When Mark Robins revealed his Coventry City team to face Bristol City on Easter Monday, it’s fair to say it raised a few eyebrows and certainly went down well with many fans.
Making six changes, two enforced due to injury and illness to Michael Rose and Dom Hyam respectively, the Sky Blues boss delighted supporters by starting with what is widely held to be his first choice strike partnership of Matty Godden and Tyler Walker who, incredibly, were making their first start together.
Elsewhere it looked, on paper at least, like the manager was going to switch to a back four with right wing-back Julien Dacosta dropped to the bench and the versatile Josh Pask, who can play as a full-back or centre-half, coming in at what appeared to be right-back.
Holding midfielder Josh Eccles was also included ahead of out of form Gus Hamer, who was among the subs, with the 20-year-old expected to be deployed somewhere in the middle of the park, as he was when he went on for a late eye-catching cameo against QPR.
But no, when the players lined up for kick-off it became clear that not only was Pask deployed out of position at left centre-half of the back three – a job which he did admirably throughout – but Eccles was tasked with filling the right wing-back berth.
That was no mean feat for the development player making his full Championship debut, up against seasoned forward Nahki Wells and full-back Steve Sessegnon.
Here Robins explains his thinking.
“The reason Josh was in the team was to give us that element of control on the right-hand side,” he said, “but also when he got to the final third you know his delivery is good.
“We have not had that and unless Fanky is flying and fit you don’t get it.
“Julien has done it on occasions but he had a tough, tough afternoon on Friday, and he’s got to come back from that.
“And while it was Josh’s turn today, hopefully we can get Fanky back and get some confidence into Julien and a bit of understanding, and then we have a decent right-hand side.”
While Eccles is making excellent progress with his development, having impressed on loan at League One Gillingham earlier in the season, and clearly trusted by the manager, Robins revealed that Dabo is ahead of schedule and hoped to be back from his hamstring strain towards the end of next week, having initially been feared to be out for the remainder of the season.
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That’s a huge boost to City’s bid for Championship survival given his attacking threat is a key element to City’s wing-backs system.
But for the time being, Eccles can be proud of his progress and enjoy his big birthday today.
“It’s Josh’s 21st so that’s a decent performance going into his coming of age,” said Robins, who explained the Coventry-born player’s versatility.
“He played all the way through the Academy when he was a defender and then became a midfielder.
“But he has loads of technical ability. He has a load of different attributes and I wouldn’t like to pigeon-hole him.
“He’s got the attributes to do whatever he wants in the game. He has great technical ability, he’s a good athlete and quicker than he looks and has great delivery.
“He has calmness in his brain and you could see that with the one he brought out of the air.
“He has to beat his man otherwise he’ll get back at him. He doesn’t get everything right but he got quite a lot of things right and his control meant – and there was only one where he slashed at it – that it was a really good afternoon’s work.”