Coventry City Season Preview: too many changes

coventry badgeCoventry City have not finished in the top six of a division for a staggering 46 years. Tony Mowbray hopes to arrest the decline but he was unable to halt a much shorter-term one last season, as the Sky Blues went on a three month run of poor post-Christmas form. Supporter Dom Jerams (@SideSammy) analyses the issues at the Ricoh, and the challenging task of awaking this sleeping giant.

Coventry were fourth in January last year but a return of nine points from 16 ended any promotion hopes. What went wrong in the second half of last season that hadn’t until then?

It was a combination of poor recruitment and teams figuring us out. Tony Mowbray decided to bring in experienced heads in January to help a young team out but the likes of Peter Ramage, Darius Henderson and Stephen Hunt just weren’t good enough. When teams realised the could defend deep, block the centre of the pitch and bully the likes of Adam Armstrong, Jacob Murphy and James Maddison, we didn’t have the quality to break teams down.

Was part of the problem signing too many players on loan deals, disrupting the consistency of the first eleven? In which case, could the loan restrictions be of benefit to Coventry?

The problem wasn’t signing players on loan per se, but Tony Mowbray’s proclivity to tweak the starting XI from game-to-game. When we beat Gillingham 4-1 to go top in November, Mowbray dropped three players for the next game against Bradford and we failed to build momentum. I don’t think the change in the loan rules will stop Mowbray from rotating the squad so heavily, it’s about whether we’ll have the strength in depth to let him get away with it.

Chris Stokes was one of the few established first teamers last season until his injury in March. How did other left-backs cope in his absence?

Despite having Ryan Haynes performing well out on loan at Cambridge, Tony Mowbray chose not to recall him when Stokes picked up an injury. It was a choice between a woefully out-of-form Sam Ricketts and Stephen Hunt, who is a winger, to fill the left-back slot. In a weird way though, not having a proper left-back saw Mowbray experiment with a back three and results improved, albeit too late to save our play-off hopes.

Marvin Sordell has had a bad couple of seasons while Kwayne Thomas was released by Derby. Are either of them capable of replacing Adam Armstrong?

In a word, no. There’s a remote chance that Armstrong could return as it seems like he’s not in Rafa Benitez’s plans for Newcastle this season and they apparently don’t want to loan him out to another Championship club. Even if we can’t get Armstrong, Mowbray is planning on bringing in at least one more striker. If Sordell or Thomas do come off, it will hopefully add another goal-threat to the squad rather than being our only hope.

Sordell and Thomas are your only two signings to date. Are you surprised more additions haven’t been made?

I am surprised, mainly because Tony Mowbray appeared to have given up hope of making the play-offs back in March and began preparing for this season early. It’s worth pointing out that Jodi Jones, Vladimir Gadzhev and Andy Rose were brought in towards the end of last year with a view to playing a bigger role this season, and they all look like decent signings, but you would have thought that with two extra months to prepare, we would be in a better state right now.

Lee Burge: unreliable blunderer or underrated shot-stopper?

I like Lee Burge, but he’s clearly the inferior keeper to Reice Charles-Cook, who is now our established number one and possibly among the better keepers at this level. While Lee Burge is a good shot-stopper and can command his area with authority, he just seems to lack self-belief which leads to some routine errors. In comparison, Reice Charles-Cook has similar qualities but is just much more confident in the way he goes about his business. It’s hard to see Burge winning back his starting spot anytime soon.

Reda Johnson was released this summer but joined training at the start of pre-season. Is there some uncertainty as to who your best centre-backs are? May Romain Vincelot have to fill in on occasion?

As it stands, we have three centre-backs in the squad – Jordan Willis, Sam Ricketts and Cian Harries. Ricketts seems to be past it, while Cian Harries is very, very raw. Jordan Willis is coming back from a long injury lay-off but has seemingly impressed Mowbray in pre-season at centre-back, having usually played at right-back previously. Vincelot showed last season that he can slot in at centre-back, but only at the right of a back three. The plan is to bring in at least two new centre-backs, just why Aaron Martin was let go is still puzzling at this stage.

Jim O’Brien was sent on loan to Scunthorpe last season and now he’s been let go to Shrewsbury. Has he been undervalued by Tony Mowbray? And is there a shortage of quality midfielders to turn to?

Tony Mowbray never seemed to trust O’Brien, despite his return of goals and assists last season, due to seeing him as tactically indisciplined. O’Brien brought energy to the team, running around like a mad-man but playing some really lovely through-balls when we were on the counter-attack. He’s not as effective when the game’s slower but he was such an important element of the way we played for the first half of last season.

As for who can step up in midfield, Ruben Lameiras could be a big player for us if he adds consistency to his game, he can thread some wonderful reverse passes through and he is possibly the most intelligent players we have off-the-ball. Andy Rose and Vladimir Gadzhev are ones to watch too. Rose is a very energetic box-to-box midfielder and a good finisher too. Gadzhev is someone I haven’t seen play yet but is reportedly a very technically-solid midfielder with a powerful shot from range.

Winger Jodi Jones put in some decent displays for you after joining from Dagenham. Is he a player that excites you?

Very much so. He’s lightening quick, beats players for fun and loves to cut inside to shoot. He’s yet to register a goal or an assist and will need to show he’s got an end product in the first few months of the season otherwise our fans will lose patience with him, which is what happened to Jacob Murphy and Ryan Kent last season despite some big contributions.

What are your thoughts ahead of the League One season as a whole? Any potential dark horses for you?

I think the division is stronger than last season, Sheffield United and Charlton seem to have their act together and plenty of other teams have strengthened really well over the summer. My dark horse is Scunthorpe, they’ve got momentum, they’ve got the core of a really good team in place and they’ve made some interesting additions in Sam Mantom and Duane Holmes.

Where will you finish?

It’s entirely possible that we could sign three or four really good players over the next few weeks that will change the feeling around the club. At the moment we have a very mid-table look about us (and that’s being optimistic), 12th place.

The Football Lab’s Verdict

The lack of energy shown in some games last season means Coventry aren’t ready to push for promotion. With more squad stability and the continued rise of youngster Jones, they should stay in the top half. 11th