MID-TABLE Coventry host promotion-chasing Sunderland in League One on Saturday and EFL connoisseur Gab Sutton (@_FootbalLab) shares his best bets.
Coventry v Sunderland | Saturday 29th September 2018, 12:30 | Sky Sports
Sunderland’s size of fanbase and recent Premier League history dictates that their target this season is obvious: promotion.
They have had a steady start, too; although they needed Saturday’s 4-1 win over Rochdale to end a three-game winless run.
Coventry have bigger short-term ambitions than one would expect for a newly-promoted side; after the play-off final victory, Mark Robins highlighted his desire to assemble a squad capable of instantly challenging at this level.
The summer turnover of 32 players might yet prove necessary, but for now it means a transitional phase; the challenge for this new group is to grind out points while it discovers it’s playing identity.
Coventry to contain?
The Sky Blues lost 3-1 at Bristol Rovers last week, conceding all three goals inside the first 23 minutes due to lackadaisical defending.
Partly due to that result but also the calibre of opposition, we can expect Mark Robins to plan a performance of defensive organisation.
After Dujon Sterling’s disappointing performance at right-back, centre-back by trade Jordan Willis could fill in to offer extra protection, with Tom Davies taking his place alongside Dominic Hyam.
Going forward, Robins’ side have had the seventh-most shots in League One (117) but the fifth-fewest on target (34).
While they have the inclination to counter-attack swiftly, they sometimes lack the quality to capitalize on favourable situations, with just seven goals to their name.
Standards set at Sunderland
Jack Ross has not been afraid to make bold decisions.
He started 16-year-old Bali Mumba on the opening day, he named George Honeyman captain after just 48 career league starts, then dropped Costa Rican World Cup performer Bryan Oviedo in favour of giving academy graduate Denver Hume his first senior appearance. All three moves take courage, especially with pressure on the club to get promoted.
In making those calls though, he has created a meritocracy, which means that senior players must be performing consistently to stay in the eleven.
Ross' one concern might be his defence, but it could solidify after Tom Flanagan was handed his first league start last week; the ex-Burton man's versatility might help the boss implement his ideas more effectively.
The tactics board
Sunderland will line-up with a 4-2-3-1 out of possession, but when they turn it over, right-back Flanagan should shuffle across to form a back three, while Lynden Gooch and Denver Hume take on wing-back roles in a 3-4-2-1.
We saw against Rochdale that Gooch can be a real threat down the right; stopping him will be key for Coventry.
Although the hosts will line-up with a 4-2-3-1 on paper, left-winger Jordan Shipley may spend a lot of time in his own half denying space for Gooch. It could therefore pan out more like a 4-3-3 with Doyle anchoring the midfield next to Tom Bayliss, whose absence was keenly felt last time out.
The hosts will try to break through right-winger Luke Thomas and forward Conor Chaplin, who have both looked bright since joining on loan; the challenge for visiting central midfielders, Lee Cattermole and Dylan McGeouch, will be to halt counter-attacks early by winning second balls.
Sunderland should have the territorial advantages – but the big question will be whether they can carve open their hosts, who have conceded just three goals in four home encounters.
More Maja magic?
Striker Josh Maja is 6/4 with BetVictor to score anytime, which would imply a probability of 40%. In fact, top scorer Maja has scored in 66% of Sunderland’s league games this term, including a brace against Rochdale last time out.
The 19-year-old appears to be reaping the benefits from staying on in the third-tier, rather than moving to a Championship club and struggling for game time in his favoured position, as has been the case with Joel Asoro.
Maja looks likely to continue his blistering start to the season at the Ricoh Arena.
The betting angle
Coventry might set up conservatively here, yet it would be brave to back Sunderland to keep a clean sheet, something they have done just once.
Equally, Ross’ side look a real threat going forward but face a strong rear-guard and for that reason, it is difficult to find an angle in the goals market.
In more simplistic terms though, Sunderland have won two of their four away games while Coventry have lost two in four at home; the visitors look far more likely to win promotion this season, too.
For that reason, we’re taking Marathon Bet’s 139/100 on Sunderland to win; the outright bet might seem a slightly generic pick, but it offers the most flexible way of backing the superior outfit.