It’s been quite the season of contrasts for Coventry City so far. Off the pitch, the Sky Blues look to be in a right mess and were handed an eviction notice for their own stadium this week. On the pitch however, Mark Robins’ side are currently the team to beat; 26 points from their last dozen matches puts them top of the form table since the first international break.
There’s no one better to help us break all that down than Coventry City writer Dominic Jerams, who’s behind the excellent website Sideways Sammy. You can find him on Twitter @SideSammy.
How’s the season gone for you so far?
It’s been a weird season, on a number of levels. After a genuinely terrible start to the season, the team is now on a run of form that is better than anything they produced last year – which most would agree was a genuinely excellent campaign for Coventry City. By the time the World Cup break came, the team were flying and looked on course for the play-offs. The question now is whether that momentum can be maintained after a four-week pause.
Coventry’s off-pitch issues seem incessant - what have you made of them, and how much will they hold the club back going forwards?
The past 15 years have been such a constant deluge of off-the-pitch issues that I’m pretty numb to this latest round. Currently, it is not clear who owns Coventry City, where they will play their home games and how soon anything might be resolved.
It is a very serious situation that the club is in, yet, because Mark Robins has been so capable of finding a way forward in challenging circumstances in the past, it feels like the manager will continue to find ways to progress. However, there is always the chance that this is the straw that breaks the camel’s back with Mark Robins and Coventry City. There will be a clearer picture as to whether that will be the case over the next few weeks.
On the pitch, Coventry’s form is excellent - the best since the first international break. What’s been behind that form?
The terrible start to the season may have proved to be a blessing in disguise for this Coventry City team. The final four/five months of the previous campaign had seen the team play well but struggle to pick up results consistently; that leaked into the start of the new season and was made worse by the inability to play home games over the first month that put the Sky Blues bottom of the table due to games in hand.
That danger of being cut adrift forced the focus to shift from the style of play towards being able to get results – primarily by being sterner at the back – and once the form started to pick up, momentum has carried Coventry City into a lofty position. It has also helped having Gustavo Hamer and Callum O’Hare available again after the duo missed most of the start of the season due to suspension and injury, respectively.
What are the main strengths of this Coventry side?
Defence has become a strength for this team after being a key weakness in the first weeks of the campaign. While the individuals that make up the back-line for Coventry City aren’t necessarily the most impressive, they have shown they can soak up pressure effectively, allowing the more talented attacking players to do their thing.
Viktor Gyokeres is clearly Coventry City’s star man at the moment. The Swede is a truly unique footballer, standing at well over six foot, but with his primary skills being his control of the ball, dribbling and ability to run in behind, and that he is also prodigiously hard-working and physically strong, makes him all but unstoppable when he is on form.
Behind Gyokeres, Callum O’Hare and one of Jamie Allen or Kasey Palmer in the attacking midfield roles are also exceptionally hard-working, which allows the Sky Blues to pester teams in the press. Being able to rotate between the skillful O’Hare and Palmer both between and during games has been a key trump card Mark Robins has been able to play this season.
Finally, Gustavo Hamer and Ben Sheaf in central midfield are a really well-rounded duo that are increasingly bossing games at the moment. Hamer rightly grabs the headlines with his audacious passing, long-range shooting and aggressive tackling. After picking up two red cards early in the season, Hamer has returned to the fold better than ever, more determined to make an impact while demonstrating a missing level of discipline in the challenge.
Sheaf, meanwhile, is more understated but reads the game excellently and has some skill on the ball of his own that not only allows him to provide a platform for other players but also to make an impact on games himself when teams are distracted by Hamer, O’Hare and Gyokeres.
How about weaknesses?
Despite the improvement in defence, that is still an area I am concerned with due to the aforementioned lack of stand-out individuals. A particular concern is in goal, where Ben Wilson can make poor decisions when not protected by the players in front of him. The recent improvement in league position could see Mark Robins take the handbrake off and leave that defence, especially the goal, more exposed than over the past 10 or so games.
Moreover, this Coventry City team isn’t blessed with pace or quality in wide areas, where Jake Bidwell and Josh Eccles in either wing-back position are first-choice due to a lack of quality alternatives. While both are diligent players, isolating them in one-against-one situations may be something Reading could do to find some joy in this game.
How do you see this game going and what will the score be?
It feels like predicting an opening-day game all over again after this long pause in the league schedule. Whether Coventry City’s strong pre-World Cup form, or the off-field chaos, will be factors in this game, will only be apparent when it actually happens. Sticking my seat firmly on the fence, I’m opting for a 1-1 draw.
How will England get on against France in the late kick-off?
I think it’s going to be a classic ‘first half, good, second-half, not so good’ kind of England game. It will be an agonising 2-1 win for France after England take an early lead.