“After the Lord Mayor’s show” has been an overworked term in the past forty eight hours or so. It was used in the media before yesterday’s match, I used it myself during it as City struggled to break down the massed defence of a team in a wretched run of form and afterwards it was there again as the debates over a second successive 1-0 win clinched with a goal in the eighty fifth minute started. Given the highs of last Sunday and the more mundane fare (in terms of intensity anyway) on offer yesterday, it’s use is perfectly understandable on lots of levels, but, on reflection, maybe it’s more accurate to use “after the Lord Mayor’s show” in relation to the performance of one or two of our players rather than the side as a whole?
I say that because I don’t think we played too badly yesterday – our finishing and final ball could have been better, but, by often switching the ball from flank to flank with long passes in the first half, I thought we put in the groundwork which led to a very tired Scunthorpe side being eventually unable to deny us any longer as the ball continuously kept on coming back at them from about the seventy five minute mark onwards.
Usually when a game is going the way it did against Scunthorpe, I tend to get quite negative about our chances of making the breakthrough and accept that it was just not meant to be, but I never felt like that yesterday. I was sure that a goal was coming and, although my belief in the team took a knock when Jon Parkin’s effort was ruled out by what, from the television pictures, looked a dubious looking offside decision against Jay Bothroyd, my determination to “keep the faith” (another well over used term!) was rewarded a minute later when Seyi Olofinjana bundled in (with the aid of a deflection off a defender’s head?) the winner.
Scunthorpe manager Ian Barraclough claimed his side were worth “at least a point” after the game, but, while defeat must be hard to take when your team were so close to taking a point which just might have kickstarted the revival that his seemingly relegation doomed outfit need so desperately, twenty one goal attempts to five and ten corners to nil tells it’s own story. The outcome might have been harsh on a side who had defended so resolutely, but, for me, it was, undoubtedly, the right one.
So much of City’s build up play was very good, but the fact that visiting keeper Josh Lillis was barely extended despite those twenty one goal attempts says all you need to know about finishing which lacked precision. I thought Chris Burke did well when he came on, but his shooting, as well as his reaction to good chances against Reading and Swansea, betrayed a lack of confidence in front of goal at odds with what we saw from him last season.
The main culprit though was Craig Bellamy who, despite numerous attempts, never came remotely close to hitting a shot as sweetly as he did at Swansea. Speaking as someone who has defended Bellamy against some of the criticism he was getting earlier in the season, I thought he was one of the players who the “after the Lord Mayor’s show” criticism could be aimed at – in my view he was generally poor yesterday and the team actually seemed to improve after he went off. The same could be said of Michael Chopra who, after looking in good form since the turn of the year, had one of those games which has you questioning his worth to the team – it was like the Nottingham Forest match in November revisited for Chopra yesterday, but I hope Dave Jones doesn’t react in the same way as he did back then by dropping the player because yesterday wasn’t at all typical of his recent form.
I would say though that the good performances outweighed the bad ones yesterday – Paul Quinn was impressive at right back and played with a confidence gained by having an extended run in the team, while in midfield, one misplaced pass which could have had disastrous consequences apart, Aaron Ramsey again showed that while there may be debates about whether he is ready for an Arsenal return yet, he is a class act at this level. Alongside Ramsey, Seyi Olofinjana continued the improvement he had shown at the Liberty Stadium and there was much more than just his goal that was good in his game, but the most satisfying individual contribution for me was Jason Koumas’ cameo after replacing Chopra.
Koumas had looked more confident and bright even before he provided the cross which led to the goal, but when he did that he made what was his first major contribution in a league game this season. From his own perspective, I can understand Ian Barraclough’s disappointment that his players allowed the cross to be put in, but it was a quality ball which just demanded to get the response from attacking players that it did. It came about because Koumas came up with a reminder of his 2005/06 form as he created that little bit of space for himself and, having done that, he was able to rely on his inate ability which, whatever he has been through over the past few years, has never gone away.
Who knows, that cross may just turn out to be an all too brief reminder of what Koumas is capable of as his contributions sink back to the level that has typified his second spell at Cardiff, but at least now there is something positive from the 20110/11 Jason Koumas that City fans can file away for the future. A month or so ago, I read on a messageboard that the club had given up on Koumas for the season as his problems on and off the pitch were really taking a toll on him, but that didn’t tie in with the pictures I saw of him training with new signings Dekel Keinan and Aaron Ramsey last month or his inclusion on the substitute’s bench since the Reading game. Hopefully, there just might be more of the same to come from Jason Koumas over the coming months and what a bonus that would be if there was.
Finally, having been prattling on for months on here about our lack of clean sheets and 1-0 wins, we have now had two of them on the trot. Now I know that keeping out a Scunthorpe side who have not found the net in four of their last five away matches and whose attack generally looked to have forgotten what to do when they got within range of our goal might not look to be anything special, but it is certainly a step in the right direction. The same can be said of our new found ability to win tight games which are decided by a single goal – it’s a knack that took us too long to discover, but, having done so, it’s essential that we keep it over the coming months.