“Pitiful” is the word that best sums up Wales’ first half performance against England yesterday. For me it was as bad as anything seen under John Toshack – in fact, given that we were playing a side that should get even the poorest of Welsh teams to at least show some fight, it was probably worse. I had been hopeful of a good showing beforehand. Even before Gareth Bale dropped out I never contemplated a win for Wales, but I did think a combination of the new manager effect, a full house and a game against England would draw a performance from the team which offered the hope of better days for the future. Instead of that though we got an abject capitulation as any confidence and spirit the side had (and there wasn’t much evidence of that in the little time when the score was 0-0) evaporated as soon as Frank Lampard’s penalty hit the net.
I’ve seen heavier defeats for Welsh sides against England, but I can’t remember anything as dismal and depressing as yesterday’s meek surrender. For me this is not a great England team – their efforts in the last two World Cup Final tournaments and the fact that they didn’t even reach the latter stages of Euro 2008 show that their team of the last five years or so is not as strong as many of those sides I have seen play Wales down the years and yet, in the first half in particular, Wales approached their task as if they were up against the 1970 Brazilian World Cup winning team in their pomp!
Although I don’t have a high opinion of the current English team, the painful truth is that they were much, much too good for us. They had the match won in the first quarter of an hour and then effectively “declared” after that as they saw out the game in a manner which suggested to me that if, miracle of miracles, Wales actually began to inconvenience them a little, they could have stepped things up and scored again if they needed to. Those who tried to take comfort from an improved second half display by Wales need to bear this in mind – for me, England were perfectly happy to keep us at arm’s length after the break content in the knowledge that we had nothing that could trouble them.
No doubt yesterday’s result will mean a further slide down the FIFA World rankings and, having talked about the poorest of Welsh sides a little earlier, I daresay that there will be many who would say that this unwanted award should go to the current side, but, even without the likes of Bale and Collison, this side should be better than they are showing, so are they failing to play to the level they should because they are poorly managed? I’m not so sure of that myself – I supported John Toshack longer than most other Wales fans, it was obvious though that there were problems with his relationship with many of the players and with Gary Speed having now followed his uninspiring debut game in Ireland with this dreadful defeat, it is tempting to point the finger of blame at the man in charge when looking for reasons as to why the team has done so poorly since their win over Scotland in 2009. However, there has to come a time when the players have to take responsibility for their part in proceedings as defeat follows defeat.
Yes, Gary Speed got it wrong yesterday in selecting Andy King to play in an unfamiliar position that nullified his greatest asset (i.e. his ability to make late runs beyond the strikers) and it’s not with the benefit of hindsight that I say that David Vaughan should have been in the starting line up. I thought the non selection of a player who has been very impressive as a regular pick for a Premiership team was a strange decision even before a ball was kicked and watching Joe Ledley and Andrew Crofts labouring away without ever looking like establishing anything vaguely resembling an element of control in the middle of the park only confirmed this. It’s no coincidence that Wales were able to finally put the England defence under some of pressure after Vaughan was, belatedly, introduced.
However, if Speed did show his managerial inexperience a bit then I’m afraid that, like Toshack before him, he was very poorly served by the players who now should be providing the experienced guiding hand to help those in their early twenties through games. I am talking in particular here about the two Collins’ in our back four. Although I reckon he’s had a poor club season this time around, James is an established Premiership standard defender now, but he has looked nothing like that in recent Wales games where his habit of making at least one major error per game makes him an accident waiting to happen – to be fair, his fall in the lead up to the penalty he gave away was down to a pitch which should have the FAW looking to play all games away from the Millennium Stadium from now on, but these sort of things are happening too often at this level to a player who should be providing an example to his team mates.
As for Danny, well he threw a strop when Toshack didn’t pick him for some friendly game and did not come back into the fold until after Tosh had gone. Collins’ reaction makes it obvious that he thinks he is better than the other candidates for the left back role in the Welsh team, but, nine games into his International career, I am still waiting to see any evidence that suggests he is right in believing this. Yesterday’s was a pretty typical Danny Collins Wales display in that he was probably the worst player in the side. To be caught out like he was in the build up to England’s second goal was very disappointing, but for him to lose his man in an identical manner shortly afterwards was criminal – people ask how many of the current City side could cut it in the Premiership if we went up, well, Collins is someone who has played the majority of his football in the top flight, so I would say that, based on his example, the answer to that question has to be all of them!
I’d exempt Craig Bellamy, who turned in a six out of ten performance which probably made him our best player and at least looked like he cared about what was happening, from any criticism of the senior players, but it also has to be said that the likes of Gunter and Ledley should be becoming more influential now given the number of caps they have. As for Aaron Ramsey, I think he showed last week and yesterday that, while he is fit enough to look a class act at Championship level, he is still not back to match sharpness at the next step up and he probably won’t be until he has the benefit of six weeks pre-season training behind him. The way in which he took on too much himself when things were going wrong was pretty predictable, but it also showed his bravery as a footballer because he was still looking to get on the ball and play despite things often not working out for him in the manner they usually do.
Finally, the most galling thing for me about yesterday was that the team’s craven performance justified all of the platitudes, delivered in a condescending manner, directed at Wales by English pundits before the game. Who can blame the English based media for looking down on us when their team comes to our capital and wins as comfortably as they would do when playing in San Marino or Andorra (I was going to say Liechtenstein, but I seem to remember them giving England a far tougher game when they went there than we did yesterday!)? Wales were not England’s “little brother” yesterday (little brothers can be an annoyance), they were the baby brother that teenage boys barely look at while saying “yeah he’s nice isn’t he” before moving on to more important matters.by The other Bob Wilson
Three weeks ago, City’s Under 18′s played out a very entertaining Friday afternoon 0-0 draw in which they could, and probably should, have defeated top of the table Leicester City. Unfortunately, while that afternoon saw our kids at their best, yesterday afternoon saw them at their worst as they were comfortably second best to the Academy team of a side playing at a lower first team level than we do – Southampton leaving with a fully deserved 3-1 win (that was the score when I left a minute or so before the end anyway).
I got to Leckwith Stadium a couple of minutes after kick off and the first things I saw were City having a penalty shout turned down while forcing a corner and Jessie Darko being only inches away from connecting with a fine cross by Jordan Jackson – it soon became clear though that any early dominance they might have had was not going to last as the visitors took command of things. That said, apart from three headers from separate dead ball situations that they should have made more of, Southampton were just as insipid in front of goal as City were during a dull first half hour.
When a team did score, it was a shock to see it was City who netted because they had not done anything whatsoever to threaten the Southampton goal apart from that early flurry of pressure – there was a bit of quality to the goal as well as Darko’s good header from around the penalty spot area found the corner of the net following Ibby Farah’s free kick out on the right hand side.
Despite the visitors continuing to look the better side, City were able to hold on to their lead pretty comfortably up to and beyond the half time break and, as the game entered it’s final quarter, there were a few signs that City could go on to win as the Southampton goalkeeper was finally called on to make a couple of saves in quick succession. The flow of the game was still primarily towards our goal though and, with a quarter of an hour or so to go, the visitors finally drew level when a long and very high ball which must have had snow on it dropped into an awkward area for keeper Reece Ottley who, looking into the strong sun, missed his punch – City were always in trouble once that had happened and, although Ottley almost put things right with a good close range block, he was unlucky when the ball went straight back to a Southampton forward who scored easily.
Soon afterwards it was 2-1 when Southampton put together a move of a quality that we never came anywhere near matching as they counter attacked from a City corner – a slight deflection off one of our subs as he tried to get a tackle in worked in the visitor’s favour, but they still did very well to work a situation where the goalscorer was left free six yards from goal to head in a left wing cross. Yes, there had been a little luck in both of their goals, but with their better play throughout, Southampton had earned that good fortune and they weren’t flattered by a third goal in the dying minutes courtesy of another incisive counter attack.
Although they were clearly the better team, Southampton weren’t that great themselves mind and I have seen us play better teams than them this season. For much of the ninety minutes, both sides struggled to cope on a pitch that was hard and lively, but, in saying that, conditions were worse against Leicester when a similar dry pitch was accompanied by a strong wind that was absent yesterday and if City had played to the standard they had that day, I believe they could have won. Not for the first time though, I came away from a late season game thinking that a combination of dry pitches and the very light ball used these days does not make for good quality football at this time of year.
One other thing to mention while I remember were the officials. While their decisions didn’t have any direct influence on the outcome, it seemed to me that they gave us virtually nothing throughout the game – maybe it was just me and my City supporting bias, but, by the end of the game I was finding it quite funny how all of the 50/50 decisions were going in favour of Southampton.
As for City players who took my eye, well, being honest, it was a little bit like the recent Barnsley match in that no one did until we made a substitution. I’m pretty sure it was Joe Ralls who came off the bench in the second half and, virtually as soon as he came on, he made both controlling and passing the ball look a lot easier than those who had started the game had done – not everything he tried came off and a few of the balls he attempted went astray, but, in general, his passing was on a higher plane than anyone else’s in a blue shirt and I can only presume that he didn’t start because he was carrying some sort of minor injury.by The other Bob Wilson