If we had headed north to Leeds with two or three Championship away wins behind us rather than just the one, I would go along with those who regarded yesterday’s 1-1 draw at Leeds as a point gained, but, in our present position, I’m afraid it has to be seen as a case of two lost in my opinion. I realise that this is a harsh judgement when you consider that we were up against a side which had taken thirteen points from their last five matches at Elland Road, but until we start winning away games again, it’s hard to see how we will be able overhaul the sides above us in the table.
Back in the days of two points for a win, victory in your home games backed up by a draw when you went away was held up as a way of ensuring success at the end of the season, but in the modern game, where the reward for victory is that much greater, a point per away match is unlikely to be good enough. As things stand, our away record is heading for a repeat of what we saw in seasons 2007/08 and 2008/09 – during those two seasons, we only lost thirteen away matches out of forty six, but, with only nine of the thirty three games where we avoided defeat ending in a win, we finished outside of the top six both times.
Unfortunately, there is a bit of a trend developing this season in our away matches. We have scored the first goal in five of the seven games (six out of eight if you include the Oxford League Cup match) and yet only one of them has seen us finish winners after ninety minutes. If you include the Oxford match, five of the games have finished 1-1 at the ninety minute mark and in four of them we took the lead – add in the Peterborough game which we lost after leading 3-2 in the eighty seventh minute and it’s clear that failing to hold on to leads in away games is fast becoming an issue which could have a crucial bearing on how our season ends.
To be fair, a win for City would have been a case of daylight robbery given the way the ninety minutes panned out, but every team that ends up winning something at the end of the season has their share of backs to the wall away victories where they end up getting more than they deserved. City have, perhaps, had one such win at West Ham already (that gracious loser Sam Allardyce certainly thought so!), but the opportunities passed up at Blackpool, in particular, Portsmouth and Peterborough are costing us and, if this trend continues, the pressure on us in home games is only going to increase – as it is, our habit of only winning alternate league games at Cardiff City Stadium will see us slipping further adrift if it continues.
If all of this sounds a bit doom and gloom laden, it should also be said that there is a lot that is right with our team. The refusal to buckle when put under the sort of pressure Leeds inflicted on us in the second half was impressive and goalkeeper David Marshall had one of his best matches in a City shirt. Indeed, I thought our back five, who have had more than their share of criticism in recent weeks, had a good day yesterday – Marshall was decisive in everything he did and showed again that he is an excellent shot stopper and, although neither of them were faultless, full backs McNaughton and Taylor stuck to their tasks well in testing circumstances.
Inside them, I thought both of our centrebacks did well. I’ve been critical of Mark Hudson so far this season and a clumsy early yellow card suggested it would be a tough afternoon for our captain, but I’d say he was, arguably, our best outfield player after that as he came to our rescue with a succession of last ditch headers and clearances. If Ben Turner wasn’t quite as impressive, he didn’t get much wrong in my opinion either and, after the nine in three conceded since he got into the team, just letting in the one here when you consider the pressure we soaked up was an indication that our manager may be right in thinking that this is the best central defensive pairing we have.
No, if you are looking to apportion blame as to why we spent so much time defending, I don’t think you can be too harsh on our back five – it’s the players in front of them you should be looking at. I think the squad we have is most suited to playing 4-5-1 at the moment, but yesterday did sew a few seeds of doubt in my mind, because, although they all worked hard for the side and Peter Whittingham’s delivery from dead ball situations was as good as usual, none of the midfield five (six if you include Filip Kiss) played that well and they certainly didn’t function as an effective unit. Yes, there was some protection for our defence, but I thought our five came off second best to Leeds’ four for long spells and, given that I believe all of midfielders are good players at this level and that they are becoming more used to playing with each other now, this is a disappointment – our midfield weren’t really at the races yesterday individually or collectively.
Most disappointing for me though was the lack of support given to Joe Mason as he ploughed what was very much a lone furrow up front. Mason got his goal and showed one or two glimpses of the talented link up work that has been so much of a feature of his play so far, but, for too much of the time, he was just chasing around trying to close down defenders – he needed and deserved more help from the midfield, but, unlike in recent home games, there was precious little of it. Whether this was down to us not performing in the middle of the park on the day or to us sitting back more once we had taken the lead is arguable – I’m sure Leeds fans would claim that it was because their team was on top and they might be right, but there is some evidence that the tendency is to put the shutters up when we go 1-0 up away from home and, if this is the case, I’m not sure if Mason can cope too well when his team mates are so far behind him. Thinking about it, it may not have been a coincidence that we came into it a bit more after Kenny Miller replaced Mason. Once again, the question could be asked as to whether we came out more after we conceded, but, whatever happened, we had our best spell of attacking play in the game when Miller was on – if we are going to play 4-5-1 and sit deep away from home when we are leading, then I’d suggest that Miller has to be the lone attacker, but I’d still like to see Mason in as one of the five midfielders to give him a bit of assistance.by The other Bob Wilson
I could go on for ages trying to explain the new rules on Youth Academies which were voted in last week as Football league clubs found themselves browbeaten into accepting them by Premiership teams, but this link does a better job of it than me. The only comment I would make is that I reckon an awful lot of supporters would not have been aware of the protest (which has now finished) held today and it would seem more sensible for a bit more time to have been taken arranging it so that a more impressive response could have resulted (having the protest on successive Saturdays would have given fans of all clubs a better chance of taking part as well). Anyway, in a week where the balance of power tilted even more in favour of the Premiership, there was a certain degree of satisfaction in seeing City get the better of one of the big boys this morning as their Under 18′s beat Aston Villa 3-2 at Leckwith.
To be honest, Villa were unlucky not to get something out of an entertaining and open encounter in which they probably had the lion’s share of the chances. Therefore, you could understand their player’s frustration in the closing stages as what had been a fairly clean game turned a little spicy and ended with a pushing and shoving match between the teams after the final whistle (it was much ado about nothing really and the ref, rightly in my opinion, saw no need to take any further action).
I doubt it if anyone watching the game would have backed City to end up winners in the ten minutes which followed the visitors opening the scoring, because our youngsters seemed to lose their way completely after going behind to a Villa team, who were certainly willing to put their foot in at times, adapting the better to a pitch made much slicker by the heavy rain that started just as the match kicked off. City did work one or two promising positions early on, but were struggling from the moment that a clever lob was superbly turned over by keeper Liam Matthews. Within a couple of minutes, Matthews was rounded by a Villa player who seemed certain to score, but Josh Yorwerth cleared the shot off the line only to be unlucky as the ball was crossed back into the danger area and was impressively headed into the corner of an empty net by a Villa forward with the keeper in no position to save.
Matthews kept City in contention after that with a couple more saves, but his tendency to come rushing outside of his area to act as a sweeper – keeper also caused one or two problems for City, who were lucky to get to the half hour mark only 1-0 down. However, to their credit, City began to work their way back into things after this and the closing stages of the half saw more of the action taking place at the Villa end than ours. City’s number eleven * (sorry, like one or two others in the team, I was unable to recognise him – this is the downside to playing games at Leckwith, where you keep dry on days like today, compared to Treforest where you are much closer to the action and can hear player’s names being called) was foiled by the Villa keeper and Kevin Saint Luce also fired just over when the ball dropped to him ten yards out. The French forward was not to be denied though and when Kane Owen’s excellent free kick was only half cleared, it fell to Saint-Luce who had the simple task of scoring from close in before indulging in the more difficult matter of completing his, increasingly familiar, post goal somersault routine.
Having gone in 1-1 at half time, the visitors came out eager to regain the superiority they had enjoyed for the majority of the opening forty five minutes. Matthews was again called into action on more than one occasion and Villa also had a goal, correctly, disallowed for offside, but, although it was sometimes hard to figure out how they quite managed it, City not only survived this spell of pressure, but also ended it by taking the lead around the hour mark when a high cross by our number eleven* was missed by the Villa keeper as he was challenged by Jesse Darko and the ball ended up in the net.
City gained confidence from having a lead to hold on to, but they still had the odd hairy moment or two. In particular, when Matthews again ventured a long way out of his goal and put Owen in a terrible position with a pass back into the penalty area – a Villa player won the ball and, with Matthews out of position, an equaliser looked inevitable, but the excellent Yorwerth got back just in time to clear off the line again. The visitors had another goal disallowed shortly after that and it began to look like City could see the game through with their lead intact, but, with about a quarter of an hour to go, a speedy Villa sub got clear of Yorwerth and knocked the ball across for one of his team mates to tap in an easy goal which sent the vociferous away fan sat close to us into raptures!
However, unlike with the first Villa goal, City’s reaction this time was impressive and their two French forwards in particular finished the game strongly. Saint-Luce and Drais were both involved in a fluent move which ended with the latter firing in an impressive low shot from the edge of the penalty area to regain the lead and the former almost made the game safe when his effort was deflected not far wide. It didn’t matter in the end though as City held on fairly comfortably to secure a very hard earned win. After three draws and three defeats in their first six matches, the Under 18′s have turned things around pretty impressively with three wins in four games – recent matches have offered good entertainment as well and with their next home match, against Leicester City, scheduled for November 12 with a noon kick off, it would be good if a few of those going to the Wales match that afternoon could turn up early to give our kids a bigger crowd than normal to perform in front of.
* the official site has confirmed that the scorer was Jordan Carter.
by The other Bob Wilson