COVENTRY are having a solid campaign following an instant return to League One, but EFL lover Gab Sutton (@_FootbalLab) reckons they are showing the potential to deliver even better results
One To Watch | The curious case of Coventry
We would not be barmy enough to put forward an ante-post promotion pick for 2019-20 in February, of course, but it is hard not to be compelled by the situation at the Ricoh Arena.
In the Expected Goals ratings, the Sky Blues rank at 1.49xG For per game and 1.12xG Against, giving them a ratio of 57.11% – the fourth best in the division.
If we were to produce a ratio based on actual goals scored per game (1.03) and conceded (1.16), it would be 47%, giving us a disparity of -10.11% between performances and results.
The contrast is particularly striking from an attacking perspective and, in simple terms, Mark Robins’ side are getting a lot of things right between both boxes but are being let down partially by small glitches at either end.
Why could that be?
When most teams win promotion, the standard protocol is to keep the core of the same squad in place.
Robins though was not in sentimental mood after that 3-1 Play-Off Final victory over Exeter.
To reflect the size of the club in League One, he wanted to construct a squad capable of challenging towards the top.
We therefore saw a summer turnover of 26 players, with 13 incomings and 13 outgoings; 11 of the summer arrivals were under 25 while just four players under 25 left on permanent deals in that period.
Clearly, there was an attempt to bring in a lot of young players with high potential.
The energetic Jack Grimmer was among the best right-backs in League Two last season and completed his campaign with a dream curler at Wembley, but has seen his place taken this term by Dujon Sterling
The Chelsea loanee is supremely talented and has already formed a strong right-sided partnership with fellow 19-year-old Luke Thomas, a neat-footed wide man on loan from Derby.
Brandon Mason has shown tenacity since joining on a free transfer from Watford, albeit whilst competing for the left-back berth with 18-year-old Sam McCallum.
Academy graduates like Tom Bayliss and Jordan Shipley have continued their promising development in midfield, too.
Perhaps the downside to having a first eleven with an average age of 23.1 last time out, is that the extra bit of bravery required at key moments perhaps eludes one or two players.
Is the firepower there?
Conor Chaplin made an instant impression after joining from Portsmouth, due to his sharp movement.
Although seven goals from 26 appearances represents a reasonable return for the 21-year-old, he has also missed his fair share of chances, so Robins has experimented with his forward options so far in February.
Jonson Clarke-Harris left in January, having only scored five goals in 27 League One appearances for the Sky Blues, but he was the only front-man in that squad with hold-up qualities.
The likes of Jordy Hiwula, Bright Enobakhare and Amadou Bakayoko all possess raw pace and power as well as varying degrees of talent, but generally like to pick up wide areas or gaps between the lines.
Neither have yet mastered the art of occupying centre-backs and breaking into goalscoring positions; if Coventry were to add one striker to their squad capable of doing that, it could have a transformative effect.
At the other end, meanwhile, Coventry have at times been prone to errors.
As well as Lee Burge did for the Sky Blues in last season’s promotion, he remains a slightly divisive figure among the fanbase despite having come through the academy and been at the club throughout his career to date.
Burge has perhaps been prone to mistakes which, as well as costing Coventry goals in the obvious sense, it has also contributed to a sense of anxiety among defenders Jordan Willis and Dominic Hyam, the latter being into only his first season at this level.
However, David Stockdale has joined on loan from Birmingham and while the 33-year-old has not had the easiest two seasons, it should not be forgotten that he was a Championship promotion-winner with Brighton as recently as 2016-17.
Stockdale could offer some organisational qualities and might get his reflexes back if given a prolonged run of games.
His influence on the back-four ahead of him was evident in his first game between the sticks, a 1-0 triumph at Rochdale.
Robins also has the task of mastering the midfield balance.
Liam Kelly is not the best passer in the world, but he has been the Sky Blues’ most driven performer thus far and looks capable of stepping up to the void Michael Doyle left, whilst adding perhaps another layer of pace in the process.
While Kelly has had fitness issues however, the club have loaned in David Meyler from Reading to offer an alternative.
The downside to them playing together, however, would be the potential lack of creativity, so one of energetic talent Bayliss or young technician Zain Westbrooke is required to maintain the equilibrium.
The Betting Angle
Although we do not put forward a best bet involving Coventry as it stands, it is worth monitoring their work from a punting capacity.
They are, it seems, getting a lot of things right within their performances, which suggests they have the potential to become a very strong side, especially if the likes of Sterling and Thomas stay on beyond their current loan deals.
The question though is whether they can fine-tune certain details at both ends to fulfil that potential – if not this season then next.