When Coventry and Middlesbrough met at the Ricoh Arena back in October, both were in the embryonic bottom three: seven months later, they meet at the same venue in a Play-Off Semi-Final first leg. Boro’s resurgence was expected, perhaps, after Michael Carrick took charge, more so than that of the Sky Blues, who have worked wonders to get into this position.
So, let’s dive into my expert Coventry vs Middlesbrough tips, trends, & analysis.
Coventry’s record-breaking campaign
After a tough start which saw lots of home postponements, due to the Ricoh Arena being used for the Commonwealth Games, and just three points from the first seven games, Coventry looked set for what could have been their toughest season of Mark Robins’ second stint in charge.
The Sky Blues have progressed under Robins each season for six years, though, and trended upwards once again from October onwards, starting the month with a 1-0 victory over Saturday’s opponents, taking 67 points from 39 games.
The Midlanders have certainly benefited from the inconsistency of their Play-Off rivals, with Watford and Norwich dropping like a stone in the run-in, and the likes of Millwall and Blackburn struggling for consistency.
It would be unfair to call Coventry a two-man team, given how well defenders Callum Doyle and Kyle McFadzean have played this season, and Ben Sheaf has had an excellent season too, but Gus Hamer and Viktor Gyokeres really are vital to this team.
The former is persistent, energetic and tenacious in midfield yet has sublime vision for a long-range pass, while Gyokeres is the most complete centre-forward in the Championship: quick, strong, agile, skilful, driven and razor-sharp in front of goal, bagging 21 times.
If Hamer and Gyokeres play to their full potential, Coventry have a real chance.
Middlesbrough’s attacking panache
Much like Gyokeres is Coventry’s star man, Middlesbrough’s is Chuba Akpom.
The Arsenal trainee was a peripheral figure last summer, after an uneventful loan at PAOK, but Carrick has unlocked the quality in his number 10, in a team that’s exciting to watch going forward.
Hayden Hackney brings youthful dynamism from midfield, Riley McGree offers driving runs from the left, Cameron Archer stretches defences up top, and Aaron Ramsey’s selfless energy completes Boro’s equilibrium, giving Akpom the space to shine with a stunning 28 league goals.
There are some question marks over Ramsey’s fitness, with the Aston Villa loanee out of action since 14th April, but the fact he’s been selected by Ian Foster for England’s Young Lions squad for the Under-20s World Cup – also in May – suggests the injury has not been as bad as feared, and Carrick has been keeping his availability close to his chest.
It’s possible that could be the case with Ramsey’s position rival, Marcus Forss, with options at right wing being more important than they would have been 12 months ago: Isaiah Jones was 2021-22’s breakout star, but this year he’s struggled for confidence.
Supporters will also be keen to know the availability of Jonny Howson, whose experience and know-how has been critical to the Teessiders this term in midfield.
If Middlesbrough can have one or two of the above fit and firing, though, they’ve got a great chance.
The Tactics Board
Coventry boss Mark Robins like to pair one attacking, enigmatic on-loan wing-back in Brooke Norton-Cuffy or Josh Wilson-Esbrand, with a steady, dependable time in Fankaty Dabo or Jake Bidwell, on the right and left respectively.
This could offer balance, but with this system, the wing-backs are the players the team looks to for width, to hold a threat on the flanks and when one of them doesn’t offer that, the team can become easier to defend against as a collective, and perhaps more reliant on individuals like Gyokeres and Hamer.
Middlesbrough, too, have a conservative option in Tommy Smith to complement the more forward-thinking Ryan Giles – joint-top assister in the Championship – but that makes more sense when operating with a 4-2-3-1, which incorporates one extra attacking player, than a 3-4-2-1 or 3-4-1-2.
As such, Boro may have some joy by giving extra attention to Norton-Cuffy or Wilson-Esbrand and using their extra numbers on one side of the pitch to funnel Coventry’s play toward the more limited wing-back, Dabo or Bidwell, then retain a counter-attacking outlet ahead of the one who’s less defensively tuned in.
Coventry vs Middlesbrough betting tips
Middlesbrough look an attractive proposition to win the first leg at 15/8 with Paddy Power because, with a bit of luck in terms of team news, they possess a greater array of players who can hurt the opposition than Coventry. This has been Akpom’s season, too, so why couldn’t he finish it with a flourish? The former Arsenal trainee has found the net at least once in 20 of his last 30 appearances in all competitions and is a hugely appealing 2/1 to score anytime.
Middlesbrough to win @ 15/8 with Paddy Power
Chuba Akpom to score anytime @ 2/1 with PaddyPower
All odds are accurate at the time of writing.
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