FIVE THINGS WE LEARNED FROM THE COV GAME
With huge thanks to the media team at Solihull Moors, we were able to head down to last night's friendly against Coventry City, the first home Moors game since lockdown.
As well as live-tweeting our impressions of the game (and the Coventry under-23s coach's choice of skintight tracksuit), we were able to put our heads together and come up with a few lessons learned about how the team might be approaching the new season.
Suffice to say, it was a promising performance against a decent Coventry side!
There were no surprises here. We know how Jimmy Shan likes to set up his team, and so it remained a 3-3-1-2-1 formation, with a single recognised striker and two advanced midfielders taking it in turns to play off him. Watch out for our wing backs -- they'll have license to operate essentially as wingers when we're going for games, with the defensive midfielder playing centrally between them anchoring the team's shape.
However, there were constant reminders from the touchline from Shan on positioning and organisation, as well as chat between players as to where they should be and when. The system is still clearly a work in progress, with a new-look squad needing to gel and have time to realise the Jimmy Shan revolution.
2. Playing Style
Again, few surprises. Both hosts and visitors looked to play short, technical, possession football. On the ball, Moors seem willing to be patient and knock the ball around between them, waiting to stretch the play with the movement off the ball of the rotating forward players, and then strike quickly, especially with width if one of the wing backs bombs on. Off the ball, expect to see this team closing down high up the pitch and looking to force mistakes out of teams trying to play from the back, either winning the ball in dangerous positions or forcing long balls and loss of possession for the opposition. This was successful against a Coventry side furnished with a decent mix of first-teamers and youngsters, so, if pursued correctly, it could be nightmarish for National League sides to have to play against.
A lot has been said about the large numbers of 'defenders' signed over the summer and the squad only containing two out-and-out strikers. Suffice to say, this team will not be 'playing for draws', as some wags would have it. Those wing backs have been signed as attacking outlets. The central defensive signings were made to cope with playing a back three with the centre backs either side being expected to push wide when necessary. Someone like McNally, a right back who has the attributes to play centre back, is a good understudy for both Tyrone Williams and Cameron Coxe. And what a signing he looks, by the way. Even Darren Carter, pushed into service as an emergency left-sided centre back, didn't look too out of place (if anything, it was the natural centre back, Piggott, who seemed the weaker link of the three at times).
Sbarra looks a steal as an attacking midfield partner to Osborne, and is surely someone who will get goals playing off Rooney and Beesley. Hancox started as a left wing back, but one also wonders, with other options on the left in the team, whether he will feature more often as one of those midfielders supporting the striker. Options for the ball-playing and defensive midfield positions also abound. Yes, the squad is big, but this will be a tough season, Saturday-Tuesday every week. Seeing the team play makes it a little clearer how all these players are coming together to form a squad that has good options in every position within the manager's system to cope with inevitable injuries, suspensions, and tiredness.
Solihull fielded three trialists in the second half last night. One was a goalkeeper with sandy blond hair, similar build to Ryan Boot. He made a decent save or two during his 45 between the sticks, despite conceding two goals. It's tough to speculate on who he might be, having only seen him from a distance, but Will Henry, Laurence Bilboe, and Will Huffer all potentially fit the bill. Then again, it could be none of them.
The other two trialists were both attacking midfielders. Both made some bright runs, though the number 10 -- a stocky bleach-blond white player with tatts -- made less impact than the number 11, a black player known as 'Jerome'. He forced a decent save from the Coventry goalkeeper Billson, though in truth he probably should have scored from around eight yards and unmarked in the centre of the box.
5. Standout Players
Jake Beesley looked in fine pre-season form, a constant thorn in the side of the Coventry defence with his movement and work rate. He was unlucky not to bag a hat-trick after Billson saved brilliantly to tip his crashing drive wide in the dying moments of normal time. Provider of Beesley's first goal was Ben Usher-Shipway, who was also impressive going forward wide on the right. Osborne and Sbarra between them should win plenty of free-kicks this season with their trickery and direct running, as, surely, will Coxe and whoever starts opposite him at left wing back. The back three of Williams, Howe, Gudger (from right to left) looked to have a good understanding in the first half.
All in all, there was plenty of food for thought for Shan and the squad after rising to the stern test offered by a fitter Coventry side with plenty of high-level experience. Positive signs for the remaining friendlies and the season to come!