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          Inexperienced Sky Blues are something of a wildcard

          FAN FARE | How will Coventry adapt to Championship?

          2020/09/08 09:16
          By Stephen Gillett (Intro)
          E0

          With the new 2020/21 season approaching fast, Playmaker caught up with Glenn Watkin from Coventry City fan account The Sky Blue Hub to get the lowdown on how the Sky Blues are shaping up after their promotion from League One last season. 


          Coventry City return to the Championship after an eight-year absence, following their relegation at the end of 2011/12, with the division looking tougher than ever - no less than 16 former Premiership clubs in it. 

          The stark reality of the challenge facing Mark Robins’ League One Championship winning team is shown by the relative lack of Championship experience in the team: only captain Liam Kelly, midfielder Jamie Allen, striker Matty Godden, reserve goalkeeper Ben Wilson and defender Kyle McFadzean having played games at this level.  

          In addition to this quintet, recent signing Tyler Walker has more experience of the division having featured for Nottingham Forest last season, and the Sky Blues' fortunes in the forthcoming campaign may hinge heavily on whether Walker can hit the ground running.

          Burgeoning talent   

          The squad has a very youthful dynamic to it with the majority of the squad under the age of 26. The test for this squad will be whether they can adapt to the demands of a rigorous Championship season facing the likes of Wayne Rooney and other international footballers.  

          The club’s approach of either finding players from lower leagues, or under 23s football, along with blooding the club’s academy youngsters has brought plenty of success with Sam McCallum's recent move to Norwich seeing him follow in the footsteps of Tom Bayliss, James Maddison, Callum Wilson and Cyrus Christie in recent years. Mark Robins will also be desperate to get his hands on the extra cash generated by Callum Wilson’s move from Bournemouth to Newcastle - the Sky Blues set to pocket 10% of the fee thanks to a sell on clause.  

          In the groove after early inconsistency

          Pre-season has been a mixed bag with defeats to Glasgow Rangers and Swindon Town followed by a draw versus Wolves Under 23s and then five successful wins against MK Dons, Burton Albion, Peterborough twice and Southampton Under 23s - all away from home. 

          Clean sheets were conspicuous by their absence, though, until Saturday's 1-0 away win at MK Dons in the First Round of the Carabao Cup. 

          Marko Marosi remains first choice between the sticks after his excellent form last season, although number two Ben Wilson has shown himself to be an able deputy with some solid pre-season performances. Youngsters Tom Billson and Cian Tyler may well be loaned out to get more first team experience.  

          ©Getty / Simon Cooper - EMPICS

          Injuries to Fankaty Dabo, new signing Julien DaCosta and Michael Rose have given opportunities to the likes of Darren Drysdale, Jordan Thompson, Blaine Rowe and Jack Burroughs, while the signing of young Norwegian central defender Leo Ostigard from Brighton has added further competition for places in the back three, and his successful loan spell at German side St Pauli last season looks to be a good marker that he will be one to watch this season at the Sky Blues. 

          It is expected that Mark Robins will continue with the back three system plus wing-backs that proved so successful in League One after the team switched to it in October. Dabo will be the first choice right wing-back once he is fit and will look to continue on with last season’s great displays where he was a constant attacking threat for the team along with being very solid defensively. It seems that it will be either Josh Pask playing out of position, Academy right-back Blaine Rowe or Under-23 right-back Jack Burroughs (although naturally a midfielder) who will cover for Dabo until he is fit.  

          Once Rose is fit, I expect that long-term Rose, Hyam and Ostigard will be the first-choice back three with McFazdean missing out, even though his exclusion means the defence will lack his experience and the presence of a natural left-footer. I cannot see Ostigard not playing for us if he is fit otherwise Brighton would have not loaned him to us. Josh Pask is another option in defence along with summer signing from French football DaCosta once he returns to full fitness from an ankle ligament injury sustained last December.  

          Wing Men

          Ryan Giles has been re-signed from Wolves on a season loan to provide options on the Sky Blues’ left hand side after his brief loan spell last season. Giles has been one of the major pluses of the Sky Blues’ preseason campaign and appears to now be the first choice left wing back ahead of Brandon Mason with youngsters Joe Newton and Jay McGrath in reserve.  

          The club’s transfer business has been done very quickly this summer bar the drawn out loan signing of young Arsenal midfielder Ben Sheaf with a view to a permanent deal in the summer. After impressing at Doncaster last season, Sheaf's signing provides further options in the deep-lying central midfielder positons along with the capture of highly-rated Dutch- Brazilian midfielder Gustavo Hamer from PEC Zwolle. Obviously, however, there are big shoes to fill with Liam Walsh returning to Bristol City after his successful loan spell at the Sky Blues last season.

          Skipper Liam Kelly would appear to be a first name on the team sheet, but it may be that long-term Sheaf and Hamer are our regular midfield pairing. Irish midfielder Dan Lafferty, ex-Southampton midfielder Dan Bartlett and ex-Swindon midfielder Jordan Young will be looking to push for places on the bench if injuries/suspensions hit the Sky Blues after Zain Westbrooke’s surprisingly moved to Bristol Rovers in search of regular first team football.  

          ©Getty / Andrew Vaughan - CameraSport

          The 10 slots

          Based on pre-season it appears that Mark Robins will continue with the box formation of two number 10s playing behind a main striker. After signing on a free transfer from Aston Villa in the summer Callum O’Hare would appear to be first choice in that role. His goals output will need to be increased and he needs to be more clinical in front of goal after several shocking misses last season - the most memorable surely coming in the last minute versus Birmingham City in the FA Cup when he missed the ball in front of an open goal;  it was honestly easier to score than miss. However, the all-round work rate and ball carrying-ability O’Hare brings to the table will be key for the Sky Blues. His partner in the role last season was Jamie Allen, after his return to full fitness after pre-season injury, and I’d expect Allen to start especially away from home.  

          The other options would be German midfielder Marcel Hilsner signed from SC Paderborn, but he has had an injury hit pre-season so far so is off the pace currently. Winger Jodi Jones is still on his way back from two cruciate knee ligament injuries, but two goals in pre-season has been promising and I expect him to be used as an impact substitute.

          Irish midfielder Jordan Shipley, with his ability to score from long range, would be an another option who will surely get opportunities. Will Bapaga has caught the eye with some solid performances in pre-season and will be looking to establish himself in the first team squad after making his debut aged 16 away at Bolton last season. Curacao international Gervane Kasteneer, despite some glimpses of magic, has never performed regularly for the Sky Blues so he seems destined for the exit door, while Wesley Jobello - another victim of a cruciate knee ligament injury - will be looking to establish himself in the first team squad again when he is fully rehabilitated. Aaron Evans-Harriott will continue his development in the Under 23 side after signing from Cheltenham in February.

          Striking options  

          Matty Godden appears to Coventry's first choice striker after his solid finish to last season with winning goals v Portsmouth, Sunderland and Ipswich alongside a crucial equaliser against Rotherham in the last six games of the curtailed season. His habit of scoring key goals to gain results could be crucial in keeping the Sky Blues out of the relegation zone.  

          Tyler Walker’s signing from Forest suggests Robins may opt to switch to a front two - particularly given that Walker and Godden played together successfully at Stevenage a few seasons ago albeit only for a few months. With a career record of a goal nearly every other game, Walker could be a key performer for the Sky Blues if he gets regular game time.

          ©Getty / Bradley Collyer - PA Images

          Amadou Bakayoko seems to be established as the third choice striker and fans will be hoping the choice of him wearing the shirt number 20 in homage to the fans song ‘20 goals 20 goals Bakayoko’ will result in some solid goal-scoring performances when called upon.  

          Maxime Biamou has dropped down the pecking order to fourth choice despite performing well last season in the absence of Godden and Hiwula due to injuries. Biamou is a fans favourite, but has the reputation of a scorer of fantastic goals rather than a fantastic goal scorer. However, he works well in a front two and brings the best out of his partner as shown by his partnership with Marc McNulty in the Sky Blues’ League Two promotion campaign and last season when he was paired with Bakayoko.  

          Mark Robins could look to push one from Callum O’Hare, Jodi Jones, Wesley Jobello or Will Bapaga into a forward role if necessary as another option.  

          Prediction time

          In summary, for the upcoming season it is very hard to judge how Coventry will do given the uncertainty of how many games will be played behind closed doors, or just in front of home fans only; the relative lack of experience at Championship football in the squad and the current injuries to key defenders in Rose and Dabo. Add in the fact that two key performers in our promotion season, Liam Walsh and Sam McCallum, have moved on and it's very hard to determine how good a season Mark Robins’ side will have.  

          Most Sky Blues fans would accept 21st place right now, as staying up in the Championship is the ultimate goal for the club. At a time when stability is in short supply, as evidenced by talks collapsing with Wasps Rugby club regarding a return to the Ricoh, staying in the second tier would represent a base from which to build. 

          Playing at St Andrews last season on a very good pitch no doubt had some benefits, but I’m sure if the team was back at the Ricoh then once crowds were allowed back attendances would be over 10,000 with fans looking forward to local derbies v Birmingham City, Forest, Derby and also Stoke City.  

          Ultimately the club’s aim will be to finish above the likes of Luton, Huddersfield, Wycombe, Rotherham, Sheffield Wednesday and Barnsley. This foundation along with hopefully a return to the Ricoh could lead to better times for the Sky Blues faithful.

           

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