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.

Advertisements

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: Maidenhead United

After an unexpectedly brilliant win away at the then league leaders Luton, a looming crisis of confidence has been averted. However, this FA Cup tie in what could be an especially soulless Ricoh Arena against non-league opposition could quickly render McNulty’s header, Shipley’s free-kick and Nazon’s late coup de grace at Kenilworth Road into distant memories.

After humbling exits in each of the past three years – Cambridge last year, Northampton the year before, and notably, Worcester the year before that – it should be abundantly clear that a tie against a supposedly lesser club in the FA Cup is far from straightforward. Mark Robins hasn’t treated the cup competitions seriously thus far this season but given the tradition of the FA Cup, as well as the revenue a good run would generate, it would be negligent for him to disregard this competition.

Moreover, the squad has had a week’s rest heading into this game and there’s only a Checkatrade Trophy tie to play the following midweek. There are no excuses for not naming our strongest line-up here and treating it as we would a normal league game, albeit one that takes us a step closer to a potential trip to a big Premier League side.

Possible Line-Up

Just what our full-strength team at the moment is something of a debate, despite the performance against Luton. While the back six or seven players looks to be fairly settled, the make-up of our strongest attacking line-up is yet to be resolved. While there is the temptation for Robins to stick with a winning team, Maidenhead United are going to be vastly different opponents to Luton Town, and he may consider adjusting the personnel accordingly.

In an ideal world, this is probably a game to bring Ben Stevenson into the midfield in place of either Michael Doyle or Liam Kelly so that we have someone who can get their foot on the ball and orchestrate extended periods of possession more comfortably – that’s not going to happen though. I would expect Maxime Biamou to come in for Jordan Ponticelli in order to give the side a focal point to aim crosses into the box. A more dynamic wide option than Peter Vincenti is another must, but that could mean shunting Duckens Nazon or Marc McNulty onto the wing.

Last Time We Met

We’ve never played Maidenhead United in a competitive fixture, not once.

How Are They Doing?

A town most famous for its Isambard Kingdom Brunel-built bridge and for being the constituency of the legendary UK Prime Minister Theresa May, its local football club are on the up. Promoted into the National League last season as National League South champions, Maidenhead stormed the opening month of the National League campaign thanks to the goals of Dave Tarpey.

Tarpey, reportedly offered the chance to sign for us over the summer, scored a suspiciously impressive 44 goals in 41 appearances for Maidenhead in the National League South last season. After seven goals in six appearances at the start of the season, Tarpey took the decision to sign for Barnet, before picking up a serious injury in his second appearance for the club.

Maidenhead manager and former West Ham legend Alan Devonshire is a wily operator in non-league, having turned part-time Braintree into a competitive outfit in the National League in his previous managerial posting. Devonshire has struggled at times to adjust his side to the loss of their goal machine, although midfielder Adrian Clifton has helped ease the burden with six goals from the centre of the park this season.

Possible Line-Up

Clifton looks the biggest danger-man among Maidenhead’s ranks, an attack-minded central player with skill and pace with the ball. In a counter-attacking unit, Clifton is important in not only carrying the ball forward but in supplying an end product in and around the penalty area. Winger Harry Pritchard is another key element of Maidenhead’s counter-attacking play, while the pacey Moses Emmanuel out wide has been a reliable National League goalscorer in recent years.

Even in the National League, Maidenhead look to defend deep and try and nick something either on the break or from set-pieces – with centre-backs Jake Goodman and Alan Massey someone we’ll need to make sure to mark. It was already apparent from the respective statures of the sides that this game would be about us looking to break-down a dogged and determined part-time side, but we are up against one with plenty of practice doing so this season.

Prediction

Not to be patronising towards Maidenhead, but this game, and certainly the stadium, will be their biggest in a long time. While they are a part-time side, they are only in the division below us so the gulf in quality between the two sides isn’t going to be as large as the respective histories of the clubs would suggest. This is a dangerous game for us if we show up expecting to stroll to victory.

Even if we do show the right attitude, this game presents the challenge of breaking down an organised defence at the Ricoh, which we’ve struggled on multiple occasions already this season. If we can get an early goal to settle the nerves, this game should be more straightforward than I fear it will be.

This is a game we should win, and I’m going to back us to get the job done with a 1-0 scoreline.

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.

Preview: Forest Green Rovers

If confirmation was still needed that we are in League Two this season, then Saturday’s defeat to Accrington – if only for the reputation of the opposition – was provided it. It was also a rare occasion this season where we deserved to lose – we not only struggled to score, but it was a game where our defence looked shaky too.

The chief concern at the moment though is those struggles in front of goal. Whether it’s a lack of creativity or a lack of a killer instinct in front of goal that’s the specific reason why we’re struggling in front of goal, improving either will resolve our problems. As we appear to lack a cold-hearted goal poacher, we either need someone to step up and become that kind of player or we simply need to improve the quantity and quality of chances we’re creating.

This upcoming game against the league’s worst defence would appear the perfect opportunity to build some confidence in front of goal. For Mark Robins, it’s a case of either hoping the front four that seemed to work during our recent run of three straight wins will click back into gear or twisting and trying to integrate someone like Marc McNulty or Peter Vincenti into the starting line-up.

Possible Line-Up

With Devon Kelly-Evans having a quiet game against Accrington, he seems the likeliest candidate to be taken out of the side. Marc McNulty has shown he can operate out wide to a reasonable level of effectiveness, which would have the benefit of adding an extra striker to the dynamic and also keeping Duckens Nazon in a central position where he’s more effective. However, playing Peter Vincenti out wide could Robins to pair McNulty and Nazon together without losing a physical presence in attack.

Liam Kelly’s absence from the side was a blow on Saturday and his potential return for this game would be welcome. While Ben Stevenson clearly has something to offer this team, the defensive protection Kelly offers via his physical strength and ability to win first and second balls makes us a more composed team-unit, and there isn’t really a debate to be had over whether he should return.

Last Time We Met

For the third game in a row (or two in three depending on your opinion on the reformation of Accrington Stanley) we’re up against a club that we’ll be facing in the league for the first time ever.

How Are They Doing?

When Forest Green won promotion from the National League last season, their chairman declared that ‘reaching League One will be easy’, however, it’s been a disaster of a campaign thus far on a multitude of levels (second-bottom, league’s worst defence, and having recently released their captain) putting paid to such ambitions, at least in the short-term.

Despite a blitzing play-off final victory last season, the cracks that have been exposed at a higher-level this season were apparent during that promotion-winning campaign. Manager Mark Cooper seemed to develop a habit of turfing out some of his more expensive signings at any sign of poor form but was able to turn to the emergency loan window to bail himself out. Without that luxury – and the club having to abide by financial fair play regulations – it seems to be a very unhappy camp at the club.

Possible Line-Up

As mentioned earlier, club captain Liam Noble was recently released by the club. Not only did Forest Green turn down £100,000 for him from Notts County (who he’s recently signed for on a free) but he was one of their most pivotal players in their promotion-winning campaign as a driving force from midfield. Of the dynamic front four of Christian Doidge, Kaiyne Woolery, Keanu Marsh-Brown and Liam Noble that blew Tranmere away back in May, only the excellent all-round centre-forward Doidge is likely to line-up in this game.

The rest of Forest Green’s side is even harder to predict after Mark Cooper reportedly vowed to play some of the club’s younger players, following a 4-0 defeat to Newport County at the weekend. It’s the indication of a manager clearly feeling the pressure and is rapidly running out of things he can say and do to the side in order to get a reaction. However, the one thing Cooper is sticking with is a passing style of football – which has been another major contributing factor to the club’s terrible season thus far.

Prediction

This is as close to an open goal kind of game as it’s possible to get. If we can get an early goal, the floodgates could really open and allow us to build some confidence in front of goal. Although, Forest Green did recently take a point that was nearly all three away to Notts County recently, indicating that they do have a decent performance up their sleeve under the right conditions.

Overall though, this is a game that we have to be confident of winning. I’m going for a 2-0 scoreline.

Preview: Crewe Alexandra

A week ago, I was worried that we could be set for a three or four game winless run. A week later, the question now is whether we can win a third game in a row and cement our status as promotion candidates. These three game weeks can very quickly change the complexion of a season – especially at this early stage.

A first away win at Swindon since the invention of the steam engine has further fuelled the sense that this team has the mental fortitude that previous Coventry City sides have lacked. While we had the better of the chances, it wasn’t a particularly dominant or convincing win – taking a red card and wonder goal from Duckens Nazon to settle the contest in our favour – however, getting wins on those difficult Tuesday night away games when you’re not playing your best football is what teams that win promotion do.

Possible Line-Up

There is still a long way to go this season, but we’ve got to milk this momentum for everything that it’s worth. We’re up against a Crewe side in this upcoming game that are struggling for confidence, but have several dangerous attacking players, which would make this a bad game to take lightly.

In terms of team selection, once again, there is little reason for Mark Robins to change the team up – both due to a lack of options due to injuries, and the form we’re in at the minute. Marc McNulty made it back onto the pitch on Tuesday after a spell out with injury, but even if he was fully-fit, Maxime Biamou and Duckens Nazon have both been in impressive form over the past couple of games – Biamou is looking a real powerhouse (albeit, not in terms of finishing) now that his fitness has improved, while The Duck very much remains The Duck.

Last Time We Met

While Crewe have bloodied our noses on a number of occasions in recent years, Tony Mowbray’s Sky Blues produced two of their better performances in our past two meetings to hopefully consign that sense of hoodoo to posterity.

The most recent meeting was a comfortable evisceration just after New Year’s Day in 2016 that seemed to signal a return to form following a blip over the previous month. With Joe Cole and James Maddison pulling the strings in midfield, it was left to Adam Armstrong and Jacob Murphy to put Crewe to the sword, Armstrong notching a hat-trick and Murphy getting a brace.

Earlier in the same season, Tony Mowbray’s side also dominated much of the game against the same opponents, only for some sloppy defending to allow Crewe to be within seven minutes of a point. That was until Jim O’Brien returned a poor defensive clearance from Crewe with interest, cueing delirium in the stands at a first ever victory over Crewe at the Ricoh Arena.

How Are They Doing?

Things were going so well for Crewe since the sacking of the loathed Steve Davis back in January and his replacement by ex-player David Artell. After taking the defensive shackles off the side and getting some of Crewe’s talented youngsters playing with confidence, Artell then added some important experience to the squad over the summer transfer window, supplying the belief that Crewe were play-off candidates this season at the very least.

However, things have gone off the rails for the Railwaymen over the past month, with Crewe now on a run of four consecutive defeats. Crewe’s form seems to have highlighted David Artell’s lack of experience as a manager – particularly his failure to sign adequate defensive cover over the summer, leaving the side playing a right-back in central defence and central midfielders at full-back, after a few injuries and suspensions.

Furthermore, Artell has altered the style of play slightly from the fast-paced attacking football that provided a real lift to the club towards the end of last season, attempting to shoe-horn in the experienced target-man Chris Porter into the side. While Crewe have still been an exciting team to watch at their very best this season, teams seem to have figured out how to stop them getting into a rhythm, and their defence has been run ragged at times.

As should be apparent from the above, Crewe’s strengths lay in attack. In particular, winger/forward George Cooper is up there with Jodi Jones as one of the most exciting and devastating young attacking players at this level of football. Cooper first broke through into Crewe’s team in 2014, where he scored a superb free-kick against us at Gresty Road, and looked set to become the club’s next big talent to emerge from their production line. However, his career stalled under the management of Steve Davis, but he has flourished again since David Artell’s appointment and will give our full-backs an absolute nightmare if he’s allowed to run directly at them.

Possible Line-Up

Crewe have experience and reliable quality in their strikers via the aforementioned Chris Porter, as well as ex-Sky Blues loanee Chris Dagnall. Porter was, quite literally, a big signing for Crewe this summer after his exploits at a similarly young and exciting Colchester squad. Porter’s goals and presence in the side as an attacking focal point were a big reason behind Colchester’s eighth-place finish last year. Dagnall is much smaller but, as we saw during his time at Coventry City, he’s an incredibly hard-working player and one that has found goals easier to come by now that he’s dropped down into League Two.

Despite having been part of some poor Crewe defences over recent years, Ben Garratt in goal is someone who has been tipped for a bright future in the game. He is one of those goalkeepers who can, on occasion, completely shut up shop and make it a frustrating afternoon for the opposition.

Prediction

This game will be another test of the mentality of this side. On paper, this looks a regulation home win against a Crewe side struggling for confidence, however, it’s these kinds of games against teams you’re expected to beat that can prove to be something of a banana skin once you’ve started to string a couple of wins together. If the players take the foot off the pedal, then we could be outside of the play-offs at the end of the game – emphasising how early it still is in the season.

Nonetheless, I think this Coventry City side has the wherewithal not to take this game overly lightly, so I’m going to back us to win this game 2-1.

Also on the site this week:

Jack Grimmer – 10-game review

Liam Kelly – 10-game review

Jod Jones – 50-game review

Preview: Port Vale

We continue to splutter. Both struggling to create chances and take the few that come our way. At least there wasn’t a major goalkeeping rick against Chesterfield, and at least we didn’t lose another game.

It’s very early in the season to be too concerned about anything at the moment, a couple of victories or defeats can easily change the way we view performances. Against Chesterfield for example, had McNulty taken one of the several chances he had, we would be talking about a solid away win rather than a concerning draw against bottom of the division (who, as if to highlight the futility of league positions this earlier in the season, then moved out of the bottom two as a result of that draw). I seem to remember Mark Robins making a similarly slow start to his first spell in charge of the club before things all of a sudden fell into place.

The issue for Mark Robins at the moment is clearly how to form a fluent attacking unit out of the options available. Individually, we have some useful attacking players, but they are yet to demonstrate that they can function as a team-unit. The hope is that our defensive solidity will continue to hold out and eventually things will click into gear up front and we’ll become a ruthlessly efficient winning unit – a la that team Robins put together in his first spell.

Possible Line-Up

As for the team selection for this meeting with Port Vale, the back five looks pretty much settled, although if Rod McDonald is back from injury, he’ll replace Tom Davies in central defence. Robins also appears set on having Michael Doyle and Liam Kelly as the central midfield partnership, so that will stay in place. Jodi Jones is the only direct runner in our attack, so he’ll stay in place. McNulty is the only out-and-out ‘goalscorer’ in the side, so he’ll stay in place.

Essentially Robins has left himself with a selection between either Tony Andreu or Stuart Beavon to play in just behind McNulty, and either Duckens Nazon or Peter Vincenti out wide. Personally, I think we’d look better with Nazon playing in behind McNulty, although there is an issue of who is there to hold the ball up, and with Andreu playing in a deeper central position instead of one of Kelly or Doyle. However, Robins is a pragmatic manager, so I don’t think the starting XI for this game is going to be as risky as the one I’d like to see.

Last Time We Met

Confidence was at an all-time low heading into our last clash with Port Vale, back in March of this year. Mark Robins’ return to the club had failed to deliver an impact and relegation looked set to be confirmed within weeks. Somehow though, we produced a really composed performance, buoyed by two fantastic goals – first, a speculative 30-yard lob from Kyel Reid, second, an impudent backheel from Kwame Thomas – we cruised to victory, despite a subdued Port Vale mustering a late goal.

How Are They Doing?

Port Vale were relegated alongside us at the end of last season, admirably taking things until the final day of the campaign and drawing 0-0 with promotion-challengers Fleetwood Town. Their relegation was largely the result of a failed gamble on a largely foreign squad and manager with little experience of English football and manager Michael Brown – who took over as caretaker back in December – has had to spend the summer building an almost entirely new squad.

While Brown has been put in a difficult position, his squad-building over the summer has been more than a little chaotic, leaving a fairly unbalanced squad. There are currently six wingers on the books, but just three central midfielders, additionally, they lined up with a back four comprised entirely of centre-backs in their most recent game.

The, quite literally, biggest player to look out for in the Port Vale side will be club stalwart Tom Pope in attack. A classic lower-league target man, Pope’s physicality and ability to hold the ball up has been a key part of Port Vale’s play this season, complementing the pace they have due to the sheer number of wingers in their squad.

Of those wingers, Cristian Montano could prove the biggest thorn in our side due to the combination of pace and end product he demonstrated at this level with Bristol Rovers two seasons ago. In addition, Ben Whitfield, on loan from Bournemouth, has really caught the eye this season with his technical skill, while Marcus Harness, a Coventry-born Burton loanee, has looked both quick and industrious thus far.

Possible Line-Up

Elsewhere, Nathan Smith in defence is someone who clearly shouldn’t be playing in League Two. Not the tallest or even the quickest of defenders, but Smith is an incredibly composed customer with excellent positioning who often carries the impression of being able to deal with opponents without breaking a sweat. He’ll be alongside the experienced Antony Kay as a central defensive partnership.

Another key player for Michael Brown’s Port Vale side is Brown’s former midfield colleague at Sheffield United and Leeds, Michael Tonge. The vastly experienced playmaker impressed in the early weeks of the season with his set-piece deliveries proving to be a key element in their opening day win over Crawley Town and as part of an ill-fated comeback against Wycombe the week later.

Prediction

This game should really be seen as an opportunity to kick-start our season after our recent poor run. Port Vale’s are a side similarly struggling to create chances as we are, and you would hope that would allow Robins and the players to be more proactive in taking the game to the opposition. However, there is pressure from the stands for us to go out and win this game, and in a fairly convincing manner – Port Vale don’t have the same pressure, despite their own poor start.

I’ll think we’ll come away with a win, but it won’t be a pretty game of football. 1-0 to the Sky Blues.