Preview: Grimsby Town

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

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

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

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

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

Last Time We Met

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

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

How Are They Doing?

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

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

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

Possible Line-Up

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

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

Prediction

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

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

Preview: 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.

Preview: Rochdale

An utterly predictable defeat in a lifeless midweek performance has really put the pressure on the team. Tony Mowbray made his excuses for our poor post-Gillingham form before the Bury game and seemed to be justified with a big win with his strongest 11, two defeats in the games undermines his argument that our form since November has been down simply to bad luck.

Two goals conceded from set-pieces and relatively little threat posed to the opposition goal demonstrated just how far we’ve fallen from our groove. If there is one thing that has got us into this parlous state, it has been a series of bizarre decisions regarding personnel from the manager. The freezing out of Jim O’Brien and the picking of Stephen Hunt over Ruben Lameiras are the ones that stand-out most. January was an opportunity to strengthen the squad and signings were made but there are somehow fewer options to change things away from our nominal strongest 11.

After every limp performance the manager and players have come out and said how it wasn’t good enough, how hurt they are, how they want to put it right. The message has lost its meaning now, we can’t sustain these reactions beyond one-off games which is likely down to the inexperience of the squad, when we’re high, we’re high, when we’re low, we’re low.

Yet, we are still in the play-offs and it would be stupid for anyone not to believe we can’t stay here for the rest of the season. It doesn’t matter in what shape we enter those play-offs in, if we get in, we get in and have a 1 in 4 chance of promotion.  If we write off the season now, when we still actually can get into the play-offs, it’s going to be a long summer to think about what could have been. It’s not being unreasonably positive to suggest that a time in sixth bloody place at the start of March has a chance of making the play-offs.

Possible Line-Up

Possible Line-Up

As for this Rochdale game, I would imagine we would be pretty much picking the same starting 11 as we did against Fleetwood. We saw on Tuesday night just how little there is other than those 11 players at the moment, so it’s a case of hoping they’ll play with the intensity (and luck) that we had against Bury.

Sam Ricketts’ form is a huge concern at the moment, something which I hope Mowbray is aware of. Much like our previous experienced defender, Andy Webster, I think we’ve reached the point where his leadership on the pitch has been undermined by a loss of pace. If Ricketts’ spot in the team is up for consideration, then it’s between Aaron Martin, with Jack Stephens moving to right-back, or the more like-for-like Martin Lorentzson. Does Mowbray have the nerve to drop his captain though?

Last Time We Met

This is our third meeting with Rochdale this season, having played out two Tuesday night draws in the League and League Cup. Though both those meetings were almost entirely forgettable, they did show Rochdale to be the type of well-drilled, hard-working side who can unsettle our rhythm. After advancing on penalties in the League Cup in August, they had slightly the better of our the previous league encounter but found Reice Charles-Cook in good form in our goal.

How Are They Doing?

Rochdale fans might be feeling that they could be doing a little better this season, currently sitting in 15th place. On their day, Rochdale are a handful for the best sides in the division, typified by a recent 3-0 win away at Walsall where they restricted the hosts to 0 shots on target with a high intensity pressing game. Losing 2-0 to Shrewsbury on Tuesday night also demonstrated just how inconsistent Dale have been this season.

Rochdale’s squad is stronger than it was last season, even though they lost the key central midfielder Stephen Dawson on a free transfer in the summer. Having overachieved last season though on limited resources, there is perhaps the feeling that the verve has been lost slightly. Players who played out of their skins last season have been less effective, opponents a little more wary to their effects.

As always with this most recent iteration of Rochdale, forwards Peter Vincenti and Ian Henderson will be key. Vincenti is a big, niggly goal-scoring midfielder who is often deployed on the wing and is used for his height to pin back the opposing full-back. Henderson offers more creativity but can also be effective when Rochdale go more direct, he leads the club’s goal-scoring charts with 11 goals.

Possible Line-Up

Possible Line-Up

The brute physicality of Calvin Andrew has to be looked out for too, although he could be deployed from the bench after the recent signing of another brute of a centre-forward in Grant Holt. Joe Bunney is a striker in form, the kind of no-name player that tends to succeed under Keith Hill’s manager, he has scored five goals in his last six appearances.

The more subtle threat in the team comes from the small, technical midfielders Jamie Allen and Callum Camps. The two of them on their day supply the kind of metronomic passing that can dominate a midfield. They can be disrupted if put under pressure, but then that allows Rochdale to go more direct, which they can find success with.

Prediction

A win here, and another one on Tuesday night, could really change the mood around the club. From believing one week that we could still mount a bid for automatic promotion, to right now where we’re hoping for a performance out of nowhere that could help us hold onto sixth spot. The nerve of the players is going to be tested more than anything against a hard-working Rochdale side who could run riot if we’re not at it. Anything less than a big start in this game will leave the team fighting uphill against a good side and a furious crowd. There are no excuses for another low intensity performance.

Can we actually do it? We saw against Bury that this side does have the wherewithal to play up when they really need to but then we were also dire on Tuesday night when a better quality performance was already required. Sitting between the two extremes, I’m going to predict an annoying 1-1 draw.

Preview: Rochdale

A frustrating Saturday afternoon against Blackpool following all that excitement after the signing of Joe Cole the night before. Lethargy, a lack of ideas and naivety cost us an excellent opportunity to move into second place and be able to claim first place with a win in our game in hand. If fatigue was an issue in our last outing, it will only get tougher with two difficult looking away trips this week to test our mettle. By 5 on Saturday afternoon, we’ll have a much clearer idea of our promotion prospects.

It’s easy to criticise Blackpool’s supposed ‘anti-football’ tactics, but considering our stature, our form this season and the division we’re in, we need a better way of overcoming this type of football rather than complaining about the opposition’s time-wasting. Our decision-making in the final third continues to frustrate and the difference between this game and the recent Chesterfield and Shrewsbury ones was that we didn’t find that one moment of inspiration to break the deadlock.

As much as it was on off day for our young forward players, Blackpool were very street smart in the way they defended the middle of the pitch aggressively which forced the play out wide where we ran into blind alleys. The wide men Jacob Murphy and Ryan Kent were guilty of choosing to beat the extra man rather than pick out a team-mate, which demonstrated their inexperience. It was the kind of attacking display which highlighted why there is an actual need to bring in Joe Cole who can offer more of a presence of mind in that final third.

The focus of this trip to Rochdale has understandably been on the potential debut for Joe Cole. Despite some concerns over his fitness levels, it appears that he is in pretty good shape and may even slot straight into the starting line-up. Cole has also made it clear that he is enthusiastic about the prospect of playing first-team football having been out-of-favour at the Villa, a Tuesday night visit to Rochdale will be a test of that enthusiasm.

Possible Line-Up

Possible Line-Up

The main team selection issues though revolve around how to manage the absences of John Fleck and Reda Johnson. With so few defenders currently available, Tony Mowbray is almost forced to call Aaron Phillips back into the team with Sam Ricketts slotting in alongside Aaron Martin who impressed on Saturday but will have to demonstrate he can put in a more physical showing in Reda’s absence. Bryn Morris seems likeliest to step in for John Fleck, Morris is a neat ball-player but has to show that he has a bigger range of passing and how to use it if he truly wants to challenge Fleck for his starting role.

Tony Mowbray may also experiment with the line-up of his attacking midfielders again after Saturday’s performance. Marc-Antoine Fortuné, Adam Armstrong and Ryan Kent all looked to be fairly fatigued as the game wore on. We could see Jim O’Brien and Marcus Tudgay introduced for their work-rate given that this is a tough-looking Tuesday night game. Given that neither of those two have particularly impressed of late, there is the obvious temptation too to hand Joe Cole his first start right from the off tonight.

Last Time We Met

This game will be a first opportunity to check our progress this season, being as it as the second time we have faced Rochdale this campaign. Back in August we travelled to Spotland in the League Cup and coped admirably against a strong Rochdale side after going a goal down with Marcus Tudgay tapping home from a George Thomas assist to take the game to penalties. Ruben Lameiras missed his spot-kick to hand Rochdale the win but that was after the game ended with Marcus Tudgay seeing a late winner controversially ruled out for offside, seemingly as a result of the confusion over the new interpretation of the offside rules.

How Are They Doing?

Rochdale have always been quietly impressive since winning promotion back to this level under Keith Hill two season ago. The right blend of pragmatic and ambitious in their style of play, they continue to massively over-perform considering their resources and are a tough team to beat, especially at Spotland.

Just three points off the play-offs, Rochdale know that a win tonight could inject some momentum into their league campaign which has started and stalled this season. It’s probably been down to Rochdale’s tight budget more than anything, just lacking that bit of added quality at either end of the pitch that could make a big difference.

The key men for Rochdale are forwards Ian Henderson and Peter Vincenti. Vincenti has been in fine form this season, leading Rochdale’s scoring charts and recently winning League One player of the month. He’s a tall and physically strong attacking midfielder who is a nuisance to deal with for defenders. Henderson is returning to the team after a recent injury but is a real talisman too with his inventive forward play.

Possible Line-Up

Possible Line-Up

There is Donal McDermott to potentially look out for too, the ex-Man City winger is starting to rebuild a once-promising career having fallen out of the professional game over the past few season. The winger scored a memorable dipping effort in our League Cup tie, earning him the accolade of being the only player to beat Reice Charles-Cook this season.

Others to watch out for include Jamie Allen, a metronomic young midfielder, Nathaniel Mendez-Laing, a fast and strong winger who has struggled at times to fulfil his potential, and there is also big Calvin Andrew to deal with. Andrew is famously one of the least prolific strikers in the Football League but he is a big, nasty target-man who constantly put Sam Ricketts under big pressure when we last met.

Prediction

As mentioned at the top of this article, these next two games are going to be a tough examination of our promotion credentials both as individual challenges and in coming in as quick a succession as they are. We have won just once in four midweek games this season, although we are also technically unbeaten. If we can scrape through with a couple of decent performances this week whilst managing the fitness of the squad, there is a good chance we’ll end it in the top two. There’s your motivation for turning it on on a cold Tuesday night.

We seem to struggle to settle into a rhythm for away games at the moment and missing Reda Johnson and John Fleck just make it that little bit more difficult to do so. With Rochdale providing a stern physical threat through Calvin Andrew and Peter Vincenti, I can see us losing this game 2-1.

Preview: Rochdale

The opening day of the season is rarely a reflection of what eventually transpires at the end of it. How many more games this season are going to be played on a perfect pitch, in the sun and with almost little pressure on the team to get the result? An away trip on a Tuesday night to Rochdale, albeit in competition few care how well we do in, may be a better indication of what we should expect from this team over the course of the rest of the season.

Just about every player on the pitch on Saturday put in an excellent shift, executing Tony Mowbray’s game plan expertly. Adam Armstrong’s pace, incisive running and self-confidence in front of goal gave the team a purpose in the final third that they rallied around with Maddison, Lameiras and O’Brien all looking to slip him through at the earliest opportunity. The decision to play Armstrong on the right paid dividends as he attacked the space in the channel between left-sided centre-back and left wing-back that Wigan left. Tony Mowbray set the team up perfectly to beat Wigan, the challenge now is to alter that approach for more street-wide opposition in Rochdale.

RochdaleawayLCCovArmstrong through will be ineligible for this ties, which rather worryingly suggests that his parent club may have their finger hovering above the ‘recall’ button. The alternative options in Marcus Tudgay and George Thomas suggest that a change in formation is all but assured with Tudgay likely to lead the attack with Thomas tucked in somewhere behind him. Jordan Willis is out injured too which means Aaron Phillips has an early season opportunity to finally nail down that right-back spot.

Tony Mowbray has alluded to the fact that he will experiment with his team for this fixture. Reice Charles-Cook is reportedly set to start his first competitive game for the club which should help push Burge to show that there is competition for the goalkeeper’s jersey. With Reda Johnson’s fitness always doubtful, it seems unlikely that he will be risked for what could be seen as a glorified pre-season friendly. That leaves Aaron Martin to fill in at centre-back alongside captain Sam Ricketts who put in a gloriously composed and assured performance on his league debut for the club. Loanee Bryn Morris too is seemingly set for a full debut having looked solid coming off the bench against Wigan.

Last Time We Met

Perhaps there is parallel universe that exists where Coventry City won their last encounter with Rochdale back in January. Steven Pressley’s had added Dominic Samuel and Sanmi Odelusi to the squad prior to that meeting at the Ricoh Arena and both provided a much-needed injection of pace and urgency in the final third. Dominic Samuel opened the scoring after confidently tucking away a rebounded Jim O’Brien effort, Rochdale equalised. Sanmi Odelusi curled a beautiful effort into the top corner from the edge of the area, Rochdale equalised. Had we been able to hold onto either lead, maybe it would have boosted the confidence of the team enough to get them through a difficult set of fixtures afterwards and maybe it would have saved Steven Pressley his job.

The other salient point to make when writing about Coventry City’s head-to-head record with Rochdale is that we have only ever beaten Rochdale once in the ten meetings between the two sides and never at Spotland. The law of averages dictates that that wn eventually has to happen at some point, right?

How Are They Doing?

Following a previous season where Rochdale shattered pre-season expectations of a relegation struggle to finish 8th, Keith Hill’s side began this campaign with a confident 2-0 win over Peterborough. For those wondering whether Rochdale were perhaps a ‘one season wonder’ it demonstrated that under Keith Hill, they will continue to punch above their weight.

Possible Line-Up

The main concern heading into this season was the loss of last season’s key central midfielder Stephen Dawson to Scunthorpe. Just how big a difference the loss of Dawson’s tigerish energy will be remains to be seen but in Peter Vincenti and Ian Henderson, Rochdale still have on-the-pitch leaders that an otherwise youthful team can turn to for inspiration. Vincenti is an awkward physical customer to contend with, standing at six foot two in an attacking midfield position. Henderson is an inventive forward who scored an impressive 22 goals last season and assisted Rochdale’s second goal on Saturday with a wonderful through ball demonstrating his ability as a creative force.

Impressively, Keith Hill has also been able to develop some of the club’s academy talent over the past few seasons by giving them a framework and simple tasks on the field to focus on to improve their games. The best of the current crop are the creative midfield duo of Jamie Allen and Callum Camps who provide a metronomic tempo to Rochdale’s midfield play. Full-backs Scott Tanser and Joe Rafferty have rapidly developed into first-choice picks with each supplying the width on their respective flanks, as well as high quality crosses into the box.

Prediction

The first round of the League Cup always arrives as the game that nobody really wants to play. Saturday was the fun part of the start of the season, this fixture is the start of a grinding four games in ten days which always tests both the physical and mental fitness of the side. With the squad so small at the moment, Tony Mowbray will be forgiven for placing less importance on this early season cup-tie than he otherwise might have, especially as it’s away from home against a team in the same division as us.

It’s just about getting through this game and moving on from it as soon as possible. With Rochdale having home advantage, I’m predicting a forgettable 2-0 defeat.