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.

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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.

Preview: Newport County

Two wins on the board without playing particularly well or even facing a shot on target yet. This League Two malarkey is looking easy.

It would be a complacent attitude to take following a perfect start to the season that we already know the quality of the division and only have to maintain our current level of performance to ensure promotion. While both of our wins thus far have been comfortable, we have been fortunate to an extent to have taken leads while struggling to create many clear-cut opportunities and that our opponents didn’t commit numbers going forward.

Nonetheless, it’s a wonderful position to be in to have six points on the board, transfer business effectively over, and there being plenty of scope for improvement. The focus now is solely on Mark Robins working with the squad available and making those improvements as a team.

Possible Line-Up (Click to Enlarge)

It seems unlikely that Mark Robins will change a winning team for this home game against Newport. While Lee Burge is fit again, Liam O’Brien, while yet to flex his shot-stopping skills in the league, has done nothing to warrant the upheaval that comes with changing your goalkeeper. The back four looks settled now that Jordan Willis is fit, despite coming off with cramp against Grimsby. Liam Kelly and Michael Doyle are the heart of the team in central midfield, Jodi Jones is our skilful wide player, Peter Vincenti is our tall one. Stuart Beavon and Marc McNulty are yet to develop an understanding as a strike duo, however, their work-rate in the second-half against Grimsby was an important element of the victory.

While Duckens Nazon and Tony Andreu offer the promise of guile and creativity which could well be the missing element from this side at the moment, neither seems to slot straight into the starting XI without having to both drop someone rather harshly and alter the style of play. Whether our current starting XI is the strongest one remains to be seen, however, there is no reason to changes this up at this moment in time.

Last Time We Met

Our last competitive meeting with Newport County came in 1961 in the old third division (League One). A brace for Mike Dixon at Somerton Park in Newport gave Jimmy Hill’s Coventry City a win early into his reign. The game was so long ago that we weren’t even the Sky Blues back then.

We did play Newport more recently in a friendly before the start of last season, with George Thomas and Jordan Willis scoring to hand Tony Mowbray’s Sky Blues a comfortable win, back when we still thought that another Adam Armstrong was on their way and Vladimir Gadzhev was the new John Fleck.

How Are They Doing?

Newport County pulled off a remarkable act of survival last season, with current manager Mike Flynn arriving as a caretaker on 9th March with relegation looking inevitable. However, Flynn won seven of the 12 remaining games of last season to ensure survival on the final day of the season.

Seeking to avoid another close shave, Mike Flynn has attempted to avoid the excessive player turnover which has been the club’s demise over recent years. The core of last season’s survivalists has remained in place, while some of the dead wood has been cleared out and improvements have been added to the squad in key areas.

In particular, Flynn looks to have upgraded his attack via the signings of ex-Coventry City and Nei Mongol Zhongyu striker Frank Nouble, and Bristol City loanee Shawn McCoulsky. Nouble has scored in both league games thus far for Newport, while McCoulsky scored in their opening game and a notched brace in a League Cup win over League One Southend. Nouble will be the focal point in attack, attempting to use his physicality, while McCoulsky will look to run in behind.

Possible Line-Up (Click to Enlarge)

While the addition of former Yeovil midfielder Matt Dolan over the summer has signalled an attempt to play a more progressive and passing style of play, Newport are very much about getting numbers forward, putting the ball into the penalty area at every opportunity, and attacking second and third balls. They are a team aware that they’re not the best defensively, so will likely attempt to be the more proactive side, not only in taking an attacking mentality, but attempting to impose themselves physically upon us.

Flynn is likely to set Newport up in the 5-3-2 system that proved so effective towards the end of last season. Not only will it mean that the centre of the pitch will be tight and congested, but that their wing-backs – Robbie Willmott and Dan Butler – will have licence to press forward and pepper our penalty area with crosses. That will leave space in behind the wing-backs for Jodi Jones to exploit, but it will also mean that Jordan Willis and Rod McDonald will have to dominate in the air, while Liam O’Brien’s ability to command his area will be put under examination more than it has in recent games.

Prediction

In each of the past two weeks, I’ve warned of the threat of a physical and direct side looking to provide us with a first warning that League Two isn’t going to be a cake-walk – in each of the past two weeks, I’ve been wrong. While Newport are perhaps the most capable of the three teams we’ve faced thus far of handing us a bloody nose, we should be feeling fairly confident that elements of this team are capable of standing up to the test.

It will be an interesting game were Newport to take the lead, forcing Mark Robins to chase a game for the first time this season. Nonetheless, with Newport’s weaknesses at the back, along with their ability to score goals, I can see this being a game where both sides score. I’m going to lean towards positivity and have us down as winning 2-1.

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: Notts County

The re-appointment of Mark Robins as manager back in March was all about how ready we would be for the start of this season. Getting those few wins towards the back end of last season, and especially that wonderful afternoon at Wembley, was important in re-energising the fan-base, but the hard work of winning promotion back to League One at the first attempt begins now.

It has been an almost complete overhaul of the squad over the summer, with just four of the starting XI at Wembley likely to start this forthcoming game against Notts County – three, depending on whether Lee Burge is fit. Instead of relying on a relatively young squad packed with a number of homegrown talents, Robins has decided to employ a different model leaning towards more experienced and proven performers, with a veteran Michael Doyle being the poster ‘child’ of this new side.

It means that we are starting from square one as a team this season, although, having had the majority of the squad in place for the entirety of pre-season may hasten the gelling process. They key areas of the squad are whether Rod McDonald and Jordan Willis can form an effective central defensive partnership, Michael Doyle and Liam Kelly can provide dynamism in addition to their sturdiness in central midfield, and whether Marc McNulty is capable of scoring the goals to get us out of this division.

Possible Line-Up

We already have a strong idea of what team Mark Robins is going to pick for this game, based on his team selections in pre-season. The aforementioned five players will provide the spine of the side, along with the experienced Peter Vincenti on the right wing and Stuart Beavon playing slightly ahead of McNulty in attack. Jack Grimmer at right-back is also almost certain to start and, thanks to an injury picked up by Ryan Haynes, Chris Stokes will make up the back four.

After some reasonable performances in pre-season without being overly tested, Liam O’Brien may get a chance to stake a claim for the starting spot in goal if Lee Burge doesn’t prove his fitness in time. The decision to sign O’Brien over a more experienced keeper was a big call from Mark Robins this summer, and it could seriously hamstring us if both he and Burge don’t cut the mustard.

Finally, Jodi Jones’ performance in the final pre-season friendly against Nuneaton where he scored and provided an assist for Stuart Beavon should win him a start on the left wing ahead of Devon Kelly-Evans. This is a big season for Jones after failing to provide a consistent final product last season, he could prove to be one of those players who really benefits from dropping down a level to become a central player for the club.

Last Time We Met

Our last meeting with Notts County was a drab 0-0 draw at Meadow Lane during Tony Mowbray’s attempts to keep us in League One following his arrival back in 2015. Our attacking threat had been stunted by the recent loss of Dominic Samuel to injury, leaving a toothless strike force of Frank Nouble and Simeon Jackson to labour in vain against a Notts County side soon to be doomed to relegation.

Notts County’s last trip to the Ricoh Arena was another drab affair on the face of it, however, it was a game memorable for some of absolutely top notch time-wasting and gamesmanship on the part of a Notts County side then flying in the top six of League One under Shaun Derry. With the Sky Blues in a torpor at the time under Steven Pressley, an error for Andy Webster was ruthlessly punished late in the second-half to hand Shaun Derry, Roy Carroll and the merry men of Notts County all three points.

How Are They Doing?

Notts County are attempting to build something more stable after a soap opera of a past decade which has seen a revolving door of players and managers fail to sustain the occasional promising run of form. Back in January, the club were in a transfer embargo and in danger of dropping into the relegation battle in League Two, however, a takeover by local businessman Alan Hardy and the appointment of Kevin Nolan as manager has seemingly put the club back in right direction.

The January transfer deadline day signings of Shola Ameobi and Jorge Grant – along with left-back Marc Bola who has since joined Bristol Rovers – provided the team with an injection of quality required to make Kevin Nolan’s organisation of the team effective. Ameobi in particular played a crucial role as the figurehead in attack, holding the ball up due to his physical presence and technical skill to bring others into play – he’ll be partnered in attack by the equally experienced Jon Stead, who provides a lot less outside the area for his team.

Possible Line-Up

The aforementioned Grant was a big beneficiary of Ameobi’s hold-up play, coming in off the wing and scoring some excellent goals over the course of the second-half of last season.  Notts County have done well to re-sign the Nottingham Forest youngster on loan, and he’ll be a big danger man for this game. That threat coming in off wide positions has been further bolstered by the arrivals of Lewis Alessandra and Gibraltar international Liam Walker over the summer, who are both potential match-winners at this level on their day.

Notts County’s main area of weakness is in defence, where they lack pace and composure on the ball. The agricultural ex-Sky Blues loanees Carl Dickinson and Richard Duffy could well start this game, and it seems like a sensible game plan to try and press high in order to force errors at the back for Notts rather than try and break them down with a slower style of play. Furthermore, goalkeeper Adam Collin had a difficult previous season and we should be looking to keep him as busy as possible.

Prediction

With Notts County an experienced and physical side, this will be early acid test of our League Two credentials. My main area of concern is in defence, where I’m not sure Rod McDonald and Jordan Willis are capable of standing up to a physical battering from both Shola Ameobi and set-piece situations. If we’re slow and ponderous on the ball too, this has all the makings of a classic Ricoh Arena away team smash and grab, only this time it will be in League Two.

Overall, I’m expecting this to be a real ‘welcome to League Two’ experience for us – similar to the game we played against a recently-relegated Wigan side in League One two seasons ago. If we can show we’re capable of controlling games and creating enough chances, that would be the least I want to see from us in this game. If not, it may be an indication that this could be a harder season than anticipated.

I think Notts County will win this game 2-0.