Advice to opposition fans – don’t leave early when you’re playing Cardiff City!

Whenever we drop points through the concession of a late goal, you can guarantee that there’ll be people on the City messageboard I use claiming that there’s not another club in the country that lets in as many late goals as we do.

It’s been said for years, even decades, on there and, generally, my attitude has been that while it seems to me that we are in the “debit column” when it comes to any analysis of goals scored and conceded late on in matches, there will always have to be plenty of sides who find themselves in that position, so I’ve never believed that we are any worse off than plenty of other teams in that respect.

However, following yesterday’s 2-2 draw at Brentford which saw us lose a 1-0 lead in the eighty third minute and then a 2-1 advantage in the ninety first, I have to concede that those messageboard contributors may have a point when it comes to the 2016/17 season.

I’ve been trying to find a statistical analysis of times in matches when sides score and concede their goals – there’s been such stats out there in past seasons, so I’m sure they are still around somewhere, but I’ve had no luck in finding them.

Therefore, in the absence of such figures, I’ve been doing a bit of research of my ownand what I have found must, surely, mean that there are very few teams out of the ninety two who comprise the Premier and Football Leagues who have a worse record in the closing stages of games this season than Cardiff City.

If you include the Bristol Rovers League Cup tie, with it’s deciding goal five minutes from the end of extra times, City have conceded goals in the last ten minutes in more than half of their twenty four matches.

In thirteen of those games, we have let in at least one goal in the last ten minutes of playing time – what reasons can there be for such an appalling record?

Well, first it needs to be said that, as with many struggling sides I would have thought, some of those goals can be put down to us “chasing” matches that we were already a goal behind in.

For example, during our run of awful results and performances at home earlier in the season, potential single goal defeats were turned into 2-0 losses against QPR, Leeds and Derby as City attempted, forlornly, to get on terms – much the same thing happened, albeit with different final scores, in the away matches with Norwich and Villa.

So, some of the goals can be said to have made no difference to the outcome of the match (the one which enabled Preston to beat us by three goals, as opposed to two, being another example).

Also, more successful sides than us tend to have a handful of matches where the opposition score a consolation goal late on. The closest we’ve had to that was the televised game against Forest where the home side turned in a display that was so naive and poor that we should have been three or four clear going into added time – instead, in typical Cardiff fashion, we conceded a penalty which meant we were hanging on desperately to a one goal lead at the end in an encounter which should have been all over bar the shouting about half an hour earlier.

Another pretty simple explanation would be that the players aren’t fit enough. In the last few years, it has become increasingly amusing for me to see successive City managers claim that the squad they inherited was not fit enough.

To be fair, I think Russell Slade may have had a point when he said that about Ole’s squad because the signs were there early on in the 14/15 campaign that other teams were lasting the ninety minutes better than us. However, generally speaking, Slade’s sides continued the practice of us being a team that conceded more than they scored late on – despite plenty of talk from within the camp about how much more work was being done on fitness in pre season training for 15/16.

Go forward twelve months and we had a Wales based fitness and conditioning team with a big reputation (apart from the defeat to England in Lens, I cannot recall late goals conceded harming the national team in the years leading up to the start of our 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign) that were going to improve a squad that was “not fit enough” and we proceeded to concede late goals in five successive matches under Paul Trollope’s management in August and September!

Now we have had Neil Warnock saying that fitness levels will improve over the coming weeks and months, so, yet again, a new manager indirectly accuses his predecessor of failing when it comes to matters of fitness and preparation.

Let’s face it. this is an easy and convenient claim to make for any manager that is fairly new in their job – it helps to buy them a bit more time because there’s nearly always a honeymoon period where fans eager to see the best in their new man take anything they say as read.

Leaving that aside though, it’s difficult to believe that any manager can do too much at this stage of the season that can lead to fitness levels increasing. You often hear it said by people who are supposed to know about these things that the real time when fitness training is a priority is the pre season – if anything, fitness based training is toned down as a season goes on and if Warnock was to have a fitness blitz in the coming weeks, it seems to me that any short term gain would be more than offset by problems in the spring courtesy of one of the most knackered squads in the Championship.

Neil Warnock said that it felt like his team had lost after their 2-2 draw at Brentford, but he went out of his way to praise a couple of players.
I would already say that Brian Murphy has made more top quality saves for City than Ben Amos has and he, surely, has to get a second chance at Brighton on Friday.
Also, for the third consecutive match, the manager was rich in his praise for Kenneth Zohore – he missed the opportunity shown in the photo, but it came about all through his own work. Later on, he was to prove far too strong for his marker as he moved on to a good Joe Ralls pass to score what should have been the match winning goal – it has to be up for debate as to whether he can continue his current form, but, for now, he is undoubtedly our first choice striker.*

Therefore, I see the lack of fitness line as being something of a red herring that managers can use at times to deflect blame. That is not to say that there are not fitter sides in this league than us, but you would like to believe that the margins among full time players with full time staff working to get them in the best possible shape are very fine ones that certainly would not offer a complete explanation as to why this season’s side are so crap at keeping their goal intact in the final minutes.

Extending the discussion into goals scored by us late on, until recently the goals we scored in the closing ten minutes of matches made little difference – we got two at Norwich, but we were never level after going 1-0 down and the one we got at Newcastle only meant we lost 2-1,  rather than 2-0.

However, the last three matches have seen a complete change (one which might possibly mean that I’m wrong about Neil Warnock being unable to improve players fitness at this time of the season!) because we have scored after the eightieth minute in all of them, but the concerning thing is that we’ve gained nowhere near the reward we should have done from doing so.

The good done by the come from behind win over Wolves gained by Anthony Pilkington’s eighty sixth minute strike has been more than offset by the harm caused by Barnsley’s ninety fourth minute winner after we’d done so well to recover from a two goal deficit ten days ago and, now, by having lost leads twice to goals scored after the eightieth minute yesterday.

Let’s say I am wrong and that Warnock has got us fitter, it seems ludicrous that we can be fit enough to score more late goals and then become not fit enough to concede again after that – especially when we managed to score again after Brentford’s first equaliser!

Therefore, the far more likely explanation for me is that, rather than not being physically fit enough, we are not fit enough mentally.

Now, many, probably a majority, of any club’s fans watching the closing minutes of a match where they are trying to hang on to a narrow lead or a draw expect their team to concede a goal. Therefore, especially when it is happening on a fairly regular basis, it’s asking an awful lot of the players involved for there not to be a few doubts in their minds as well in circumstances like City’s did yesterday.

Although that run of five consecutive early season matches mentioned earlier where we conceded goals late on only had two match (Fulham and Reading) where we lost points as a consequence, such a sequence would surely have an effect on most groups of players that could stretch into the months to come.

Are City players expecting to concede late goals now? Possibly not, but I would argue that there is a resigned acceptance when we do that is not present in many other squads at this level.

That Pilkington goal against Wolves when one point became three remains the only instance of us gaining points by scoring inside the final ten minutes so far this season. However, when you measure that against the two points Fulham’s late equaliser cost us, the one Reading’s winner did, the one we dropped when Wigan won a very important game, the one lost in heartbreaking fashion against Barnsley and the two we threw away (twice!) yesterday, we are a very damaging minus seven when it comes to points gained and lost after the eighty minute mark this season.

Hardly surprisingly, Neil Warnock sounded like an exasperated man after yesterday’s double Christmas giveaway. For the second successive time, the manager was critical of some of his players, in particular he railed at the lack of the sort of sheer bloody mindedness you would expect from a Warnock side that went ahead in the eighty ninth minute.

The criticism that City have a squad that lacks leaders has been a pretty consistent one over the struggles of the first half of this campaign. The answer to this question may not be as easy as it may first seem, because we were conceding late goals with Sol Bamba in the side (only the one against Wigan cost us points though), but would we have at least one and, hopefully, three more points than we do now if he had been playing against Barnsley and Brentford?

Certainly, the second goal yesterday was a dreadful one to concede given the game circumstances. We’ve all seen City drop deeper and deeper in the closing stages of matches as we look to preserve a one goal lead and the amount of times it has cost us makes me think most of us think of it as something of a recipe for disaster, but there is a balance to be struck, and for us to be caught out by the opposition exploiting space in behind one of our wing backs was criminal.

Credit to Brentford for cashing in on the space we offered them, but if we were playing with a back three and wing backs for the majority of the game, it surely should have transformed into a flat back five when the score became 2-1? Even if Joe Bennett had gone upfield to support an attack, someone should have dropped back to fill the space he had left.

Neil Warnock had promised changes after the Barnsley game and they duly arrived with the absence of Chamakh and Richardson from the subs bench surely confirmation that the heavy hints from the manager that their deals would be not renewed when they run out at the end of the month had been acted upon.

Ben Amos also paid for his errors in recent matches as City turned to their third keeper of the season in veteran Brian Murphy who was recruited from Irish football in August with the seeming intention of providing cover for Amos and Ben Wilson.

The move to three centrebacks enabled Matt Connolly to move to his preferred position and Lee Peltier to switch to the right, with Bennett coming back on the left for Craig Noone, while Pilkington made way for Joe Ralls as Junior Hoilett went back to the more central role he had filled with varying degrees of success last month.

Such a tactical change confirmed what I had always believed – that is, that Neil Warnock is not a slavish devotee to one particular system, but, having said that, four at the back has been a fairly constant theme throughout his career, so to move away from that is another sign that, while things have definitely steadied under him, he has been unable to engineer the sort of transformation that he did at Rotherham last season.

I’ve mentioned before that, on paper at least, the City squad looks so much better than the one Warnock had at Rotherham, but it does make you wonder whether the players he had up in Yorkshire were more willing to fully embrace his approach than the ones at Cardiff are and, perhaps, more crucially, had that mental toughness to see things out until the final whistle that we so conspicuously lack.

*picture courtesy of




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7 Responses to Advice to opposition fans – don’t leave early when you’re playing Cardiff City!

  1. Barry Cole says:

    Well first I hope everyone has had a good Christmas, albeit the result wasn’t exactly what we needed.
    Yes we have a problem with conceding late goals but we are nearly there. Let’s face it putting money into matches like this is worth every penny, I couldn’t say that for the last 2 plus years previously.
    Yes we should have won both matches but I see such a dramatic change that whatever Warnock is doing he will get it right. If he says he wouldn’t like some of the players in the trenches, he’s right, we should not have conceded the second goal.
    We know he is using players who haven’t a track record for scoring goals, yet we are scoring goals. I still can’t make my mind up about zohore but he is improving but he may now start a goal scoring run that proves me wrong. He certainly holds the ball up well.
    Without mentioning names I can see where warnocks coming from as there does seem to be a lack of attempts to stop crosses and fight for a loose ball.
    The midfield are still lacking something but it’s in the defence where the problems are.
    Although he got the penalty and has a really good positional sense in the opposition penalty area, Morrison doesn’t have the same command in his own penalty area and there is the conundrum. I have never been a fan of peltier as he has always been one dimensional for a full back but yesterday seem to fall apart when he left the field. Maybe the fact that we didn’t have a full back cover didn’t help but it seemed a positive substitution by Warnock.
    Murphy did well as he made some good saves but that last kick with the defensive problems we have wasn’t the best.
    So I don’t see many more problems at the end of games because Warnock will not like what he has witnessed lately.
    Whatever is happening Warnock will do what he needs to do in January and even now we are slowly moving up the league as we pick up points and the other teams are finding it hard to do the same.
    Brighton and Aston Villa in the next two games can only test our resolve but anything more than three points will provide the positive movement we need going into the new year.
    What’s the betting we may not see pilkington ralls and noone in the team.
    Now that’s got everyone thinking

  2. Russell says:

    Thanks Paul I was pleased with the result, and the fitness debate is as you suggest is a convenient one for all parties,and a red herring. If they are not fit at this stage of the season they should not be anywhere near the first team.Your last paragraph somes it up me, lack of “” mental toughhess “” and perhaps a captain on the field to marshall his troops and inspire them through those critical final minutes with composure.

    Last year I genuinely felt Slade added grit and staying power to our team and lets be honest we were much further up the league than we are now , and I guess we will not finish as high up the league as last year either.

    To be fair NW does try options ,and is the right man for the right moment, ifvwe gad stayed with either OGS and Trollope if we would have been relegated, so a thanks is due to both Slade and NW.

    We will limp over the line this year,however with some positives, Gunnersons from, Zhores progress, good signings in Holiett and Sol Bamba

  3. Russell says:

    Oh I must stop typing whilst consuming good brandy.

  4. The other Bob Wilson says:

    Thanks to you and Barry for your comments Russell.
    I think you know by now that I’m no fan of Russell Slade, but I agree that, with much the same set of defenders as this season, we did have more “grit and staying power” to us last season. Slade has to be given some credit for this, but I believe that the loss of a keeper who has the full respect and trust of all of those defenders (David Marshall was also a captain who led by example as well) is the bigger reason why we have declined so much at the back – letting a deputy who was better than any keeper currently at the club didn’t help matters either.
    Barry, while I’m not a great fan of the way we are playing the game these days. I’ll concede that we are more watchable team than we’ve been for a while. Unfortunately, I don’t share your optimism about Warnock being able to sort out our defence unless he can come up with the adequate replacement for Marshall we did not get during the summer and organiser/leader in defence or midfield. I had hoped the clean sheet we got against Brighton would provide the confidence booster our defence needed, but, if anything, we’ve got worse since then – hopefully having Bamba back will improve things a bit.

  5. Barry Cole says:

    Paul you are correct about the goalkeeping position and it has a great impact on the defence but I have always worried about the lack of stopping crosses. In bamba we seem to have found a good option should the crosses come in but I have had doubts about Morrison from the word go. That said he is far more influential at the other end of the pitch. The MamBam partnership should have been tested and maybe will be this week but I can’t see it being long term. Connolly is the other option but all of these need a goalkeeper that they can trust to get them out of the occasional mistake which Marshall tended to do.
    Don’t get me going about slade as he had Marshall to thank for a lot of his results last year. Charlton found him out very quickly and now Coventry are likely to be relegated.
    And back to the boys, Brighton unbeaten in 17 games so it’s time for them to suffer a defeat. Watching the QPR game we have a good chance but we had better get into them a lot early than we have against Barnsley and Brentford

  6. BJA says:

    In 12 games under NW, we have let in 19 goals, the same number that we conceded in the 11 games under PT. And as we all seem to agree, herein lies the City’s problem. Many different combinations have so far been tried by both Managers this year, and with only a couple of clean sheets, it is quite difficult to determine which players actually constitute our best defence.
    In my view, Peltier is a better right back than Connolly, but he is not a left back. Bennett is probably my preferred option at left back, but if he goes on a charge upfield, someone must be delegated to cover that position. And in the middle, it surely must be Bruno and Bamba – so no Morrison.
    And why oh why did we sell both goalkeepers we had on our books early in August. Amos is not bad, but clearly does not command his area, and that must put doubt in all of defend in front of him. Murphy seems to have had a good game against Brentford, but on the assumption that he plays against Brighton, there attacking play should be a good test.
    So I well understand the criticism that NW has made of our current lot in defence, and I agree with everyone who makes the comment that it is not physical fitness that is the problem, it is a mental awareness of what is going on around them that causes us to leak so many goals in the last ten minutes of matches. Just how NW is able to make the players to be more alert in the future to situations of the sort that opponents developed in the final minutes of our last two matches is a major concern as by now he really should have got this message across. And his rhetoric in post match comments acknowledges the problem, but there is no defensive improvement.
    As Paul indicates, we have ‘lost’ so many points late on that has cost us a mid table position. This being the case, I just wonder what defensive newcomers we may expect in January. ( Unfortunately, the Hearts full back will now not be one of them following his injury earlier in the week ). A goalkeeper – perhaps, central defender – if Bruno goes, left back – again perhaps. Do we have the funds for such replacements, or is it a loan situation? But what about the rest of the team – there is certainly a need to reinforce the midfield.
    Watching football on TV these days, I am more than aware of the need for pace and mobility around the pitch. Most teams have more than ourselves, and if other positions are to be strengthened, then I hope our Management team will look for players that have those attributes.
    I’m delighted that young Ken has opened his account – and believe he is well worth a decent run in the team. the through ball that Ralls provided him with for his goal is the sort of pass that has been lacking this year. More of the same please.
    The next two games are so important – I’ll take two draws now.

  7. Dai Woosnam says:

    Thanks, Paul.
    Yes it is right BJA that you praise Joe Ralls for what should have been a matchwinning pass, but I also note that although you allude to Bennett’s propensity to go walkabout, you refrain from NAILING him for his culpability in that second equaliser.
    And nail him we must.

    Just watch this clip and see his sudden panic as the ball is crossed from the Brentford left to their right, and Bennett realised he had been dreaming and not marking his man.
    Dear me! An elementary mistake, from a player probably on £15-20K a week !!

    Good to see Sean Morrison essentially take a dive when touched though. Leeds only won that game at CCS because their manager was much the more streetwise on the day! He got in the ear of the 4th official, the 4th official tells the ref he is being screamed at for a penalty…and then two minutes later when Connolly puts his hands on their big blond central defender, it is in the ref’s head to blow his whistle.

    Gary Monk’s current winning streak can almost be pinpointed to that moment…our Paul Trollope was too much of a gent, alas, to ever engage in such histrionics.
    And paid for it with his P45.

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