The time for waffling is almost over (once I’ve finished this, that is). The Johnstone’s Paint Trophy Northern area final first leg is upon us.
30,000+ fans are expected at the Ricoh this evening; the vast majority desperately hoping to see the Sky Blues take a giant leap towards that Wembley final we all crave.
Yes, that’s right – we’re taking this seriously. Scarfs, hashtags, emotive videos, “get there early” messages, delayed podcasts. Everything’s revolving around this game, and I feel no shame as a supporter of a team that’s had no fathomable success for 25 years in saying: this competition means a lot. Everyone best be prepared.
How are they getting on?
They’re having a decent enough campaign. Actually, when you look at it carefully, they’re doing pretty much as well as us. They’re 12th in the league with 43 points from 29 games, so could quite conceivably leapfrog us if they catch up our games tally any time soon
Break down their recent form however, and you have a tale of two periods. They’ve won 1 in their last 4 league games, which is a mini blip, but when you dig a little deeper you can note that they’ve actually won 6 out of their last 10. Yep, you’ve guess it – exactly as many as we’ve won.
In the JPT, they smashed a high-flying Bradford team to get to this northern final, and while their fans may not give quite as many monkeys about the competition as we do, that won’t stop them offering a stern test.
Who could cause us trouble?
Mathias Pogba and Max Clayton are the two names that stick out for me. Pogba is a striker who’s scored 11 goals in total this season, 7 in the league. You’ll recognise the name as he’s the older brother of Juventus’ former Man Utd player Paul Pogba. He’s having a good season, and is more than capable of ruining our night.
Max Clayton has also done well, but as far as goalscoring’s concerned, he’s been very much one for the cups this year, netting 4 out of his 5 goals away from League One.
A less familiar name for many of us will be that of Ajay Leitch-Smith – a player with non-league and even Icelandic league experience – who’s settled at Crewe and is capable of finishing any chances that may come his way. He grabbed a late-ish sort of winner from the bench at the weekend, and will no doubt be pushing for a start this time around.
Sky Blues team news
Everyone is back and raring to go for this game, unsurprisingly.
James Bailey missed out in the previous game due to a dickie tummy (we presume), which in turn may have forced Robins into the 4-4-2 he eventually went with against Sheffield Utd.
Stephen Elliott once again had an impact on proceedings by setting up Clarke’s first goal. Franck Moussa also stepped into the midfield with Jennings, and while he had some interesting moments, he too had a valuable influence in driving forward to force the save that led to the winner.
David “David” Bell is back, but wasn’t able to force his way into the squad for the previous game. Actually, he provided a few choice responses prior to kick-off about that. At least, that’s how it appeared to me, but you have to bear in mind it’s very difficult to work out if David Bell is being purposely acerbic, or just his usual minimalist self.
Callum Ball is also back in the squad, so prepare to see the return of him at some point, especially if we’re in need of a goal.
Given the two-legged nature of the tie, Robins will be very keen to keep a clean sheet in the home leg. With this in mind, I’m leaning towards the idea of him reverting back to the tried and trusted 4-5-1. While that means it’s likely to be hard cheese for Mr Elliott again, that’s the price you pay for somehow managing to keep your entire squad fit as you enter February.
Why play it down? This feels like one of the biggest games many of us have ever attended involving our City. Sure, there was the FA Cup final – but this will have passed many by given how long ago it was. There were also lots of fancy matches in the Premiership, and even some horribly important relegation games offering the feeling of being “massive”.
But this really does mean something. Win this tie, and we go to Wembley stadium to play a football match. The last time I went to Wembley was to watch WWF Summerslam in 1992. I fell instantly in love with Macho Man Randy Savage’s wife whilst developing a 2 year long phobia of Papa Shango.
So, you can see why going back back there again – whether people question the value of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy or not – is a huge deal. I need new memories. We all do.
My Dad has spoken this year about our name being on the trophy. Now, I don’t believe in fate or anything like that, but the sentiment is at least something I can understand. The way in which we’ve made it through the rounds so far suggests that we won’t be giving up on this trophy without a fight.
I think it’s going to be a tremendous occasion, and whilst tight, tense and nerve-racking for much of it, I’m sure we’ll be able to get the job done.
Mind you, I’ve re-evaluated my prediction since last week, and have to admit I can’t quite see us keeping a clean sheet. I reckon we’re looking at a 3-1, setting us up nicely for an even more tense second leg at Gresty Road.
I can’t bloody wait.