Preview: Swindon Town

A comfortable victory over the league leaders looks a real shot in the arm for our season. While it has been far from a terrible start to the campaign, that win over Exeter was probably our most complete performance thus far – and there was still room for improvement.

Praise has to go to Mark Robins for just how well-drilled the team looked with each player seeming to have clear idea of what was expected from them in their position. Rod McDonald and Jordan Willis excelled against one of the division’s best strikers, Michael Doyle and Liam Kelly not only provided their usual midfield sturdiness but looked miles more comfortable in possession than they had been at the start of the season. All of which gave a platform for Jodi Jones torment another opposing back-line, supported by the committed performance of Devon Kelly-Evans and the occasional flashes of inspiration Duckens Nazon provided.

Possible Line-Up

The challenge now is to build on Saturday’s win, to ensure that a victory over the league leaders is not just one-off display but one that cements our status as promotion candidates. Standing in our way, are Swindon Town – a club who have inflicted some frustrating afternoons upon better Coventry City vintages than this current one.

The starting XI against Exeter was one thrown together at, almost literally, the last minute due to the amount of injuries we’re carrying at the moment. Mark Robins will almost be forced to stick with a winning team for this game, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the lack of cover in certain areas of this squad could be troubling if we pick up one or two more injuries over the next few games.

Last Time We Met

2012: 2-0 up with 13 minutes left, draw 2-2.

2013: 1-0 up with four minutes left, lose 2-1.

2013 (again): 1-0 up with 13 minutes left, lose 2-1.

2014: 1-0 up with 18 minutes left, draw 1-1.

2015: 2-0 up with five minutes left, draw 2-2.

What else is there to really say about our past encounters against Swindon Town other than they’ve been utterly miserable for us?

Last season we were so abject that we didn’t even get the opportunity to throw away a seemingly comfortable lead against them in either encounter. First off, it was a drab opening day defeat at the County Ground that seemed to set the tone for the first half of our season. Then it was an even more dismal defeat at the Ricoh Arena that effectively ended our survival hopes and was almost certainly the final straw for Russell Slade, even if he did continue for a few more games afterwards.

How Are They Doing?

That win back in February did Swindon little good as they went on to join us in relegation from League One. Like us, it has been a near complete overhaul of the playing squad over the summer, like us, it has also been a bit of an inconsistent start to the season, but also like us, they are showing signs of clicking into gear.

Manager David Flitcroft (once a contender to take over at Coventry City last year following Tony Mowbray’s departure) has a something of a reputation for producing inconsistent sides. A bit like Mowbray, Flitcroft has a tendency to tinker with his line-up when it isn’t particularly required, although he’s more in the Chris Coleman mode of unnecessarily playing players out of position.

Nonetheless, Flitcroft seems to have stumbled across an attacking formula over the past few weeks that has proven effective. The frustrating but surprisingly technically adept front-man Luke Norris is currently being supported in attack by a mobile and nippy trio of Kellan Gordon, Keshi Anderson and Paul Mullin. Norris in particular has been in strong form this season – only Reuben Reid has either scored or assisted as many goals (8) as he has in League Two thus far.

Possible Line-Up

The tigerish James Dunne and the more creative Derby loanee Timi Elsnik have also seemed to have settled into a good partnership for Swindon in recent weeks. While Flitcroft has another useful card to play from the bench in former West Ham and Portsmouth man Matthew Taylor – while his legs seems to have gone, his set-piece deliveries are still Premier League quality and could cause us big problems in the closing stages of this game.

Swindon also have another player with great delivery to watch out for – none other than former Coventry City fans’ favourite Chris Hussey. Hussey though makes up a back-line that hasn’t been particularly convincing this season due to a lack of pace with three fairly old and slow defenders in the form of Ben Purkiss, Chris Robertson and Olly Lancashire – although all three are a threat from either Hussey’s or Taylor’s set-pieces.

Finally, Swindon brought in Reice Charles-Cook from us over the summer, however, he’s had to play second-fiddle to former Spurs and Liverpool youngster Lawrence Vigouroux in goal. A Chile youth international, Vigouroux is a similar sort of keeper to Charles-Cook in that he can be an excellent shot-stopper with great distribution of the ball, but can be slightly over-eccentric at times – although he has been pretty good thus far this season.

Prediction

Our terrible record against Swindon shouldn’t really matter, after all, these are two very different squads from even the ones that faced each other last season. Somehow though it does seem to matter because a number of very different Coventry and Swindon squads have faced each other over down the years and produced similar results.

With the more experienced and savvy squad that Mark Robins has assembled this season, I would imagine that this is a Coventry City side least likely to care about a silly hoodoo. However, due to my superstitious and pessimistic nature I can see this being a 2-1 loss, and possibly a game where we take somehow manage to lose despite taking the leading in the sixth minute of stoppage time.

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Preview: Cambridge United

This time last week there was a danger that the bottom could have fallen out of our season. Without a win, or even a goal, in three league games, things could easily have taken a turn for the worse had that form continued into back-to-back home games. Two wins later, and the confidence that this is a team that can win promotion has returned.

There have been two important elements in our last two wins. The first has been the return of Lee Burge in goal – or perhaps, a lack of a goalkeeping error to have handed the opposition a lead to defend. The second has been, quite simply, the taking of chances at the other end of the pitch.

Possible Line-Up

It’s still too early to say with confidence that our strong defensive record this season has been solely down to the players and manager and not, at least in part, been helped by playing some of the more toothless sides at this level thus far. However, if we can keep this up, it’s only going to take one moment of brilliance, or luck, to decide most games in our favour – which is what we saw against both Port Vale and Carlisle, where we didn’t particularly sustain an attacking threat, but took our chances when they came.

With Duckens Nazon having only suffered cramp against Carlisle on Tuesday, Mark Robins only really has to pick between Rod McDonald and Tom Davies in central defence. While Davies won man of the match on Tuesday night, his lack of mobility and composure on the ball still looked a weakness that could have led to mistakes against better opponents. There may be an argument for pairing Davies with McDonald, but that would be harsh on Jordan Willis who has been quietly solid this season, so I could see McDonald making an immediate return to the starting line-up.

Last Time We Met

It was one of the most scarring games of last season when we travelled to Cambridge United in the FA Cup. The initial bounce that had come with Mark Venus’ caretaker spell had died out, with the manager quickly entering the phase of random tactical and personnel changes that characterises a the final days of a managerial reign. Cambridge, and Luke Berry in particular, were there to punish that lack of continuity and confidence, running out comfortable 4-0 winners, despite being in the league below.

How Are They Doing?

Despite running out comfortable winners back in December, Cambridge endured a frustrating and inconsistent campaign under Shaun Derry. Although it’s early days still, this season has begun in a similar vein and if Derry continues to struggle to string together a run of results to get the U’s into the top seven, he could find himself out of a job before the end of the campaign.

Derry’s task this season has been made more difficult by the sale of, by far, the star player of last season, Luke Berry, to Luton Town. Berry scored an incredible 17 league goals from midfield last year, and leaves this Cambridge United side looking much less dynamic, even though there was a sense that Shaun Derry didn’t quite know the best position in which to use Berry.

However, the addition of ex-Carlisle United talisman Jabo Ibehre in attack means that Cambridge won’t be lacking in attacking threat. Ibehre has mainly had to content himself with a role as an impact sub, with the even bigger and stronger Uche Ikpeazu playing more of a central role as the focal point up front in the opening weeks of the season. However, since Berry’s departure in the final days of the transfer window, Shaun Derry has looked to partner the two powerful strikers together.

As for other attacking threats, winger Piero Mingoia is one of the better wide players at this level. An industrious player with good delivery and capable of chipping in with the odd goal, he could be someone to give either Jack Grimmer or Chris Stokes a bit of a headache. Attacking midfielder Jevani Brown has stepped up from non-league comfortably since signing this summer. Additionally, the rapid Harrison Dunk will be a threat from left-back.

Primarily though, Cambridge are a side that looks to keep clean sheets before nicking something at the other end – similar to us. Both as a player and now as a manager, Shaun Derry has a reputation for cynical play – time-wasting, niggly fouls, all the dark arts in the book – which can make his side incredibly tough to break down once they take the lead, however, it has led to frustrations from Cambridge fans that Derry is overly negative in the way he sets his teams up.

The battle of the midfield bastards – Gary Deegan and Michael Doyle – is going to be an interesting feature of the game. While in defence, Cambridge have one of the best right-backs in the division in Brad Halliday, along with two experienced centre-backs in Greg Taylor and Leon Legge, with the even more experienced David Forde in goal.

Prediction

This is another game for us that is unlikely to be a spectacle of high-quality football. Both teams are fairly similar in their defensive focus and both are coming into this game off the back of wins in midweek. Unlike Port Vale and Carlisle, Cambridge will look to stifle the likes of Jodi Jones and Duckens Nazon, which is likely to make it even more difficult for us to create chances.

Unless there is a glaring error in either defence, this game has 0-0 written all over it.

Preview: Carlisle United

Getting the win against Port Vale was all-important after our recent run. Despite making hard work of it – both in not taking the several opportunities we had to put the result beyond doubt, and the nervy final 10 minutes after Rod McDonald’s red card – it should be viewed as a solid performance from which we can build on.

Things still aren’t quite clicking in attack, and we were lucky on Saturday that Port Vale were the first team in a while not to double-up on Jodi Jones, but there were some encouraging signs from that game that maybe we will find that fluency soon. The goal itself, despite being a moment of individual brilliance in the finish, came from a good period of possession for us. Furthermore, we created some good chances in the second-half which could easily have made the result more comfortable.

Just how important that result against Port Vale is depends on how much confidence that gives us going into a fairly tough run of games coming up over the next few weeks. In particular, this home game against Carlisle is a chance to further assert the home advantage that we’ll need to ensure that we’re in the promotion race at the end of the season.

The loss of Rod McDonald to suspension is a big blow, not only is he a more composed presence in defence than either Tom Davies or Dominic Hyam, but his ability to bring the ball out from the back is an under-rated part of his game. Given that the nature of many games this season will be opponents sitting off us, having defenders who are comfortable in possession is all-important. With the decidedly less-composed in possession Tom Davies likeliest to come into the side, we could find it tougher than we already do to build attacks from the back.

Elsewhere, Robins’ selection is likely to be influenced by just how bad the injuries that Marc McNulty and Tony Andreu sustained against Port Vale are. As mentioned earlier, Stuart Beavon coming in for McNulty might actually enhance the side as Beavon is more suited to hassling defenders and chasing balls down the channels that Robins asks of his lone striker. Andreu’s injury could open the door for Duckens Nazon to play through the middle, where he’s much more effective. Potentially, those two injuries could make us a better side, although it would leave us with little on the bench.

Last Time We Met

Our last meeting with Carlisle United came at Sixfields when we were in the midst of the post-Leon Clarke collapse that nearly saw us relegated from League One. Despite Franck Moussa giving us the lead against the Cumbrians, two second-half goals saw the away side take three points to enhance their own survival prospects – although they were eventually relegated from League One that season anyway.

How Are They Doing?

Current Carlisle United manager Keith Curle was appointed a few months into their first season back in League Two and oversaw gradual improvements that put Carlisle into the play-offs last year, where they were defeated in the semi-finals by Exeter City. Nonetheless, Carlisle’s form since around January when they sold star striker Charlie Wyke to Bradford has been abysmal at times and they have endured a mixed start to this season, winning two and drawing one of their opening six games.

In addition to losing Wyke in January, Carlisle lost a good keeper at this level in Mark Gillespie on a free transfer to Walsall and one of the division’s best strikers in Jabo Ibehre to Cambridge United over the summer. With a fairly underwhelming set of incoming transfers over the summer, there was an additional sense around the club heading into the campaign that this could be a really tough season.

However, that perhaps ignored some of the talent still on the books – particularly winger Nicky Adams, who is one of the best wide players at this level. Carlisle have a strong set of options in midfield for League Two, with the rapid winger Reggie Lambe, the box-to-box Jason Kennedy, the energetic Mike Jones, the ball-playing Luke Joyce, and playmaker Jamie Devitt.

Possible Line-Up

Up front, Carlisle have a few useful options in ex-Sky Blues striker Shaun Miller, the pacey Hallam Hope and target man Richie Bennett. While, in particular, Miller and Hope have shown at times in their careers that they can be dangerous strikers at this level, they’ve lacked the consistency to be convincing options.

Defence has consistently been an issue for Carlisle under Keith Curle, with high-scoring games at both ends having been a feature of his tenure at the club. A back four of Tom Miller, Tom Parkes, Mark Ellis, and Danny Grainger should be reasonably solid at this level, but the manager seems to lack the organisational capability to make that as effective a unit as it should be. Furthermore, the loan signing of Brentford’s Jack Bonham has led to several glaring goalkeeping errors in the opening weeks of the season.

Prediction

While Carlisle haven’t started the season in particularly blistering form, the quality they have in midfield makes this no less of a difficult game for us. Nonetheless, this game should be viewed as an opportunity to build on Saturday’s win, but we’ll need to sustain more of an attacking threat for longer in the game to ensure that we’re not relying on another moment of Jodi Jones magic to nick the game.

Being slightly pessimistic, I’m going to have this down as a 0-0 draw.

*Due to work commitments this preview was written on 10/09/2017 and thus any up-to-date team news has not been included.

Preview: Chesterfield

It was an odd game against Shrewsbury on Tuesday night. The first-half performance was bad, but not bad enough to deserve being two goals down. The second-half performance was better, but not better enough to deserve scoring two goals. Then the game was won by Shrewsbury with a brilliant free-kick.

What was apparent against Shrewsbury, as has been apparent in our past few games, has been a lack of intensity in our attacking play. While Doyle and Kelly protect the defence well, they slow the play down too much, allowing opposing defences to re-set and mark our forwards out of the game. The improvement against Shrewsbury came when the composed Callum Maycock and the forward-thinking Tony Andreu were paired together. It seems unlikely Robins will allow that partnership to develop heading into this upcoming league game against Chesterfield.

If Robins isn’t going to pick a dynamic midfield, finding the right combination in the front four positions becomes vital. A creative wide player was probably the main missing ingredient from our transfer business, but Robins now has to find a way in which our best attacking players – Jodi Jones, Tony Andreu, Marc McNulty and Duckens Nazon – can function as an effective unit.

Possible Line-Up

In defence, Rod McDonald’s return would be welcome, after two defensive performances from the side lacking in authority. While McDonald is hardly a Ben Turner-style dominant centre-back, he is the closest to that type of player we have at the moment – without having seen what new signing Tom Davies can offer. Although, the addition of Davies may well suggest McDonald is out for longer than expected.

The big decision for this game though is whether Lee Burge continues in goal. Despite conceding three against Shrewsbury, Burge came out of the game pretty much unscathed and currently seems less of a risk than Liam O’Brien, given the latter’s recent high-profile errors. It would be a surprise should Robins restore O’Brien to the side.

Last Time We Met

There was hope heading into our previous meeting with Chesterfield that Russell Slade was the right man to keep us in League One. After being unlucky to take three points against Bolton in the previous game, with Stuart Beavon catching the eye, a managerless and struggling Chesterfield side seemed the perfect opportunity to jump out of the relegation zone and really get our survival bid going.

In the event, we saw a depressing sign of what was to come under Slade with the team making little attempt to pass the ball, instead hoofing it up to an ineffectual Marcus Tudgay and a fatigued Stuart Beavon. A late goal decided the game and, less than a month after arriving at the club, signalled the beginning of the end for Russell Slade.

How Are They Doing?

Despite earning a confidence-boosting win in that relegation six-pointer back in January, Chesterfield somehow managed to not only be relegated, but finish below us in the table. Credit for that achievement has to go to manager Gary Caldwell, who was appointed in the week after that game and won just two of the remaining 18 games of the season.

In spite of some poor moves in the transfer market and even more questionable tactical decisions, Chesterfield’s board stuck by Caldwell and entrusted him to build the team that would get them out of League Two at the first attempt. Thus far though, that faith looks to have been somewhat misplaced, with the Spireites winning just one of their opening four league games to leave the club bottom of the division and leaving many fans completely disillusioned with the running of the club (there are also bigger issues relating to current owner Dave Allen that don’t fit into the scope of this preview).

However, there are signs that Chesterfield are in a slightly false position despite this poor start to the campaign and questions over the acumen of their manager. In sticking to Caldwell’s ethos of passing football, Chesterfield have created a lot of chances over their opening few games and have been unlucky to an extent not to have scored more goals and taken more points.

Experienced target-man Chris O’Grady in attack looks a high-calibre signing at this level of football, given that he’s spent much of the past four or five years in the Championship. His role is as the focal point of an attack to allow younger, more dynamic players space to hurt the opposition.

In that regard, box-to-box midfielder Jordan Sinnott has really caught the eye thus far this season. After spending last year at then-National League North side Halifax Town, Sinnott has stepped effortlessly up to Football League standard, with his drive from the centre of the park already a key part of Chesterfield’s play.

Possible Line-Up

Two young creative players with links to Sheffield United also will need to be kept quiet. Both Louis Reed and Diego de Girolamo were tipped for big things at Bramall Lane before struggling to establish themselves as regulars. Reed is a jaw-droppingly gifted central midfield schemer who was being linked with the likes of Tottenham before picking up a few injuries. De Girolamo is more of a forward with an end product than Reed and has impressed in loan spells at this level in previous years before being snaffled up by Bristol City’s development squad.

Chesterfield’s style of play will mean that they’ll take risks and leave gaps at the back, which is a sea change from previous opponents. However, in Ian Evatt and Tommy Lee, they do have a defender and a goalkeeper of proven quality at this level and higher who could prove stubborn customers should Chesterfield take the lead.

Prediction

Like Newport and Yeovil in recent weeks, Chesterfield are a side that hasn’t had too much problem scoring goals, but have struggled to keep them out. What we’ve seen is that despite our defensive solidity, our more free-flowing opponents have had the edge as a result of their belief that they can score goals.

Unlike Yeovil and Newport though, Chesterfield are likely to be much more open. Hopefully too, the goals we scored against Shrewsbury on Tuesday night will give us that belief in our attacking play that we’ve needed – especially after falling behind.

However, I think Chesterfield may well end up getting that win they’re in desperate need of, by 2-1.

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: 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.