A different type of defeat, but still yet another home loss.

CoymayI’ll tell you what, anyone wanting to make a very tidy sum for themselves in a couple of months time needs to lump as much money as they can spare on Charlton Athletic getting promoted at the end of the season.

Any team that plays as badly as the Londoners did for 90% of yesterday’s match at Cardiff City Stadium and still ends up winning are surely dead cents to win all of their remaining matches as long as they keep their performance levels slightly above abject.

The visitors were second best for long stretches of the game and for much of the time had a vaguely disinterested look to them as their opponents were winning battles that they normally lose.

For example, and I’m really not joking here, City won the possession battle 54/46 (the first time they’ve had more of the ball than their opponents in a league match in five months I make it). A leading reason for this was that the home side were winning most of the 50/50 challenges in the middle of the park.

Joe Ralls, very harshly left out of the starting line up in what was a sadly predictable selection in my opinion, was particularly good at this facet of the game after coming on as an early sub for the injured Aron Gunnarsson and, while “dominating” would be putting it too strongly, City were enjoying the very rare luxury of edging the midfield battle.

City's best player, Conor McAleny  in action - of course, because our manager is so utterly predictable with his substitutions, you just knew he was going to be taken off around the hour mark.*

City’s best player, Conor McAleny in action – of course, because our manager is so utterly predictable with his substitutions, you just knew he was going to be taken off around the hour mark.*

For much of the first seventy minutes or so, City were able to work the ball to their wingers and full backs in fairly threatening areas. It would be an exaggeration to say that they were turning on the style, but it was so much better than the desperate and clumsy long ball stuff that was our signature for the months around the turn of the year.

Peter Whittingham was lucky to come straight into the side after his suspension, but, just like the other midfield returnee Craig Noone, can be said to have won his battle with his opposite number. In fact for much of the time, City were winning those individual battles all over the pitch.

Now, anyone who wasn’t at the game yesterday must be reading this and wondering how on earth it ended up as it did. Well, one reason was that, just as it has been all season, the passing, although more accurate and plentiful than normal, was not done swiftly enough, hence my earlier need to qualify the word “threatening” with “fairly”.

Another less obvious reason for us not winning in my book is that, while they certainly don’t come along too often for this team, they do not capitalise on these periods when they are on top in matches..

The whole of the first half was an example of what I mean. The words I would use to describe it would be pleasant and comfortable. “Pleasant” probably isn’t a word a manager would want to be used to describe his side, but that’s how it felt as polite clapping broke out to greet some of the home team’s work (City’s lack of zip in passing the ball I mentioned earlier was perhaps the reason why this never developed into something more raucous) – the adjective was also very appropriate when considering the warm and sunny conditions that were more in keeping with May than March.

This brings me on to “comfortable” and it’s this word that goes to the heart of the shortcomings shown yesterday. Sitting there in the sun enjoying watching City in control amounted to one of the more comfortable halves of what’s been a pretty uncomfortable season.

I honestly cannot remember Charlton even remotely threatening the City goal in those forty five minutes, but what did all of this comfort and control amount to when it comes to an attacking threat of their own?

From memory, there was an early shot by Noone and a late effort from the impressive Conor McAleny that were both dealt with by visiting keeper Henderson without too many alarms, but I’m struggling to think of much else – most sides in this division cash in when things are in their favour as much as they were when Charlton were giving their impersonation of a team going through the motions.

To be fair, City were much more purposeful in a five to ten minute spell following a quiet start to the second half. With Noone to the fore, the feeling was growing that a goal was coming and City were able to deliver when the winger’s cross was turned back by Kenwyne Jones into the path of Federico Macheda – now, the Italian may have his faults, but, unlike some of our strikers, you’d always back him to put away easy chances like this one.

With Charlton still offering nothing up front, there was a feeling that the game was as good as won, and so City’s inability to maintain the intensity of the minutes leading up to the goal, would not cost them, but it was now that luck took a hand as Whittingham had to leave the pitch to get stitches put in a mouth wound.

 

The goal which should have ensured City took the three points - the otherwise anonymous Federico Macheda sidefoots City ahead.*

The goal which should have ensured City took the three points – the otherwise anonymous Federico Macheda sidefoots City ahead.*

Those three or four minutes where the team were down to ten men saw a momentum switch as Charlton finally began to hint at why they had won four of their previous five games. Credit to the visitors, they were given a sniff of a chance and took it – Whittingham was back on the pitch when the right side of City’s defence went missing after a corner had only been half cleared and sub Chris Eagles had plenty of time to pick out scorer Tony Watt.

City’s response was underwhelming, both in terms of what happened on the pitch and in the dugout – the introduction of Alex Revell was unimaginative and “lower division” in its thinking – Jones and Revell up front has never worked before and it didn’t work this time.

Our manager tells us that the team is now much fitter than the one he inherited, but the fact is that we have scored just three goals in the last ten minutes of league matches this season and only one of them, Kenwyne Jones’ against Leeds, can be said to have counted for anything – the other two were consolation goals in a losing cause.

We have not once done what Charlton did yesterday – that is score a goal in the closing stages which meant they ended the game with more points than they were on for in the eightieth minute. Maybe this was why I was telling anyone who’d listen that we were going to lose this game and, sure enough, within twenty seconds, Sean Morrison had given away the needless penalty that handed the points to Charlton.

There have been so many games this season where the same weaknesses raise their heads and it’s become hard to find different ways of, basically, saying the same thing, but at least yesterday was a little different in that a new weakness was discovered. Being outplayed by this Cardiff team is akin to being mauled by a dog that has forgotten to put its dentures in – perhaps it may not be such a good idea to put thousands on Charlton going up, after all, they aren’t going to be playing sides as obliging as Cardiff every week.

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

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5 Responses to A different type of defeat, but still yet another home loss.

  1. Anthony O'Brien says:

    Paul,

    Incisive comments as always – but for my part, I struggle to sum up my feelings during the match, as they ranged from a degree of approbation, to apprehension in the middle of the second half, to despondency, and finally a sense of frustrated anger. I have consciously tried to stand up for the manager as much as possible, but yesterday I feel that it was managerial decisions (or, rather, indecisions) which let us down.

    Mr Slade says we were “mugged”. An interesting word, derived from being a mug. It means being subjected to a surprise attack which leads to the loss of something of value or importance. If we were actually mugged, let’s ask ourselves why.

    Even before the kick-off I regarded the team selection as debatable – though for a time I was pleasantly surprised. To some extent the choice of players at full back was unavoidable because of enforced absences so we had a central defender at right back and a right back at left back. That ’s the way of the world. BUT: we all knew there would ultimately be a shortfall in creativity and energy from midfield; minimal movement and link-up play from the front men and few if any threats on goal.

    Kenwyne Jones did run around more than usual and set up an easy goal for Macheda, it’s true, but he is essentially a blunt instrument who can be contained by most traditional-style centre backs. They know what’s coming. His movement was to little effect when he tried to put defenders under pressure or chase the occasional (very occasional) through ball towards goal.

    Macheda did score, of course, but did little else – he would not or could not challenge for high balls and was not determined in the tackle.

    On the left, McAleny was certainly clever on the ball (almost always with his right foot) but did not give the team sufficient width and did not always help our left back defensively. As a result there was space on the Charlton right which their widemen used well, especially in the early part of the game.

    I don’t think Gunnarson’s departure was a disaster for Cardiff, but if you have a midfielder backing up his forwards and having the opportunity for a snap shot, it is not good if he has to shift the ball to his left foot in order to shoot – as happened on more than one occasion as the game progressed, and each time the shot was blocked (and I’m not talking about Whittingham here).

    Talking of PW, I have felt for a long time that his much vaunted corners carry too far. That’s fine if someone can head the ball back towards goal – a task usually given to Matt Connolly. But he usually stands close to the back post and then has to step backwards to reach the ball. It would surely be better if he could suddenly run wide, turn, and run back towards the goal in order to get his head to any over-hit ball – something which can be worked on in training. (It’s what Charlton players did, anyway).

    I thought that Charlton were remarkably well-drilled. For example, balls into the box were almost always hit hard and low along the ground – and this tactic led to two goals. It is easy for Mr Slade to blame Sean Morrison for giving away a penalty, but to what extent had the players been warned about dealing with Charlton’s pre-planned ploy? More importantly, why were the low balls not stopped more frequently at source?

    By the middle of the second half Cardiff’s lack of drive and forward momentum was obvious to everyone. Any manager would then have two options : one, bringing on a defensively minded player (O’Keefe) or at least, one with abundant energy (Adeyemi) to hang on to a slender lead; or two, go for more goals and defend from the front by introducing a more mobile front man (Revell).

    Sadly, the Cardiff manager did neither – until it was too little, too late. Change was required; none was forthcoming.

    My apologies for such a long-winded rant but, as always, I continue to hope for better in the future – and I must admit, Cardiff did play remarkably well at times yesterday.

  2. The other Bob Wilson says:

    Thanks Anthony for that thought provoking comment. It’s funny, yesterday’s match almost certainly had nothing on it because both sides are going to be in the Championship next season and yet I shared your “frustrated anger” at the final whistle yesterday (in fact I was more angry than I have been for games where we played a lot worse).

    If I found the team surprising at all, it was because of the non inclusion of Kennedy – I expected Whittingham to start in front of Ralls and Macheda to keep his place (our stats obsessed manager has mentioned before that his scoring record per start is impressive).

    Must admit, I tend to agree with you on our strikers. I would say about Jones that he would be in my side every week based on what we’ve seen this season, but, if anything, that’s more of an indictment of our other strikers than it is a tribute to him – he has pretty obvious weaknesses to his game and wouldn’t be a regular in a top six side in my opinion. As for Macheda, his goals against Forest and Rotherham were beauties, but he needs to do far, far more work for the team in my book.

    I thought Charlton were very ordinary, but there were a few neat dead ball moves and the way they exploited all of our team shuffling over to the right when the visitors had a goal kick to show they had a bit of original thinking to them (that’s something I’ve not seen from us in ages).

    Agree about Whittingham’s corners. I thought he played better yesterday, but he’s living off his reputation to a large extent when it comes to set piece delivery – I don’t think any player should owe his place in a team solely to how good he is at taking free kicks and corners, but, even if that was the reason given for his inclusion every week, I don’t think Whittingham’s current standard would merit him being picked.

    I’ve mentioned the term “management by numbers” on a couple of messageboards this morning and that’s what springs to mind when I think of Russell Slade’s attitude towards substitutions – they are always so “safe” and predictable.

  3. Geoff Lewis says:

    Paul and Anthony,
    No need for me to comment you both have stated every fault, team selection, manager, substitutes, whitts ( why he did not vary his corner kicks).
    I think it also went wrong for us when Mr Eagles came on for Charlton.
    Paul will know that over the last couple of seasons , I have said he his a player Cardiff should have signed up.
    Not too worry there is always the next home game “Bournemouth”. Lookout Cardiff.
    I was angry after yesterdays game and left my best pair of gloves behind.
    Regards
    Geoff

  4. rhondda blue says:

    my thoughts are the same lads, centre back at right back, right back playing on the left side and a ready made left back on the bench and one sent out on loan. we were only mugged by our own manager that should have taken whitts off with his injury and got 11 v 11 on the pitch. until that point charlton were not in the game, then when we went down to 10 men they upped their game and run us ragged, we handed over the advantage to to a very poor charlton team, once they scored i could only see one winner, and alas it was not going to be us. apart from the game can anybody enlighten myself who our so called coaches are and what is their role at half time with our subs, they are an absolute disgrace as they stand around and do nothing with the players, take money for nothing as i see it. on the other hand charlton were training like pro’s, this is not the first time that i have witnessed this debarcle on the training front, has anyone else noticed this?, no wonder our team are unfit if this is how we train in the week, disgraceful.

  5. The other Bob Wilson says:

    Seems to me that all those coaches do at half time (don’t know who they are I’m afraid) is join in a kickabout with the subs and tell them to run across the pitch every now and again – i’m not sure what, if anything, the players concerned gain from that.

    Sorry, to hear about your gloves Geoff – maybe someone will have handed them in?

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