While getting back into the Football League remains the priority, a little cup glory never hurt anybody. Phil Parkinson knows that more than most, having enjoyed some remarkable runs in knock-out competitions. Can he pull off a giant-killing with a club renowned for its heroic cup feats.
Sadly, Jacob Mendy broke down in the first half at Solihull on Monday, which means Callum McFadzean is likely to return in his place. That could have meant a brotherly derby as McFadzean's elder sibling, Kyle, plays for the Sky Blues, but sadly he suffered a calf tear during the World Cup break and will not be fit for Saturday's match. Apart from Mendy, there were no casualties from a bruising double header against the Moors to add to Christian Dibble, Bryce Hosannah and Jordan Davies on the injured list.
The Red Dragons face a tall order if they're to progress to the fourth round, though. Coventry are just 4 points short of the play-off positions in the Championship. Mark Robins' side has been impressively solid: only the top two have conceded fewer goals than the Sky Blues.
Goals have been harder to come by, though. Only 4 teams have a worse scoring record in the division, despite the impressive form of Swedish international Viktor Gyökeres. The 12 goals he has scored in 23 starts this season, following on from the 18 he struck last season, have attracted the interest of Premier League teams, with Leeds United, Wolves, Fulham and Everton all reported to be interested in a move during the current transfer window.
Robins has been emphatic in rejecting such speculation, though, telling CoventryLive, "Viktor is going nowhere. I can tell you now he is going nowhere in January. Absolutely no chance. I’ve spoken to Vik.”
There has also been speculation that Callum O'Hare could be subject to a bid from a Premier League side, but he suffered an ACL injury on Boxing Day and Robins is adamant that the 24-year old is also part of his long term plans.
“There’s not a chance of them going anywhere in January. It would be absolutely ridiculous and I’m adamant that is happening. The only way people can go is if you have got people lined up, replacements lined up that are better. It’s not going to happen.”
-Mark Robins on Gyökeres and O'Hare
City's most recent game was a 1-1 home draw against Bristol City, but there will be changes from the eleven which started that match. An succession of injuries might limit Robins' ability to make too many changes, but Gyökeres is likely to be on the bench, only to be used in case of emergency.
It's thought reserve goalkeeper Simon Moore is likely to step in for Ben Miller, but defensive resources are thin so there are likely to be no changes in the back three unless the parent clubs of on-loan centre backs Callum Doyle and Jonathan Panzo don't want them to be cup-tied.
Club skipper Liam Kelly is likely to start in midfield as he returns from injury, and look out for Wales Under-21 international Ryan Howley alongside him. Another young prospect who has been receiving positive reviews is Fabio Tavares, who will be eager to get a start up front. Robins has been praising his exciting interventions from the bench this week - he has made 9 appearances as a replacement in the Championship - and he could be in line for a second start to go with the 90 minutes he played in the EFL Cup last August.
HEAD TO HEAD
It’s been a while since we faced Coventry City – just over 28 years in fact. We were a well-established League One side at the time, with Gary Bennett leading the line in the middle of his remarkable goal scoring run for us. City, meanwhile, were a Premier League side whose imminent arrival at The Racecourse for the first leg of a League Cup tie generating plenty of talk of Wrexham’s previous giant-killing feats.
On a rainy night, Wrexham dominated the early stages, with Bennett and Steve Watkin impressive, but Steve Ogrizovic repelled their best efforts and the home side fell behind to a Julian Darby goal 8 minutes before the break. Brian Flynn’s side were determined to stay in the tie, though, and four minutes later Barry Jones equalised with a terrific strike into the top corner from the edge of the box.
The second half was a tight affair until a 78th minute strike from Sean Flynn gave Coventry the lead. Wrexham responded strongly: Barry Hunter went close with a header, a strong penalty shout was turned down and in added time a typical Kieron Durkan strike hit the inside of the post.
Dion Dublin, a club record signing from Manchester United, had scored 2 goals in his 2 appearances for his new club, but Wrexham did a good job of keeping him quiet at The Racecourse. The same wasn’t true at Highfield Road, though, where he gave City an early lead and a 2-goal cushion on aggregate, heading home a Paul Cook free kick.
Again, Wrexham showed heart, and pulled a goal back just before the break through Jonathan Cross, who lashed a fine shot past Ogrizovic. The Coventry keeper then had to pull off a fine save from Bennett to stop Wrexham from levelling the tie.
Following the break Dublin struck again, and when Roy Wegerle made it 5-2 on aggregate, it looked like the tie was done and dusted. However, in the 71st minute Cook handled a goal-bound shot and received a red card. Bennett scored the penalty but City dug deep to ensure Wrexham didn’t make matters even more complicated.
We have met City once before in the FA Cup, but in rather different circumstances to this weekend’s match. The game was in the fourth qualifying round of the competition in 1909, and it ended in a 3-0 victory for Coventry on their own turf.
The history of this fixture goes back to 1905, when we first faced each other in the Birmingham and District League. A penalty by Edwin Hughes put Wrexham ahead, but a defensive mistake led to an equaliser in the final 5 minutes of the match. It was a bizarre occasion as we also played an FA Cup game at home to Rhyl on the same day!
We’d won our three matches in the league to date, and chose to prioritise that match, so our reserves had to play the cup game. They weren’t up to the task and lost 4-1, but the local press claimed Wrexham were quite happy to rid themselves of the distraction of the FA Cup, the Liverpool Echo describing the result as “a sort of melancholy relief” while bemoaning the crowded fixture list Birmingham and District League teams faced that season.
It seems squad rotation to prioritise the league isn’t as modern an idea as we might have thought!
Wrexham's star player decided to remain in Wales for the FA Cup tie, a decision which had negative repercussions in both matches. Horace Blew (above), a Welsh international, was involved in a mix-up with his goalkeeper which led to one of Rhyl's goals, while newspaper reports suggest the error which allowed Coventry to equalise would not have happened if Blew had been on the pitch!
We’ve suffered some heavy losses in this fixture, losing 6-2 in March 1907 and 5-3 on Christmas Day 1959. Club legend Arfon Griffiths scored his first goal for Wrexham in the latter defeat, and three and a half years later he scored as we gained revenge with a 5-1 win at The Racecourse. Brian Whitehouse struck two goals and would end his coaching career working at Coventry under Ron Atkinson in the 1990s.
Jordan Tunnicliffe's 300th career game.