A defeat that had been coming.

CoymayAn awful lot of people have been putting yesterday’s dreadful 4-2 defeat by Norwich City at Cardiff City Stadium down to manager Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s habit of tinkering with his team. Certainly, when the player widely considered to be our best player in the previous game, Mats Dæhli, is left out and then not even brought on from the bench when it was all going wrong in the second half,  questions will be asked about Ole’s decision making.

However, the implication behind blaming what went wrong solely on the fact that our manager, seemingly, has to make changes every time we play a league match is that everything would have been all right if he had picked the same side. Let’s not forget that we were completely outplayed by a Fulham side which has lost every other league game they have played last time out and the time before that we were battered in the first half against Wolves – although it was a surprise that it happened in a home game, what happened yesterday was that we finally got the thrashing (disguised by a totally misleading first half an hour) that had looked on the cards given the performances for large parts of our three away games.

Different personnel each time, but the common theme in our last three matches is that Ole has described our performance during portions of each game as our worst of the season. I’m certainly not going to argue with our manager there – the truly concerning thing is that Ole is utilising many of his so called strongest squad in the Championship and performances are getting progressively worse.

There has to come a time when questions need to be asked as to whether the squad put together through the summer really is as good as everyone says it is – how can it be when there has not been a performance yet which comes close to justifying our pre season rating as favourites to win the division?

Antony Pilkington is completely outnumbered by Norwich defenders here, but it didn't seem to matter how many our opponents had protecting their goal in the first half, we would still manage to cause them problems. the complete contrast between City's  first and second half performances should have comne as a total shock, but how many can say, hand on heart, that it did?*

Antony Pilkington is completely outnumbered by Norwich defenders here, but it didn’t seem to matter how many our opponents had protecting their goal in the first half, we would still manage to cause them problems. the complete contrast between City’s first and second half performances should have come as a total shock, but, hand on heart, how many can say that it did?*

To be fair, if we gave our worst performance of the season for most of yesterday’s match, it should be recorded that our football during the opening half an hour was comfortably the best we’ve produced so far. Norwich were almost as poor as we became in the opening stages, but I’d prefer to give us some credit for making a side that has the appearance  of a definite top six team to me look so ordinary.

When I heard our team line up, my immediate thought was that the balance in midfield was wrong again – it has to be Whittingham or Ralls, not both of them surely and, with Gunnarsson starting in his odd advanced role, we again looked to lack a player with the tools needed to adequately perform the sitting midfielder role. However, for a while at least, I was proved wrong - for just about the first time I can remember under this manager,we tore out of the blocks right from the kick off and never gave our opponents a moment’s peace.

Our first goal epitomised the way in which Norwich were harried into errors with the ball being won way up the pitch to give Joe Ralls the chance to score impressively inside four minutes – City had already threatened with a Kenwyne Jones header inside the first minute. With Jones a very effective focal point as he put together his most impressive forty five minutes of the season so far, City looked sharper all over the pitch and they deservedly increased their lead when Aron Gunnarsson touched in a cross by Anthony Pilkington as Norwich looked for a respite after just about managing to foil what was probably our best passing movement of the season so far.

My words as the half time whistle blew were “that’s the best half we’ve played under Ole”. I said that despite the signs being there from about the half hour mark onwards that our midfield dominance was fading and that Norwich were getting more and more success by switching the ball diagonally from their left to right, but, although we came under increasing pressure, we were, at that stage, defending pretty well with our opponents being restricted to taking pot shots from distance as they ran out of patience in the face of a disciplined City side.

My thoughts at half time were that sides who are two goals down after forty five minutes tend to come on strong in opening stages of the second half, but, if we could get to about the hour mark with our lead intact, we should be okay. Instead, we launched straight into an attack which ended with Frederico Macheda blasting an angled shot which visiting keeper John Ruddy did well to keep out.

Now, I’ve seen and heard it said that it would have been game over if that effort had gone in, but, in view of what happened for the remainder of the match, is that really the case? Even at 3-0 down, I think Norwich would have have still been well capable of saving the game given our alarming fade out and the way that they reacted to what was, apparently, a half time rocket from manager Neil Adams.

From here on in, it turned into one of those games where virtually all of the meaningful action occurs at one end of the pitch. If Jones had given an impressive target man performance in the first half, then he was eclipsed by former City man Cameron Jerome who, on as a substitute for “Diver” Lafferty, made Matt Connolly’s and Sean Morrison’s life a nightmare with his power, pace and willingness to work for the team.

Jerome fully deserved his late goal when he capitalised on some shambolic defending and what seemed to me to be hesitant goalkeeping by the otherwise blameless David Marshall, but, in truth, it was virtually meaningless because a very impressive Norwich fightback had already put the game beyond us. What had been a concern in the closing stages in the first half for our left side became a full blown crisis as Nathan Redmond (who really should be playing in the Premier League) got right on top of Declan John (on as a half time substitute for the injured Fabio).

With Ralls fading badly, Whittingham, despite a couple of good long range efforts, not influencing the game at all and Gunnarsson, bizarrely, switched to the right wing, our midfield became an all too familiar disaster zone as Tom Adeyemi was brought on to try and perform a one man rescue mission – he never had a chance, because, we are nowhere near solving the most fundamental of the myriad of problems this bloated and expensive squad has.

Ole really has to address the problems we have in the middle of the park. At present, he seems to want to try and get the best of both worlds by fielding two strikers, but with one of them used more as an auxiliary wide midfield player. Our manager needs to have the courage of his convictions and either opt for a proper 4-4-2 (which wouldn’t be my choice) or go for 4-5-1/4-3-3 with players who are able to make a better fist of the defensive responsibilities of the wide midfield role.

Cameron Jerome has never enjoyed the same popularity as other former City players amongst our fans (probably because of comments he made shortly before he joined Birmingham), but even his critics must have appreciated his superb display yesterday and he refused to celebrate after his goal.*

Cameron Jerome has never enjoyed the same popularity as other former City players amongst our fans (probably because of comments he made shortly before he joined Birmingham), but even his critics must have appreciated his superb display yesterday and he refused to celebrate after his goal.*

Adam LeFondre proved to be a willing, but fairly limited wide midfielder earlier in the season, but, yesterday Macheda (who looked knackered from about the forty minute mark onwards) appeared to be neither willing nor able in that department. I’ve already mentioned Declan John’s struggles, but, to be fair to the teenager, he got no support whatsoever from Macheda.

I had not been impressed by Macheda turning his back on the play during one of the pre season matches in Austria and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing yesterday as he gifted Norwich possession right in front of me when he tried a fancy flick deep in his own half when we were under pressure just before the break. On yesterday’s evidence, if Macheda is going to play then it needs to be right up the pitch – our manager does not appear to have strikers capable of performing the sort of dual role that I daresay he was asked to perform at Manchester United to an adequate standard and this takes me on to another aspect of our manager’s problems in coming to terms with managing what is a fairly typical British club.

The thing is though that Manchester United are anything but a typical British club and I believe it’s time to question whether it is good for Cardiff City Football Club to have our manager (and some within the Boardroom perhaps) so keen on applying the Old Trafford template to us? Of course, there will be things that Ole picked up during all of those years under Sir Alex Ferguson that can be positively applied to our players, but I do find myself wondering sometimes if, like a lot of good players who go into management, he forgets that he is dealing with players who, for the most part, are incapable of doing the sort of things that his former team mates would find routine?

Maybe this is one of the reasons why I, and many other City fans it would appear, have so much trouble getting to the heart of what the Ole philosophy is. Managers need to be adaptable and I can fully understand the desire to change things slightly for a particular opponent, but there has to be a core set of beliefs that underlie his approach. Every City manager I’ve seen up until this year had a certain way of playing which he would fall back on if things were going wrong, but I still don’t know what Ole believes in – watching the team struggle every week, you have to wonder if many of the players do either?

* pictures courtesy of http://www.walesonline.co.uk/

 

 

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5 Responses to A defeat that had been coming.

  1. Graham says:

    Yes – a miserable nightmare experience more difficult to cope with because it came after a very good first 30 minutes .. we simply disintegrated as a team and football is essentially a team game. We watched as a collection of good and very good individual players failed to work together and for each other. Teams need leaders on and off the pitch to organise, encourage, and inspire, in the way that Hudson, and especially Bellamy, always did. Marshall is a superb goalkeeper but he can’t leave his area and do that in the way they could. No doubt he’ll be an excellent Club captain but we have to have someone else leading on the pitch. But the main problem lies off the pitch : those around me in the Ninian Stand yesterday, both those who left early because they couldn’t bear any more and those who stayed to the bitter end because they didn’t want to desert those of our players who kept trying, all seemed agreed that our manager may be a very pleasant young man but he may not even keep us in the Championship, let alone lead us to promotion. So to Tuesday against Middlesborough – please no more careless passes and, most of all, whoever from our collection of midfielders gets selected, let them think and act positively and creatively and see possession as a means of attacking – as they did early on yesterday. A final thought : all managers behave differently but those who are seen getting really involved on the touchline jumping up and down in sometimes frustration but always encouragement infect not only players but supporters with their enthusiasm – and we supporters will need to show that support more and more not less and less as the weeks go by.

  2. Matt N says:

    Hi Paul
    Thanks for interpreting the sparse updates of Wales Online into a cohesive picture. I think your penultimate paragraph is very incisive. Ole’s team mates were such a talented group ( I watched class of 92 last week, which is a cracking documentary) that they could do whatever asked of them. To me, playing young, less talented players out of position is asking for trouble, and when it doesn’t and isn’t working, the risk of losing the dressing room is probably very high. I can’t imagine Macheda (nor ALF) would be very Impressed being asked to forego their goal bonuses and do the donkey work.
    I wonder if a 3 5 2 is on the cards once Manga is ready to play? I would imagine that Brayford and Fabio/john would get a lot out of such a system, with Dikgakoi, Whitts and AN other patrolling the middle.
    I’ll be at the Boro game, so hope to see some reaction…braced for disappointment though!!!

  3. Harry says:

    No idea why anyone is saying Cardiff have a really good squad anyway. Norwich’s is far superior when you look at the players, who are all recognisable (unlike most of Cardiff’s for starters), and what became obvious in the 2nd half was signs of a team more than capable of winning the league. Genuinely, looking at Norwich’s squad, I’d be amazed if they aren’t top of the pile comfortably come May.

    It had nothing to do with Cardiff capitulating either, Norwich simply arrived in the 2nd half and had way too much to cope with. If Hooper was fit and involved as well as it could have got really dirty. Their squad it scary when you look at the players injured who are due to return.

  4. Dai Woosnam says:

    Splendid report, as ever, Paul.
    I am probably unique amongst contributors to the Comments section of CCMaYA, in that whether Cardiff City actually win or lose is not the vital aspect to sustain my lifelong interest in the club.
    What I want above all is for the SOUL of the club to be right. I do not want surly/paranoid managers like DJ, or managers who are not what they seem like MM. I want supporters to cheer on Mr Tan: the finest owner that the club has had in modern times…indeed maybe in the club’s whole long history. Not ungrateful people who naively think SUPPORTERS own their clubs. (Sorry chums, they don’t…unless you support FC Manchester and the like.)
    I often tease my eldest brother in Pontyclun – who has had a City season ticket since the current Pope was an altar boy – by saying that he would be perfectly happy if the club was managed by Adolf Hitler and trained by Pol Pot, as long as in return City could win the European Champions League Trophy. And I suspect that deep down he agrees. Victory to most City fans is almost everything: whereas to me, I would sooner they ply their trade in the Welsh Premier League than lose their soul.
    So I am unsurprised that already the fans are sharpening their knives in comments on Walesonline and looking to “see off” the Baby Faced Assassin. I forecasted as much in a comment of mine on Walesonline, just a month after City were relegated. I had seen what Ole could do as a manager, and knew he was WAY out of his depth.
    I predicted that City would be about 15th by late October and 18th coming up to Christmas, and that Mr Tan would reluctantly sack our smiling friend, and replace him with DJ to the widespread cheers of City fans (although were that last-mentioned to happen, people close to me should go on immediate “suicide watch”.)
    That forecast of mine drew a massive number of thumbs down/minuses: I am rather proud of it. A possible record for Walesonline.
    It has never bothered me to be in a “minority of one”: only dead fish swim with the stream.
    So, Paul, as you might expect of me, I am perversely indeed not going to join others in the call for Ole to go. I rather like the chap, even if I do think that there is something of Mr Bean in him.
    Again yesterday our Mr Tinkerman messed about again.
    Look…Swansea have been unchanged every game (and won them all) until yesterday …when they lost.
    Villa have been unchanged in four games …and win at Anfield yesterday.
    Surely that should tell him something?
    I believe part of Cardiff’s problem is this: they have too many players to choose from. Several of these players should be loaned out to get regular games. (Justin Edinburgh should get on the phone when the chance arises.)
    And teams CAN have too many players to choose from. Between 1977 and 1984, Wales beat the mighty England THREE times in the Home internationals. How come?
    I submit it was because England could have fielded a dozen teams that would have won that Home International title most years, whereas Wales would have been hard pressed to turn out even a SECOND side that would have been able to give one of those dozen England sides a decent game.
    But England had an embarrassment of riches vis-a-vis Wales, and that was their undoing.
    However people say “oh you need a massive squad cos there are 46 league games. The demands are relentess: the games come thick and fast, every Saturday then Tuesday then Saturday, almost ad infinitum”.
    It is modish rubbish, is it not?
    It makes me laugh when I think of how few players the best City team I ever saw used to get promotion to the top flight in 1960. And that team of greats like Danny Malloy and Graham Moore used to play on pitches that were often mudheaps or sandtraps. And play with a monstrous football that was as close to a medicine ball when wet, as our modern football is as close to a beach ball.
    And then I recall that a few seasons later in 1965-66, Liverpool won the League Title from Man Utd the previous holders, remarkably using only 14 squad players ALL SEASON.
    And if your readers say, “the game is so much faster now” and “ah this is old Dai on his nostalgia kick again”, I say to your readers, no forget it! Nostalgia it emphatically ain’t.
    Take last season.
    I believe Burnley used only 18 different players to START their games all season …and they were promoted with ease.
    Ole’s problem is he is a very nice man who has bought far too many players. And precisely BECAUSE he is a mensch, he wants to give them all a game!
    It is a recipe for perfect disaster.
    I have just gone to the excellent ESPN site and laboriously counted the number of players that Ole has STARTED Championship games with this season.
    http://www.espn.co.uk/football/sport/match/index.html?event=9;team=264
    Forget that amazing 14 that Liverpool used ALL SEASON and still ended up 10 points clear of a Man Utd with a forward line of the Holy Trinity of Best/Law/Charlton. Cardiff have flown past that total in just 5 minutes, so-to-speak!
    My research has led me to this: in just 6 games, Ole has started (forget the additional substitutes, I am talking players STARTING the games here) with …wait for it …are you sitting down?

    already an incredible EIGHTEEN different players! The same total as Burnley started with in 46 games last season!
    Frankly, were he a general in the army and selecting key troops for battle this headless-chicken way, Ole would possibly be facing court-martial.
    So where are we now?
    I note that the drumbeats are starting, to get Tony Pulis in: the man I was calling for way back, when he was warring with Paul Scully at Gillingham in 1999.
    But after three managers have wasted Mr Tan’s money, can he really face a fourth in such a short time?
    I guess he will keep Ole, and tell him to pull himself together and act like a man, and not try and please everyone…for it is impossible.
    Will sign off now. Again, thanks as ever Paul for a fine report.
    Kindest,
    Dai.

  5. The other Bob Wilson says:

    Thanks for your replies.

    Harry, I agree with you about the Norwich squad – it was, marginally, better than ours last season, despite us, somehow, getting four points off them last season, they were much the better team in both matches between the clubs and they look stronger than us this season.

    Matt, I think you sum the Manchester United situation up nicely in your first paragraph and, although I originally saw 3-5-2 as a system to use more away from home, I’m gradually coming around to thinking that we should try it at Cardiff City Stadium as well – enjoy the game on Tuesday, I expect to see a reaction to what happened yesterday, but can the team sustain it for ninety minutes?

    Graham, we had no one playing well in the last hour – Kenwyne Jones still looked like he could maybe do something, but was starved of service and I thought Aron Gunnarsson did quite will until he was moved out to the right wing, but they only turned in 6 out of 10 performances. Agree entirely about the lack of leaders – Gunnarsson captains his country, so I suppose he’d offer something, Morrison was captain of Reading for a while I believe, but there’s no one obvious to take the job off Marshall (I agree with those say goalkeepers are too far away from the action most of the time to make good captains. Even at 2-0 up, the atmosphere was still flat I thought. The club needs something to galvanise it and, for a while it looked like we might get the excellent display and result Ole and the fanbase desperately need, but, instead, the wait for our manager to do something which gets a good proportion of supporters thinking he can make a good City manager drags on.

    Dai, I don’t want Ole to be sacked and, as a rule, I give managers far more time than he’s had before I get twitchy about them, but it’s the lack of virtually anything to point to and say “right, that gives us some promise for this season” which makes it tougher to do with Ole. Your eighteen players used already point only confirms what many suspect and, as so many are now saying, it’s become too easy to say “Ole, nice man, but……………”. As for Tony Pulis, he might come here given his Pill roots, but him and Vincent Tan does not strike me as a marriage made in heaven – far from it actually! Also, I don’t see many Pulis type midfield players in this squad – not sure there’s many striker’s he’d fancy either!

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