Oxford and Coventry do battle in front of the nation on Sunday afternoon. EFL lover Gabriel Sutton (@_FootbalLab) casts his eye over the League One fixture.
Oxford v Coventry | Sunday 9th September 2018, 12:00 | Sky Sports
Oxford United and Coventry City both have something to prove after disappointing starts to their campaigns.
The two sides are averaging lower than one point per game thus far and that will need to change over September to alleviate any of the early pressure there may be on Karl Robinson and Mark Robins.
Both teams however, have a good opportunity to put distance between themselves and the early bottom four whilst moving closer to the top half with victory at the Kassam Stadium – but who will get those all-important three points?
The New U’s
Oxford were boosted by a positive performance at Sunderland last week even if, having led with a man advantage, the 1-1 draw wasn’t enjoyed quite as keenly as it might have been.
The Yellows dominated the first 19 minutes at 11 against 11, so Robinson must surely hold onto that formula.
The crucial change has been the introduction of academy graduate Shandon Baptiste, who has added not only quality on the ball but also energy off it; he has taken away the burden that was on Cameron Brannagan to hold the midfield together on his own.
Cameron Norman, signed from Kings Lynn in the summer, has added exuberance at right-back while Josh Ruffels, a midfielder by trade, appears to have found his best position at left-back.
The challenge for Robinson is not to find talent within his squad but rather, to co-ordinate that talent into an effective system and recent performances suggest he is steadily starting to do that.
Coventry City had 16 shots last time out but only two of those were on target and, of course, neither found the net in a 1-0 home defeat to Rochdale.
The Sky Blues showed flashes of exciting play going forward – Jack Grimmer made some good forward runs from right-back.
However, they still lack the knowhow to capitalize on the openings they create and, with an average age of 24, the occasional costly lapse of concentration can be problematic, as we saw last time out.
The dilemma for Mark Robins is whether to keep faith with the current system and hope the likes of striker Jonson Clarke-Harris and winger Luke Thomas start finding form, or adopt a more pragmatic approach for short-term security.
The Tactics Board
Oxford are likely to deploy a 4-2-3-1 system with some excellent options in the three positions behind expected line-leader Jamie Mackie.
Ricky Holmes is an asset in any division below the Championship, as is James Henry in the number 10 role, while Marcus Browne has looked bright since joining on loan – Sunderland’s only answer to the West Ham youngster was to foul him.
The trio, who will be given freedom to rotate, threaten to spark Oxford’s season into life and shutting them out could be key to Coventry’s chances.
Most recently, the Midlanders’ double-pivot has comprised of Michael Doyle – who is defensively aware but lacks mobility – and Tom Bayliss – very mobile but attack-minded.
It’s possible that ball-winner Abu Ogogo might come in to try to shore things up but Oxford, who won 3-1 against Burton in their last home league game, might have some joy in the areas just in front of the penalty box.
Holmes to star?
Ricky Holmes has scored in each of his last three games in all competitions; and, at Sunderland, he had a wonderful, curling effort superbly saved before scoring an excellent free-kick.
Interestingly, Ricky Holmes to score a hat-trick is 475/1 with PaddyPower; which implies a 0.2% chance. The inverted wide man has done so twice in 209 EFL starts, meaning he has on average a 0.96% chance of bagging a treble in each game – and, if we apply the theory that a player is more likely to threaten goal if he’s on-form, then one could argue that the probability might be even higher here.
It’s not every day that we will get a chance to place a bet which is potentially five times more likely to land than the odds suggest, so this might be worth a look for those keen on very speculative punts; of course, the chance is still slim, so we would recommend a small stake.
The Betting Angle
Oxford are 7/5 with Coral to score two or more goals, something they have achieved in five of their last seven games in all competitions. In fact, they created enough chances to score more than twice in last month’s 3-2 home defeat to Accrington.
For those in even more daring mood, Spreadex offer 17/4 on Oxford to win with the -1 handicap.
The reason those odds are not shorter is because of the defeats to nil against Barnsley and Fleetwood with which Robinson’s men began their campaign; but, with key changes to the personnel having since been made, one might suggest they should be treated as a different team.
True, Coventry have only conceded six goals – the fewest in the bottom half. They however, have had the easiest set of opening fixtures in League One and it could be argued that none of the teams they have faced possess the same quality in attacking midfield areas that Oxford do.
Plus, a good defensive record is difficult to sustain: the Sky Blues could be reasonably solid for long spells, but still be beaten by two or three moments of magic.