A team (and manager) which deserves better support than it’s getting.

CoymayCardiff City manager Russell Slade has said that his team should be judged after twelve matches. Well, a dozen games in, City, for me, have still not come up with the convincing and commanding display which suggests that this group of players have the potential to be a factor at the very top positions in the table as the campaign reaches it’s climax.

However, I do believe that last night’s hard fought, and rather fortunate, 1-0 victory over Middlesbrough represented the next best thing as an injury hit team went toe to toe against a strongly fancied side, which completed a comfortable double over us last season, to edge the sort of win which can be a launching pad for better things to come.

Before going on though, I need to qualify what I have just said by adding that, having looked at message board reactions to last night’s match, people’s opinions as to what they had just watched seemed to be as varied as I can ever remember with large differences in interpretations of the performance of the team and many of the individuals within it.

Quite often, I write these match reviews safe in the knowledge that the City fans reading them will basically agree with the conclusions I draw – there may be the odd quibble with what I say, but, essentially, people will feel that I’m describing what they have just watched.

For example, although I found last season a hard one to write on in many ways, I did so knowing I would not face too many who completely disagreed with the predominantly negative views being  expressed – by general consent, last season was mind numbingly boring.

That confidence is not present here – how can it be when people are expressing the genuinely held view that what they saw last night was little better than the sort of fare we got used to watching last season?

Even so, I can only say what I think and I came out of the match in a pretty upbeat frame of mind after what I’d rate as our best result of the season so far.

Perhaps I felt the way I did because my expectations beforehand were low. Recent away performances had me wondering whether we’d already experienced the best 2015/16 would have to offer – about a month ago, the view was being expressed that we could maintain a Play Off challenge, but, after Rotherham, Preston and a good, but lucky, draw at Brighton, I was finding that an increasingly hard opinion to share.

The largely unheralded Lee Peltier was excellent last night as dealt with the forward raids of one of the Championship's better left backs in George Friend - he was also the best of a back four which is proving to be the strongest past of the team this season.*

The largely unheralded Lee Peltier was excellent last night as dealt with the forward raids of one of the Championship’s better left backs in George Friend – he was also the best of a back four which is proving to be the strongest past of the team this season.*

Last night’s match was a timely reminder to me that things don’t have to turn out as I was beginning to fear they might. While we didn’t see the 3-0 trouncing of a promotion contender that offered the promise of an attacking flair and fluency to completely transform expectations for the season, we were, realistically, never going to see that against the team which has such a superb defensive record since Aitor Karanka became Middlesbrough manager nearly two years ago.

No, if we were going to win, then the ground out 1-0 was always going to be the most likely way we were going to do it and, with Boro having only picked up one point from six after not scoring against Reading and Fulham,, it has to be admitted that this was a good time to play them – it’s probably fair to say our luck didn’t begin and end with the nature of our late winner.

With injuries to Kenwyne Jones and Joe Ralls and Joe Mason only being declared fit just before kick off, City scarcely looked to be a side brimful of goals, but, to their credit, they forced Dimi Konstantopoulos into quite a few saves in a first half in which they looked slightly the better team. The former City loanee made smart early saves from Peter Whittingham and Craig Noone, in from the start for Anthony Pilkington, and also had to deal with a couple of Matt Connolly efforts, while Alex Revell probably should have done better with the headed chance he had from a Whittingham corner. It’s strange with Revell because his headed work outside the penalty area was very good with better directed flick ons than Jones can usually provide – overall, I thought he did pretty well, but at no time, did I really believe that he would round off his evening with a goal.

Middlesbrough didn’t have a great deal to offer in reply during this time apart from a couple of efforts from Albert Adomah, the first of which brought a good save out of David Marshall as he clawed away a close range header, while the second flew over after David Nugent’s header had provided him with a decent chance.

However, there were ominous signs in the five minutes before the interval that the visitors were beginning to get their act together and, although Ralls’ replacement Aron Gunnarsson put a presentable chance over early on, the second half saw the visitors generally having the better of things.

Middlesbrough’s cause was helped by some careless City play which mostly manifested itself in poor passing (unusually for him, Kagisho Dikgacoi was particularly culpable here, while Gunnarsson’s hopes for more starts were not helped either). Most of the time, City were resolute enough at the back to cope, but when, not for the first time in recent games, Matt Connolly allowed himself to lose possession in a dangerous position, Adomah should have done better than  just force Marshall into a routine save on his near post.

City’s skipper had to react more sharply to keep out Diego Fabbrini’s shot, but, from where I was sat, it was hard to tell whether the superb goal line blocking of Grant Leadbitter’s close range effort was all his own work or whether he had some help from the covering Lee Peltier.

In a way, I hope it was the latter because that would put the finishing touch to what was the best performance I’ve seen from him in a City shirt (Whittingham, with his good passing throughout, Sean Morrison, with a return to his form of the first month of the season and Mason, with his very good hold up play in the second half which helped lift what was at times a siege on the City goal, we’re all contenders, but Peltier was City man of the match for me).

Peltier is often, somewhat disparagingly, termed a “does what it says on the tin” type player who, somehow, typifies the Russell Slade era at Cardiff, but on a night when all of the defenders on the pitch did their jobs pretty well, he was the best of the lot of them.

Having talked about how Peltier is viewed by many, I’m probably going to be as guilty as anyone of disparaging him here when I suggest that the perception that he might embody what your average punter comes up with when asked to describe Russell’s Slade’s Cardiff team may be one of the reasons why gates at Cardiff City resolutely refuse to start climbing.

In fact, crowds are still heading downwards, with last night’s gate of 13,371 being a new low for a league fixture at the ground (not that I expect this unwanted ground record to last long).

It’s not just those who don’t turn up who are a problem for the club. Once again, the atmosphere produced by those who were there was in stark contrast to what it was like at the last match played in the stadium. Is the atmosphere which has helped make recent Wales games such a great experience provided solely by non Cardiff fans or do many City fans give much more support to their country than they do their club now?

Quite often during a season, I try to think of the campaign it most reminds me of and, after last night, I find myself thinking more and more of the 2011/12 squad that made the Play Offs and reached the League Cup Final.

In my piece on the Preston game I was talking about City's need for a striker who could find the net when the ball bobbles about a yard or two from the net - well we found one last night in George Friend! To be fair to the Boro defender, he had no chance of preventing his match winner and it's reassuring that it was our best goal poacher, Joe Mason, who was in there getting the close range shot away which led to the goal.*

In my piece on the Preston game I was talking about City’s need for a striker who could find the net when the ball bobbles about a yard or two from the net – well we found one last night in George Friend! To be fair to the Boro defender, he had no chance of preventing his match winner and it’s reassuring that it was our best goal poacher, Joe Mason, who was in there getting the close range shot away which led to the goal.*

In particular here, I’m thinking of degree of expectation, attitude, work rate, team spirit and, to some extent, playing ability. Of course, there are differences between the.two teams, but I would argue that many of them are down to how they were/are perceived by supporters.

On the one hand, you had a team under the stewardship of a manager who, no matter how things turned out in the end, was considered to be bright, charismatic and someone who supporters could relate to. With another Play Off miss and the departure of popular and established players, no one was expecting too much from the 2011/12 side, but they ended up being pleasantly surprised. After years of “the surly scouser” and a team who could be brilliant on their day, but had a tendency for a few heads to drop if things started going against them, we had a side who were, obviously, united and giving their all every week – as well as a manager, we had a team we could relate to.

Now, it goes without saying, that an awful lot has changed at the club since then and much of it has been for the worse. Four years ago we could rely on 20,000 Cardiff fans turning up every game and I know there are a proportion of them who no longer attend for non footballing reasons, but I’d say that the majority of the absentees are people who have stopped attending this season, so many of them must have given up because of what they had to endure last year.

Although I am still going to every home game, I can well understand why anyone might have decided enough was enough during the summer. Indeed, there were many times last season when I was pretty scathing about the players at the club and the football they came up with, but, although they are the same players in many cases, something changed during the summer months and there is a new attitude in the squad – it is now a group of players that supporters would really relate to if the circumstances were different.

They won’t play lovely, winning, football every week and our manager is never going to have thousands of fans staying behind after a game singing songs supporting him for half an hour or more, but they deserve better than they are getting now from the people of Cardiff and it’s surrounding areas, both in terms of the numbers turning up and the type of support they get from those in the ground.

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

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4 Responses to A team (and manager) which deserves better support than it’s getting.

  1. PJ says:

    I for one felt it was an even game last night, it was relatively open and entertaining with over 30 shots on goal, split almost down the middle. Boro made more clear-cut chances but I felt we gave as good as we got against a team very much viewed as automatic promotion contenders. Whoever runs our Suppoters Club Twitter account seemed to think Boro dominated the first half, and even called the final scored “undeserved”. I thought they were harsh on both counts but it proves your point that the match divided opinions.

    The starting line-up gave us a bit more insight into Slade’s preferred set-up: an unbalanced 4-4-2 with a forward-thinking full-back and roaming wide midfielder on one side, and a defensive-minded full-back and natural winger on the other. By moving Whittingham onto the left side and bringing in Gunnarsson, Slade may have stumbled upon a solution to the Whitts conundrum. I thought he was excellent last night and I feel he benefited from being relieved of that focal position in the centre of midfield. It also raises the possibility of Ralls moving into the central role, which fans have been clamouring for, when he returns.

    On the other flank, Craig Noone continues to epitomise the mercurial winger. I lost count of the number of times I threw my hands up in despair as he ran down a blind alley only to have the ball nicked off his toe by an opponent, or stood flat-footed on the touchline instead of making a run for his teammates. On his day though he’s a match winner, and he was a great outlet for us in the final minutes as we ran down the clock. I just can’t make my mind up on him, but I wonder if he’s a better foil for Ralls/Whitts than Pilkington.

    I strongly believe Revell’s work ethic makes him the best candidate for Joe Mason’s long-term strike partner. Maybe he needs to play more to improve his own strike rate, but he reminds me of Steve Thompson who was universally loved by the fans for giving his all on the pitch, despite hardly being prolific in front of goal. Revell will run through brick walls for the team and I think we need to see more of that kind of attitude in the side. I don’t think he gets enough credit for this from fans who just view him as one of Slade’s follies, yet I doubt we’ll ever see the same passion from Kenwyne.

    Finally Sammy Ameobi’s last two games back up my argument on here a few weeks ago that he’s doomed to be an impact player whether he likes it or not. He clearly has fitness issues and seems to be ineffectual when the opposition’s fresh, regardless of their apparent standing in the division. But bring him on with half-an-hour remaining against a strong side and, lo and behold, he makes a significant difference yet again. Slade has a tough job on his hands convincing him that he benefits us most when he starts on the bench.

  2. Another balanced and judicious article by Paul, and an excellent contribution from PJ, with whom I agree that Cardiff were not outplayed by Middlesborough. I’m really glad that Revell is getting some of the credit which I feel he deserves, But on one aspect I feel I’m still out of synch with the judgement of clear-sighted commenters like Paul and (judging from the above contribution) of PJ – and that is in respect of Joe Mason. I saw little evidence of hold-up play from him, especially in the first half, when time after time he fell over when a defender made contact with him and thereby gave the ball away. Neither did he put any opposing player under pressure by closing-down, and try as he may, his lack of speed and strong running is going to be a permanent weakness. That’s why I feel so out of touch with the assertion of good judges such as PJ when he asks if Revell would be the right long-term strike partner for Mason. I don’t want this to sound as some kind of a personal vendetta against a player who has some first-rate qualities, but he is – I suspect – not the man to take Cardiff to a higher level of exciting and successful football. And believe me, I do try my best to see what others see in him, but I just can’t agree with their opinion.

    On a more positive note, some of Cardiff’s defending last night deserved an award for valour. Like Paul, I came away from the game feeling unwontedly upbeat.

  3. MIKE HOPE says:

    The effort and in some cases quality on display last night deserved a bigger audience.An extra three thousand or so fans would automatically boost the atmosphere which is certainly not helped by the amateurish public address team who have replaced Ali.The pre -match build up last night was particularly flat with the normally stirring Men Of Harlech played at such a low volume that most of the small crowd couldn’t be bothered to do the usual clapping.On the playing side there were some really good perfomances.I thought Whitts had his best game of the season with some superbly timed passes to set Fabio free.I think he should stay in partnership with Fabio allowing Ralls to move into a more central position alongside Dikgacoi.We know that Revell has his limitations but I thought he had a good game last night and it was reassuring to see that we were not playing with just ten men as sometimes happens when Kenwynne is up front.Incidentally Paul your recent description of a natural finisher sounds a lot like how people in football would describe A le Fondre! If stay away fans need a good reason to return I would mention the name Fabio! This is a lad who has played football at international level for Brazil and in European Champions matches for M.U. A few years ago he had probably never heard of Cardiff yet game after game he gives the impression that he would risk life and limb for the club.He has obviously worked hard at improving all aspects of his game and the joy on his face when we win and his(not always successful) efforts to control his ‘red mist’ moments are entertainments in themselves.From my point of view a win with a virtuoso performance from Fabio means that my season ticket money is well spent.

  4. The other Bob Wilson says:

    Thanks for a very interesting set of replies. There’s plenty I could say about the issues raised by the three of you, but I’d end up going on for ages, so I’ll limit myself to giving my thoughts on some of the subjects discussed. PJ, I watched the highlights package (not the club’s extended highlights) on City’s website this morning and was surprised to hear the commentator making it sound like we were under constant pressure for ninety minutes. According to him, City’s goal had “a charmed life at times”, we performed a “smash and grab” and at the final whistle we were told Middlesbrough would be distraught because they controlled the game – it truly was a match which provoked a wide range of opinions!
    Regarding Sammy Ameobi, it’s been said on the messageboards that, apparently, he suffers from asthma – if this is true, then a couple of things spring to mind for me, first, surely, City knew about this beforehand and, second, I’m not sure how much can be done by City to manage the situation (wouldn’t Newcastle have done that already if they could?).
    Anthony, I’d agree with you that Mason made little contribution to the first half, but I thought he did well after the break because he was able at times to show the sort of strength which I wasn’t sure he had to buy us some time when we having to defend by winning a free kick or throw in – I thought there was a maturity to his game which, again, is something I’d not really seen before.
    It seems that there is some agreement that Revell did well on Tuesday, but this has got me thinking about the man he replaced. It’s strange, but I watch Nathan Blake (whose opinions I generally respect) talk about Kenwyne Jones as if he is some sort of world beater every week on that Bootroom show Wales Online does and yet the opinions on him expressed in the Feedback section on here (as well as many of mine in my blog pieces) are hardly complimentary. Maybe, it’s just a coincidence and we are a only a small clique of City fans out of touch with the general opinion of Kenwyne, but when I talk to people at games about him, I never hear anyone describe him as glowingly as Blakey does – for me, he’s a player who can look so good at this level, but he doesn’t show that anywhere near enough and, when you consider how much he is costing us in wages, I look at him as another poor signing by Ole.
    Mike, I tend to agree about Ali’s replacements. They’re okay I suppose, but, with every passing match, I become more convinced that they definitely aren’t an improvement on the man they replaced – I’ve nothing to back this up with, bu the suspicion has to be that Ali somehow upset the one man at Cardiff City that you just cannot afford to do that to these days. Fabio is the leading light in the team when it comes to spirit and commitment, but the pleasing thing is that, unlike last season, he is far from being the only one to be showing up well in those departments – I’m not sure where I said it now, but I mentioned yesterday that this team would be a popular one with supporters under different circumstances because they show a lot of the qualities that, traditionally, City fans have appreciated.

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