With the 2022 World Cup fast approaching Latics travel down to the Midlands for their final away game before the break against Coventry City. The season started with a brilliant run of matches on the road and we’ll be desperate to end this initial block of fixtures in the same way that we started them, especially after picking up a decent point at the weekend.
The draw at Swansea on Saturday was a step in the right direction result wise but there were still a lot of question marks around the performance for me. We only had one shot from open play all game which really isn’t good enough, particularly as we set up to counter attack and had several opportunities to create shooting chances but wasted them.
Tonight’s opponents Coventry City have had a strange start to the season both on and off the pitch. This game was supposed to take place in August but was cancelled due to pitch problems and in many ways that’s a bad thing for Latics! We were in good form back then and Coventry weren’t but now the roles have reversed and we’re travelling to a side high on confidence and playing well. Typical isn’t it…
Latic Team News
At last there was some positive news on the injury front for Latics as Callum Lang returned to the squad on Saturday. Perhaps more importantly he played for half an hour and seemed to come through the game unscathed which was a worry given his brief and ultimately pointless return against Middlesbrough a couple of weeks ago that aggravated his knock.
His return softened the blow of Anthony Scully being left out again, and I’m sure he’s already plotting a move away from Latics in the January window. His signing seems more and more baffling by the game, especially as we don’t have much money to spend so to waste it on a forward our manager doesn’t rate feels nothing short of ridiculous.
Charlie Wyke returned to the starting eleven against Swansea as part of a front three and continued to link up well with Keane and Broadhead. That’s a trio that can work really well if we set up with a back 5 which given the circumstances I assume we will. Jason Kerr went off with a knock he got whilst giving away a penalty but it didn’t seem too serious so he’ll hopefully be fit to play.
Jordan Cousins was given a well deserved rest on Saturday so hopefully he’ll be back for this game. Him and Shinnie were both benched which baffled a lot of people but in fairness Power and Naylor both played relatively well, and of course Naylor grabbed our second goal with a nice header. Still though we should be looking at developing the partnership between Shinnie and Cousins as they’re our two best players in CM.
James McClean answered the critics with a pair of assists, both from delicious in-swinging corners. He was subbed off on the hour mark and I think it made us weaker as we lacked that natural width on the left as well as his defensive attributes which are better than Thelo Aasgaard’s who replaced him.
Ashley Fletcher was another notable absentee from the squad as he continues to sit behind Josh Magennis in the pecking order. Magennis’ introduction coincided with the ramping up of pressure from Swansea, it wasn’t entirely his fault but he didn’t quite perform the role a target man should. He also ignored a great run from Callum Lang when a simple pass would’ve set the forward through on goal which was a bit annoying. I’ve expressed my thoughts on the pair of them enough now, for me Fletcher has to replace him on the bench.
Curtis Tilt, Max Power and Tom Naylor are all a booking away from a suspension so they’ll be looking to be careful should they play. None of them have a World Cup to be preparing for though so I can’t imagine they’ll be looking to get a tactical yellow to keep them injury free, but maybe they’ve got holidays to be jetting off to. Keep an eye on that one!
An Opposition View
To give an insight into where our opponents are at leading into tonight’s fixture I’ve called in the help of someone far more knowledgeable on Coventry than myself!
1) I think it’s fair to say it’s been an interesting start to the season for Coventry both on and off the pitch! What’ve you made of these last couple of months as a Coventry fan?
“In short it’s been arguably the craziest season in my time following the Sky Blues & we’ve had plenty to talk about our Sky Blue Fans TV podcast – A very good pre-season campaign which had lots of Coventry City fans feeling very positive over the upcoming season unravelled very quickly with the loss of Callum O’Hare due to injury 24 hours before the season started with a serious hamstring injury.
The start of the season on the pitch was very sketchy with our defence looking very shaky and our keeper Simon Moore making several key errors. 1 point from 3 away games against Sunderland, Millwall & Hull wasn’t probably reflective of how well we’d played in patches of those 3 games. The whole pitch debacle which started to surface a few days before the Rotherham game totally killed any momentum we had as the sheer number of Rugby Union 7s matches played on the CBS pitch in 72 hours left the pitch unplayable. We had the League cup debacle as we had to play Bristol City at Burton Albion and a shocking first half performance led to a 4-1 loss and a cup exit. The Millwall game was overshadowed due to the announcement that our home game versus Wigan was off due to the pitch. Our home game v Huddersfield was also called off due to the pitch being unplayable. The team continued to struggle with the stop/start nature of the season until away at Luton losing 2-1 at half time the team sparked into life and grabbed a draw at Kenilworth Road before a run of 5 points from 3 games with 3 successive clean sheets.
Ironically our first Saturday league home game wasn’t until the start of October after the season started in July. We have sadly been blighted by injuries, illness & suspensions this season so to be on a run of 2 defeats in last 12 games having played Luton, Birmingham, Blackburn, Burnley, Sheff Utd & Watford in those games gives me hope for a better rest of the season if we don’t suffer more injuries to our key performers. However the CBS ground ownership issue needs to be addressed long term. Most fans hoped that the owners SISU would buy the ground sadly it seems that Mike Ashley has gazumped them and I’m not sure Ashley & SISU can have a working relationship together.” [@SkyBlueFansTV1]
2) You had a slow start which obviously tied in with your stadium issues, but seem to have hit a good run of form in recent weeks. Has anything changed in the past few games or is it just a case of things clicking in your side?
“We’ve gone a bit more back to basics in terms of our style of play. We look a lot more solid now with 5 successive away clean sheets & 8 clean sheets in last 12 games. We play a bit percentage football rather than over-playing in our own half. However we still have that quality to string a 15-20 touch passing move to open teams up or have a moment of magic from Hamer, Palmer or O’Hare in our locker. The return to fitness of Callum O’Hare has given us a boost plus Gustavo Hamer was missing for 5 games this season already due to suspension & since his return we’ve definitely got more of a cutting edge. We are probably better suited to teams that attack us or play a high line so we can break into the space with our high energy pressing style. Our back 3 are good on the ball as well but first of all they do the basics of defending very well.” [@SkyBlueFansTV1]
3) You’ve only managed 6 goals in the 7 home games you’ve played this season which seems pretty low for a side of your quality. What do you think the reason for this is, do you struggle to break teams down or is it simply a case of bad luck?
“It’s a combination of both. We’ve had a lot of injuries in our attacking options. Gooden is now out injured for months. Waghore is out until after the World Cup. Tyler Walker has been missing for some games with a knee issue along with the sickness bug that has been rampant in our squad over the last week or so. Losing O’Hare, Hamer coupled with Maatsen (now on loan at Burnley) left us very reliant on Gyokores or a set-piece to score from. The confidence and spark from last season has returned with the link up between Hamer, Palmer, O’Hare and Vik very exciting. I think there will likely be a team that gets a 3 or 4 goal drubbing off us soon once everyone is fit and firing for us. I think we look generally a lot stronger in terms of options from the bench which allows us to finish games strongly.” [@SkyBlueFansTV1]
4) I really like your squad and think there are some wonderfully talented players in it, but who do you think are the danger men that Latics should be wary of on Tuesday evening?
“In terms of danger men the obvious name is Viktor Gyokores. Fresh off a superb display where he ran Watford’s defence ragged and scored. We’ve not lost this season when he’s scored. Honestly I think he is the best all round striker in the Championship. Once he gets a run on a defender not many can stop him unless they foul him. I expect that there will be a lot of interest in him come January if he continues his current levels of performance. Kasey Palmer has been a revelation for us. He came with a very negative reputation from Bristol City fans but he’s knuckled down at Coventry. He puts a shift in for the team when he’s playing. Also has a great eye for a pass and gives us that extra quality we missed last season. The prospect of him, O’Hare alongside Vik with Hamer provided the supply is very exciting. Moving onto our Brazilian maverick Hamer – it’s been a very strange season littled with moments of magic (goals away at Stoke & Luton plus at home to Rotherham) coupled with moments of madness (red cards v Millwall & Birmingham away). Arguably the heart and soul of our team when he’s on it a joy to watch just need to stop the stupid fouls & bookings he gets. Finally Ben Sheaf & Jake Bidwell deserve a mention as arguably our players of the season so far.” [@SkyBlueFansTV1]
Coventry are one of several teams in the Championship that set up in a back 3 and are actually relatively similar in style to Latics. I see them as a great blueprint for Latics to try and follow and if we can secure survival this season I imagine we’ll develop our style even more towards theirs. They play the percentages at times but mix it in with good football focused on getting the best from their three key players.
The stand outs in their side are undoubtedly Gustavo Hamer, Callum O’Hare and Viktor Gyokeres. The way they play seems to be centred around getting the best of those three, particularly Gyokeres who continues to show why he’s one of the most sought after players in the EFL. Keeping him quiet should be our main aim.
He’s the focal point of their attacks and his performance in Coventry’s last game against Watford shows how impressive he can be. By playing a back 3 it does give us the possibility to man mark him throughout, probably with Jack Whatmough. We have seen our defenders tightly mark specific forwards at time this season but it requires a hell of a lot of well drilled training work to get the best out of it. If done poorly it can leave huge spaces in our defence so I doubt we’ll commit to it fully.
As you may know if you’ve read some of these articles before I tend to break down a specific part of Latics’ or our opponents set up, analyse it and discuss it further. However, the only footage I’d like you to see ahead of this game is this montage of Gyokeres. It’ll give you an idea of what Latics should expect this evening; pace, power, technical ability and hard work.
In terms of Latics’ set up I’m expecting a back 5 but with a slightly more adventurous style of play than we had against Swansea. Coventry average well below 50% possession and are a counter attacking side, and given our struggles from open play I wouldn’t be surprised if they let us have the majority of the ball and hit us on the break even though they’re at home. We have to find new ways of passing through teams, our current method of trying to go over them isn’t working. Do you remember the story ‘We’re going on a bear hunt ‘? Strange reference yes but the quote ‘We can’t go over it, we can’t go under it, we’ll have to go through it’ seems perfectly fitting for our build up play at the moment!
It requires a certain level of bravery to attempt the more risky passes but we have those creative types in our squad. Coventry, similarly to us, play the percentages more often than not so I can’t see that being a consistently successful method tonight unfortunately. We’ve got to be more creative, try things slightly outside of the box and find new ways of scoring goals. If we stick to the same old long ball hit and hope football as we have done for the past month or so it’ll be another long evening…
We’re due something now aren’t we? It feels like an age since Latics were a genuinely good side which is a harsh thing to say because there have been shining lights amidst the pain of the past month or so, but the facts are there for all to see. We simply aren’t getting enough points and we simply aren’t playing well enough to give supporters the hope that things will change. Tonight it’s vital that we change that.
From a psychological point of view I think it’ll be really damaging if we go into the World Cup break still on this poor run of form. We need a win to lift us out of the bottom three and to give everyone something to cheer about and something to hang onto as we spend the next month focusing on international football.
Tonight’s offers us a good opportunity to pick up a win. Coventry have been superb away from home but lack something at the Ricoh Arena and it’s up to Latics to pile on the misery at their home ground. Keep their main men quiet whilst playing with bravery in and out of possession and I think we’ll do just fine. Up the Tics!