• James Barker

The Build Up: Middlesbrough vs Coventry City

Middlesbrough will be looking to bounce back after a reality check defeat when they welcome Coventry City to Teesside on Saturday.


Boro fans were dealt a frustrating reminder on Monday night that you can’t win them all, as Chris Wilder suffered only his second defeat as Middlesbrough boss.


And thus this weekend is an opportunity for these Boro players to show what they’re really made of, as an enigmatic Coventry City side roll into town.


The Sky Blues arrive at the Riverside Stadium in good form, winning three of their last four games in all competitions, and should prove to be a tough nut to crack for Boro.


It’s 8th vs 9th on Saturday, and here’s everything you need to know ahead of it.


The Opposition


Coventry City


Nickname: The Sky Blues

Founded: 1883

Stadium: Coventry Building Society Arena

Current league position: 9th

Last season finish: 16th

Manager: Mark Robins

Current Top Scorer: Viktor Gyokeres/Matt Godden (10)

Fun fact: When founded in 1883, the club was actually called Singers FC, this is because the club was established after a meeting at the Singer Factory Gentleman’s Club. They would wisely change that name to Coventry City in 1898.


After establishing themselves in the Championship last season, Coventry City appear to have taken some impressive steps forward so far this season. They’ve been found flirting with automatic promotion spots as well as mid-table ones this season, so what really are this Coventry City side then?


To better my understanding of The Sky Blues, I reached out to Joey from the widely popular Coventry City fansite and Podcast, the Nii Lamptey Show (Twitter - @NiiLampteyShow). Here’s what he had to say on his team and Boro’s opponents this weekend.


What are your thoughts on Coventry’s season so far?


“Very happy with the season so far. Our form in the final few games of last season slightly flattered us and we looked a little safer than we really felt and it looked like another tricky season this time round. Given that, it's hard to be too bummed about the drop off in form over the last two months.”


What are the fans’ expectations for the remainder of the season?


“The job Robins has done since coming back is as good as any manager in England and to still be thinking about play-offs is amazing.


“In terms of expectations, I don't think anyone expects a play off place but to challenge would be lovely.”


Players to watch out for


Ben Sheaf was often wretched for us last season but has established himself as a very, very good central midfielder this season. Next to him is arguably our best player, Gus Hamer.


“All action with a penchant for both the spectacular and the violent, he and Sheaf make us tick. In front of them is Viktor Gyokeres, a man who looks like a superhero with the name of a super villain.


“He can be unstoppable up front without anyone really knowing how or why. He beats players without the ball ever being under control, he can miss sitters and score long range sighters like they're the correct way round. I love him more than my own sons.


How are Coventry likely to approach the game tactically?


“In terms of set up, it'll be a back three with wing-backs, a box midfield and one up front, a system that somehow looks terribly antiquated compared to your pi at the back with overlapping stewards system but it will be a very interesting match up.”


Joey’s Match Prediction


You wonder whether the middle will be very congested and the game may well be won or lost out wide. I'm going to be positive and predict a 1-0 Middlesbrough win.”


The Form Book


Middlesbrough (Last six: LWWWWW)


Blackburn Rovers 1-0 Middlesbrough

Middlesbrough 2-1 Reading

Mansfield Town 2-3 Middlesbrough (FA Cup)

Blackpool 1-2 Middlesbrough

Middlesbrough 2-0 Nottingham Forest

Middlesbrough 1-0 Bournemouth


Coventry City (Last six: WLWWLD)


Coventry City 1-0 Stoke City

Coventry City 1-2 QPR

Peterborough United 1-4 Coventry City

Coventry City 1-0 Derby County (FA Cup)

Coventry City 0-1 Millwall

Huddersfield Town 1-1 Coventry City


Head-to-Head League Record


Matches played - 42

Wins - Middlesbrough 16-14 Coventry City

Draws - 12

Goals - Middlesbrough 56-49 Coventry City

Points - Middlesbrough 60-54 Coventry City


Last Meeting


Coventry City 2-0 Middlesbrough - YouTube


Last six:


Coventry City 2-0 Middlesbrough - September 11, 2021

Coventry City 1-2 Middlesbrough - March 2, 2021

Middlesbrough 2-0 Coventry City - October 27, 2020

Coventry City 3-1 Middlesbrough - January 21, 2012

Middlesbrough 1-1 Coventry City - August 27, 2011

Middlesbrough 2-1 Coventry City - April 25, 2011


League Statistics


Middlesbrough:

8th, won 12, drawn 6, lost 9

Goals scored 31, goals conceded 26

Clean sheets 10

Points 42


Coventry City:

9th, won 11, drawn 7, lost 8

Goals scored 35, goals conceded 30

Clean sheets 8

Points 40


Team News


Middlesbrough didn’t appear to pick up any major bumps or bruises in their game against Blackburn on Monday night, so it should be a practically full bill of health to pick from once again this weekend.


Marc Bola remains injured whilst Marcus Browne, Uche Ikpeazu are likely to be left out as they focus on resolving their futures away from the club. Boro’s newboy from down under, Riley McGree, scored his first international goal for Australia during the week, and remains with the Socceroos this weekend. James Lea Siliki remains on international duty whilst the club have sent in Britain’s most loved detective, Vera, to help get to the bottom of the Sammy Ameobi case.



As for Coventry, manager Mark Robins is seemingly awaiting a biblical-esque miracle to help resolve his sides injury situation. The Sky Blues have a total of eight senior players missing through injury and illness, one of those being wing-back Todd Kane, as in response to being asked about his availability for Saturday, Robins stated that it would be a miracle if he was fit to train, adding: “I have got to wait for Lazarus to come in today and we’ll see.”


Chelsea loanee and fellow wing-back Ian Maatsen is back in full training and should make the trip to Teesside, but Robins has stated that any appearance will likely be a 15-20 minute cameo from the bench. It’s still not so good news in relation to some of his other key men, as attacker Callum O’Hare is nursing a dead leg and will be a game-time decision in all likelihood.


Sky Blues skipper Liam Kelly will definitely be out for Saturday, as he is suffering from a hamstring strain. Winger Fankaty Dabo is also out for this weekend’s match with a pelvic injury, whilst joint top scorer Matty Godden is also out as he continues to recover from appendicitis surgery last week. Fellow striker Jodi Jones is also out due to testing positive for Covid-19 earlier in the week.


Young academy winger Josh Eccles, who was forced to fill in as an emergency wing-back for Todd Kane in their midweek victory over Stoke City, is also touch and go as to whether he will be fit enough to start on Saturday. So The Sky Blues come into this one with their options heavily limited.


Managers Thoughts


Following Boro’s disappointing defeat to Blackburn Rovers, a frustrated Boro boss Chris Wilder said: “We do have to move on because of the nature of the Championship. But that has to act as a little bit of a bolt for the players as well.


“You have bumps in the road, but it’s quite a big one that and one that I didn’t enjoy. I set and expect high standards and maybe the players are learning just as much about me as I have learnt a little bit about those players as well.”


Upon being asked if his players needed to show a reaction this weekend, Wilder was clear in his response saying: “I expect a reaction, I don’t want one.


“I’d quite happily come here after and hold my hands up if we lost to a special goal or something like that. But I think the goal they scored summed us up, the chances we missed summed us up, our overall play summed us up. Heavy touches, misplaced passes…

“Paddy is a good player and one mistake won’t derail his season, in the same way one defeat won’t derail our season. We’ve got to have that mentality to come through that.

“But it’s a poor error, no doubt about it. It’s an unforced error. We weren’t good enough tonight to gift them a goal easily and, to be fair, they’ve not had to work hard for that goal.”


Speaking on Middlesbrough and the impact of Chris Wilder, Coventry boss Mark Robins would say: Chris has gone in and sort of changed a little bit with the way they play so it will be slightly different then what we came up against earlier this season.

“They’re a bit more man for man than when we played against Neil’s Middlesbrough, they were very very difficult to play against then and that will be the case again.

“They press really heavily they have got some top-quality players. The three defenders at the back certainly in Paddy McNair, they have got a midfield player playing at the back who is really talented, Dael Fry as well with Dijksteel alongside him.

“They’ve also got some injuries, but they have still got a lot of players they bought this window, Balogun in from Arsenal, Connolly from Brighton and they haven’t seen him yet, but Riley McGree has gone in there as well who had been at Birmingham on loan from Charlotte.

“They are a confident side and the three midfield players that they use; Tavernier and Crooks as an eight is dangerous and has good quality as well.”

Predicted Line-ups


Middlesbrough (3-5-2): GK: Joe Lumley DEF: Dael Fry, Anfernee Dijksteel, Paddy McNair MID: Isaiah Jones, Jonny Howson (C), Marcus Tavernier, Matt Crooks, Neil Taylor ATT: Folarin Balogun, Andraz Sporar


Coventry (3-4-2-1): GK: Simon Moore DEF: Dominic Hyam, Kyle McFadzean (C), Jake Clarke-Salter MID: Josh Eccles, Ben Sheaf, Gustavo Hamer, Jake Bidwell ATT: Jamie Allen, Jordan Shipley, Viktor Gyokeres


Officials


Referee: Matthew Donohue

Assistants: Philip Dermott & Paul Hodskinson

Fourth Official: Oliver Langford


Match Prediction


I hate Ewood Park. It’s one of those places that makes you question, does any away team actually ever win there? It’s like when you see those social media posts asking you to name a player who seemingly doesn’t age, you know that they do but, do they?


Legend has it that Most Haunted filmed a pilot episode there but couldn’t air it because Yvette Fielding saw what she believed to be a ghost in the concourse area, but what she actually saw was Tugay sneaking around looking for a midnight Pukka Pie. Yvette kazied herself at the sight of this and thus wasn’t aired to protect her dignity, so legend says anyway.


And indeed, those Boro players looked like they’d seen a ghost or two on Monday night, as passes couldn’t stick, chances couldn’t be taken, and you would imagine Chris Wilder will have grown a grey hair or two in the process.


But with every defeat comes the chance to show what you’re really made of, with character and ability set to be tested this weekend as Coventry City look to leapfrog Boro in the race for the play-offs.


Coventry are a very hard team to predict in terms of will they turn up or won’t they? They’ve proven to be a complex and frustrating puzzle that have left many a promotion-aiming Championship side puzzled.


However, they appear to have struggled to pick up three points when leaving the comfort of home this season, as only the bottom three sides (Peterborough, Derby & Barnsley) have won less away games than Coventry have this season (3).


Those three away wins came against Blackpool, Hull and Peterborough respectively. That doesn’t mean to say they’ve been poor away from home, however, as they have picked up points on the road against Blackburn, Millwall, Sheffield United, Bournemouth and Huddersfield, all tough places to go.


Coventry like to press high up the pitch, as Blackburn did on Monday night to great effect. The Sky Blues are 2nd in the league in the number of times they have won possession in the opponents final third, doing this 136 times. Only Bournemouth with 152 times have won the ball back in the final third more than Coventry.


The question is will they stick with that high press with a number of key players and contributors to that system not available for Saturday?


With two very good central midfield players in Ben Sheaf and Gustavo Hamer, and a good defensive line to back them up, I see this game being decided on the flanks.

With make-shift wing-back Josh Eccles likely being forced to fill in again, that is if he is even fit enough to start, then Middlesbrough should look to get Isaiah Jones the ball as much as possible.


Big 6’2” Swedish striker Viktor Gyokeres is The Sky Blues’ top scorer alongside the injured Matthew Godden with 10, but he’s certainly not a player who’s been in red hot form. In fact, his goal that decided the match against Stoke City on Tuesday was his first in 13 Championship outings, stretching back to a double against Fulham last October.


This is a really tough game to call, but I think these Boro players will have received one heck of a talking to from Chris Wilder on the back of Monday’s defeat, and you would hope that if these players have the character and the belief that we believe they possess, they’d come out with fire in their bellies this weekend.


And with an injury ravaged Coventry side that will be relying on stand-ins and players playing out of position, as well as missing one of their top scorers in Matt Godden, topped with their struggle of picking up three points on the road this season, this is a game I don’t see Boro losing.


It’s whether they can be clinical enough to take the sort of chances they got against Blackburn, and I’ll be confident and say that they will.


Prediction: Middlesbrough 2-1 Coventry City

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