The pre-game ramble: Notts County

The big day is upon us. Our first taste of horrible, nasty modern day League Two brings Notts County to the Ricoh Arena.

Welcome to 2017/18 – AKA Operation Promotion. You can say it. It’s fine. It’s not going to break the spell or activate an anti-Sky Blues curse if we dare suggest that Coventry City Football Club should be aiming (and expecting) to get promoted from League Two this season.

But Neil, I’ve been excited before and look where it got us.

I’m not saying it’s a given or that it’s going to be easy. I’m not even saying that I’m overtly confident myself, because like all of you we’re having to work from scratch with so many of our players. I don’t know how good this squad is.

I’m just saying that eventually we’re going to have to stop allowing history dictate our future and what we deem as achievable for this club.

There is no cosmic force preventing Coventry City from succeeding. A lifetime of mediocrity isn’t written in the stars. You can be certain Mark Robins won’t be settling for simply existing in this league, and I’m so glad of that because we all need to start acting in a way that’s befitting of a promotion-hungry club.

We’re a massive club with a big squad, a manager we trust, and while we don’t know much about the new intake, there are still plenty of players that we know are capable of real quality. It frustrates me immensely that targeting success is still seen as such a taboo. We need that common goal, and for once it needs to be a bloody high one. 10th place is no good to us this season.

Tasked with giving us our first lesson in League Two life: Kevin Nolan’s Notts County.

How are they getting on?

Things were looking extremely dicey for County last season as they went almost three months without a league win, losing ten on the spin in the process. Fortunately for them, Kevin Nolan came in during January and conjured up a flurry of positive results to turn things around and eventually bring them home for a 16th place finish.

With the immediate challenge of Football League survival successful navigated, Nolan’s been out crafting a squad capable of sustaining that uptick in performance levels. While by no means a large squad, it’s certainly a familiar looking one on the face of it, with higher-level pedigree prominent throughout. Alan Smith, Richard Duffy, Jon Stead, Jonathan Forte, Shola Ameobi and Nicky Hunt are all names that we’ll recognise.

Who could cause us trouble?

While it’s tempting to showcase the bigger reputations as potential game-changers, it’s the lesser-known names who may just catch the eye…

On-loan Jorge Grant was instrumental in County’s turnaround last season. There were offers from other clubs during the summer but he returns to the Magpies for the full campaign this time around hoping to continue in the same vein.

Nolan’s also brought in seasoned League Two attacker Lewis Alessandra. The 28 year old grabbed 9 goals for relegated Hartlepool Utd last season, and while by no means prolific throughout his career, has certainly shown his capabilities at this level.

Word on the street is that their fans don’t really fancy Jon Stead to be the twenty-goal striker needed to propel them into play-off contenders, but that’s not to say he’s not a threat. I’m certainly wary of his presence.

Sky Blues team news

We’re looking set for a variation of a basic 4-4-2, with Beavon and McNulty leading the line up top. As I write this piece the name Duckens Nazon is being forced into my consciousness as the Haitian striker joins us on loan from Wolves. He’s quick, tricky, and completely unfamiliar with our team; in other words exactly the sort of player that’s chucked into the squad at the last minute and expected to perform. He may make the bench.

New keeper Liam O’Brien has arrived from Portsmouth and shaping up to be our number one, but with three keepers on the books who’ll feel they too have legitimate claims for a place between the posts, the pressure is very much on. Dominant performances are expected if he’s to justify leapfrogging Burge and RCC in the pecking-order.

His Portsmouth captain from last season Michael Doyle will also make his Ricoh return and is set to play a key role as this season’s midfield resident bastard. He’s a welcome addition to our squad of softies.

Jack Grimmer has impressed in pre-season and is likely to displace popular Dion Kelly-Evans at right back, although don’t be surprised if brother Devon starts to make moves this season as an attacking wildcard in the squad.

One of the big calls this season will be at left back as Robins ponders between the solidity of Chris Stokes, or the directness and pace of Haynes. Longer term my vote goes to Haynes, especially as a balancing counterpoint to Grimmer on the other side of the pitch, although injury means that’s Stokes gets the nod unchallenged this weekend.

A McDonald and Willis pairing seems the likely centre half partnership to make up the back four.

Meanwhile Ben Stevenson – the best footballer at the club – looks unlikely to fit quite so neatly in to Robins’ preferred midfield two, so expect him to miss out with new signing Liam Kelly joining Doyle in a new-look midfield hub.

Prediction

As we all know, exact score predictions are utter bullshit and are no indicator of football knowledge (contrary to what Mark Lawrenson would have you believe). And yet by the same measure they are also quite fun and round off these rambles well. I’ll play your game, football. But please know that I don’t like doing it.

So, a home game to start off the campaign with a bunch of new players I have no real idea about and a demanding Mark Robins at the helm, you say? It’s an intriguing combination. It could be tight but I’m saying we can win this one.

Coventry 1 – 0 Notts County

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