Easy for me to say this now of course, but Cardiff City’s visit to Hull City last night worked out almost exactly as I thought it would. A look at my bank account would tell you that I don’t have some sort of special talent when it comes to predicting the outcome of football games, but, sometimes, all you need is a decent knowledge of the character and record of one of the teams taking part and it all becomes pretty easy – for me, everything pointed to a defeat by a one or two goal margin.
Hull are one of a group, which includes an absolute minimum of two other sides, who are unarguably better than us this season and they also have a formidable home record (ten of the thirteen sides to have visited the KC Stadium this season have left with nothing and only Derby have won there), but a look at our record on the grounds of the best sides in the Championship since we got relegated shows that they could have had a much less daunting record than that and the outcome would still have been the same.
Only at Watford in November 2014 have we defied the notion that we lose on the grounds of the real top sides in this league since we returned to it. When you look at our record this season, the draw in early October against a Brighton team who were flying at the time stands out as our best away result in terms of the league position of our opponents, but a lot has changed in the past three months or so and the defeat at Derby (one of the group of teams who are obviously better than us I mentioned in the first paragraph) is more indicative of what was always likely to happen last night.
We were beaten 2-0 at Derby in November in a game where we had little to offer apart from a dogged defence which kept the home side out for fifty five minutes, but there was only ever going to be one winner and last night had a similar feel to it, except that the home side’s superiority was even more clear cut.
The way the match was summed up by some of those who had seen it says so much about Cardiff City currently. For example, Steve Bruce described his side’s win as “comfortable”, the BBC called it “routine” in their match report and the Yorkshire Post said it was “stress-free” – only four words in total, but they tell you all you need to know about an evening where we were comfortably second best.
However, defeats at places like Hull and Derby are not the reason why our Play Off bid is floundering. Far more pertinent as to why, with four months of the season still to go, our campaign is in real danger of tailing off into nothingness like it did last year, is the way we let two of the sides who we are, supposedly, in the Play Off chase with (Burnley and Sheffield Wednesday) escape with a point after they were 2-0 down well into the second half and how we lost at places like Rotherham and MK Dons to goals in added time.
The stats from last night damn City when it comes to what they did in an attacking sense – according to the BBC, we had no goal attempts on target and just the one corner, while, quite remarkably, we, apparently, didn’t have one completed pass in the Hull penalty area.
However, the truth is that such feeble figures have become the norm since that match at Brighton I mentioned earlier. We have scored in just two of the eight away games we’ve played since then and sides of a lower quality than Derby and Hull (e.g. Ipswich, Preston, Leeds and Birmingham) have had few problems in recording a clean sheet when they entertained us.
So, there is plenty of evidence as to why last night’s outcome (both in terms of the result and the way the match panned out) should not have come as a surprise and yet, when you look outside of what I’ll call the Cardiff bubble, it seems that our team are rated much more highly than they are within it.
For example, Ian Holloway did an article for Sky Sports in which he predicted the outcome of eight of the games played in the Championship over the past two days and he had this to say about Hull v Cardiff;-
“Despite there being 11 points between these teams in the table, I think they’re actually quite closely matched. Cardiff are a striker away from really challenging the teams in the top-six. They create plenty of openings, but struggle in front of goal. It would take the pressure of their defence if they started scoring more regularly. I really rate Hull City – but it shows the respect I’ve got for Cardiff that I’m giving them a draw.”
Now, I can imagine City fans saying that’s just wacky old Ollie playing up to his media persona again, but the fact is that he got five of the eight results right and, if nothing else, he certainly knows plenty about the Championship.
I was puzzled as to why he rated us so highly and can only think that Mr Holloway is placing far too much credence on the 2-2 draw at QPR he watched us play back in August. We did play well that day and had a lot of chances, but, apart from that run of four home matches in November/December (which, increasingly, looks like some kind of mid season blip now), I’ve seen nothing which suggests we are a team that “create plenty of openings”.
I think it’s true to say that there is a view outside of the Cardiff bubble that we are doing okay and Russell Slade is doing a decent job. However, I believe that, even though you can sometimes be too close to something to keep your sense of perspective, this is an occasion where those closest to the action (maybe not the right word to use in relation to us!) do know better and, for the first time I believe, it appears that Mr Slade is in danger of losing his job.
Less than twenty four hours after the ignominious FA Cup defeat by Shrewsbury, this story appeared in the local press. It must be said that there is something of a covering all bases feel to the article with it’s line about Vincent Tan being likely to keep his manager in place until the end of the season, but I would say that the fact that the journalist concerned was prepared to go public with the piece suggests that his source at the club is as senior as he says it is.
Now, to me that strongly suggests that influential people, who possibly have Vincent Tan’s ear, within the club have decided enough is enough and are lobbying for a change of manager.
Even if the story is hopelessly wrong however, the fact is that it’s out there now and so it was always going to be the case that Russell Slade would have to answer questions about it in his post match press conference.
I found some of the answers Mr Slade gave to be both informative and revealing. For a start, he said “It’s time to roll our sleeves up and get it done”. Presumably, he was talking about making the Play Offs there, but the problem I have with that is the strong implication that he believes that it only needs more effort and hard work for us to make the top six.
Although I thought there were one or two who didn’t bust a gut on Sunday, I’ve always believed that lack of effort was one charge you could not direct at the squad this season – they are putting the hard work in, but it’s not enough, we need a cutting edge both in terms of creating chances and then putting them away.
While I’m aware of that adage which says “the more I pracrice, the better I get”, an approach like that can only take you so far in the areas being talked about here and, as our manager always talks about needing more pace and creativity when asked about his transfer window targets, it seems to me that he feels the same way.
With that story suggesting a lack of confidence, deriving from his hardly inspiring record when it comes to new signings, from some in Mr Slade’s ability to attract players who are capable of providing that cutting edge and our lack of incoming transfers so far, it may be that he won’t be given the chance to add to his squad. If that were the case, there’s nothing in his work at the club so far to suggest he has it in him to transform our season and so, from a logical, rather than emotional, standpoint, getting rid of him now begins to look the better option.
The other answer which took my eye was the one he gave when justifying himself against questions about his suitability as City manager. Mr Slade said;-
“I’ve done 750 games with a win ratio of around 39 per cent so it doesn’t mean I’m a mug. It means I’m capable and I still feel I’m capable of getting this team in the top six.”
I found that fascinating because I believe it says so much about Russell Slade and his thinking as a football manager. Firstly, there’s his use of statistics to try and justify himself – speaking as someone who regularly uses them on here, I’m not going to criticise our manager for relying on statistics as an aid to doing his job, but sometimes you get the feeling that his reliance can turn into over reliance.
Moving on to what he said, Wikipedia has his win percentage record as a bit lower than his “around 39″, but he’s right, those aren’t the figures of a mug, they are the figures of someone who wouldn’t have had to face up to too many relegations in what has been a long career in football management.
There is another side to the coin here though. Let’s be generous to Mr Slade and turn his around 39 per cent winning rate into one of 40 per cent and then analyse where that takes us.
Winning two matches out of every five over a forty six game season gets you 54 points most years with the occasional 57 point campaign thrown in for good measure. Either way, to back up those eighteen or nineteen victories, you would need getting on for the same number of draws most years to make it into the top six.
The fact that our manager doesn’t have promotion seasons, which could possibly lead to his overall figures being distorted somewhat, works as a plus in some ways because it backs up the notion that he is “a safe pair of hands”. However, speaking for myself, I find it pretty amazing that someone who has been able to forge a twenty two year career for himself in Football League management does not have a single promotion on his CV.
When you look at a 40 per cent win ratio for a manager who has never taken a side up, you get Russell Slade’s career down to a tee – you get the occasional unsuccessful Play Off campaign and,as mentioned earlier, you don’t get many relegations.
It’s a record which suggests diligence rather than inspiration, it’s a record which suggests plenty of seasons like the one with a record of won sixteen, drawn fourteen and lost sixteen we had last year. It’s a record of someone who is, to use his own word, “capable”.
However, if those who run the club and tell us that the goal is still promotion, with the target for this season being a top six finish are being truthful, then it’s certainly not, and never was, suggestive of someone who can attain these targets (particularly at a higher level which he had barely any previous experience of).
I’d like to think that even his harshest critics would accept that Russell Slade had a hell of a job on his hands when he took over at Cardiff. Many outside, and a few inside, the “Cardiff bubble” would probably argue that by maintaining our position while cutting the wage bill significantly, he’s done a good job here, but there seems to be a momentum growing which says that he should have done more and, as someone who has always felt he’d be here for some time yet, I’m now thinking for the first time that he may be gone soon.
I don’t think Russell Slade should be sacked because we lost at Hull – much better sides than us (e.g. Middlesbrough to the tune of 3-0) have done that this season. However, as so often under this manager, the manner of our losing rankles and I’m afraid that selection and “tactical masterclass” against Shrewsbury means that I can no longer look at his record in terms of wins against losses at Cardiff and say it doesn’t merit him getting the sack – I now think it’s best for all concerned that he goes now if the goal truly is a top six finish this season.
*photos courtesy of http://www.yorkshirepost.co.uk/