As the festive cheer continues to grip the nation, the abundance of football fixtures also excites many who relish watching their respective sides in action. With the SkyBet League One season reaching the halfway stage this weekend, clubs are looking to gain as many points as possible over an extremely busy period.
Two of those teams vying for a belated Christmas present are Coventry City and Port Vale. The aforementioned play host to Rob Page’s side at the Ricoh Arena and another healthy crowd is expected. Both sets of supporters will be keeping their fingers crossed for a positive result, and the expectation should contribute towards an intense atmosphere.
The Sky Blues will be looking back at their recent fortunes with disappointment, especially following Oldham’s last gasp equaliser last Saturday. Gifting the opposition goals has been a habit for Mowbray’s men recently, along with drawing fixtures. In their last five League One clashes they have picked up 1 win, 3 draws and 1 loss.
With the last victory coming against Gillingham just over a month ago, supporters are becoming anxious to see their side return to winning ways. A mini dip in form has seen City fall to 4th position, but they still remain only a couple of wins away from the summit. Possessing the only unbeaten record in the top four divisions in England will, however, fill the players with confidence.
Port Vale come into the game on the back of a 2-0 defeat to one of Coventry’s promotion rivals, Walsall. That result at the Bescott Stadium meant their poor form away from home continued. Surprisingly, despite sitting in 13th place with a total of 30 points, only 8 of those have been won on their travels.
This of course will make the home side certain favourites, but Rob Page will be determined for his side to prove themselves. In the last five, Vale have recorded 2 wins, 1 draw and 2 losses. However, the results picked up on home soil show that they are an outfit whom can be dangerous, they just have to begin replicating their performances away.
Coventry City were dealt a huge blow last weekend as Ben Turner was forced off with an ankle injury early on. It has since been revealed that it’s likely that an operation will be needed, meaning his loan spell will be cut short so he can receive treatment via parent club Cardiff. Also missing out will be Reda Johnson, Jordan Willis, Ivor Lawton and Conor Thomas, all of which face lengthy spells on the treatment table.
In regards to the remainder of the playing staff, all seems to be running smoothly as Mowbray targets a triumph. James Maddison returned to first team action as a late substitute in the last fixture and he is set to feature again, along with Joe Cole who is beginning to prove his fitness. Jacob Murphy will also be welcomed back into the fold after he was rested last time out. John Fleck and Sam Ricketts return too from injury and suspension respectively.
The Valiants travel the short distance to Coventy without star player Enoch Andoh as he has been ruled out for the season with anterior cruciate ligament damage. Louis Dodds is also absent after he picked up a hamstring problem versus Walsall, whilst domineering central defender Ryan Inniss has returned to Crystal Palace to undergo physiotherapy on a back injury.
Some positive news has also greeted fans this week, however, as club captain Carl Dickinson is welcomed back into contention after serving a three-match ban. Coventry City supporters may remember him from a short stint at the Ricoh Arena, he will certainly be looking to destroy any potential sky blue party hopes.
Three To Watch:
After representing both Sunderland and Newcastle United at youth level, the stopper was rewarded with a contract at St. James’ Park in 2011. Upon signing the deal, Alnwick was loaned out to Gateshead to gain experience and he appeared 9 times for the Conference Premier club.
Following his return to Newcastle he had to bide his time, featuring mainly for the Under 21 side. However, in December 2014 he was handed a surprise debut versus Chelsea after replacing the injured Rob Elliott. A further seven outings were to be had by the youngster before Tim Krul returned from injury in January 2015. He was then released in the summer of that year.
After his departure from Tyneside, Port Vale offered him a six-month deal and he accepted. Despite only joining the club as cover for the injured Chris Neal, Alnwick went on to put together a sequence of fantastic displays and he kept his place in the side upon Neal’s return. Since then, he has been rewarded with a fresh two-and-a-half-year contract. He has been a real key figure at Vale Park and the 22-year old is certainly building a reputation for himself as one of League One’s better goalkeepers.
The Welshman started out at Swansea City and he went on to make 18 appearances for his boyhood club before earning a move to Premier League Portsmouth. Although he had shown such promise he never managed to break into the first team, he was then subsequently loaned out to Burnley, Coventry City (on a number of occasions) and former club Swansea.
After those spells away from Fratton Park he was finally released in January 2009 and he linked up with Milwall. His time at The Den wasn’t too memorable though, and after only pulling on The Lions’ shirt 12 times, he was released at the end of the season. A move to Exeter City then ensued and this turned out to be one that was worthwhile, clocking up over a century of games at their own St. James’ Park Stadium before leaving in 2012.
Port Vale proved to be his next destination as he was persuaded to sign by former Coventry boss Micky Adams. After beginning his Vale career as a right-back, he was moved into a more central position and he has flourished ever since. This season, cementing himself as the established centre-back has been a real achievement and his organisation and fitness levels are noticeable.
The 25-year old striker’s name will ring a few bells amongst other League One supporters. After progressing through the renowned academy setup at Crewe Alexandra, Leitch-Smith went on to make over 100 outings for The Railwaymen over a six-year spell.
Despite being in and out of the side during his first two seasons at Crewe, he became a regular soon after gaining experience as a result of various loan moves. A meagre 19 goals were scored by in his time at The Alexandra Stadium, but a League Two play-Off winners’ medal and a Johnstone’s Paint Trophy triumph are his notable achievements.
Since leaving Crewe, the frontman has had a lacklustre season at Yeovil Town and his contract was terminated in 2015. Port Vale then took a gamble, and it has seemingly paid off so far with him sitting top of the club’s scoring charts with 6 goals. His natural technical skills on the ball coupled with his intelligence, he could could problems for The Sky Blues’ defence on Saturday.
From The Home Camp – Joe Cole
“Drawing a game we should have won feels like we’ve lost a game so it’s a very
disappointed dressing room in there and we have to pick ourselves up for the Boxing Day game.”
“Traditionally it’s a big game and if we can get the win over Port Vale and take ten points out of the four over the Christmas period then we’ll be fine, but it’s almost like we have to win every game now.”
“It’s great to see the crowd picking up because they can see a good team playing good football but we need to improve on breaking teams down who sit in front of us. Once we do that we can go to the next level.”
View From The Opposition – Michael O’Connor
“It’s going to be a tough game, I think Coventry will be up there come the end of the season but we need to beat teams like this if we want to be in the play-offs this year.”
“So it’s going to be a tough game but we went there last year and got a good win so hopefully we can do that again.”
After another bitter taste was left in the mouth following Saturday’s dropping of points versus Oldham, we now have to react with a positive display and a win. The performance was very frustrating in my opinion, letting the chance to score a few goals past a fairly weak side slip by due to our inability to turn the screw.
Again, as expected, we were faced with a side who sat deep in order to soak up pressure before attempting to hit us on the counter. Dealing with this tactic has been our Achilles’ Heel if you like, dropping a number of points in games that we should have won. The fatal error of dropping too deep ourselves and inviting pressure after going 1-0 up shot us in the foot, along with some poor goalkeeping.
If we are to win this fixture, we have to be more positive and potent going forward. We’ve seen from previous games that we have the ability to sweep any side away with our forward play when we perform, let’s hope we can prove that again. I’m not expecting our recent winless run to continue for much longer, we should put an end to that versus Vale.
Of course, losing Ben Turner is a big blow and we’ll miss his aerial dominance at times. However, we should have enough quality to restrict the away side to little chances. It’s a matter of concentration again, if we stay switched on and alert I have no doubts that we’ll win this game. The operative word there though is, of course, IF.
Jacob Murphy’s return to the squad will inject added pace into our side, and if he can continue his own impressive form then we could see goals. Adam Armstrong was quiet last weekend, but his link-up with the Norwich loanee has been superb of late. The thought of Joe Cole and James Maddison added into the mix too makes for a mouth-watering proposition. We’ve just got to be more aggressive and efficient going forward.
Nothing can be taken for granted, however, as Robert Page does have a decent group of players at his disposal. The three mentioned ones to watch could cause issues, as could the likes of Uche Ikpeazu. Anybody can beat anybody in this division, it’s our job to ensure that we are on the right end of the scoreline.
My Score Prediction:
Coventry City 2-1 Port Vale