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View From The Town End: Coventry City’s ‘Pretty Remarkable’ Season

Dom Jerams on: Mark Robins, Coventry’s important tactical switch, Viktor Gyokeres, Gustavo Hamer, and much more.

Blackburn Rovers v Coventry City - Sky Bet Championship - Ewood Park Photo by Martin Rickett/PA Images via Getty Images

This Saturday’s game is a clash of two sides that need points for very different reasons: while Reading are one point off safety, hosts Coventry City are one point outside the top six. Getting into the play-offs would cap quite the turnaround for the Sky Blues, given that they were 22nd at the end of October.

To learn more about all of that, we spoke to Coventry City fan and writer Dom Jerams. You can find him on Twitter @SideSammy and his excellent website Sideways Sammy here. He previewed the match here.

How would you sum up your season so far?

It’s been pretty remarkable really. After a terrible start to the season, I thought we were almost dead and buried; to be in a position now where we can make the play-offs with three games left is an incredible turnaround.

Without much investment in the team over the past year or so, it is a testament to Mark Robins and his coaching staff how they’ve been able to coax a high level of performance out of this group over a prolonged period. Whatever happens over the remainder of the campaign, this year has been yet another example of the magic Mark Robins is capable of producing.

How important is Viktor Gyokeres to this side?

It is very rare to have a striker who can create and score their own chances and a lot of our play this season has centred on just giving Gyokeres the ball and seeing what he can do with it. He has looked a little tired recently, but he is still a nightmare for opposing defences to deal with because he can outmuscle defenders before beating them for skill. He is one of those players who, even if he’s not playing at his best, you still have to deal with.

We are not just a one-man team, we are a two-man team. Gustavo Hamer in midfield is almost every bit as important as Gyokeres because he has that similar quality of being able to play the roles that two or three ordinary players would have to. He constantly drives the team forward with the quality of his passing and his sheer drive to get on the ball and create.

Reading v Coventry City - Sky Bet Championship - Select Car Leasing Stadium
Viktor Gyokeres in action in the reverse fixture, a 1-0 home win
Photo by Kieran Cleeves/PA Images via Getty Images

On top of that, he also contributes goals and assists. He is also pretty good at reading the game and nicking the ball away from opponents in midfield, having stamped out the silly yellow cards that had previously characterised his game.

The two of them are Premier League players in what is otherwise a mid-table, maybe even lower, Championship team.

What are the main strengths of this Coventry team?

The key to turning this season around has been Mark Robins moving from a possession style of play to counter-attacking. With a defence that is pretty confident defending its own penalty area, led by Kyle McFadzean in the middle and Ben Wilson in goal, the aim is to get the ball as quickly as possible into the paths of Gustavo Hamer and Viktor Gyokeres, who can be utterly devastating when they are left one-against-one versus opposing defenders.

If we can nick the first goal in games, we have the ability to pull teams apart as they are forced to come onto us and leave further space at the back to be exploited.

And weaknesses?

Apart from just how thin the squad is now that we’re without four key midfielders in Ben Sheaf, Callum O’Hare, Kasey Palmer and Jamie Allen, the main weakness of this team is how they look to break teams down when they are given long spells of possession.

Part of the issue is that Viktor Gyokeres likes to float into wide areas, so that opportunities to get crosses into the box quickly can pass this team by. However, a lack of quality at wing-back means we struggle to stretch teams when they sit back against us and we are left to hope that Gustavo Hamer can find a moment of magic on his own to find a way through teams looking to defend against us. That is a key reason why this team has yet to win a game after falling behind this season – which had been a key strength last season.

Reading v Coventry City - Sky Bet Championship - Select Car Leasing Stadium
Gustavo Hamer at the reverse fixture
Photo by Kieran Cleeves/PA Images via Getty Images

How do you see the rest of the season playing out for you?

Grabbing a point at Blackburn Rovers in the very last minute with a goal from our goalkeeper was a massive moment in the season, but an injury picked up by Ben Sheaf in that game makes the point a bittersweet one.

Coventry City have to win their next two home games – this one against Reading, then Birmingham City the following week – to give themselves a chance of making the play-offs, with Middlesbrough away on the final day. What was already a tall order looks especially challenging due to the lack of fit players available to Mark Robins.

How will the game go and what will the score be?

My worry for this game from a Coventry City perspective is that we just don’t have the players to break Reading down. There’s a chance that we’ll have to start our captain, Liam Kelly, in midfield for the first time this season, which further limits our ability to open the game out and stretch the opposition, on top of playing a number of players who are looking pretty exhausted at the moment.

I can see this being a pretty attritional contest between one side that is shattered and another that is fighting for their lives. My prediction would be a 1-1 draw that is good for neither team.