Coventry City (H) Preview

Wigan Athletic are in turmoil. With huge uncertainty off the pitch and relegation pretty much certain on it you’d imagine these last 10 games will be far from enjoyable. However, it’s not over till it’s mathematically over, we know that more than anyone, and I’m sure the message from Shaun Maloney to his players will be just that.

Saturday’s game with Burnley was always going to be tough, but the issues we faced off the field made it an almost impossible task. Considering they’d not been paid on time for the fourth time this season I think they put in a hell of an effort and I’m going to bare that in mind when analysing the game. They are the victims in this wages story.

Opponents Coventry City know all about off the field uncertainty but seem to be on the right track under new ownership. They’re pushing for the play-offs and have a squad filled with young talent and experienced pros, led by Mark Robins who is a wonderful manager. As everyone does when facing us at the moment, they’ll fancy their chances…

Latics Team News

Considering we have one of, if not THE, weakest squad in the division we can’t afford to keep losing players in the way we are doing. Omar Rekik’s red card on Saturday means he’ll miss this game, and with Jack Whatmough, Martin Kelly and Jason Kerr all missing that leaves us short at the back.

Oh well, at least Coventry don’t have the best striker in the division…

Speaking of Viktor Gyokores, he’s already netted against Latics this season in the reverse fixture and Jamie Jones was in goal that day. It’ll likely be Ben Amos tonight, who despite conceding three goals did manage to prevent things getting completely out of hand with a couple of smart saves. If he can keep ‘Gyok’ out he’ll be doing well.

With Rekik out I’m expecting Steven Caulker to take his place in the starting 11. With Hughes and Nyambe flanking him it’s the same defence that kept Norwich out for the majority of the the game at the DW so hopefully the same happens again. Considering the calibre of players missing that’s still a pretty good back three I’d say.

Tom Pearce got a long awaited start at LWB against Burnley and didn’t look out of place. I think it’s clear that Maloney sees him as a key player moving forward and I expect to see him a lot more before the end of the season. Darikwa might not be quite so long term but his role as captain is as important as ever right now given the circumstances.

Max Power was partnered with Tom Naylor on Saturday who did a solid enough job as a ball winning, opposition fouling midfielder. For the first time this season we saw Power subbed off, maybe with a view to the run in and fitness concerns. I expect him and Tiehi to be the partnership tonight, although Naylor didn’t do anything worthy of being dropped necessarily.

It also looked like Maloney was trialling new things in attacking areas at the weekend too. Whilst I’m not suggesting he’s conceding defeat or accepting relegation it is interesting to see him giving lots of players chances to impress him, particularly those that are out of contract at the end of the season.

Josh Magennis and Ashley Fletcher started up front together with Callum Lang feeding off them. Unfortunately when Rekik was sent off Magennis was withdrawn and Fletcher and Lang had to do the work of three forwards. As has been the case all season we weren’t clinical in front of goal, and had Fletcher scored the simple 1v1 he missed it might’ve been a different game.

Anyway, it wasn’t to be and we are where we are for two simple reasons. We concede goals we shouldn’t concede and we don’t score as many goals as we should score. Time is running out to rectify that and we haven’t seen enough to suggest we’ll improve drastically between now and the end of the season. It really is about planning for the future now in my opinion.

An Opposition View

As always I’ve called in the help of a few people far more knowledgeable about Coventry than myself to contribute to this section of the preview!

1) A lot has happened since Latics and Coventry met in November. You won 2-0 that day and have continued to impress, losing just 5 of the 18 games since. Can you sum up the past couple of months for us?

“When we played Wigan back in November we were just getting our season back on track after the well published tumultuous start to the season and this was one of the four victories in an unbeaten month for us.

Sadly the World Cup break then appeared to disrupt our flow and with some further injury concerns it has taken some time to recapture that form.  However we are now on a run of seven games unbeaten.

The new ownership of the club during this period is something which was a real positive and is something which we hope will give us some long-lasting stability going forward. Having been through enough of our own troubles in recent years we are sorry to hear about the troubles at Wigan at the moment and hope you are able get past this without too much further pain.” [@SkyBlueFansTV1]

2) You were taken over by Doug King in January and made some excellent additions in the transfer window, as well as retaining key players. Are you confident things off the pitch have settled down now after a long period of uncertainty?

“We are really hopeful that Doug King can now give us a period of stability, where we can concentrate on our football and stop worrying about off-field troubles. At this moment a long term agreement to play at the CBS is still in the pipework but now that all of the old protagonists are out of the picture we would hope that everybody can reach a sensible agreement.

The positivity has resulted in, rather unusually, a song for an owner which you may well hear from the away following as it has been sung with gusto in recent weeks.

The January transfer window was a sensible one for us.  You will always have the fans that wanted Doug King to go out spending multi-millions but we have had enough trouble in recent times not to want to get into another financial mess.  Keeping all our key players and adding some young talent which provided us with some more strength in depth was a good window for us.

McNally on loan from Burnley has been a particular bonus. He has really added some quality to our back line.” [@SkyBlueFansTV1]

3) Mark Robins is a highly thought of manager and always seems to get the best out of your squad. How has he got you playing this season and are you happy to have him at the helm for the foreseeable future?

“Mark Robins has done a remarkable job again this season. Last week marked six years since he came back to the club and the progression during that time has been close to miraculous. We were on our way down to league two and at that time we couldn’t see when we were going to stop the downward spiral. The fact that we are now even dreaming about making the Championship play-offs in such a short period of time is just remarkable.

Generally under Robins we have always looked to play entertaining football and that has been no different this season.  We have been unlucky with injuries this season, as most clubs seem to have been, and so we have had to cobble teams together some weeks but Robins will not deviate from his principals.

There will always be the fickle fans who call for him to go when we have a bad run but for me he is an absolute legend and I hope he remains with the club for many a year. Given the time I believe that Robins will get us back to the Premier League and the football in the meantime is enjoyable.” [@SkyBlueFansTV1]

4) This feels like a slightly obvious question so I’ll add a caveat. Aside from Viktor Gyokeres, who are the key players Latics should be wary of on Tuesday night?

“The first player who springs to mind would be Hamer. He has been getting better and better this season and in many games stands out as the best player on the pitch.

Some of our other attacking threats such as O’Hare and Palmer are currently injured, but this has given some of our young prospects a chance and it is nice to see some young Coventry lads getting some minutes.

Looking at things from a different perspective we have two young loan defenders in McNally and Doyle who like to move forward with the ball and have an eye for a pass. Doyle also has a cracking shot on him and is due a goal soon.”

Tactical Talk

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 mentioned previously that I see them as a great blueprint for Latics to try and follow in terms of recruitment, playing style and youth pathways into the first team. That still applies.

In terms of their on the field work they play a pretty simple 5-3-2 system that gets the very best out of the players at their disposal. They don’t focus too much on possession but they’re very effective when they get the ball, especially when winning it back and counter attacking quickly. They scored against us by doing just that.

I expect them to let us have the ball for long spells safe in the knowledge that, one, they’re solid in their defensive structure and, two, we don’t have the creative spark to break them down. The longer we take to score will force us to push more bodies forward which leaves us susceptible to their quick and dangerous counter attacks.

Players like Viktor Gyokeres, Josh Wilson-Esbrand and Brooke Norton-Cuffy all possess the pace and power to cause us problems on the break, whilst Gustavo Hamer, Jamie Allen and Josh Eccles are all technically very sound capable of retaining possession well. As I’ve said they’re just a well balanced side who know how to win games in several ways.

Stopping them is about stopping their best players. It sounds simple in that sense but the difference in ability between the best and the rest in their squad is really big. The top end Championship talent is supported by solid but unspectacular players and they’re the players we need to target. It’s worth noting these ‘weaker’ players are still better than ours but the point still stands!

There isn’t too much mobility in their back 3, particularly if Michael Rose partners Kyle McFadzean so quick passing play in and around their defensive third can break them down. I’d like to see Sinani, Lang and Aasgaard all get a go, maybe even together with Lang acting as a 9. Stretching the play and creating as much space as possible is probably our best bet in my opinion.

Luke McNally is someone I’ve wanted Latics to sign for a long time and I was extremely jealous when he joined Coventry in January. He’s the player we need to try and funnel the ball away from with our press as I believe they’re much weaker in the build up down the left. If Darikwa can win his battles out wide we may be able to get some joy down that side.

The facts are we have to be tactically better than every team we play against because they are better than us personnel wise. It’s not a criticism of the players we have by any means because I’m sure they’d all agree they’d have liked more reinforcements. Unfortunately that’s not the case and Shaun Maloney has to be at his very best as a coach to make things work!

Final Thoughts

Right now the football doesn’t feel particularly significant. People who are more important to the club than we’ll ever know have been let down for a fourth time this season and I think everyone will agree that needs sorting more than our results on the pitch.

Of course the results need to improve if we have any chance of staying up. Realistically we need to win 80% of our remaining games to have a chance and whilst Coventry are comfortably better than us it feels like a winnable game still. If we’re on it and they’re not we can make it difficult for them and hopefully come away with the three points.

The club needs a lift right now, let’s hope the performance is full of fight, courage and quality.

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