us or Notts County, which seems unlikely to happen given the investment Mansfield have made in attaining promotion this season.

Prediction

Despite an underwhelming start to the season, Mansfield cannot be treated lightly and are a side that should finish in at least the top seven this season once they get going. They are a physically powerful side and with Steve Evans in charge, they will undoubtedly be incredibly tough and frustrating to break down should they take the lead in this game. Additionally, they are one of the few teams at this level who have the firepower to really put us to the sword if they can hit their stride.

While I think the character of our squad means we’ll be up for the battle of this game, my main concern is whether a front two of Marc McNulty and Jordan Ponticelli will be able to get into the game against the physicality of Mansfield’s back-line. If we don’t get the first goal, this could be an immensely frustrating afternoon for us.

I predict that this will be a 0-0 draw.

Preview: Luton Town

After another blank last weekend against Colchester, we head into possibly our toughest game of the season on the verge of going a whole month without scoring a goal in the league. It’s been a month that started with us being a win away from going top of the division, it could end with us comfortably outside the play-offs.

The performance against Colchester was arguably worse than the one in defeat to Forest Green. At least against Forest Green we’d had chances to miss, the closest thing we had to chances against Colchester were scuffed headers and hopeful long-rangers. While we could reconcile previous failures to score via the number of chances we were having, last Saturday was an indication Mark Robins is struggling to find a solution to our issues in front of goal.

It feels as if Mark Robins is still trying to figure out that missing element between us being an effective, solid team and an obdurate one. We don’t really look to punish teams on the counter-attack, nor do we look to exploit set-pieces in a serious way. At the moment, it’s a case of giving the ball to Jones or the Duck and seeing what they can do with it. There needs to be more of a coherent plan to score goals.

Possible Line-Up

Fortunately for Robins, Jones’ injury against Colchester isn’t as serious as first feared. Even a month without Jones could be terminal for our season – especially given the chance that he could leave in January – so his quick return to fitness buys Robins time to figure things out.

Given the likelihood that we’ll be defending for extended periods in this game, it could be an idea to play Ryan Haynes as a winger rather than a full-back and bring the sturdier Stokes in at left-back. While there is a difference between the qualities required to make a good attacking full-back and a good winger, Haynes ability to beat players for skill and travel in multiple directions make him more of a natural fit for a more attacking berth than the typical full-back.

Last Time We Met

When we last played Luton Town, we were both in the Championship and 18,781 showed up back in January 2007 to see Leon McKenzie fire a Sky Blues side to victory over Luton during the interregnum between Micky Adams and Iain Dowie. Luton’s side was notable on that day for containing two future Sky Blues heroes – Kevin Foley and David Bell.

How Are They Doing?

Since relegation from the Championship in 06/07, Luton have been relegated to the National League and have returned as a resurgent force, looking more than ready to make the step up to League One. In Nathan Jones, they have one of the more impressive young managers in the Football League and they recently spent the summer snapping up most of the star players in League Two to make an already strong squad even stronger.

Their two most notable summer signings were Luke Berry – scorer of 17 goals for Cambridge last season from midfield – and James Collins – scorer of 20 goals for Crawley last season and possessor of a passion for scoring against Coventry City. While it’s been a bit of struggle for Nathan Jones to integrate two further attacking weapons into an already impressive squad, they have really hit their straps over the past month or so. Luke Berry scored a hat-trick in a recent 7-1 thrashing of Stevenage, while James Collins has been directly involved in more goals this season than any other League Two player.

They were two players Luton arguably didn’t even need, having already had one of the best strikers in this division in Danny Hylton, the enigmatic Pelly Ruddock in midfield, signing winger Harry Cornick and midfield engines Andrew Shinnie and Alan McCormack over the summer as well. Hylton in particular is a player we’ll have to play close attention to, not only is he one of the hardest-working strikers at this level, but he has a penchant for winding opposing players and fans up with his antics, and he’s also an excellent goalscorer as well.

Possible Line-Up

Luton manager Nathan Jones likes to get his teams playing open and attacking football, in his preferred midfield diamond formation. Their allows them to incorporate a lot of attacking players into their line-up, although they are yet to shake off a bad habit for occasionally going missing for the odd game. If we can keep a compact shape and force a few errors in their attempts to play out from the back, we could make this a difficult game for them.

However, if we do have the perfect game, we’ll also have to get past Marek Stech in Luton’s goal. Stech was the goalkeeper for Yeovil Town when they made it to the Championship a few years ago and is simply far too good for League Two. The mountainous centre-back Scott Cuthbert will also be a tricky customer for us to get past.

Prediction

This is probably the first (and hopefully only) game of the season where most will view us as the underdogs. Luton are a truly fearsome prospect at the moment and are, by some distance, the best attacking unit that we’ll face at this level. They do have weaknesses to exploit, but this could be the game where our impression of us being a solid defensive side starts to erode.

We’re in desperate need of a positive result, and this game comes at more or less the worst time possible in order to achieve it. The very least I hope for is a goal, but I can see this been a 2-0 defeat.

Preview: Colchester United

There seems fine margins at times between a good performance and a terrible one. On the opening day, we could barely string three passes together for long periods of the game but were apparently set to walk the league. While it’s a stretch to say we played well on Tuesday, there was a pretty determined reaction to falling behind which, on another day, might have precipitated a stirring comeback.

There is no defending the opening 20 minutes of the performance against Tuesday night, easy passes were going astray, poor decisions were made in attack, and then Lee Burge crystallised it all by dropping the ball into his own net. Against a team struggling for confidence and leaking goals, we should never had found ourselves in the situation we did, but we really should have scored at least one of the several opportunities we laboured to create.

We’re getting to that stage of the season though (and especially after the two scoreless games beforehand) where creating good chances and not taking them is less encouraging. A month or so ago, you could perhaps relax in the hope that there will be games to come when the ball hits the back of the net rather than the post or keeper’s hands, there isn’t that patience now that games are starting to matter that little bit more.

Possible Line-Up

For this upcoming game against Colchester, Mark Robins faces the decision of sticking with what threatened to be a dangerous front four of Maxime Biamou, Jodi Jones, Duckens Nazon and Marc McNulty or twist on a Peter Vincenti or Jordan Ponticelli and hope that something clicks. Personally, I saw enough on Tuesday to give the same front four another go in the hope that more match experience together will lead to more fluency, but there is a desperation for an immediate solution to our goal-scoring woes that could lead to Robins changing things up yet again.

There isn’t really much cause for making other changes without risking further disruption to the dynamic of the side. Lee Burge’s error – at a time when he was starting to gain some trust – could lead to calls for his dropping, but it would be in favour of another goalkeeper who we we’ve seen is prone to sloppy errors too. As I’ve argued before, dropping a goalkeeper after just one error will do more harm than good.

Last Time We Met

Our last meeting against Colchester was another frustrating midweek game at the Ricoh Arena. Colchester, who at the time were all but condemned to relegation to League Two, were up against an out-of-form Tony Mowbray Coventry City but one that still had a shot at making the play-offs. An early goal for Colchester winger Gavin Massey set the tone for a laboured performance for the Sky Blues, with Jacob Murphy missing a penalty and Jodi Jones the only real bright spot from the performance.

How Are They Doing?

I had high hopes for Colchester heading into this season. They had narrowly missed out on the play-offs last year, mainly due to a nightmare run of injuries over the course of the campaign, and had a young and improving squad. However, following the loss of experienced centre-forward Chris Porter to Crewe over the summer, Colchester lost that momentum from last season and have been incredibly inconsistent thus far.

Manager John McGreal has probably displayed some of his inexperience as a manager – with last year his first managerial campaign – with formations and line-ups fairly inconsistent thus far, as well as splurging out on a series of loan signings on the final day of the transfer window that appear to have disrupted the side more than they’ve added quality.

Nonetheless, Colchester have some exciting young players in their squad and could be well-set to cause us some serious problems in this game. In particular, they have pace and quality on the break in the form of wingers Drey Wright and Sammie Szmodics. Wright is a direct and skilful winger who has been a reliable attacking threat this season and could well earn a move to a higher level over the next 12 months. Szmodics also has that potential, although he operates more centrally and has more goals in his game. Both though are doubts for this game through injury.

Striker Mikael Mandron has been key for Colchester this season as Chris Porter’s replacement. Mandron’s greater level of mobility as a target-man in theory makes him a more talented player than Porter, but as a much less-experienced player and being less of a goalscorer, Colchester have still felt the impact of Mandron’s loss.

Possible Line-Up

In midfield, Colchester have a level of quality and control that few other League Two sides have. The diminutive Tom Lapslie can really dictate games from deep in midfield, with ex-Watford prospect Sean Murray playing more of a box-to-box role. Murray in particular has been in good form this season, while Colchester also have Craig Slater – who had a superb last season – and the experienced Doug Loft to call upon.

In defence, Colchester are relatively inexperienced with academy products Frankie Kent and Kane Vincent-Young fairly key players. Ryan Jackson at right-back has more experience and was recently a key player for Gillingham when they were challenging for promotion from League One. Jackson is not only incredibly quick (like, really quick) but also possesses a powerful long throw which we’ll have to contain.

Prediction

A fast start to this game could well be imperative in easing some of the tension that has descended at the Ricoh Arena at this moment in time. Rightly or wrongly, the crowd were very quick to turn on the players on Tuesday night, and anything less than a win here (no matter what level of performance) will only serve to make the pressure more suffocating for future games.

Colchester’s pace on the counter scares me, particularly as we’ve shown at times this season that we labour when allowed time on the ball against a team sitting back against us. I’m desperate for us to win this game just to allow the atmosphere around the club to calm down, however, I think this may be a frustrating 1-1 draw.