The days leading up to City’s visit to Oakwell to take on Barnsley saw Malky Mackay stating on more than one occasion that his side had momentum going into their final four matches of the regular season. The longer our manager has been in charge, the easier it has become to see why so many Watford fans said he reacts to adversity by criticising officials, but not his team – in fact I can’t recall him saying a single bad word about a Cardiff City side since he took over. It appears to be a deliberate policy on the part of our manager to keep the tone remorselessly positive (in public at least), even when there is little apparent justification for such optimism.
I’m sorry, but anyone who has suffered through our past six, winless, home matches surely must find this talk of us having momentum to be somewhat odd. For me, Reading have momentum and, because they have had it for around four months now, they’ll almost certainly be celebrating promotion and, probably, winning the title within the next seven days. However, after yesterday’s hard fought 1-0 win in Yorkshire, I believe that it is fair to say that we do have momentum when we play away – three wins and a draw in our last four away games is automatic promotion, not just top six, form. When you also consider that since our “wobble” started after we reached the League Cup Final, we have played on the grounds of four of the current top eight teams in the division and we have won once and drawn three times, it could be argued that our away form has never been a problem.
I still say we have drawn too many games at the homes of teams in the lower reaches of the league (it’s beginning to look likely that we will not record an away win over a relegated side this season), but, our late run of victories has gone a long way towards putting things right in terms of an overall points haul on our travels. Only four sides have now picked up more away points than us – even if we lose at Palace. and miss out on the Play Off’s, there is a strong possibility that we will at least be a top six team on our travels this season.
The concern has to be though that, having won what might turn out to be a season defining victory at Middlesbrough on Easter Saturday, there were few signs two days later that any momentum gained by that great win was carried into our home game against a Watford side which could, easily, have left Cardiff City Stadium with all three points. If winning at one of our Play Off rivals cannot lead to an improvement in our attitude, performance and results in home games, then why should a victory over the most of out of form side in the Championship, apart from relegated Doncaster, make us expect anything else but what has become the usual frustration when Derby and Leeds turn up for games next week?
Well, there was no scintillating display or big win that might have had our promotion rivals thinking Cardiff are the side to avoid in the Play Off’s, but, then again, did anyone really expect there to be? You’ll have to take my word for this because there’s nothing on here or on City messageboards where I mentioned this beforehand, but yesterday’s match turned out more or less exactly as I expected it to – it was always going to be a real battle with goals and goalscoring chances at a premium. I fancied us for a 1-0 win, but did have concerns about us having to defend such a narrow lead in the closing stages – as it turned out though, we were able to see the win out with few alarms (oh for us being able to do that in a home game, but, it’s hard to avoid the feeling that even a team as toothless as Barnsley proved to be would have had opportunities to equalise if we had been playing at Cardiff City Stadium).
The goal we scored was of a quality out of keeping with so much of what went on before or after it. If we had a couple of full backs who combined Kevin McNaughton’s attacking urgency and pace with Andrew Taylor’s passing and crossing ability, we’d be celebrating a top six finish already, but, at least, when the latter gets into a position to deliver a cross from pretty close to the opposition’s corner flag, you know that most of the time, he’ll come up with a quality ball. That’s what Taylor did yesterday – there was still quite a bit for Liam Lawrence to do when the cross reached him though, but the on loan midfielder, who has hardly impressed with his aerial ability up to this moment, came up trumps with a textbook far post header back across keeper Button and into the corner of the net.
It was Lawrence’s first goal since January of last year and broke a scoring drought that made Kenny Miller’s recent one look like a tiny distraction by comparison – Lawrence may have had his critics (myself included) since his arrival from Portsmouth, but I thought he played well at Birmingham and Boro and feel that, although he’s not really showed this in home games so far, he is now beginning to make the sort of contribution that most people expected from him when he signed for us.
It’ll be interesting to see if Malky Mackay continues to have one of Lawrence or Steve McPhail starting on the bench for our remaining matches. Having Lawrence there on Monday didn’t work because he had to come on so early into a game in which McPhail was a peripheral figure and he made so little impact that he was eventually replaced himself. However, having McPhail come on for the injured Don Cowie yesterday seemed to give City a degree of control that they hadn’t had beforehand and it may be this could be the best way to deploy his talents from now on.
Looking ahead to the next seven days, I said on here after the Watford match that I couldn’t see us winning another home game this season, but it would be foolish not to accept that our situation has changed for the better since then. For a start, Reading’s win at Brighton last Tuesday night meant that, in truth, we were in a stronger position after our stuttering display against Watford than we were before it. On top of that, three points yesterday has, effectively put quite a few of the sides who were still fancying their top six chances a week ago out of contention – for example, although it’s still mathematically possible for Derby and Leeds to reach the Play Offs, the reality is that it’s going to be Championship football for the pair of them next season.
Therefore, although you can talk about Nigel Clough wanting to end a run that has seen his side concede fourteen goals in their last three visits to Cardiff, Neil Warnock hoping to put one over us and Dougie Freedman wanting revenge for the League Cup Semi Final (and those chants!), the truth is that all of our matches from now on are against sides who have no promotion or relegation issues. Only Blackpool out of our rivals in the top ten are in the same position, but they do have a tricky local derby against Burnley to tackle.
I’m sure sides like Birmingham, Middlesbrough, Leicester, Brighton and Hull would swap their run ins for ours. Finally, if you are talking about momentum, we might not have much of it following our struggles at home over the past couple of months, but, perhaps the best way to look at it is that, when you consider their form and remaining fixtures and add in the fact that, when all’s said and done, we’ve not lost in seven and have only one defeat in ten, I wouldn’t be surprised if most of our rivals are saying something like “I wish we had Cardiff’s momentum” this weekend!
* pictures courtesy of http://www.walesonline.co.uk/