FOOTBALL LEAGUE expert Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) analyses Thursday's televised League One clash between Coventry and Sheffield United.
Coventry v Sheffield United | Thursday 19:45 | Sky Sports
Coventry City are enduring a wretched run. The Sky Blues’ defeat at Southend on Saturday extended their losing streak to five and a sixth reverse on the spin against Sheffield United would mark their worst run of results since leaving Highfield Road in 2005.
Interim manager Mark Venus is aware his position is coming close to untenable. Supporters are understandably angry, frustrated and disillusioned by the plight of the former FA Cup winners. Venus even described City as, “a sorry football club” this week.
Sorry probably isn’t the hardest or harshest word in this case. The performance when being tonked 4-0 at Cambridge in the FA Cup was abysmal at best and their display at Roots Hall on Saturday featured all the familiar hallmarks of a club sleepwalking towards relegation.
Sky Blues sleepwalking to relegation
Coventry’s young squad have struggled to cope with the physical demands of League One, the Sky Blues being outmuscled and overrun in midfield whilst looking weak, vulnerable and out of shape on the flanks. The fingers have been pointed at Venus.
After an initial renaissance under his watch, Coventry have fallen back into their woeful ways. Four wins from 11 appears a reasonable return for a club fighting to avoid demotion to the fourth-tier but the last of those triumphs came on 1st November and outside of those 11 fixtures, City have failed to record a W.
Goalkeeper Lee Burge remains a doubt for Thursday night’s fixture but midfielders Chris McCann and Andy Rose are both available, whilst Dion Kelly-Evans is expected to continue to deputise for Jamie Sterry who, along with fellow full-back Ryan Haynes, remains out with injury.
However, there are a couple of positives worth documenting here before you go piling into odds-on quotes for a Sheffield United success. The Sky Blues have only suffered two defeats at the Ricoh Arena this term (W3-D5-L2), both coming against clubs with impressive away records – Scunthorpe and MK Dons.
So how will Cov enhance that record here? They’re unlikely to prove profitable in a shoot-out – the Sky Blues may have notched in five of their past six League One games as hosts but only Oldham (12) have scored fewer goals than City (18) this season and only Walsall, Chesterfield and Shrewsbury have faced more attempts on goal.
In contrast, Sheffield United are flying, winning 14 and drawing five of their previous 22 outings since making a chequered start under Chris Wilder. The Blades are the second highest goalscorers in the division (38) and pitch up unbeaten in eight away from Bramall Lane (W4-D4-L0).
United’s only defeats on their travels have come against Bolton and Millwall with the visitors now notching at least twice in six of their most recent eight games as guests. The Blades have already put four past Chesterfield, grabbed three goals at Shrewsbury and three at AFC Wimbledon.
Goals have been a fixture throughout Sheffield United’s campaign, especially away from their South Yorkshire base. Road trips are producing 3.40 goals per-game on average and seven of their last eight have featured winning Both Teams To Score bets.
Wilder’s preferred 3-5-2 system is much more offensive than it might appear with attacking wing-backs operating on either side. With Coventry weak in such areas, it’s an angle you’d expect the Blades to attack at the Ricoh.
Elsewhere, Paul Coutts is completing plenty of unseen work behind the likes of Mark Duffy and John Fleck in midfield. The trio have combined wonderfully well in recent weeks and should Coventry again suffer in the physical aspects of combat, it’s hard not to fancy the Blades.
Their press and hustle approach out of possession catches plenty of unconfident opposition cold and although United have toiled against nine-men Shrewsbury, Walsall and Bury in the past month, they were outstanding in an unfortunate draw at Charlton.
The betting angle
So what’s the angle of attack? Both Coventry’s home defeats have arrived by a one-goal margin and backing a repeat is certainly of interest here at 13/5 (Bet365). But I’m also keen to have a wee play on the Draw-Sheffield United double result (19/5 BetVictor).
Coventry have only conceded three first-half goals in 10 Ricoh Arena outings this term and it’s a stat that tallies nicely alongside the Blades’ lack of first-half results. The visitors have scored only 12 of their 38 goals before the interval and led at the break in just seven League One dates under Wilder’s watch.
As a few of you may know, my golden rule of Football League betting isn’t to back odds-on teams away from home but here we’ve hopefully highlighted two alternative selections at attractive prices to support the hot pre-match favourites.