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.

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Preview: Bristol Rovers

A Christmas changing of the guards at Coventry City has seen Mark Venus shuffle back upstairs to make way for Russell Slade. Appointing an experienced manager who tends to focus on the defence is either going to be just this inexperienced, team that can’t defend needs, or the exact opposite.

With Slade tending to prefer hard-working and committed players over the fleet-footed creative types that Tony Mowbray attempted to build this squad around, expect to see some former favourites marginalised. Ruben Lameiras in particular looks like he’ll need to impress the new manager over the next couple of games to ensure his continued stay at the club, although Jodi Jones and maybe even someone like Gael Bigirimana could find surprisingly find themselves struggling to get into the team.

Possible Line-Up

Possible Line-Up

However, the arrival of a new manager also tends to provide an opportunity for some of the fringe players in the squad to jump up the pecking order. It’s hard to tell who exactly that might be but I can see Slade giving Marcus Tudgay and Kyel Reid more regular football over the next couple of months and this could maybe be the time that the likes of George Thomas and Ryan Haynes finally establish themselves in the starting 11.

In terms of team selection for this game, there is only so much that Russell Slade can change right now. The biggest decision is probably which keeper he sees as his number one, there isn’t a great deal to pick between either Lee Burge or Reice Charles-Cook. Aside from that, he can’t really change the defence, Ben Stevenson is available again in midfield and it’s a complete guess what kind of attacking line-up he goes for.

Last Time We Met

As tends to happen every season, we come up against a team that we haven’t met in a competitive match in a few generations. Our last meeting against Bristol Rovers came in 1964 in the old Third Division (League One nowadays) at Bristol Rovers’ old Eastville Stadium. A single goal from Ken Hale decided the contest which came during the run-in for our Third Division title-winning campaign under Jimmy Hill.

How Are They Doing?

It’s been an eventful past few seasons for Bristol Rovers, especially for their manager Darrell Clarke. When he stepped into the job towards the end of the 2013/14 season, Bristol Rovers had looked to have done enough to survive in League Two for another season only for a final-day defeat to Mansfield Town and a victory for Wycombe Wanderers to send Rovers to non-league. The then-inexperienced manager Darrell Clarke was seen crying on the pitch, probably contemplating whether he was cut-out for this management business.

A slow start to their National League campaign the following season didn’t augur well for Clarke, only for his side to develop a defensive resilience to mount a long unbeaten-run that took the title race against Barnet to the final day. Although Rovers lost out on automatic promotion by one point, they triumphed on penalties in the play-offs to secure an immediate return to the Football League. The momentum from that promotion carried over into last season which saw Bristol Rovers finally come out on top in a final-day dog-fight to win promotion from League Two.

Darrell Clarke’s man management and tactical skills have been key for the past few years for Bristol Rovers as he’s developed an amazing team spirit at the club while also making them one of the toughest teams to suss out due to his tendency to make big personnel and tactical alterations from game to game. It was a formula that had seen Rovers start this season in the third-tier in form good enough to challenge the play-offs, but they have hit the buffers slightly over the past month or so, with Clarke admitting that some of the stalwarts from their National League days are probably not quite good enough for this level of football.

The biggest issue Bristol Rovers have at the moment is in goal, where former PSV and Nuneaton goalkeeper (yes, you read that right) Kelle Roos, on loan from Derby, has made some really costly errors at times this season and his replacement, Will Puddy, is even worse. Trying to put whoever Darrell Clarke opts for in goal under the slightest modicum of pressure looks like being a good approach here.

Possible Line-Up

Possible Line-Up

It’s tough to predict what shape or personnel Bristol Rovers will use, however star striker Matty Taylor is probably the only certain pick in the side. After an okay season with Rovers in the National League, Taylor caught fire in front of goal in League Two last season and is currently the division’s second top-scorer. Taylor is nippy striker with plenty of pace to his game who comes to life in the penalty area.

Chris Lines in midfield the other main crucial player, due to his set-piece delivery and leadership in the centre of the park. Chelsea loanee Charlie Colkett has caught the eye as an attacking-midfielder at times this season but has perhaps lacked consistency. While centre-back, Peter Hartley, has proved a useful source of goals from set-pieces this season.

Prediction

It’s hard to see how much difference Russell Slade could possibly make without the opportunity of the transfer window, or even that much time on the training pitch. I imagine that he’ll attempt to play for a clean sheet and hope that we nick something on the counter-attack as he looks to put the building blocks in place for the survival battle ahead. This game will be all about our defence can be trusted to keep a clean sheet, which seems doubtful.

I can see this being a 2-0 defeat and a fairly turgid performance, Merry Christmas everyone.

Preview: Millwall

A limp defeat to Fleetwood last week was the addendum to a miserable summer to be a Coventry City fan. With the hope that we can source significant improvements to the team extinguished with the closing of the summer transfer window, it’s hard not to feel like that performance last Saturday wasn’t a strong taste of what is to come for the rest of the season, or at least until the January transfer window or should Tony Mowbray leave the club.

Heading into a daunting away trip to Millwall, there’s are few tangible reasons to believe that we can get a result in what is our toughest game of the season thus far. The only real hope is that something has clicked on the training pitch now that Tony Mowbray has had time to rest players and focus on implementing a workable game-plan. However, it feels like we lack the quality at either end of the pitch to get result even if we successful tactical plan.

16-09-10-millwall-a

Possible Line-Up

In terms of the team for this game, the main selection issues are in midfield and attack, aside from Sam Ricketts being restored to the starting XI ahead of Cian Harries. While the Chris McCann-Vladimir Gadzhev central midfield partnership hasn’t convinced thus far, McCann’s likely absence from this game will surely see Mowbray go for a central three of Bigirimana, Stevenson and Gadzhev, which is likely to struggle physically despite having a numerical advantage against Millwall.

The repercussion of playing a central three is that it neuters our blunt attacking threat further. Dan Agyei and Marcus Tudgay have performed the best out of our attacking options this season but I wonder whether the threat those two pose would suit Millwall’s slow but physical defence. The return of Jodi Jones to fitness is a big boost, it’s just whether we can offer him enough support to stop him being isolated against Millwall’s big, burly defenders.

Last Time We Met

After two defeats against us last season, I would imagine that Millwall will be keen for revenge considering the manner of both games. The first game against them last season was one of those golden afternoons that are all too rare in football, those days where everything goes your way. With Lee Burge saving an early penalty and Adam Armstrong opening the scoring with a lob from 35 yards, it was clear that the afternoon was ours from very early on. A pulsating performance of attacking verve and incision from messrs Armstrong, Lameiras and Maddison eviscerated Millwall in a glorious 4-0 victory for the Sky Blues.

The tables had been turned when Millwall visited the Ricoh back in April, Neil Harris’ side were comfortably in the play-offs while we were in the midst of a tail-spin that had taken us from the top of the table to the middle of it. When Millwall scored from a corner after typically negligent set-piece defending from the Sky Blues, there looked to be only one winner. That was before Millwall’s Shaun Williams needlessly lashed out at Ruben Lameiras in an off-the-ball incident and we managed to grind a resolute Millwall side down with a display of controlled football that resulted in a 2-1 win thanks to a John Fleck stunner and Marcus Tudgay scoring when set through one-on-one.

How Are They Doing?

Millwall were last season’s losing play-off finalists and as such, have been expected by many to be one of the stronger teams in the division this season. Thus far, it looks like that expectation is justified with the Lions sitting comfortably in the play-offs, although a heavy defeat away to Peterborough a couple of weeks ago suggests that this isn’t a team without glaring weaknesses.

Last season, the goals of Lee Gregory went a long way to turning around a sluggish start to the campaign. A combination of injury and rustiness has seen Gregory muster just one goal in four appearances this season and it’s been his veteran strike partner Steve Morison who’s moved into the limelight with four goals from six appearances, making him the league’s joint second-top scorer. In terms of style, both are fairly archetypal lower league centre-forwards – very physical, very competitive and who come to life in the penalty area.

Possible Line-Up

Possible Line-Up

Millwall’s game-plan under Neil Harris is a fairly simple, but effective, 4-4-2 system based around winning physical battles over the pitch and getting crosses into the box. Ben Thompson in central midfield is a classic scrapper who loves to get stuck-in and be the pantomime villain for the opposing fans. Out wide, Harris prefers hard-working and energetic players who can get crosses in the box at every available opportunity in the form of David Worrall, Aiden O’Brien and Shane Ferguson.

While Millwall’s style of play is simple but effective, they can struggle against teams that play with pace and can get in between the lines of their formation. Their defence is made up of grizzled warriors with the giant Byron Webster and captain Tony Craig a formidable, but slow, partnership in the centre. However, with the impressive Jordan Archer in goal, it’s not as simple as beating Millwall’s defence for pace, we’re going to have to find quality with our finishing too.

Prediction

Although I think Millwall are a fallible side, I just don’t think we have the weaponry to take advantage of their weaknesses. With a physically weak defence, we need to find quality in the final third to get anything out of this game, as well as almost every other game in this division, which I don’t think we have.

Millwall are clearly the stronger side, they’re playing at home and they’re in good form – we’re the exact opposite. There isn’t much else to consider before predicting a heavy defeat for us – 4-1 to Millwall.

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Preview: Bury

Can a performance where you had chances but didn’t take them be described as good? While we certainly created more chances over the 90 minutes than Shrewsbury, our opponents may also be considering whether they put in a good performance after they had chances themselves to take all three points. I feel I’m going to write this a lot over the next few weeks, but it’s too early in the season to tell whether that performance on Saturday was good or bad, or unlucky or lucky.

The positives on Saturday were some bright individual performances, the fluidity of our front three and the sense that we’re closer to being an effective team than many had imagined. Add a decent striker to the team that played on Saturday and we probably would have won that. The negatives were the failure to score after some promising chances and the worrying lack of physical strength in this side which allowed a limited Shrewsbury side to create some glorious opportunities.

Getting a first win of the league season in this Tuesday night game against Bury will probably dictate the emotions about the Shrewsbury result. A win would ease the tension around the club, possibly giving way to the hope that we can grow into the season once the transfer window closes. A defeat, or a draw, just adds to the fear that this could be a very difficult season for us.

With the physical threat that Bury are going to offer in this game, I doubt that Tony Mowbray is going to hesitate that much over replacing Ben Stevenson with the now-available Chris McCann in central midfield. Stevenson certainly has the technical ability and attitude to become a great player at this level, but we need to ease him into first-team football carefully.

Possible Line-Up

Possible Line-Up

The only way Stevenson isn’t replaced by McCann in the side is if either Ricketts or Willis are deemed unfit for this game. With Jordan Turnbull having not been signed in time for this game, we’re asking a lot of a back three that is a combination of not 100% fit and inexperienced to make it through this game. You feel that we’re going to have to score more than one goal against a physical Bury side to come out with the win.

With a front three of Kyel Reid, Ruben Lameiras and Jodi Jones likely to start in this game, they are going to need to add cutting edge to their promising approach play. Marcus Tudgay looks to be the only fit, alternative option up front and he could be a useful focal point in attack but I’m not sure who out of Saturday’s front three should be taken out of the side in favour of him.

Last Time We Met

Our last meeting with Bury offered hope that we could move back up the gears after stalling last winter. On Legend’s Day and on the same weekend as the Jimmy Hill memorial service at the cathedral, there was a special atmosphere heading into the game despite having failed to win the previous five games.

It was a near-perfect performance from the Sky Blues with two early goals scored from set-pieces via Chris Stokes and Baily Cargill. James Maddison scored a classic James Maddison goal, drifting past a few defenders and curling the ball accurately into the corner of the net from outside the box. There was time for Leon Clarke to fluff some excellent chances before John Fleck made it four with a long-range effort. The second-half was played at near-walking pace with Adam Armstrong bagging a brace with two identikit goals on the counter-attack.

How Are They Doing?

Bury have been paying the price over the summer for failing to achieve promotion after big splurge in the transfer market last year. The spending on players such as Leon Clarke, Peter Clarke and Tom Pope was reportedly funded by high interest loans secured against the club’s ground and most of the big-earners (barring Tom Pope) have been off-loaded over the past few months.

However, the cloth cutting hasn’t been as dramatic as had been expected, with the proven League One/Championship-level performers in the form of Neil Danns, Ben Williams and Leon Barnett brought into the club to replace the quality they’ve lost. While it’s hard to say that Bury are stronger than they were last season, they certainly aren’t as weak as many thought they would be.

Possible Line-Up

Possible Line-Up

The biggest question mark against this Bury side is not the strength of the squad, but the ability of manager David Flitcroft. Flitcroft is a bit like Chris Coleman, in that his teams can be dire for months on end but occasionally flicker into life over a period of 10 or so games. Bury started last season well only for Flitcroft to fail to arrest a slump that nearly saw them involved in the relegation battle.

As mentioned earlier in this preview, Bury are a team packed with big, physically strong players. Nathan Cameron in central defence, along with a midfield of Tom Soares, Jacob Mellis, Neil Danns and Kelvin Etuhu, with Tom Pope up front will look to impose themselves on the game with physical strength over technical ability.

In comparison to Shrewsbury though, Bury have a little more dynamism and pace to their team via wingers Danny Mayor and Zeli Ismail – both of whom tend to lack in end product – and Greg Leigh at left-back, possibly at the cost of being less secure defensively. We’re going to need to score in this game, but if we can get one early, more should come.

Prediction

Having Chris McCann available to call on for this game is a massive boost given the general lack of physical presence in the side on Saturday. However, we’re still lacking an attacking and defensive physical presence which makes will make this game tougher than it might otherwise be. Bury will be looking to bully us and live off Tom Pope’s knock-downs, we’ve got to stand up to the test and make sure we put the ball into the net when we’re on top.

I’m really struggling to decide on a prediction here. I feel like it’s a game where an early goal for us could lead to an easy win but the longer it stays goalless, Bury are more likely to score. I’m going to sit on the fence and go for a 1-1 draw.

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: Swindon Town

A new season is upon us but it still feels like the squad is far from ready for the long road ahead. Just about every position could do with strengthening and thus this opening game of the season feels more like a free-hit, another pre-season friendly than it does a regular season match.

The transfer activity this summer has not been what was expected, particularly as we gave ourselves a head-start by bringing in Jodi Jones and Vladimir Gadzhev last March. When players like Aaron Martin and Romain Vincelot were allowed to move on, you would have thought that some quality replacements had been lined-up to have made those decisions. Instead, whether it’s been down to broken promises, bad luck or poor planning, we have a paper-thin squad heading into this away trip to Swindon.

To be in a position where we’re sweating on the fitness of Sam Ricketts is particularly troubling. Unless Tony Mowbray moves away from the 3-4-3 he’s used in every pre-season game and barring a new defensive signing, youngster Darragh Leahy is the alternative should Ricketts fail to recover in time. With Chris Stokes out too, these opening few games could be a big chance for Ryan Haynes, Cian Harries and Dion Kelly-Evans to impress Mowbray before, you presume, more senior defenders arrive.

Possible Line-Up

Possible Line-Up

Given the lack of numbers in defence, you might be thinking that Mowbray should change to a four-man back-line. However, we’re also short on central midfielders with Chris McCann suspended for the first three games. Mowbray could deploy the team in a 4-2-3-1 shape, but you wonder whether there’s safety in numbers with playing a 3/5 in defence given the lack of experience at the back.

The only real selection dilemma is in attack. Jodi Jones, Ruben Lameiras and Marvin Sordell are likeliest to start in those front three positions of the 3-4-3, Marcus Tudgay and George Thomas were both in the goals during pre-season however, meaning the aforementioned three are not guaranteed starters for these opening games. Not to forget Kyel Reid either, someone who’s consistently made a big impact at this level but whose arrival has been overshadowed by the panic over the lack of new signings.

Last Time We Met

Not taking all three points against Swindon last March was pretty much the end of our play-off hopes, despite there being nine games left to play afterwards. Swindon were flying high at that point but were probably there for the taking had Tony Mowbray not set us up so negatively and with such little threat on the counter. Darius Henderson missed a great chance in the dying embers of the game but it was a fair 0-0 result.

It’s always worth mentioning that we haven’t beaten Swindon in the league since 1964 and haven’t won at the County Ground since 1960. In each of our last four visits to the County Ground we’ve been in great positions late on, only to throw three points away. We drew 2-2 having been 2-0 up in 2012, lost 2-1 having been 1-0 up in 2013, drew 1-1 having been 1-0 up in 2014 and last year drew 2-2 having been 2-0 up with just five minutes left.

How Are They Doing?

Given our struggles to bring players in this summer, we couldn’t really have picked better opponents for the opening day than Swindon Town, hoodoo notwithstanding. The Robins are operating a similarly threadbare squad heading into the new season, with a couple of injury concerns further weakening their position.

Their manager, Luke Williams, is heading into his first full season as a full-time manager having been a highly-regarded coach at the club responsible for the development of players such as Ben Gladwin and Massimo Luongo. Swindon were streaky under his tutelage during the second half of last season, playing some pretty, possession-based football but struggling to find the balance between patience and defensive stability.

The loss of their top-scorer Nicky Ajose is undoubtedly a massive blow for a side that struggled to convert domination into goals last season. However, Jon Obika should be expected to step up into the goalscoring mantle at the County Ground having been an effective strike partner for Ajose last year. Obika is strong and quick, capable of linking the play or bursting beyond the shoulder of the last defender, he’ll have to be well-marshalled.

In midfield, the key man is Yaser Kasim, who conducts the midfield from a deep-lying position. Hard to ruffle, if we can break his rhythm, Swindon are going to be in for a long, hard afternoon. Watch out for summer signing John Goddard too, scorer of 17 goals in the Conference with Woking last season, he’ll play just behind Obika up front and look to make runs beyond Swindon’s focal point in attack.

Possible Line-Up

Possible Line-Up

Swindon are short on numbers in defence but should be able to call upon captain Nathan Thompson despite a recent injury scare. Thompson isn’t the biggest of defenders but competes very well by either winning soft free-kicks or leaving his boot in to remind opponents that he’s there. One of those centre-backs who’s more at home in a back three rather than a four, injuries could mean that Swindon will have to use Thompson slightly out-of-position.

There are a few others with potential to come good this season for Swindon to keep an eye out on. If Luke Williams plays four at the back, it offers the chance for James Brophy and Brandon Ormonde-Ottewill to link up down the left, two very attack-minded players who can interchange between full-back and on the wing. There’s also Conor Thomas who, given the opprobrium against him from a large section of Sky Blues fans, is destined to score in this game, if selected.

Prediction

The opening game of the season is always the toughest one to predict, pre-season rarely gives you an insight of how a team is going to do, players you think are great can end up having terrible seasons, players who you’ve written-off can suddenly decide that this is their year. Despite both teams failing to bring in too many players in the transfer market, these are two different sides from the ones that ended last season.

Although we’re playing Swindon at a great time, we’re not in great shape ourselves, especially if Sam Ricketts is out and we can’t bring anyone in in time. In spite of the curse we seemingly have at the County Ground, I’ve just got this sneaky feeling we might sneak this 1-0.

Preview: Colchester United

Although we may have played well for the first half against Peterborough, if you defend like we did and go to pieces once you go a goal down, you deserve to lose. It isn’t bad luck that we’ve not been getting results over the past few months, we’re getting what we deserve due to our own carelessness.

We’re careless when we have the ball, too few players are looking to drive forwards, create chances and take them when they fall our way. We’re careless in defence, conceding so many soft goals from set-pieces or over-playing in front of our own goal. It’s what renders however well you play irrelevant, football is won and lost in moments, you have to force those to land your way.

There has to be scrutiny on what Tony Mowbray has done with this team to take them from top of the table in November to losing sight of the play-offs in March (not forgetting that he did take us to the top in the first place). For me, it’s a combination of a series of wrong decisions when it came to freshening up the squad in January (Stephen Hunt over Jim O’Brien, what the hell was that?) and relying on a group of young players playing their first full season as a our only source of goals.

We can still make the play-offs, mathematically at least. This actually wouldn’t be a terrible position to be in had we been in any kind of form over the past few months. We’re could take points off several teams who are still in the mix which would improve our current position. But it’s going to require levels of intensity and nerve that haven’t been there for quite some time.

Following Millwall’s win over Burton yesterday, a win here would move us back to five points off the play-offs. This game against Colchester doesn’t quite feel like ‘last chance saloon’ it feels like the staff at the saloon are stacking up the chairs, staring intently into the back of our heads while we try and pretend that we haven’t noticed the very obvious signs that it’s closing time. But it would certainly improve our chances of sticking around a while longer if we did win.

Possible Line-Up

As far as the team goes, Fortuné and Henderson both picked up injuries in the Peterborough game which makes Marcus Tudgay our man in attack for the evening. Jack Stephens returns the defence, and by God we need him, which will surely mean Bigi drops out of the team after on overall poor performance against Peterborough.

Jodi Jones looked very bright against Peterborough, especially considering he couldn’t get into the Dagenham team two weeks ago, I’ve got a feeling though that Mowbray is cautious enough not to subject him to the glamour of a Tuesday night game in a quarter-full and angry Ricoh Arena. Unless he persists with Andy Rose on the wing, who at least stopped Peterborough waltzing through our midfield in the first-half, Ruben Lameiras could be handed a start before getting dropped again for Saturday.

Last Time We Met

The last time we played Colchester, we had this thing called form on our side. With Adam Armstrong out on international duty, it was hard to see where the goals were coming from. Mowbray made a surprise move in playing Jacob Murphy through the centre and, just like on Friday night, he combined with Fortuné effectively. A brace from Murphy and a rare goal from Fortuné saw the Sky Blues recover from going a goal down, although some of the credit does have to go to Colchester’s terrible defending.

How Are They Doing?

Colchester are in the last chance saloon now in their hope to mount a fourth consecutive late run to survival. After starting the season in promising fashion with the likes of Marvin Sordell and Callum Harriott banging the goals in, some simply awful defending dragged Colchester into the mire. The goals dried up over the winter as the U’s looked increasingly like relegation certainties.

That may still be the case but results have picked up over the last month to leave Colchester with a very slim hope of survival. Manager Kevin Keen arrived in December, saw an improvement in performances but couldn’t stop his side leaking goals left, right and centre. It may be all too late, but Keen is now starting to get the results his team’s performances deserve. A 4-1 win over Doncaster on Good Friday was an emphatic culmination of Colchester’s improvement under Keen.

Possible Line-Up

Possible Line-Up

Colchester’s defence may be awful but their attacking play is much more promising. Their top scorer is George Moncur who has 11 goals, all the more impressive as they have come from midfield in a relegation-threatened team. Moncur will be joined in midfield by the impressive Alex Gilbey who is a good mixture of physically strong and technically competent, there’s going to be a long list of teams queueing up to sign either of those two in the summer.

Colchester don’t have an out-and-out goalscorer who’s been particularly reliable throughout the season but West Ham loanee Elliot Lee has developed a habit of scoring some spectacular goals of late. Chris Porter will play a typical target-man role to help bring into play some of Colchester’s quick, exciting attacking players. Winger/forward Gavin Massey was excellent against Doncaster on Friday and when on form, his pace and power from a wide position can be hard to deal with.

Prediction

It’s a game between two sides with very different kinds of pressures on them. Colchester have to win this game to give them any kind of hope for survival. We have to win this game to give ourselves to give us any kind of hope for the play-offs. As ever in these end of season games, you tend to back the side fighting for survival over the one sinking into mid-table.

That being said, Colchester are awful at the back, currently on course to concede 105 goals this season. We’re the type of side who does well against accommodating opponents and if we can take an early lead in the game, scoring a second not too soon after, this could be a comfortable win for us.

My gut instinct with this game is that we’ll lose this game 2-0. I’m sick of this season already.