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McKenna: Players Handling Big Three-Game Week Really Well
Monday, 29th Apr 2024 12:58

Town visit Coventry City live on Sky on Tuesday night knowing that a victory would take them a point away from securing promotion back to the Premier League after 22 years away.

Saturday’s topsy-turvy 3-3 draw at Hull City moved the Blues level on points with Leeds United, who remain second with a goal difference seven better than Town’s, but with Kieran McKenna’s men having two games to play to the Whites’ one, their final-day hosting of fourth-placed Southampton.

Town need four points from their two matches, the visit to face the Sky Blues and then Saturday’s home fixture against all-but-relegated Huddersfield Town.

The Terriers’ goal difference is 13 worse than Plymouth’s with the Pilgrims the only side whose current points total they could match by winning at Portman Road.

Leaders Leicester claimed the Championship title via Monday night’s 3-0 win at Preston.

The Sky Blues are ninth in the Championship and are out of the running for the play-off places.

They are without a win in five in all competitions and have won only one of their last seven, although that was a 2-1 home victory over Leeds at the start of this month.

Tuesday’s match is their fourth in 10 days, following their hugely unfortunate on-penalties FA Cup semi-final defeat to Manchester United at Wembley, the game having ended 3-3 after extra-time, a 3-2 home loss to Hull and Saturday’s 0-0 draw at Blackburn Rovers. Tuesday’s match was scheduled to be played on April 20th but was moved due to the semi-final.

Coventry’s home form of won nine, drawn eight and lost four is the ninth best in the division and their 34 goals at the Coventry Building Society Arena is the 10th highest, while only five sides have conceded fewer than their total of 23 on their own turf.

Town boss Kieran McKenna, whose side is without a win in four, drawing the last three, their second-longest winless run of the season, despite playing well in most of those games, is aware that the Sky Blues have had a busy few weeks and have a few injuries, but says Mark Robins’s team, who were also beaten on penalties by Luton in last year’s play-off final, are a very decent outfit.

“Of course they have,” he said, speaking after Saturday’s match. “They’re an excellent side, no doubt about it, they’ve shown that in the cup competitions and in their form in the league, especially probably after the first quarter of the season.

“I’m sure they’re going to want to finish off strongly. They’ve got some players unavailable but they’ve got a deep squad and lots and lots of good players and I’m sure they’ll be motivated to do well on Tuesday.

“We’ll prepare as well as we can and make sure we’re ready to again perform as we want to do.”

McKenna smiled when asked whether there are any similarities with last season’s rearranged late away trip to Barnsley, a 3-0 victory which all but sealed the Blues’ promotion from League One.

“There are lots of parallels you can take, to be honest, in the season, in the points, in the two aways before we go back home, all of those things,” he said.

“The reality is that the games are harder. Last year was hard but these games are harder, so I’m not sure we’re going to have too many 3-0s or 6-0s.

“But so many of the group have been through this experience with a big three-game week to try and achieve a big goal and they’ve handled it really well before and I think they’re handling it really well at the moment.

“It doesn’t mean that the games are going to be easier or that we’re going to walk any games but it means we’ll try and keep performing as we have been and as we want to and I don’t think we were far away from that on Friday night.”

McKenna believes the experience gained during last season’s League One run-in, in which they Blues won 13 out of 14 to secure promotion via a 6-0 hammering of Exeter City in their penultimate fixture, has helped his team in the latter stages of this season.

“I think it has,” he reflected. “I can say from what I see, I feel around the group, from what I’m seeing on the pitch, I don’t see us playing with tension, which is really important at this stage of the season. I see us playing with bravery, with confidence, with great intensity still and that’s really important.

“We’re going to get the points that we get at the end of the season. We’ve already got 90, we can’t worry about any other teams, we can just, as we said we would do, go absolutely all in for 46 games and see where we’re at in the end.”

McKenna says Coventry having nothing left in their season shouldn’t come into consideration going into Tuesday’s match.

“There’s no point in thinking about it,” he said. “Whether they make changes or not, will they have players back in who have missed the last couple, it can’t come into our thought process too much to spend too much energy on that.

“We know they’re a very good side, we’ll know they’ll be motivated to finish off the season on a high at home against a team who are competing at the top end of the division and we certainly know that they’re going to try and make it hard for us.

“We’ll be preparing for a really good Coventry side and that’s certainly what we expect.”

McKenna may make one or two tweaks to his team for the second of three games in the biggest week in the club’s history since 2014/15.

Vaclav Hladky will be in goal with Axel Tuanzebe likely to be at right-back and Luke Woolfenden and Cameron Burgess the centre-halves.

Leif Davis was limping badly after Saturday’s game at the MKM Stadium, according to McKenna, after rolling his ankle and the former Leeds man appears likely to have to sit the game out.

McKenna could bring in Cameron Humphreys in his secondary role at left-back but will probably start Harry Clarke, who took over from Davis at Hull.

In central midfield, skipper Sam Morsy could be partnered by Jack Taylor with Massimo Luongo often rested when matches are coming thick and fast.

In the three ahead of them, Conor Chaplin looks set to be in the middle with McKenna having decisions to make in the wide roles.

Wes Burns started on Saturday but may not be considered ready to play two games in four days following his month out with a hamstring injury. Omari Hutchinson could be moved to the right having started on the left against the Tigers, with Burns playing a part from the bench in the second half.

Nathan Broadhead missed out with a minor knock on Saturday and may again not be considered able to start, so Jeremy Sarmiento could come back into the XI.

Like Burns, George Hirst came into the side on Saturday, after an even longer absence, the striker having been out since undergoing a hamstring operation after picking up an injury in the Boxing Day game against his old club Leicester.

Hirst may also not be thought ready for two matches in such quick succession and that could see Kieffer Moore make his first start since the home draw with Watford.

Coventry will be without centre-half Liam Kitching, who was shown his third red card of the season, a new Sky Blues record, at Blackburn at the weekend.

Midfielder Ben Sheaf is also likely to miss out with a muscle injury, while another central defender, Luis Binks, seems unlikely to be involved having been absent at the weekend with an achilles issue.

That leaves the Sky Blues with Bobby Thomas and Joel Laibeaudiere, who came off the bench at the weekend following a calf injury, as the only fit centre-halves, although left-back Jake Bidwell could fill in if needed.

Midfielder Victor Torp suffered a stomach strain in the FA Cup semi-final and has missed the last three games, while forward Fabio Tavares suffered a knock in the same match and has been ruled out for the season.

Town have a good record against Coventry over the years, winning 39 games (37 in the league), losing 24 times (21) and with 25 matches (23) ending in draws. The Sky Blues have won only five of the last 29 games between the clubs.

The Blues’ most recent victory away against the Sky Blues was on their last visit to the Coventry Building Society Arena, then known as the Ricoh Arena, a 3-2 success in February 2012 with Town’s subsequent away games against Coventry having been played at Birmingham’s St Andrew’s.

In December at Portman Road, first-half goals from Hirst and Burns were enough to see second-placed Town to a 2-1 victory over the Sky Blues, who missed a second-half penalty before a Brandon Williams own goal saw them pull one back deep in injury time.

Hirst gave the Blues the lead in the sixth minute, firing home after being brilliantly played through by Broadhead, then Burns scored a superb outside-of-the-boot effort on 39, which was named the EFL Goal of the Season earlier this month.

Matt Godden smashed his spot-kick against the bar on 73 after Clarke had fouled Tatsuhiro Sakamoto, but the visitors netted a late consolation when Williams nodded past his own keeper under pressure from Ellis Simms, although it probably should have been ruled out for a push.

In a League One fixture at the Sky Blues’ temporary home at St Andrew’s in December 2019, the second of three games in 10 days between the clubs along with two FA Cup ties, Will Keane gave Town the lead in the 31st minute and Maxime Biamou levelled for Coventry on 56.

Six days prior to that, the teams had met in the initial FA Cup tie, also at St Andrew’s, Keane again having given Town the lead before Callum O’Hare equalised deep in injury time.

The Sky Blues, who were on their way to claiming the Covid-curtailed League One title that season, won the replay at Portman Road 2-1.

Blues forward Chaplin with with the Sky Blues during the 2018/19 season, the first half on loan from Portsmouth before the switch was made permanent in the January.

Chaplin netted eight goals in 22 starts and nine sub appearances before moving on to Barnsley that summer.

Town were keen to sign Coventry striker Simms from Everton in the summer before he completed his switch to the Sky Blues.

Tuesday’s referee is James Bell from Sheffield, who has shown 107 yellow cards and five red in 25 games so far this season.

Bell was the official set to referee last April’s game at home to Charlton before being replaced after it emerged he is a supporter of Sheffield Wednesday, then vying with the Blues for promotion from League One.

Since then, he took charge of the 0-0 draw at Stoke City on New Year’s Day in which he red-carded Potters’ midfielder Jordan Thompson for a second bookable offence, waving an imaginary yellow card, and booked Morsy, Clarke and one other member of the home team.

Bell was also in charge of the disastrous 2-0 FA Cup defeat at Barrow in December 2021, the final game before McKenna’s appointment as manager was announced, in which he booked only Morsy, who had come on as a half-time sub.

Bell’s only previous Town match before that was the 3-0 defeat at Northampton in April of the same year in which he booked only one home player.

Squad from: Hladky, Walton, Clarke, Davis, Humphreys, Tuanzebe, Woolfenden, Burgess, Edmundson, Morsy (c), Luongo, Taylor, Travis, Ball, Chaplin, Harness, Burns, Jackson, Aluko, Hutchinson, Sarmiento, Broadhead, Moore, Hirst, Al-Hamadi.

Photo: TWTD

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Gforce added 13:25 - Apr 29
Please tighten up at the back,that's all I ask.I don't think my nerves can take much more !!

JewellintheTown added 13:39 - Apr 29
Anything less than a win at Cov will be seen as a negative for the added pressure of final day results.
Not fussed about going up automatically as either champions or 2nd place but playoffs now will be felt as a failure of sorts.
Leeds loss to QPR shows how tables can turn on any given day, so Huddersfield last game at home as a win is definitely not guaranteed & devastating for the fans if we lost.
KM sure did bang that dugout wall when they equalised 3-3 on Saturday.
Must win tomorrow if we have any chance of not getting thrashed in the Premier League.

Europablue added 13:43 - Apr 29
JewellintheTown Leeds capitulated to QPR and embarrassed themselves. We let a slim lead slip. It's not the same, but whether we lose a game 1-0 or 4-0, it doesn't really matter at this stage.
I'm fairly confident that we will win tomorrow, but if things don't go to plan, I would take the point and would still be confident to beat Huddersfield for the final home game of the season.

churchmans81 added 13:59 - Apr 29
Yes, first time I’ve seen KM really lose his cool at any point since he started. That said I almost put my foot through the TV when Hladky punched the ball out for the equaliser. Not quite as bad as playing a hospital pass to Morsey for their first but dreadful nonetheless. Hopefully this time next week we’ll be planning for the season ahead in the PL but we shall see.

Sandman180 added 14:00 - Apr 29
@JewellintheTown few points with your post that I disagree with - a draw isn't a bad result, winning at home against a poor Huddersfield side who are already relegated (don't mention the mathematically caveat here, the goal swing isn't feasible..) is very much achievable, isn't it.

In our own hands going into the final day - can't ask for much more than that; it'll need to be too, I think, as Southampton are planning for the playoff's now and I'd be surprised if they field a full strength team on Saturday.

We're not going to go up as champions, that's not really been on the cards after Leicester's recent winning spell, so dismiss that altogether - it's a straight fight for 2nd place.

You also mention next season and no getting thrashed, which has little if any relevance to tomorrow's game; the more I read through your comment, the more bizarre it got, I must say.

Hoping for a win, happy with a draw - a sensible stance at this point I'd suggest.

VanDusen added 14:15 - Apr 29
Can't we just contact Coventry - suggest we call it a 0-0 draw - and save all our energy for Saturday not to mention my petrol money. Sure they'd be game for that given how knackered they must be! ;o)

Europablue added 15:13 - Apr 29
churchmans81 The most annoying thing wasn't the mistakes that we made, but the amazing finishes where they managed to place the ball in just about the only places they could score from.

Europablue added 15:15 - Apr 29
Sandman180 That's exactly how I feel. I'm hopeful for the win and I'll be happy with the point.

E_I_E_I_E_I_O added 15:25 - Apr 29
Anyone that thinks this is a must win really hasn't done there math correctly. It is clearly a must not lose.
I assure you McK and the team would take a point right now knowing that a win vs Huddersfield will take us up. Of course a win is slightly better but only if we were to get a draw exactly vs Huddersfield which is very very very unlikely.
We have to keep it in our own hands and a draw does that.

DannyITFC added 15:26 - Apr 29
Play as well as we did at hull in confident town can do enough to win tomorrow night. I’d take a draw knowing it’s in our hands last day but we cannot afford to lose this one as you know Leeds won’t mess it up Sat if given the chance so let’s not give them a sniff and win tomorrow and finish the job off Sat….. we can and will do it!

ArnieM added 15:45 - Apr 29
We’ve had the last three games to get this much needed win, hopefully Tuesday night is the game where we can do it.

We know we can score goals , our problem has always been the defending side of our game .For gods sake defend properly, and we’ll get these points.

COYBs, we can do this !

dugoutdave added 15:54 - Apr 29
Been a great season and not really right to jave a go at any of the players but will the real Chaplin plse turn up tomorrow

Karlosfandangal added 16:40 - Apr 29
Southampton may still beat Leeds and Leicester might lose the last 2 and Ipswich might still be Champions……

But everyone is right Coventry is a must not lose but a win would put Leeds under so much pressure

JewellintheTown added 16:54 - Apr 29
Seems some responding to my comments are reading and commenting on some things I'm not actually saying or spinning it differently, so will clarify.

A win tomorrow means we have the option of a win or draw vs Huddersfield. A draw tomorrow means we have to win vs Huddersfield or its the playoffs lottery. Which is better?

As long as we get auto promotion, I'm happy , rather than the lottery of the playoffs. Which would you all prefer?

Didn't compare Leeds loss to our draw at Hull, I didn't even mention Hull, only Huddersfield and how we can't assume if we draw tomorrow that we'll win vs Huddersfield. Comparing Leeds loss to QPR shows shocks can happen, not that I said or think it will.

To clarify, my point about tomorrow being a must win if we have any chance about not getting thrashed in the Prem, was comparing the standard of teams in the Prem to Cov tomorrow. Cov have little to play for & key players out. If we cant despatch them under the circumstances, how do you think we'll do vs Liverpool? I think the optics of showing we can confidently win tomorrow & step up like we did last season are very much relevant to the Prem next season and how we might fare, even after strengthening & losing some players.


TimmyH added 17:00 - Apr 29
You don't want the pressure of having to win on the final day where it will be a very nervy atmosphere...we really have to do it at Coventry and then not lose to the Terriers...every game should be go out to win it, you play for a draw or take your foot off then we'll lose.

Linkboy13 added 17:22 - Apr 29
Ive been saying all week about the danger of Coventry striker Ellis Simms who has found his form after a slow start. Both Wolfenden and Burgess have been found wanting when up against quality strikers or forwards. If Simms wasn't playing i would be farely confident of winning the game. It could mean we might need to score three or four to win the game.

Northstandveteran added 17:28 - Apr 29
Although I fancy us to win, I'd take the point.

This is a 'must not lose' game.

To still have promotion in your own hands on the final day is a huge psychological boost.

Northstandveteran added 18:11 - Apr 29
4-1 Town.


BuckieBlue added 19:04 - Apr 29
If we get a result tomorrow night I'll view the expression 'being sent to Coventry' in a totally different light!

dirtydingusmagee added 22:16 - Apr 29
i dont believe the theory teams have nothing to play for , i always think the teams going down or floating about mid table want to spoil someone elses party as a parting statement , We need to treat both Coventry and The Terriers with respect and not get complacent. We will need 100% from everybody. As for Linkboys comment re Wolfenden , i have to say i agree , i always fear a gaff when he is put to the test its cost us in the past , i just hope the pressure of these last two matches dosnt get to him now . So given whats at stake i think we have two tough matches to play still, the spectre of the playoffs is still real . COYB .

chepstowblue added 09:47 - Apr 30
Dirtymagee....thank you for saying it. The term 'nothing to play for' is just pathetic. Managers jobs depend on it, players contracts depend on it, their fans will demand a performance. When I used to play cards against my Gran for the last piece of cheese on toast, it was intense. Sportsmen by their very nature are competitive creatures. For football fans to question a clubs integrity shows just how easily influenced some can be simply by listening to morons on TV. Sure, we have more resting on it, but Coventry can play with freedom tonight and that makes them a dangerous beast.Rid yourselves of this conspiracy riddled mindset. They'll be doing everything in their power tonight to p*ss us off.

d77sgw added 09:49 - Apr 30
Anyone else struggling to concentrate on anything but tonight's match? So blinkin' nervous...

Alphawhiskey added 10:08 - Apr 30
d77sgw...... I hardly slept last night and been feeling nervous for the past three days.

Its crazy what football does to us!
Personally I believe we will win the next two games.

carlgibbs13 added 11:18 - Apr 30
Not an easy game. Coventry have nothing to gain from this match, and therefore, they will sit back and defend so as to not lose. Gain a point tonight, knowing they will beat QPR on Saturday.
It will be for us to break them down and get a few early goals, which will not be easy at all.

TimmyH added 12:34 - Apr 30
Coventry will play tonight...I don't see them sitting back and defending - SKY is visiting and this is their last home game of the season so will want to put on a show for the fans.
Either way this will not be could go anyway.

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