A win we couldn’t have dreamed of nine days ago.


City fans of a certain vintage will recall the truly strange coincidence which saw their team get drawn against Leeds United in the FA Cup Third Round three times in successive seasons in the fifties. The odds against that happening must be astronomical, but the truly weird thing was that each time the score ended up Leeds 1 Cardiff 2 – what must the odds be of a sequence like that occuring?

Well, what happened at the City Ground yesterday evening didn’t quite match that hat trick from sixty years ago, but Cardiff did earn a third consecutive 2-1 win at the ground of the twice former European Cup winners. More than that, the coincidence was stretched further by the way that this latest victory followed the same pattern as the previous two had done, as a dominant City team went a couple of goals clear, only for the home side to score a goal that hadn’t really looked like coming, to prompt a finale to the match that was a lot more fraught than it should have been.

In fact, yesterday’s fixture stuck to that script more closely than the previous couple had done because City’s third game unbeaten since Neil Warnock’s appointment was being won with an ease which would have been thought to be truly unbelievable nine days ago.

Last night offered more of the Warnock blueprint whereby possession of the ball is not considered an essential, what is though is committed and organised defending, often in numbers, and a determination to keep things simple with “the Cardiff Way” firmly commissioned to the dustbin.

If there were grounds for criticism, then they came because you couldn’t help but think that a chance was missed to really improve a goal difference which is only better than bottom of the league Rotherham for now.

Indeed, the chances were there for City (goal difference before yesterday, minus ten) to finish the match above Forest (goal difference before yesterday, minus two) with both teams level on fifteen points.

That really is no exaggeration. For a start, the goal Forest did get came via a highly dubious penalty awarded against Sky’s Man of the Match Aron Gunnarsson for a pretty innocuous aerial challenge on Forest captain Henri Lansbury.

However, it was at the other end that Cardiff showed a profligacy which could cost them against other opponents as Joe Ralls early on and then the otherwise very good Anthony Pilkington missed great chances. In fact, Pilkington had two of them with the second falling into possible miss of the season territory as Chris Cohen did well to block his initial effort after the keeper Stojkovic had been confidently rounded, but the side footed effort wide from the corner of six yard box that followed beggared belief from someone who is usually such a sound technical player.

If Sol Bamba is probably the current City player who most typifies the improvement since the change of manager, then Aron Gunnarsson is not far behind him - playing in the same role as the one he occupies in his national team. the man from Iceland has been a revelation and there will surely be more goals to follow this one (his first for his club in 2016) if he continues his current form.*

If Sol Bamba is probably the current City player who most typifies the improvement since the change of manager, then Aron Gunnarsson is not far behind him – playing in the same role as the one he occupies in his national team. the man from Iceland has been a revelation and there will surely be more goals to follow this one (his first for his club in 2016) if he continues his current form.*

There was also a fine Stojkovic save when Sean Morrison met a Gunnarsson long throw in with the sort of header that was bringing him goals last season. The keeper also distinguished himself on a couple more occasions as well, while there were various other escapes for the home team and, for now at least, I suppose the way to look at the missed opportunities would be to think back to those days, not so long ago, when just getting one such chance in a match would have been welcomed.

The hope has to be that, as belief mounts, tension fades and the points, hopefully, keep mounting up, we will become more ruthless in front of goal – my feeling is that, while I can’t see us ever being prolific exactly, we should see an increase in our goals per game rating.

I would qualify that slightly mind by saying that we are unlikely to face many defences more prone to individual error and collective failure than Forest’s this season. Indeed, while they could point to important players missing through suspension or injury, the overwhelming impression I gained from yesterday’s encounter was that, if we were watching a team that would be playing in League One next season, it would the one that was wearing red.

Now, I think Forest have too much quality within their ranks to go down, but when you see stories about supposed player unrest due to unpaid bonuses and unnecessary comments from the club owner which do not help things one iota, I can’t help but remember our lone, dismal, Premier League campaign which started really going wrong in October.

Also, while Forest do have that talent I mentioned earlier, it won’t count for much if they keep on defending as they did yesterday evening. As his time at Cardiff increases, you get to learn more about Neil Warnock and the way he thinks about the game, but even those City fans with just a fleeting acquaintance with his time at his other clubs would know that the post match dressing room would be a place to be completely avoided for an hour or more if one of his sides had defended half as badly as Forest did.

The goals City got both owed more than their fair share to ropey home defending. Yes, Gunnarsson did give a bit of a push to his marker Thomas Lam as Peter Whittingham’s corner came over for the first one, but it was all pretty mild stuff compared to the WWF wrestling which passes for contesting free kicks and corners these days and it shouldn’t have been enough to enable the Iceland captain to have no opponent within yards of him when he nodded in from a central position eight yards out.

Similarly, it was impossible to know what was on full back Armand Traore’s mind as he tried to play his way out from the left corner flag, only to lose out to Craig Noone (only just bought on in place of Rickie Lambert who sustained a nasty gash when challenging for a ball on the ground with Stojkov) . Noone’s cross was a good one which Pilkington was able to get a touch on that was blocked by the keeper, but Ralls got the reward he deserved for an improved performance which saw him getting into attacking areas more often, when he headed into the empty net.

It wasn’t just on these two occasions though that Forest looked wobbly at the back. Sometimes they aided City by presenting the ball to them in dangerous areas, but other times, it was their uncoordinated high defensive line which could be unpicked with a single pass that would let them down.

In front of the back four, their midfield seemed to be unaware of what has been clear at this level for most of the last decade – that is that, given the time and space, Peter Whittingham has the technique and range of passing to unpick any defence in the Championship.

Like a few of our players (Lex Immers is one I can think of straight away), Joe Ralls finds goalscoring easier away from home than he does at Cardiff City Stadium. Here he heads home our second goal - it was nowhere near as spectacular as his first one, at Fulham, but, in it's way, it may be worth more because that's four of the five goals scored in the Warnock era from central midfield, an area where we have struggled to score on a consistent basis from in recent years.*

Like a few of our players (Lex Immers is one I can think of straight away), Joe Ralls finds goalscoring easier away from home than he does at Cardiff City Stadium. Here he heads home our second goal – it was nowhere near as spectacular as his first one, at Fulham, but, in it’s way, it may be worth more because that’s four of the five goals scored in the Warnock era from central midfield, an area where we have struggled to score on a consistent basis from in recent years.*

However, it was in the back four where Forest were really lacking and, if one incident typified the huge contrast in styles on show last night, it was the one which led to Lam’s dismissal with a third of the game still to be played.

Sky’s commentary and the pundits in the studio spent a lot of time building Forest up as the division’s great entertainers. There have been more goals scored in their matches than anyone else in the division and, despite their current poor results, it was remarked that manager Phillipe Montanier remains a popular figure with supporters because, when his team get it right, they are a very entertaining side to watch.

The danger any side that wants to play the game “the right way” can face though is that they look naive if and when this approach goes wrong. In the piece I did on the Sheffield Wednesday game in midweek, I mentioned about sides passing the ball without a purpose – what Forest were doing in the seconds before Lam was forced to grab Pilkington to stop a clear goal scoring opportunity was the complete opposite of passing with a purpose.

As the defenders and sitting midfielder passed sideways and backwards to each other, the thought occurred to me that this was exactly what Neil Warnock doesn’t want his side to do and his charges spent the ninety minutes giving the home team an object lesson in the art of defending.

Although the last few minutes saw some hectic episodes where the ball fell to the feet of home players in shooting positions inside the penalty area, there was always someone there to get a block in and the game ended with a feeling that, Lansbury’s penalty apart, the Forest attack never got to see the whites of Ben Amos’ eyes.

For the third consecutive match, there was a demonstration of solid and effective, no frills, defending from Warnock’s side and they would have got a deserved first clean sheet since the opening day of the campaign were it not for that very soft penalty award.

With Matt Connolly coming in for Lee Peltier (who appears to have some ongoing injury issue that he cannot completely shake off this season) doing a sound job at right back and Joe Bennett growing into his role at left back, City were in little trouble down the flanks as Pilkington and Junior Hoilett were later followed by Noone in providing the defensive support from the wingers that has been a feature of the last three matches.

It was through the middle though where City were strongest with Morrison and the excellent once again Bamba proving to be a formidable combination that concentrated solely on being defenders and not the modern day Franz Beckenbauer’s that our manager appears to have a problem with!

I should say here that I feel that we will need to see a little more from our centrebacks in terms of what they do with the ball at their feet if those optimists who feel a top six finish can be achieved, are going to stand a chance of being proved right.

However, for now, the object of the exercise has to be to get into a position whereby relegation, first, becomes a possibility rather than the probability it was when we were losing at Burton three weeks ago.

With a handy gap of three points between us and the bottom three now, perhaps we are getting towards the time when we can say that we are now only possibles for relegation? This would certainly appear to the case if we could beat one of the teams below us, Wigan, next weekend.

However, with Newcastle, Huddersfield, an improving Villa and Brighton to follow in the four matches that follow, the dangers of trying to run before we can walk could well become clear.

City have definitely improved a lot in the last eight days and you have to believe that parts of the game which were a real problem for our players at the start of the month are starting to come naturally without a second thought now, but, surely, the call from our manager will be for more of the same for the foreseeable future – Cardiff City was broken for the first two months of the season, it’s not fixed yet, but we appear to be getting there.

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

This entry was posted in Out on the pitch and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to A win we couldn’t have dreamed of nine days ago.

  1. Dai Woosnam says:

    Thanks Paul, as ever.

    Thank heavens we now have a manager who will have no truck with keepers rolling it out and defenders playing it out from the back. And one who demands total commitment.

    True, it will be a while until we again meet such an incompetent opposition back line, but a win is a win. A bit disturbed though to observe at an opposition corner, the wonderful Bamba having to tell Connolly that he needed to mark his winger, and not think he was a central defender.

    And one other thing before signing off…whilst I realise that Ben Amos was not really tested, am I alone in finding him rather impressive? What a good command he seems to have of his area for crosses, and he has the kick of a mule to boot.

    Living in Grimsby, Hull City’s stadium is only 12 miles away as the crow flies. And I was talking to a Hull regular last night who is wondering what all the fuss was about with David Marshall. Says he and his mates were big fans of the guy with the Slavic-sounding name who Marshy replaced, and they rather hanker for the boy to return and Marshy being benched !!

    What do you make of that…?

  2. Dai Woosnam says:

    Heck of a crow was that.
    One that swallowed miles instead of birdseed.
    Make that 16.

  3. Matt N says:

    Thanks Paul
    Another good performance. I contrived to miss the concession of the penalty, but, like you think the only surprise is the narrow margin of victory. It was a shame Joe Ralls missed the deft touch he was attempting as he bore down on goal which led to a heavy following touch otherwise I am sure he would have buried it. On the bright side of Pilkington’s improbable miss, perhaps that will offer Freddy G some perverse encouragement and he will start impressing in training? Which brings me on to strikers. I’ve not seen anything of Lambert to make me think he can recover his England selection form. Sadly his mobility has decreased too much to play in a lone striker role and unless we start playing two up top (and in our first team we don’t have the personnel), I think he’ll find it difficult to maintain his place after recovering from the injury. I thought Chamakh looked quite tidy on Wednesday with some good close control in tight areas. Nice to see Connolly back in the starting line up and even better to learn it wasn’t him who gave away the penalty!
    I notice that Jamie Bird and Lloyd Humphrie have been sent out on loan to Weston Super Mare. I do hope this has been at the suggestion of Neil Warnock and that he is taking an interest outside the 14-15 players he has used in the 3 games so far. I see his thinking in stability to build a base from, but hope that in time we’ll see something of the youngsters and perhaps one day an appearance by the Lesser Spotted Emyr Huws.
    It is so nice to be talking about refining a team to improve the quality or entertainment instead of desperately throwing out names in the hope of finding a solution! What a difference a fortnight makes.

    PS Dai – you could play both Hull’s keepers at the moment and their goal difference would still resemble a cricket score!

  4. Barry Cole says:

    Well Paul we are now just eight points off a play off place and I will remind everyone each week how we will continue to close that gap. I am really delighted that virtually all the fan base seem to be behind Warnock and that at last I am enjoying the football once more. I couldn’t get to the match but watching it a lot more closely on TV I see what Warnock has done in a very very short time.
    He clearly has started with the defence with a no nonsense approach to getting rid of the ball. Not really bothered about statistics on possession as this clearly isn’t the be all and end all of matches we will be playing. We are still short of a couple of players and one that looked the part was Lansbury. He was well shackled by gunnarson but still had time to create and shoot.
    One remark made by sky made me smile, saying that Warnock had the fans on his side and that if you didn’t get that then the manager was on a hiding to nothing , how right is that.
    For all the slade lovers, just look at what Warnock has done in two weeks compared to the pathetic offerings made by him. I will repeat my many observations, we always had the players we never had the manager to get us promoted.
    You only have to look at gunnarson to see what I mean.
    I have also stated that I didn’t expect t what is clear had Trollope still be in place we would not have won any of the last three matches. No Not a chance, I can see each each game being a challenge and we may lose one but I only see confidence flooding back with each game so any result at Newcastle will only increase that confidence.
    One other key to the management change is I am actually enjoying the 90+ minutes of each game now. I hope tan now sees how effective a good manager is but I hold my hand up he is prepared to change albeit only when the reasoning has sunk in. Ok he has made mistakes but this man could have walked away as we plunged to relegation but he was prepared to change, maybe forced, but let’s face it had he wanted out he could have done it. I can see his logic not attending matches and taking a lower profile but that should change over the coming months.
    On the match, I may have seen this different than most people as I thought the football played by forest (defence excepted) was very neat and even with 10 men they still played the neat football. I realised that two defenders were not available but see them as a good mid table team. I mentioned Lansbury and I watched the way he created and was not afraid to shoot. He is the type of player that’s missing at Cardiff along with a potent goalscorer. Which leads me on to pilkington. He runs his socks off but his record in putting the ball in the net isn’t very good. He created his own chances by that selfless running so I hope that Warnock can improve that area of his game.
    The defence was solid , I am still not sure about connelly as he seems a shadow of t on the opposite side I am beginning to take to Bennett.
    Gunnarson was man of the match and having a lot of space whittingham was allowed the time to make his passes. Rawles must the sitter and you are quite correct we could have had at least six last night. Those missed chances are not going to help against a team like Newcastle so I hope that side improved quickly.
    I don’t think we are there yet but we have gone a long way in the two weeks when at last we appointed a proper manager of men from Harrodsburg and not the manager from Lidl

  5. Barry Cole says:

    Sorry about the spell check on the iPad it keeps changing the words. Think I need to thoroughly check my post in future

  6. Anthony O'Brien says:

    Among the factors that make this site not only informative but highly enjoyable are the elements of humour and good humour from so many contributors. From today’s selection, I particularly enjoyed Matt N’s ornithological reference to “the Lesser Spotted Emyr Huws”. Within the humour. however, is a very serious point — namely that our midfield is still lacking something which Huws could provide, if nothing more than the ability to shoot accurately and powerfully from long range. Even Peter Whittingham failed to do when the opportunity occurred on one occasion yesterday. But I hasten to add, he did well I’m other respects. I remember remarking some time ago that Whittingham was the first and perhaps only player to get forward in support of a lone striker during a particular match, and the same was the case yesterday when Pilkington rounded the goalkeeper. In fact, if my memory is correct, Pilkington when he went wide could have fed the ball to Whittingham instead of missing the net with his wayward shot. Whittingham, too, was actually our last line of defence at times!

    A player who also impressed me, albeit only from the glimpses provided by the television, was Kieron Richardson, who used the ball constructively and also raced forward effectively more than once. I think that in a range of positions he could even be the pick of Mr Warnock’s most recent signings.

    We still need fast, incisive, and powerful runners going forward — they would also need a striker’s instincts and ability to score goals. Napoleon once said he would rather have lucky generals than good ones. Although I agree with the comments of praise being received by General Warnock, I nevertheless think there was an element of good luck about Cardiff’s goals — but then again, luck is what you make it. So, we can at last look forward to Cardiff’s next game with a sense of optimism. Let the work in process continue onwards and upwards!

  7. Lindsay Davies says:

    As ever, thanks Paul – and all other MAYA contributors for front-line reports.
    Bit of ‘half-empty’ from here (in North London) I’m afraid. A terrific win in many ways, and three-on-the-trot unbeaten – bliss it is.
    But, when we’re bad we’re still awful…Pilkington’s misses, basic Row Z clearances being shanked – bringing on yet more barely-repelled pressure, inability to put away ten men (was it Reading at home a couple of years, when we went 2-0 up on the point of half-time – a penalty incident that saw one of them sent off, and we scraped a 2-1 win?)…and, as AO’B says, lack of pace (in passing and movement) going forward. Hoilett and Richardson could put that right.
    I suppose it’s going to take years to un-shred my nerves.
    But, I did enjoy Ralls, I’m thrilled by Gunnarsson’s rennaissance, I’ve never fallen out of love with Whitts…and, I like Amos.
    I realise I’m an ‘exile’, but, inspired by Dai W (“who might actually be my new favourite person ever” as that fan described Bamba after his miraculous debut), I’m hoping to continue to comment on, at least, TV-covered matches.
    Unfortunately I’m less likely than ever to renew my Season Ticket as I’m about to move even further from Godzone – East, to Canary-land. Still, who knows – it might all work out really well under ‘Colin’, and I’ll be ‘compelled’ to return.
    Back to Paul, briefly – a slightly brighter note – I didn’t think the Premier League season became ‘dismal’ until February; I have ace memories of some wonderful round-trips.

  8. Colin Phillips says:

    Well three points are three points and I’ll take them gratefully but we have to think we were lucky. I know we could have scored five or six but will the Forest defence ever play so poorly again, or have they before.

    Can someone beg Henri Lansbury to play for us?

    Bad misses by Ralls and Pilkington both probably down to lack of confidence.

    Gunnarson put in an ‘Iceland performance’ and if he can continue playing like that surely he would make a natural captain.

    Short but promising debut by Richardson.

    We looked better when Lambert went off but somebody should have pointed out to Amos that we no longer had a tall target man.

    Nobody said it was going to be pretty under Warnock but we need points not prettiness for now.

    Thanks again, Paul, for giving us a chance to express our thoughts on the City performances.

    Nice to see measured responses to your excellent analyses.

  9. Dai Woosnam says:

    What great news…Lindsay is moving nearer me. I am now hoping we can have regular meetings in Peterborough Services !!
    And whilst on the subject of Mutual Admiration Societies…
    I yield to nobody in my high regard for the wisdom of Colin. But dear Ben Amos, in the highly unlikely event of you reading this, please remember that there is poor benighted me who longs for you to keep seeing phantom lone target men every time you take a goal kick during your stay with us.
    Why? Well, because there’s at least a 50% chance at Championship level that the opposition will not “gobble it up” but instead misdirect their headers and give us a throw-in or even a corner. Or failing that, present the ball back to our advancing midfield.
    Ben boyo, it is not called a goal KICK for nothing! And you have a Big Bertha of a boot. So Ben, praise “Sir” Charles*, and pass the ammunition !!
    Re Matt’s comment on Hull…yes, you are right. But just think if they had the boy Amos between the sticks…? Phelan bought the wrong City keeper. **
    And finally Barry…do not be too hard on your iPad spellchecker. I note that whilst it used to fail you on a capital “S”…it miraculously comes good on a capital “W”..!!
    * Charles HUGHES of course and his profoundly wise views on the POMO.
    ** Only the SLIGHTEST pressure on my inner cheek as I write this !!

  10. Anthony O'Brien says:

    In my earlier comment I meant to add that the immediate and accurate pass which gave Pilkington a goal chance came from Kieron Richardson.

    On a totally different and pointless trajectory I’ve also noted that, as an alternative to the onanistic anagram of Neil Warnock’s name he could also be scrambled into ALOCK WINNER. “Alock” is a Sanskrit name meaning, among other things, “Cry of Victory”, and “Winner” speaks for itself. Also, when Mr Warnock returns to his tractor on his no-doubt palatial estate in Cornwall, he might be called by something almost agricultural, such as ACORN WINKLE.

    My apologies for such uncalled-for musings, but how else should I pass the time while hoping that Chelsea in the second half put another couple of goals past MUFC and their charmless manager!

  11. MIKE HOPE says:

    As I can’t think of anything useful to add to the report and comments I’d like to say something about the first paragraph.
    Paul mentions that readers of a certain vintage will recall the three consecutive 2-1 cup wins against Leeds and asks what the odds are against such a coincidence.
    My vintage is such that not only do I remember them but in the words of someone [ not my personal cup of tea ] who has made a living playing an Englishman’s idea of a Welsh stereotype , in the case of the third game ” I was there.”
    It was of course in the days when supporters were not segregated and I and two young friends wore our blue and white scarves and cheered City’s goals whilst surrounded by Leeds fans.
    If invited to do the same thing today it would be a difficult choice between doing that or watching a Max Boyce concert whilst poking myself in the eye with a mustard coated cocktail stick.
    Yet on that day we met only friendliness from the people of Leeds both inside and outside the ground.Different times or what?
    Let me bore you with an answer to your rhetorical question about the odds.
    With 64 teams going into the draw for the third round of the cup there are 2016 possible pairings.As there is a 50/50 chance of being home or away the odds are doubled to 4032.
    For this to happen three times in a row the odds are 4032 x 4032 x 4032 which according to my calculator is something like one chance in about sixty six thousand million.
    Then of course you have to multiply by the odds against a 1-2 score each time.
    The bookies will normally offer about ten to one against this depending on the two teams so we probably need to multiply the first answer by about one thousand!
    So not much chance of this ever happening again!

  12. The other Bob Wilson says:

    Lots to do today, so I can’t stay too long, but here’s a few comments I’d like to make.
    Matt, regarding Neil Warnock and younger players, I read something saying that someone at Weston dealt directly with our manager about the loaning of the two players (Humphries started for them on Saturday and Bird came off the bench as Weston ended a run of ten consecutive defeats with a 0-0 draw). Also, there’s a message on one of the boards that Warnock was at Treforest yesterday morning to watch the age group games at ages nine to thirteen against Villa – in fact, he gave the team talk for the Under 13s match! I’m very impressed by this because I’m not aware of any other manager in the 11 years since we’ve been an Academy who has turned up at Treforest to watch youth football like that.
    A quick thank you as well to Mike for his calculation of the odds on the same game being drawn three consecutive times at the same stage of the competition in the FA Cup.
    Finally, you got your wish AMO – couldn’t have happened to a nicer bloke either, can’t believe I was actually supporting Chelsea yesterday!

  13. Dai Woosnam says:

    With you and Mike mentioning that stat to end all stats, I look at the results last night, and wonder if it may be that Elland Road just attracts the bizarrely serendipitous when it comes to coincidences.
    I note that the Leeds – Norwich game got an attendance of 22,222. And appropriately (before going to pens) it ended …
    …(wait for it …)
    … 2-2…!!

Comments are closed.