Another huge injury list, another win.

Someone who lives more than a hundred miles away from Cardiff and who only tends to get to one home game a season asked me during the week just gone which of the upcoming televised matches (besides last night’s match with Hull, we are on Sky against Preston four days after Christmas and then on successive Saturdays in January with our matches against Sunderland and Sheffield Wednesday) I would recommend watching if he could only get a one day pass for Now TV.

It was a tough question to answer, but, solely because they were second best for goals scored and third worst for goals conceded in the Championship going in to this weekend’s fixtures, I opted for Hull – even if the result went wrong for City there would be plenty of action at either end of the pitch to keep him interested.

Well, I certainly got that one wrong! In terms of goalmouth incident, our 1-0 win must have been one of the least watchable matches of the season and I would have thought a neutral would have soon been searching for their remote control (I’m assuming that, like mine, that device has a regular habit of wandering away from the “safe” place it had been put in ten minutes earlier!) to change channels.

However, it’s only fair to put things into a bit of context and perspective. For a start, Hull were without eleven first team squad members because of injury in their 3-2 win over Brentford eight days ago and, with ex City man Fraizer Campbell one of two members of that side who missed out on the trip to Wales because of knocks picked up in that game and their replacements being players returning from injury, I presume the same applied last night.

Therefore, in terms of numbers, it seems Hull’s injury list rivals ours and so there were twenty plus players from both squads missing with knocks and ailments of varying degrees of seriousness.

When you reach a stage where so many of your players aren’t available, I would assume that you have to start including some who would not be considered as being fit enough to play under different circumstances. Certainly, that’s the impression I get from reading some of the Hull local media’s reaction to the game and I found it very significant that Lee Tomlin said that he hadn’t been feeling too well before the game in an interview carried out on the pitch after the final whistle and Neil Warnock told both his TV interviewer and then the assembled press that they didn’t know the half of it when it came to our injury situation.

Our manager said that, for the first time, he didn’t know what to expect from his team because, with so many injuries, it was something of a journey into the unknown for him.

This was most true when it came to the striking positions. Our manager had already laid the ground for what was happening elsewhere in the team by saying that the groin issue which forced captain Sean Morrison off at Reading would cause him to miss a few games over the holiday period and that both Aron Gunnarsson and Craig Bryson would be unlikely to feature against Hull. However, with Danny Ward having to have an operation on his knee and with injury a contributing factor towards Omar Bogle’s withdrawal last Monday, it seemed anyone’s guess as to who would lead the attack.

As has been the case for a number of seasons now, City do not have a prolific marksman in their ranks, but what they do have is a lot of players making their own goalscoring contributions – Sol Bamba’s header past ex City loanee keeper Alan McGregor was his third so far with the season not yet at its halfway point.*

I assumed Bogle would play and, failing that, Callum Paterson would be drafted in to start in a position he had played in for Hearts from time to time – what I wasn’t expecting was Anthony Pilkington to be brought in from the cold to make his first Championship appearance of the season.

Pilkington’s inclusion really did bring home just how desperate the situation was when you consider that the last of the intermittent appearances he has made for the Development team this season must have come at least six weeks ago. Pilkington, who was selected as a substitute at Reading, but was not there on the bench because he was suffering from a back spasm, is seriously lacking in match fitness and you have to think that Bogle, who replaced him for the last quarter of the game, must have been nowhere near one hundred per cent fit.

With Ward, Frederick Gounongbe and Kenneth Zohore all at different stages in their recovery from long term injuries, we are left with only Bogle as a specialist striker. There is better news on Zohore, because, although the club’s medical staff have been setting the FA Cup tie with Mansfield in three weeks time as the target for his first team return, the player himself has, apparently, been training well and believes he could be ready to play some part in our matches over Christmas – whenever he returns, our manager has talked about how, given our injury situation, Zohore will have to regain his match fitness while playing for the first team.

Further evidence of how badly we are hit in the striking area came with the announcement that Rhys Healey would be one of our substitutes, because I’d seen Healey play his first competitive game in eleven months in Tuesday’s Development team game with Palace and he was finding it hard going just a quarter of an hour into the match.

So, with Bruno Manga switching to centreback to replace Morrison and Lee Peltier coming in right back and none of the injury absentees recovering in time, the defence and midfield picked themselves really as Lee Tomlin started in place of Paterson.

So, with City blunted up front and their opponents a long way short of being able to pick their optimum attacking line up, it would have been unfair to have expected an attacking extravaganza and it didn’t take too long after kick off to start thinking that it was one of those matches destined to be decided by a single goal – thankfully, when it came it was scored in the right net!

One of the more surprising aspects of last Monday’s clash between the Championship’s arch passers (Reading) and the side often described as the division’s worst when it comes to passing the ball was how close the possession figures were. Sky had it at 50/50 and the BBC had Reading, who they reported as having seventy two per cent possession in yesterday’’s defeat at Ipswich, edging it at fifty two to forty eight.

Now, some of that was down to Reading probably surprising City by playing in a slightly more direct way so that the longer, more ambitious, passing played carried a higher risk of giving the ball away. However, taken in conjunction with what we saw against Hull, I think that it’s also true to say that, in the absence of a Zohore type targetman, City are adapting their approach slightly.

In fact, when we’re talking about last night’s game. I don’t have to add the qualification “I think” because Neil Warnock admitted afterwards that his team had to be less direct against a Hull side with a big pair of central defenders.

Here’s a quiz question which will keep your family and friends fascinated for hours over the coming holiday period – what is the connection between Queens Park Rangers, Millwall and Hull City? Answer, they are the only clubs that Cardiff City have played in their opening twenty two games this season that had less of the ball than them according to the BBC’s stats.

Yes, the possession stats worked out fifty two/forty eight in our favour! I point these possession figures out, not to try to start another debate on here about the contrasting playing approaches that are around these days, but to say that there is evidence growing, not much I grant you, that City have it in them to be better passing side than their stats might indicate – it’s just that they usually choose to play in a manner which places less emphasis on ball retention just for the sake of it.

The inclusion of a player like Tomlin would also make a change of style something at least worth contemplating and, from the early minutes City seemed intent on a more intricate approach in their attacking third.

I think it’s fair to say that Hull coped fairly comfortably with City’s early efforts to open up one of the Championship’s more porous defences – there were one or two episodes of play which had another disappointing Cardiff City Stadium crowd (especially in view of the cheaper tickets offer that was in place for the game) clearing their throats in anticipation of something to cheer, but the final pass would, hardly surprisingly given the unfamiliarity with each other of some of our attackers, go astray.

Not for the first time at home this season, City struggled in the first third of the game and while not enjoying the sort of control that sides like QPR, Sheffield Wednesday, Brentford and Norwich did, it was the visitors who were getting the shots in – I cannot remember one goal attempt from City in the first thirty minutes.

For a side with such a good scoring record, Hull seemed to be short of attacking ideas as well and what chances they did get tended to come from City mistakes. With Neil Etheridge not seeming too attuned to those around him, there were moments of uncertainty at the back, notably when the goalkeeper dropped a free kick and Michael Hector fired the resultant half chance wide, when the visitors opened up the left side of our defence way too easily and Nouha Dicho held off Bruno Manga before hitting the post from a tight angle and when Manga and the keeper went for the same high ball and almost presented Hull with another opportunity.

I always think it’s a good sign when all ten outfield players join in a goal celebration. Whether they are successful or not, you always hear managers and players talking about what a great spirit there is in the camp, but, in City’s case this season, there seems to be a lot of truth in it.*

While I am often critical of the dodgy periods City go through in almost all of our home games, it’s only right to say that it’s impressive how they find a way to come out of the other side of them and, that applied again last night as Hull faded as an attacking force and, while never truly dominant, City became the better of the two teams in the game’s last hour.

In my opinion, Lee Tomlin has taken over from Peter Whittingham as the City player who attracts the most debate. I thought he was pretty awful in the opening quarter last night and I’ve noticed before that he seems to struggle early on in matches or when he is first introduced as a sub. I often find myself thinking he looks off the pace, but that’s not what I mean here – Tomlin will always look off the pace, but that doesn’t stop him being very influential at times.

I suppose what I’m saying is that, for whatever reason, Tomlin takes longer than most to get into “match mode” and it cannot be a coincidence that City’s improvement began with him becoming more in touch with what was going on around him. As it turned out, every sniff of goal City had in the first half fell to Tomlin – Alan McGregor was forced into a routine first save of the night on his return to Cardiff City Stadium when the former Bristol City man hit a shot from the edge of the penalty area too close to the keeper after he was set up by Junior Hoilett, then the Scotland international saved from a similar distance after some lovely sleight of foot by Tomlin and finally the number ten who was actually wearing seven volleyed a similar type of shot to the one he scored at Reading over after further good work by Hoilett.

If their poor spells in the first half of games is a bad habit for City, one of their good ones is they often start second halves well. They weren’t quite able to repeat that this time, but they did manage to create the game’s best chance so far when Sol Bamba headed a Joe Ralls free kick powerfully across goal to Hoilett who nodded well wide from inside the six yard box when a goal looked certain.

However, they didn’t have to wait too long for the breakthrough as a quality cross from the left by Tomlin was glanced on by Pilkington to Bamba who headed powerfully past McGregor from five yards.

It was fitting that the three players involved all had big parts to play in City’s win but to different degrees – Tomlin had provided a very important moment in a game he had grown into, Pilkington had, hardly surprisingly, struggled, but he now had something to remember what will, almost certainly, be one of his last appearances for us by and, as for Bamba, well, where do you start?

Our stand in captain was, once again, immense for Cardiff City last night – if Neil Warnock is a totemic figure at the club off the pitch, then Sol is one on it. In the first half, he made a couple of slight mistakes, not serious ones, but ones in which he fell below the standards he sets for himself and it was instructive to see him berating himself – those incidents were a microcosm of what Bamba has brought to the club, he drives himself on to deliver better personal performances, but, more importantly, he is able to do the same with his team mates.

Strictly speaking though, the goal that decided the game should not have been allowed because television replays showed that Bamba was probably very slightly offside when Pilkington touched Tomlin’s cross.

We are talking fine margins here though. Hull’s new manager Nigel Adkins admitted that it was a very tough decision for the linesman to make, but said that Bamba’s feet were in front of the nearest Hull player. I’m not so sure about that, but it looked like a couple of parts of Bamba’s body were in an offside position.

The offside law is now a complicated affair which I believe makes in impossible for any linesman to not make the occasional mistake and that’s why I’d make their lives a little easier by limiting offside to where a player’s feet are only – that was how the law was applied when I was playing and I don’t see why it shouldn’t be the case now.

With forty seven points now from our twenty two games we are, arguably, better placed to get automatic promotion than we were five years ago at a comparable stage during our title winning season. Back then, Mark Hudson proved to be not only a very capable defender, but also someone who was a great influence as he led very much by example. Well, Bamba does the same as Hudson, but only better  and there was a similarity with 2012/13 in the way we defended our hard earned lead,

I’ve often said that one of the big differences between the title winners and the other good teams I’ve seen at the club down the years was that you felt so confident they could hold on to a one goal lead. There was no need for that other goal which would make the game safe, because, on most occasions, it was safe already – well, that’s how it felt last night.

Normally, when a City side is defending a 1-0 lead in the closing stages of a home game, the tension is palpable from all four sides of the ground. Last night from about the eightieth minute onwards, there was a rendition of the following;-

“Last Christmas, I gave you my heart
But the very next day you gave it away
This year, to save me from tears
I’ll give it to Sol Bamba”

to the tune of Wham’s Christmas hit from, I’m guessing, 1984 which lasted to the end of the game and grew progressively louder – I’ve heard differing comments on this new City song (we seriously need some)  ranging from embarrassing to brilliant. I thought it was great myself, but the biggest point about it for me was that perhaps the most remarkable thing about what has been a remarkable season up to now was that everyone felt so confident that a City side so decimated by injuries to important players were going to hang on to the three points.

Finally, I get the feeling that I’ve been criticising referees more than I usually do on here lately, so, to partially redress the balance, I’ll say that, although I was having a whinge about Scott Duncan not penalising Hull for any fouls in the first half an hour at the time, I agree with Neil Warnock when he said that he thought the ref was very good.

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

 

 

.

 

 

 

.

 

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

10 Responses to Another huge injury list, another win.

  1. Russell says:

    Thanks Paul for the write up , its was a game that had me thinking how far Hull had fallen , I wonder if either keeper and Campbell would rather be with us now , I’d take McGregor in a flash and perhaps Campbell.

    I liked our line up at the back ,with real full backs , andbManga /Bamba would be my first choice centre backs and Sol as captain , no critism of Morrison just think they have something more to offer.

    I like Peltier and he had a good game until his removal through injury ,hope he’s not out for long .

    City looked quicker and stronger to the Ball and provingbthey are a tough unit , Lange was very good once again.

    Pilks did well considering his long abscence from the first team , Tomlin for just doesnt look fit however he has great quick feet .

    I was really pleased to see the game out at one nil as you say though both sides put either keeper under pressure.

    Is the dream really on

  2. Matt N says:

    Hi Paul, hello again everyone.

    Thanks for your report – I agree that at no stage after our goal did I feel the slightest bit worried that the lead would be relinquished. I have to applaud the professionalism of the players drafted in to patch up our creaking team – can you imagine this happening pre- Warnock? Not likely! Too often you see players having a strop or crying off to the papers when they spend time on the sidelines, but all credit to Pilks, who has had a tough time, he didn’t shirk, even if the body wasn’t quite as able as the mind. If he is to go in January, and I don’t blame him, bit he has been on balance a good squad player, and last night was evidence of his temperament. Dodgy haircut though. I expect the same approach from Connolly if and when he is required.

    With Harris and Zohore due back soon, we will be strong again in the new year, so I have high hopes for 2018. I also read comments from Dalman that Warnock will have a few quid in the window to bolster the squad – it is rare to find value at that time of year but you would bet on Warnock finding it- particularly as now the Bluebirds are an attractive prospect, for the first time in a number of seasons!

    Seasons greetings to all contributors, and here’s to a point or three on Christmas eve…

  3. Anthony O'Brien says:

    Although I have no knowledge of Wham or of their song, I got the gist of what the crowd were singing yesterday evening to the extent that I could make out the name of Sol Bamba. And it was a delight to hear it and totally justified by Bamba’s performance, I hope the City version of the song becomes the norm.

    As for the game, like most of the fans I remained confident that Cardiff would be victorious. Although Etheridge gave us his customary heart-stopping moments, he generally did well. I think, however, that there is a problem when he kicks the ball from his hands (punting it). His dead-ball kicking is adequate, but his punts are sliced, swinging towards the right and going so high that our forwards are hard pressed to compete with tall defenders standing behind them. Etheridge should perhaps do what McGregor was doing — namely, drop-kick the ball. This would give it a lower and more direct trajectory helpful to our forwards.
    On another point, the lack of a long-throw participant yesterday meant that throw-ins were usually to feet and, at times, taken quickly. This avoided the choreographed and anticipated long-throw which has characterised Cardiff performances for so long, and thereby made for a more creative element in the way we played.
    Our corner-kicks are normally hurled into the area, as happened yesterday. It wasn’t a corner-kick, I know, that was back-headed on by Pilkington for Bamba to score, but it confirmed my belief that a foreshortened corner-kick which a Cardiff player could back-head across goal might be a tactic worth trying from time to time.
    Despite being out-jumped by towering defenders, Pilkington stuck to his task and showed a bravery and willingness to challenge for high balls. He also, as always, had exceptional intelligence in his movement off the ball, and again revealed that he is one of that very rare breed who can dribble with either foot.
    Finally, I want to mention Lee Tomlin. As our Blogmeister rightly points out, he started slowly but soon grew into the game. He showed very welcome signs of creativity, but what struck me most about him was his work-rate. For someone who is said to be not totally fit, he did remarkably well, and thoroughly deserved his double ovation when he left the field. Let’s hope there’s more to come from the team we all support.

  4. Jeff Blight says:

    Enjoyable summary again Paul. Not a classic game but its all about the points now.

    Results seemed to improve when Damour came back into the team. Don’t get me wrong, Bryson does a job but Damour compliments Ralls and we are a more resilient with him in the team.

    Can’t wait to have Zohore and Kadeem available.

  5. Clive Harry says:

    In view of the build up to last night I found the performance quite uplifting. The start was not surprisingly a bit ragged and we played like a team of strangers which to some extent we were. However, we stuck at it and turned into the TEAM that we are. To some extent, this mirrored Tomlin’s performance with a scruffy start blossoming into a classy display including a lovely cross for the goal. Obviously not match fit but so dangerous. Sol Bamba meanwhile was immense – where has he been the rest of his career?! Loved the fans singing to him as well. Finally, a word of praise for Anthony Pilkington who has had virtually no game time this season but whose attitude still looks impeccable, including when he has played for the Development team. It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas – every week!
    All the best Paul and blog readers.

  6. Phil says:

    Good report. I actually thought we played better than you suggested and it was a wider margin than 1-0 suggests.
    The returns from injury will be very welcome and as better as Ralls and Damour have become we still need that controlling and stronger general in the middle of the park. With such a man we will be genuine contenders.
    One comment. I’m sick to the back teeth of those fans who whine constantly about the size of crowds. The truth is in the last 4 years of in-fighting, poor and unsuccessful football and mismanagement throughout the club we have lost a generation of young fans who now have other things to amuse themselves. Their roots were never that deep as they were recent recruits to the fan base having been attracted during the excitement of the regular Wembley visits and promotion near misses of the Dave Jones and early Malky era. They’ve gone now and who can blame them.
    We may get some good crowds over Christmas and the hoped for promotion campaign to come but to sustain crowds over 25,000+ means several seasons of ongoing success and hopefully that means us becoming an established top flight team.
    When people ‘believe ‘ that Cardiff City is able to entertain and succeed on a regular basis they can hold up their heads as a fan amidst their peers who regard us as quite literally not in the same league as our Premier League rivals. It could happen but it will take years and in the meantime we will build crowds gradually just as we did in the late 00s.

  7. Mike Herbert says:

    Definitely Not a Great Game But: Great Result under the Circumstances….Excellent Teamwork….Superb Leadership from Sol and a Lovely Serenade from the Fans…And for supporters like me – who live so far away – Great News that we will get more TV games!

    Thanks again for writing such detailed and analytical reports. I think your idea of simplifying things for assistant refs is well worth considering but they do have to be looking at the whole player because of a possible foul/hand ball etc so concentrating on feet position might detract from that.

  8. Colin Phillips says:

    Thank you, Paul, due to illness I haven’t seen that many games live this season but did manage to get there on Saturday. I almost always agree with your views on most aspects of the games but I can’t agree with your view of the referee, I thought he was poor, the fact that he didn’t book a Hull player is beyond my belief. I suspect Warnock’s comment may have been a touch “tongue in cheek” after his sending off on Monday.

    Before I go any further I must admit the fact that I have no memory of Dicho hitting a post, brain fart probably. So that might detract from any further comment by me.

    When the players lined up formally before kick-off I was struck by the height of some of their players so I thought there would be more of an attempt by our side to keep it on the floor, playing it through midfield and giving the ball to Nathaniel and Junior to attack their full-backs but once again we saw Etheridge hitting long balls to their centre-backs, who towered over Pilks again a very frustrating evening for him. In fairness he never gave up and ironically had the satisfaction of getting his head to Tomlin’s cross to set up Bamba for the goal.

    As you say Captain Bamba was imperious and very well supported by Manga who looks much more comfortable as a centre-back rather than a full-back. The back four as a whole did well and Warnock will have a difficult decision to make when club captain Morrison is fit to play again. If we are still short of a striker at that time perhaps he can fit him in there. difficult to comment on the midfield as so often they were by-passed. Mendez-Lang and Hoilett didn’t get enough chances to do what they do best. I was disappointed in Tomlin in that I would have expected more from a man of his ability in the three good chances he had first half.

    I think the offside law should be rewritten, as it is it is expecting too much from the assistant referees, how can he possibly see the instant of the release of the pass and the position of the receiver of the ball at the same time, he does not know who is about to receive the ball. How should it be re-written? That’s a very good question. How about an out of season trial of having no offside – ain’t never going’ to ‘happen I know but it could be an interesting experiment.

    Once again thank you for the report, Paul, I am going to become very reliant on them as my condition deteriorates.

    Col

  9. The other Bob Wilson says:

    Afternoon everyone and thank you for your comments. Russell, I don’t like to say it for fear of jinxing things, but, yes, the dream is most certainly on because something like the form we saw after Neil Warnock’s appointment last season would get us to 87 points (the total we had when winning the title five years ago). That was a low figure to win the League with, both, if you look at third place finishes, I make it that there have only been four times in the last twenty seasons when the team finishing in that position has had eighty seven points or more.
    Martin, got to agree with you on the Pilkington haircut!
    Anthony, I agree completely about Etherington seeming to slice his kicks, but I would just qualify that by saying that I wonder if he is looking for the head of Mendez-Laing who is often taller than the player marking him? Even if he is though, you have to wonder if it is a sound policy for a couple of reasons – firstly, Mendez-Laing doesn’t strike me as being very good in the air and, second, even if he is trying to slice his kicks, there must be better ways of getting it to our right winger because the method Etheridge appears to favour strikes me as being a bot hit and miss.
    Jeff, I’ve got to agree with you about Bryson, we have played well with him in the team (e.g. Leeds), but Damour was also playing that night and, off the top of my head, I’d say he has been present in all of our best displays.
    Clive, for someone who has probably spent the majority of his career in the UK, it does seem amazing that Bamba hasn’t played any Premier League football as far as I’m aware.
    Good to hear from you Phil, but I’ll start by saying that although you argue your point well, I believe our crowds are disappointing this season. On the face it, just over 18,000 on the last but one Saturday before Christmas when the visiting team didn’t bring many fans with them is not that bad, but there were cheaper tickets for the game and I’d say it was reasonable to hope that 20,000 would have turned up when you consider there was seven thousand more than that there when prices were reduced for a televised match with Leeds earlier in the season.
    Mike, fair points about possible hand balls with the change to the offside law I was proposing – I do think it’s such a shame that a game where the rules were so simple to understand, now has an offside law that puts me in mind of the kind of gobbledygook you get from Rugby Union rule makers!
    Colin, if we had to go down the route of playing an emergency centre forward because of our injuries, I’d prefer it was Paterson, rather than Morrison who I’d have back in the central defence as soon as he has regained his fitness. One thing having no offside law would do is create far more space for skillful players in the middle of the park, especially if, as I suspect it would result in teams playing more defenders in anti of opponents picking one or two out and out goal hangers!
    Can I wish all those who make their own contribution to the Feedback section on here a Happy Christmas and Colin all of the best with regard to his illness.

  10. Russell says:

    Yes Merry Xmas all .

Comments are closed.