Coventry v Sheff Utd: flailing big-hitters


Nigel Adkins –

The underachievement of big clubs is not a theme solely relevant to the Premier League this season. With better owners, squads or management – delete as appropriate – fans of these clubs will believe there is potential to go up and at least stabilize in the Championship.

Many put Coventry City’s awful form down to their ownership problems. However, reports suggest the club has paid the sixth highest amount of money to agents this season and the board have said the budget is the sixth-eighth highest in the league. For that reason, one can question whether the availability of money is as much of an issue as the use of it.

The club have made 10 loan signings since the start of the season, though Jodi Jones was brought in in March with a view to a permanent deal. Indeed, Jones is one of the few who could be deemed successful, centre-back Jack Stephens perhaps the pick of the rest.

With so many players coming in on short-term deals, it has been hard for Tony Mowbray to stabilize the squad and establish his best eleven. Sheffield United have had a similar problem for the last two seasons, struggling for tactical consistency with a big squad.

The only consistent performers at Bramall Lane have been Che Adams and Billy Sharp. Adams has injected pace into the team’s forward play, the 19-year-old’s powerful runs and 12 goal haul making him a target for higher-ranked clubs. Sharp meanwhile is the type of striker that comes alive in the box and has provided a poacher’s instinct. Sheffield United rely too heavily however, on the moments of attacking quality from Adams and Sharp. They have played poorly for much of the season and do not attack with enough speed.

Part of the reason for that is the performances of aging players. When breaking teams down, it does not help when you have a double pivot of 27-year-old Chris Basham, who prides himself on defensive bravery rather than slickness in possession, alongside 33-year-old Dean Hammond, who tends to slow play down. It is a source of bemusement to Blades fans that Adkins hails him as an ‘unsung hero’.

Indeed, Adkins is far from a hero, unsung or otherwise, at Sheffield United and supporters are torn as to whether he deserves another chance next season. On the one hand, finishing outside the play-offs represents significant underachievement for the biggest club in League One. However, the counter-argument is that Adkins has won promotion from this division with Southampton and Scunthorpe and previous manager changes have not helped the South Yorkshire club. It may be of benefit to give the boss another season or two to condense the squad, identify his best side and add some energy and dynamism.

Those are qualities also lacking in the Coventry team. Mowbray criticized the performance after a 2-0 defeat at Doncaster, suggesting his team had lost their identity whilst admitting that, in his mind, any play-off hopes had gone a long time ago. These two clubs have the potential to go further, but those at the top have questions to answer.