A win at last as mid table mediocrity beckons.

CoymayMany pundits will tell you that the Championship is the most competitive league in Europe – actually, scrub that, the world. It’s the league where the most humble of sides can beat the recently fallen “Premier League giants” on any given day, a league where nothing can ever be taken for granted.

Well, after the latest round of Championship fixtures, the “most competitive league in the world” is shaping up to be pretty predictable in 2014/15. With the season just over two thirds completed, it’s still a little early to say for certain that this will come to pass, but, as things are shaping up, the teams to be promoted and relegated look to be coming from small groups at the top and bottom of the table.

Things look pretty clear cut to me at the top – Forest fans will be telling themselves that a win over Bournemouth tonight would put them right back in the Play Off hunt, but that ten point gap between themselves and Wolves in eighth looks a very big one to me. At the lower end of the table, there is a pretty widespread consensus that the bottom two are already gone and no one is giving Millwall much of a chance at the moment – Rotherham need to look out for themselves after two heavy defeats and Fulham are still very erratic, but people have been telling me for some time that the current bottom three would be the ones to be relegated and. as of now, I can’t mount much of an argument against them.

This of course presupposes that Cardiff City are not going to become major players in the end of season relegation drama. Such a possibility looked to be well and truly on the cards as January ended, but, with one match to go in the month, February has been a steadying period for the side and last night’s very significant 1-0 win at Wigan means that, besides picking up their first victory since beating Fulham in the back to blue match on 10 January, it’s now five matches since a defeat for Russell Slade’s team.

So, although further dramas at the bottom of the table cannot be discounted completely given the club we are talking about here, all of the signs are that City are going to see out the final couple of months of the campaign in a mini league comprising of about half the sides in the division where the prize for success will be a ninth placed finish and the price of failure will be coming about twentieth in the table.

Aron Gunnarsson's calmly finishes off one of City's best solo goals of recent seasons - it was a moment of class completely out of keeping with a game played between two struggling teams on a very poor pitch.*

Aron Gunnarsson’s calmly finishes off one of City’s best solo goals of recent seasons – it was a moment of class completely out of keeping with a game played between two struggling teams on a very poor pitch.*

Even if we end up winning the mid table battle to be “best of the rest”, I’m fairly sure a finish just inside the top ten will be deemed not good enough by many (including owner and Board I daresay) – even with last month’s cost cutting exercise, this is still a very expensively assembled squad.

I’d like to think that the fact I’m not using hindsight would be proved by a look back at some of my pieces on here from earlier in the season when I said that I was never convinced that our squad was as good as many claimed. Truth be told, I didn’t expect the level of performance from them to be as consistently poor as is has been, but I’d like to think that, basically, I had this squad figured out – there were others in the division that I got spectacularly wrong however.

Although it might have not have seemed like it after watching us toil against the likes of Rotherham, Reading and Brighton, it seems that there are worse sides than us in the division. For example, by completing our first double of the season in beating Wigan, we have, surely, shown that they are inferior to us.

Back in August the score was the same when the two clubs met at Cardiff City Stadium, but, back then, the game was seen by many as being very significant because, even then, the three points at stake were seen to be potentially very important at the top of the table come the end of the season. As mentioned earlier, I was not sure that this would prove to be the case for City, but I was convinced pre season about our opponents – I ended my piece about the game by saying “Wigan might have made a poor start, but it’s hard to see them struggling for long” (in fact, they and Norwich were my pre season tips for automatic promotion).

Anyone who says they saw Wigan’s troubles this season coming is a liar in my book – earlier I talked about the Championship’s competitiveness, so seeing a fancied team struggle shouldn’t be too much of a shock, but Wigan are now in real danger of becoming tailed off at the bottom of the league with Blackpool. I’ve looked at their season from afar and thought that they’ve got to start picking up results soon with the squad they’ve got and on the face of it, home matches against Charlton and Cardiff in the space of the last five days represented a great chance to kickstart a revival, but both games were lost without a goal being scored.

In fact, after beating Blackpool and Birmingham at the DW Stadium at the back end of August in the two matches following their defeat here, Wigan have been winless at home since then and it’s now just one point from eight home games after last night’s defeat – teams don’t avoid relegation with records like that.

The home team’s travails should be a warning to City as they, seemingly, face a second season in the Championship following relegation  - Wigan had the advantage of another season of parachute payments and, leaving the sort of matters that prompted a boycott of the home Director’s Box by City Board members to one side for now, had an owner who, from a distance anyway, seemed pretty clued in when it came to football in a way that we are not used to at Cardiff. However, at the age of 78, it appears that Dave Whelan’s sure touch has deserted him – the appointment of Malky Mackay was a huge gamble which is just not working.

Settings aside the baggage that appointing Mackay following the nature of his departure from Cardiff brings, I find it startling how his stock has fallen so far in such a short space of time. The clues are there that his relationship with Vincent Tan had broken down when Manchester City were beaten back in August 2013 and so, even at the time of our greatest triumph in the Premier League, the writing may well have been on the wall for him already.

However, go back a few months to the close season and all of the talk was how we had one of best young managers in the game and the persistent rumours about him becoming David Moyes’ successor at Everton were never dismissed as being too outlandish to be true – Mackay to Everton seemed perfectly reasonable at the time. Now, less than two years on, whatever it was that marked him out as a manager to watch has gone. Wigan have taken a meagre eight points from his sixteen games in charge and their record under him is far worse than it was under the man he replaced (Uwe Rosler).

Predictably, Kimbo was widely regarded as Wigan's best player on a night when he faced his former club- what's done is done now, and Kimbo was very poor in the first team matches he played this season, but I hope that the days of City giving away such naturally talented players are over now.*

Predictably, Kimbo was widely regarded as Wigan’s best player on a night when he faced his former club- what’s done is done now, and Kimbo was very poor in the first team matches he played this season, but I hope that the days of City virtually giving away such naturally talented players are over now.*

Maybe Mackay can resurrect his managerial career yet. I’ve got my doubts about that though on two fronts, will he be able to recapture whatever it was that made him good, but, maybe more importantly, will the desire be there to try again if, as seems likely, it ends in tears for him at Wigan?

After the game, Mackay declared himself to be touched by the reception he got from the City fans before kick off – sure, plenty of bridges have been burned over the last fifteen months or so with large sections of the club’s support and I’m not going to tell those that have no time for the man any more that they are wrong to feel like that, but I look at him and what has happened to us since he left and I can’t help thinking about how things could have been.

We are where we are though and Russell Slade’s side produced more of what we have seen from them in their previous four matches at Wigan – it’s not pretty (apart from a few occasions against Blackburn about which I’m already beginning to question myself as to whether they really happened!), but, built around the solidity of our centrebacks, it’s solid and was able to survive the loss through injury of our two new full backs.

I say it’s not pretty, but it needs to be recorded that we scored one of our better goals of the season last night as a central midfielder burst forward, beat three opponents and slotted the ball confidently home. Even when he was playing his most effective football for City, I’m not sure if I had asked someone who had not seen the goal who the scorer was based on that description, I doubt it very much if I would have got the answer Aron Gunnarsson, but Gunnarsson it was.

Actually, at the risk of falling into a trap I’ve been caught in a few times already this season, I’d say that Gunnarsson is one of two much criticised members of the current squad who have stepped their game up in the last month or so. While the search for signs of the Peter Whittingham that was regarded as the best player in this league once goes on, his midfield partner is looking more like his old self and at the back, Sean Morrison is beginning to provide some evidence as to why we paid so much for him back in August – Bruno Manga’s more eye catching defending is the inspiration behind a record of two goals conceded in five matches, but Morrison’s steady work alongside him should not be ignored either.

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




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3 Responses to A win at last as mid table mediocrity beckons.

  1. Dai Woosnam says:

    A fine report, Paul.
    I think we can sleep a bit more easily now…but with thirteen games to go, the Bluebirds can still go down.
    Re Wigan’s fall from grace (in both senses!):
    Okay, so they have lost some big players like Maloney and McManaman of late, but for 5 or 6 months of this season, they had an amazingly strong squad.
    But I believe in karma. And I believe that Dave Whelan who I have never been fond of (long before we saw his true colours)is now reaping the whirlwind.
    And this brings me to my now saying the unsayable re many Bluebirds’ travelling fans.
    Now – to borrow from Nye Bevan – an imaginary Nye might have delivered this to the multitude:

    “It may be that the Bluebirds travelling army at Wigan are real FOOTBALL aficionados.
    It may be.
    Perhaps those Bluebirds fans are good fathers and mothers and next door neighbours.
    It may be.
    Possibly they are fond of Malky Mackay for his dreadfully negative tactics, because they were WINNING tactics.
    [Laughter from audience assembled in Trafalgar Square...]
    No…come on …be fair…it may well BE you know.
    But I tell you this brothers and sisters: those idiots who chanted Mackay’s name at Wigan are too damned STUPID to be true Cardiff City fans!”

    It was in reality a shameful exhibition of contempt for their own Board of Directors who had pointedly stayed away from the Directors’ Box to express their deep disapproval of those racist texts.
    And I fear I would part company from my Nye Bevan character here: for I believe it is not “stupidity”. In truth these fans have little or no MORALITY in them.
    Frankly all they care about is results.
    They would – as I have said before in your pages Paul – be VERY happy if the Bluebirds were managed by Adolf Hitler and coached by Pol Pot …so long as The Bluebirds could win the Champions League in that Faustian pact!
    Yet they cheer on a chancer like Mackay …a man who always appears like Sweet Reason personified. But behind the mask, he is a cynical self-serving opportunist.
    And he came undone when – via those clever leaks – he tried to shaft the greatest benefactor Cardiff City have ever had. But he grossly underestimated his man: he came across an opponent who could fight even dirtier, when necessary.
    Let’s face it: many of us Bluebirds fans are racist to the core. If it was a Vince Tanner – say from Abertysswg or Nantymoel – they would be cheering him to the echo. And it was you Paul who expressed that last view to me a year or so back. And you were right then, and you are right now.
    Kindest, as ever,

  2. The other Bob Wilson says:

    I’m going to start off with your last sentence Dai. I expressed sympathy for Vincent Tan when he said that some of the coverage he had received from the British press was “a little bit racist”.


    Our owner made no mention of racist behaviour by Cardiff supporters, but I’m not going to say that there are no City fans whose dislike of Mr Tan is founded on the fact that he is not British – when you are talking about something like 20.000 people, there are surely going to be some who hold such views. I can only ever speak for myself, but I’m fairly sure that there are plenty of others among that 20,000 or so who have a similar view to mine – that is, I don’t care where Mr Tan is from, but I do care that he has overseen a club that have completely wasted the fantastic opportunity they had in the summer of 2013 as they faced up to top flight football with a squad that had proved itself to be the best in the Championship in 12/13 by some distance.

    Of course, Mr Tan’s loans played a prominent part in providing that opportunity in the first place, but I believe one of the consequences of having someone in control of a club as much as he is (in terms of shareholding at least) is that they are in a position where they, first, should know better than to give employees carte blanche to do what they like with his money (which is effectively what he is saying regarding the overspending of the transfer budget). Secondly, although actual evidence of any financial wrong doing on Mackay and Moody’s part seems as far away as ever, Vincent Tan has, seemingly, been vindicated on the matter of how much was spent, but he has to bear some responsibility for not having the expertise or, more seriously, ensuring there was someone at the club with the expertise, to have seen what was happening and done something about it.

    As for Mackay, I have my own reasons for viewing him less harshly than you do. That’s not to say that I would have been there joining in with those singing his name on Tuesday – those texts mean I could never do that, but my overwhelming feeling towards him is still sadness because I thought he was better than that. Maybe I’m being naive there, but my sadness extends to the fact that, as mentioned earlier, a marvelous opportunity has been bungled in time honoured Cardiff City style. Trying to lay the blame for that on one individual is as wrong as it pointless – for me, the list of those who bear some part of the responsibility for the shambles that has been the last twenty months is a long one, but Messrs Tan and Mackay would be near the top of it.

    One last thing, I’m not sure that a team which scores goals at a rate of nearly 1.5 per game (as City did throughout Mackay’s time in charge) can be called “dreadfully negative” when it comes to their tactical approach. There were certainly times during Malky’s two and a half seasons as manager when the entertainment factor was very low (e.g. at the end of his first season and, understandably in my view, when facing top sides at home in the Premier League) and winning the Championship wasn’t as memorable, in terms of thrills anyway, as I would have expected it to be, but his teams were like the 1970 Brazil side compared to what Russell Slade’s mob has been serving up for much of the past four months.

  3. Dai Woosnam says:

    Thanks Paul for your eloquent explanation of how your position differs from mine.
    I applaud you for it.
    You mention the loans.
    I see the new financial stats have just been released.
    I guess you will say that they make troubling reading.
    But I do not see them as “troubling” so much as an example of one man’s astonishingly altruistic behaviour.
    Let me now please slightly rehash something I posted on your pages some 6 months ago…viz.
    Yes they are technically “loans”.
    But see it this way: they are in another way …GIFTS.
    How come?
    Remember the famous dictum: “when you own the bank a few hundred thousand Pounds, the bank owns you. But when you owe the bank a few hundred MILLION Pounds, you own the Bank.”
    And thus in this case, we Bluebirds fans really OWN our bank (i.e. Mr Vincent Tan).
    We should go down on our knees to thank him for investing a small fortune in our club, when no commercial banker worthy of the name would touch Cardiff City with a bargepole.
    Vincent is in too far now to be able to cut his losses and run.
    That is why I say he is the greatest benefactor this club has ever known.
    And so when he returns for the Wolves game, treat him with best Welsh hospitality.
    It will be many years before he gets any profit from his amazing investment.
    We’ll keep a welcome in the hillside.

    And on that last point…how I would love that Mai Jones et al classic to replace Men Of Harlech as the song at CCS.
    The latter is a fine song, but to me is a song of GWYNEDD. The former song is the song of the City heartland…the South Wales Valleys.
    I submit it is the ONLY song to rival the wonderful singing of Max Boyce’s Hymns And Arias at the Liberty Stadium.

    Thomas Morgan/Mai Jones/Lyn Joshua/James Harper

    Far away a voice is calling
    Bells of memory chime
    Come home again,come home again
    They call through the oceans of time

    We’ll keep a welcome in the hillside
    We’ll keep a welcome in the Vales
    This land you knew will still be singing
    When you come home again to Wales
    This land of song will keep a welcome
    And with a love that never fails
    We’ll kiss away each hour of hiraeth
    When you come home again to Wales

    We’ll keep a welcome in the hillside
    We’ll keep a welcome in the Vales
    This land you knew will still be singing
    When you come home again to Wales
    This land of song will keep a welcome
    And with a love that never fails
    We’ll kiss away each hour of hiraeth
    When you come home again to Wales

    We’ll kiss away each hour of hiraeth
    When you come home again to Wales

    And here it is, sung by my favorite Welsh choir from my native Rhondda Valley.
    And please listen to the amazing vocal dynamic of the last 40 seconds!
    Talk about giving the closing words some “welly”!!??
    Put the speakers on full, Paul, and be prepared to be …STIRRED.
    Cardiff City should run out to this song, and the fans could sing it and it would rival the club songs of Birmingham City and Liverpool for emotional impact.
    Mike Jenkins alas is no songwriter*. He may be a decent poet, but his With My Little Pick And Shovel is pitifully bad.
    It needs replacing now!
    Why should the Devil (45 miles down the road) have all the best tunes?


    * fathered some interesting offspring though. Son Ciaran Jenkins impresses me greatly on C4 News every night.

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