Another win, but does anyone really think we are watching a Play Off team in action?

CoymayWith City 2-0 up at half time in last night’s game with Brentford, I asked what would the odds be on them having to settle for a 2-2 draw for the third successive home match, despite having been a couple of goals in front at one stage?

I got a one word answer – “astronomical”. I half agreed with that assessment. In pure statistical terms, the odds on the same, relatively rare, thing happening three times in succession must have been huge, but, when you considered the effect on the psyche of both players and management of seeing four points quickly melt away like snow in the sun must have had, I believed the odds weren’t as long as my mate did.

In the event, he was proved right and my misgivings didn’t quite come to fruition, but what a close run thing it turned out to be in the end! Sure enough, just as against Burnley and Sheffield Wednesday, the two goal cushion was lost, but, this time, the game provided a fifth one in added time as Kenwyne Jones slid in the winner after sub Scott Malone sent the recalled Fabio into space and the full back, who often fails to deliver from promising crossing positions, put over the perfect low ball that the striker was able to nudge home.

So, all’s well that ends well then? Well, maybe – my immediate comment as Jones’ shot hit the net was “lucky bastards”. This was aimed at everyone on the footballing side of the club, but, when you think about it, it probably applied just as much to the money men as well because I dread to think what the consequences of a third giveaway would have been in terms of our crowds for upcoming home matches. As it was, last night’s attendance of 12,729 was comfortably our lowest league gate of the campaign so far, despite a bigger turn out of away fans than I was expecting.

Having now had a few hours to further consider it, was that two word verdict on manager and team a fair one? My honest answer is, I don’t rightfully know – there are what I believe to be valid arguments either way and I’ll be going into them shortly, but one thing I am adamant about is that this manager and his side do not seem to have it in them to put together a truly convincing 90 minute performance.

So, why should this be? Well, if you believe ex City player and current day media pundit Nathan Blake, there are at least two reasons for this – first, the team, both individually and collectively, is not fit enough and, second, Russell Slade is unable or unwilling to take steps to counter tactical changes made by opposing managers.

On that second issue, it was mentioned on this week’s Blakey’s Boot Room show that a friend of Nathan’s who has been involved on the managerial/coaching side of the game had told him that he had come up against Russell Slade sides three or four times in the lower divisions and there was a definite feeling that he could be thrown by a switch in formation and tactical approach by his opponents.

That’s the opinion of one ex City player and when I listened to another one, Ian Walsh, discussing last night’s match with another former Wales striker, Iwan Roberts, the word “character” cropped up frequently – essentially, they were more sympathetic towards our manager and looked more towards a set of players who they thought should have shown more in terms of leadership and responsibility.

Tony Watt after scoring the, slightly fortunate, goal which put us 1-0 up. Watt also impressively set up Kenwyne Jones' first goal and, for me, was a clear C ity man of the match - on the evidence so far, the hope has to be that a deal can be done with Charlton to make his loan deal a permanent one next month.*

Tony Watt after scoring the, slightly fortunate, goal which put us 1-0 up. Watt also impressively set up Kenwyne Jones’ first goal and, for me, was a clear City man of the match – on the evidence so far, the hope has to be that a deal can be done with Charlton to make his loan deal a permanent one next month.*

Having watched a portion of Russell Slade’s post match press conference though, it was interesting to see him referring to character (“backbone” was the word he used), but in a positive way. Understandably, our manager preferred to emphasise the positive elements he saw from the game and one of them was the way in which the team responded to the adversity which saw Brentford’s eighty sixth minute equaliser being greeted with widespread booing and chants of “you don’t know what you’re doing” (apparently, there were “sacked in the morning” and “Slade out” chants as well, but I didn’t hear them).

With only three minutes of time added on, the team had seven minutes to try and rescue a situation which, I believe, would have had a profound effect on our season and, possibly, the manager’s hold on his job if it had remained in place until the final whistle and I must say that their reaction was impressive.

Sammy Ameobi, introduced very late on for an erratic on the night Craig Noone, was only just wide with a shot a minute or so before Jones’ winner and this emphasises that, while I accept there may have been an element of Brentford sitting back a little content with what would have been an excellent point for them under the circumstances, the team did not feel sorry for themselves – they went chasing the winning goal and got a reward that they deserved over the ninety minutes.

Those final seven minutes also offered something of a counter argument to the charge that the players aren’t fit enough. Last season we scored a grand total of one goal (Conor McAleny’s 90th minute equaliser at Reading) in the last ten minutes of a match which directly influenced it’s outcome, whereas the winner last night means it’s happened five times already this season and we’ve gained eight points as a result – I’d say that it’s generally agreed that the team is fitter than it was last season (Nathan Blake has said this once or twice on his weekly show), but that’s an improvement from a very low base figure.

Interestingly, despite those who say it always happens to us whenever we are denied a win or a draw by a goal after the eighty minute mark, we have only been “mugged” by very late goals which cost us points on three occasions so far, with the loss of five points.

Apparently, our manager is a big stats man and those are quantifiable figures which can be used to counter any claims about our fitness levels. Speaking as someone who tends to favour hard facts over opinions, those are persuasive figures, but there always has to be a place for recognising what yours eyes are telling you and, just as on Saturday (but much less so against Burnley), there was that dip in performance from City starting around the fifty five /sixty minute mark which saw our opponents generally dominate for very large parts of the remainder of the match.

Now, my view is that our last two opponents looked quicker and stronger than us during the last third of the matches and so I do have questions as to the team’s ability to sustain acceptable fitness levels over a ninety minute period in recent matches. However, if we were to fully accept what those late goal stats tell us and say that our fade outs around the hour mark are not down to fitness issues, then it seems to me that things such as character and tactical thinking, both in terms of formations used and substitutions made, have to come into the equation don’t they?

Before developing that theme, now seems an appropriate time to say that it’s easy to lose sight of the good things we’ve seen in recent home matches in particular. In our last four matches at Cardiff City Stadium we’ve played sides in or around the promotion battle. We’ve dominated for the majority of the time in these games by playing enterprising and attacking football with the result that the entertainment level at home matches has improved immeasurably. Furthermore, just as on Saturday, we kept on attacking during the early stages of the stages of the second half, so that tends to give the lie to any theories about Slade telling the players to sit back and defend at half time.

So, there has been much that has been good in our last four home matches, but the truth as I see it is that we should have got twelve points from them and should now be one point away from fourth placed Hull before their game tonight, with the knowledge that, even if we were to lose at Birmingham on Friday, we would be in a Play Off position on Christmas Day.

Any highlights package of our last three home games which was put together in a fair minded way would show much more action in and around or opponent’s goalmouth than ours. Interestingly, the apparently comfortable Reading win would probably show a different picture because it would have to include the number of great saves David Marshall had to make over the ninety minutes, but, particularly in the last half an hour after we had, seemingly, made the match safe.

Therefore, I would argue that each of those last four home games has followed a broadly similar pattern of Cardiff dominance for an hour and then a back foot struggle after that.

While I can understand to some extent the theory I heard expressed last night that Kenwyne’s goal could be a pivotal moment in our season that will lead on to bigger and better things, I must say my view is more along the lines of why should a single, and rather fortunate given the way the game had developed, goal make the problems we have seen in recent home games disappear? If we keep on conceding two goals a game at home, we aren’t going to see too many wins between now and May.

For me, the feeling persists that we are not too far away at all from being a side that is capable of reaching the Play Offs, but last night we had a back five which includes Scotland’s current keeper, at least two players with captaincy experience during long careers at this level and another who has played in a Champions League Final. In midfield, we had someone who has captained their country to this summer’s European Championships and two others who know what it’s like to get promoted from this division. Up front we had a player who has scored the goal that beat Barcelona in a Champions League match and a striker with considerable Premier League and International experience who John Terry says is one of his toughest ever opponents.

Although some of our starting eleven last night are getting towards the autumn of their careers, it didn’t contain one player who you would say is obviously getting to a stage where they are going over the hill in terms of their career. So, isn’t it reasonable to think that we should be seeing better from them than what has become the familiar pattern from the hour mark onwards of the front two becoming isolated, with the midfield four sitting so deep that it’s hard to distinguish them from the back four?

None of our goals exactly ripped into the net last night, but they all count the same I suppose. Kenwyne Jones' first goal was bundled in at the second attempt and it out us 2-0 ahead - I've heard that that can be a dangerous scoreline for the team in front, but for Cardiff City, it's positively lethal!*

None of our goals exactly ripped into the net last night, but they all count the same I suppose. Kenwyne Jones’ first goal was bundled in at the second attempt and it put us 2-0 ahead – I’ve heard that that can be a dangerous scoreline for the team in front, but for Cardiff City, it’s positively lethal!*

Shouldn’t there be leaders out there who can see how we are making the same errors again and that we need to get back to having the clearly recognisable two banks of four that had been instrumental in enabling us to score the game’s first two goals?

In a way, I’m presupposing that our manager is not going to do anything about the deteriorating situation there. This may be a somewhat unfair judgment, but, let’s face it, it seems clear by now that with Russell Slade we are going to have two strikers, four midfield players in a fairly straight line across the pitch and a back four whatever happens – anything else seems like an extravagance he just won’t entertain!

Just as on Saturday, I found myself shaking my head at how our manager responded to changes by the opposition which increased their attacking options by taking off a striker who was causing that opposition plenty of problems and replacing him with another one who only made a deteriorating situation worse.

With the opposition having to leave themselves open to counter attacks, bringing on an extra centreback or reinforcing the midfield doesn’t have to be a purely defensive move, but I’m fast reaching the stage of acceptance that tactical flexibility is a term which just does not appear in the Russell Slade manual of football management.

In the replies on here to my piece on the Sheffield Wednesday match, a regular correspondent said;-

“As I predicted on his appointment, Mr Slade would not pull up any trees. And he has not. That said of course, there are many worse managers.”

That sounds about right to me. Our manager has always struggled to win over the City fanbase and it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that he is just plain useless. I don’t believe that – with just three more league fixtures to play in 2015, we have only lost eleven of forty three Championship fixtures played in the year while sixteen of them have been won, so Russell Slade must be getting a few things right.

However, although he has silenced my persistent criticism concerning the lack of entertainment on offer, the rigidity in his tactical approach and the lack of true belief in themselves shown by both him and his team brings about an overall mix which, for me, is not currently capable of producing the occasional complete ninety minute performances that mark out teams which are going to finish in the Championship’s top six.

*photos courtesy of





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9 Responses to Another win, but does anyone really think we are watching a Play Off team in action?

  1. During the Suez crisis nearly sixty years ago Nye Bevan denounced the government’s decision to send military forces to Egypt, and in particular the stated reasons of Anthony Eden, the prime minister, for doing so: “If Sir Anthony Eden is sincere in what he is saying, and he may be, then he is too stupid to be a prime minister.”

    I hesitate to use such an abusive epithet, but can it now levelled at some of Russell Slade’s decisions (or failure to make decisions) as a football manager?

    In the first half of yesterday’s game, for example, with Ralls no longer providing cover for the left back, Mr Slade didn’t seem to realise that Brentford were always threatening with a diagonal through ball to their right wing, or if he did realise, he apparently did nothing about it. There was certainly no “Reactolite” response to Brentford’s tactics.

    In the desperate moments half way through the second half he took off the excellent Tony Watt. I have no quarrel with this decision. By this time, however, Cardiff’s defence were at panic stations, kicking the ball anywhere only to see it come back with even more threat. Mr Slade’s response was to bring on a player who has neither the speed nor the positivity to make incisive forward runs, to chase down apparent “lost causes”, to challenge for high balls, to provide effective hold-up play, to put defenders under pressure, to hit the ball hard enough to threaten the goalkeeper on the one occasion it happened, et cetera. The manager, in other words, resurrected a forward partnership which has manifestly failed to produce either goals or excitement throughout the season, and which takes the strain off Cardiff defenders by harrying the opposition defenders.
    Surely he realised that this tactic was doomed?
    Mr Slade might have been totally sincere in thinking his substitution would be Cardiff’s best chance of surviving the game but – as someone who for months supported him out of a sense of fair play if nothing else – I cannot see the sense of it. To bring on another defender could well have been a better option, particularly since Cardiff were already under such pressure and had virtually disappeared as an attacking force. The substitution did not rectify this situation, and the Brentford goal we had all been anticipating came immediately. And then, of course, the second was deemed inevitable.
    In respect of defenders, one of the many disgruntled fans said to me afterwards that Cardiff would not bring on Manga because he has already been lined up for a transfer in January. And the fan, who said he came from the Bridgend area, added that many former supporters in that area would not start attending games again until Russell Slade was gone. Food for thought on two fronts?

  2. Dai Woosnam says:

    Wonderful report, Paul. You covered every avenue.
    Just a few comments from me.
    1. It really does have to be about fitness. Other teams are stronger…and despite our winner this time in injury time, they can last the course longer.
    2. Now, I have to say that an unfit Russell Slade team, is a bit of a puzzle to me. After all, I live in Grimsby, and our Penarth to your Cardiff, is a place called Cleethorpes*.
    And someone I know there who lives on the seafront, swears that Russell would regularly take his first team running along the beach a la the Chariots of Fire crowd on the beach of St Andrews.
    Mind you, our ex PE master pulled up no trees at Blundell Park either**…and then the thought occurs that the beach is flat: he maybe should have had them running up the gentle Lincolnshire Wolds.
    And so Russell should now get his Bluebirds running up the sand dunes of Merthyr Mawr.
    3. Only one thing you say in your fine report Paul, puzzled me.
    It was this.
    You say that our attack have had the majority of the goalmouth incidents in the past three games.
    Now, I do not doubt that is right re the first two. But if it was true last night also, then surely one stat really screams out at us, as being as peculiar as a third successive two-all home game, from a two-nil earlier advantage.
    Corners…Cardiff 0 – Brentford (wait for it …)

    …NINE !!!

    That must surely be a first? I mean for a team to have most of the goalmouth threat, yet lose a corner count, 9-0 ???!!!
    4. And re your reference to “astronomical odds”…remember I am old enough to have heard the Draw for the Third Round of the FA Cup three years in succession in the 1950s, and hear that the Bluebirds were drawn away to Leeds each time.
    Now the odds there, on that alone, were astronomical.
    But for each of the three Elland Road games to end Leeds 1 – Cardiff 2, well, it just has to be the most fantastic piece of statistical quirkiness of all time!

    *here is a daft Trivial Pursuit type question…”which football team play all their home games, away from home?”
    Answer: Grimsby Town …who play them all in Cleethorpes.
    ** True he got to the play-0ff final. But lost 0-1 to Cheltenham at The Millennium Stadium. And nobody remembers the losers.


  3. Stephen Fairhurst says:

    Watching last night wondering at times who were the home team as Brentford worked the ball around the edge of our box rather than us taking the game to them. Can to echo you words there was a definite lull in energy around the 60/70 minute mark but near the end the tempo was almost at manic pace giving the feeling why hadn’t this been done earlier in the game to get a third goal which everyone in the ground knew we should strive to get because of the previous 2-2 draws. The question that comes to my mind is it a master stroke by the manager to bring on Malone which allowed Fabio to make the forward run to get the cross in without exposing the defence and maybe allowing Brentford to get a third. There did seem to be not enough bodies at the back post area when Brentford scored earlier in the game. Or am I reading too much into it! To my mind we seem to have returned to over hitting the crosses, remembering one which flew over the heads of a few bodies in their box to be collected by Noone on the far right wing. I don’t think it was a pass as I think Noone had to chase after it. As I left the ground after the game I mused to myself that Slade should fill an Euromillions entry as his luck in also winning that might give us the money in January to keep Watt.

  4. Barry cole says:

    Well done again Paul but time is now important and having seen a tactally inept manager in full cry I cannot understand that he is still in place. My only assumption is that tan hasn’t found an excuse to save his face. Unless he does so quickly the team will not have any chance of getting promotion and certainly won’t stay in the top six.
    Looking at the team there is no doubt that we have the capability, what we don’t have is the manager.
    He seems to ignore any tactical moves from the opposition or he simply doesn’t see them and when he makes substitutions they are unbelievable.
    I don’t want to see him in place in January as it would be a waste of tans money should he buy players.
    In regard to tan he needs to take a good look at what he has created and if he really wants to see us in the premiership then he will have to be brave, bite the bullet, sack slade and see us over the remainder of the season and to promotion

  5. MIKE HOPE says:

    I am sure that fitness did play a part in our capitulations against Burnley and Sheff Wed .The fact that we have finished strongly in other games does not disprove this.We are talking about one team’s fitness in comparison with the opposition’s.I seem to recall that Burnley were rated the fittest team in the premier league last season.Some of Slade’s detractors are so hopelessly biased that they refuse to acknowledge any positives and will zoom in any negatives in your reports.If they had had their wish and seen Slade sacked a month or so ago I am sure they would now be praising the new manager for his exciting attacking football and for his astuteness in signing Tony Watt! I am not Slade’s biggest fan but he does not deserve the ridiculous comments coming from some.

  6. Dai Woosnam says:

    Mike Hope is the Voice of Common Sense here. What a beautifully reasoned posting, that was.

    Look nobody denies the right of every Cardiff City fan to voice an opinion, and I will defend to the death the right of someone to voice a view 100% antithetical to mine. But gee it gets depressing when a fine blog’s comment page starts to go some way to becoming an identical version of the usual WalesOnline comments section with its “Off with his head” clarion call, becoming the daily mantra.
    Of course, it is perfectly proper to discuss incompetent players. And therefore, ipso facto, it follows that incompetent MANAGERS are fair game too.
    So I have no problems, per se, with Mr Slade getting into our collective crosshairs.

    But, that said, I do not know what it is, but I have always been suspicious of mob behaviour.

    I mentioned in an earlier post, just how ridiculous Newcastle fans must feel now, when they see “The Eagles” flying so proudly.
    But I could have taken my pick really…

    Remember Everton fans a few months ago, arranging a plane to fly with a banner behind it saying “Martinez Out”?
    Seems to me that they are very happy with him all of a sudden.


  7. The other Bob Wilson says:

    Thanks for a series of replies which raise some interesting points.
    AMO, Russell Slade talked of him having to wheel and deal in the transfer market next month and so it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see some pretty significant departures when the window opens. As Manga is someone who has barely played this season, but is still a player who we could get a pretty big fee for, I would not be surprised if he was one of two or three first team squad members who could leave.
    As for our attendances, I think you are right, our manager is one of a few reasons why people have stopped going to games. That said, it’s a shame that these people haven’t got to see any of our last four home games, because, as Mike mentions, the brand of football being played now is so much more watchable than it was when they decided they had had enough – as it is, crowds are still going down despite the football being so much better than virtually anything served up at home by a Slade team during his first year in charge.
    Dai, I’m not sure where you got those corner figures from, I can remember Anthony Pilkington’s cry of anger within a second or two of him taking a corner right in front of me which was so overhit (more evidence of what Stephen says) that it went out of play for a throw in on the opposite side of the pitch – I can also remember Craig Noone taking a very good one in front of me. Brentford had a lot of corners in the second half and the 9-4 count in their favour on the BBC site seems about right to me, but the truth is that, apart from the one they scored from, we dealt with them pretty well, with Kenwyne Jones getting some strong clearances in on the near post. I believe that our shots at goal/shots on target figures of 16/8 compared to Brentford’s 10/4 is a more accurate reflection of the goalmouth activity during the game.
    You are right, the three wins in successive years at Leeds in the same round of the FA Cup and by the same score is a bigger coincidence than a third consecutive 2-2 home draw from being 2-0 up would have been, but, according to the statsman Richard Holt, City had never ever surrendered a two goal lead in successive home matches until Saturday, so it would have been pretty amazing for it to have happened a third time.
    Stephen, Alan Judge was in glorious isolation when he hit that shot which led to the Brentford equaliser. I wondered where Peltier, who I think has been one of our most consistent players this season, was (having now watched the highlights, he was drawn too far infield). It seems to be a modern thing for full backs to want to tuck in more centrally when the opposition have the ball in the centre of the pitch and I’m sure those who advocate it would have a logical excuse for why it happens, but I must say, I prefer full backs to be out marking their wingers.
    Mike, it’s a fair point regarding the fitness levels of the opposition compared to us. I don’t know where Russell Slade gets these figures from, but he says that, whereas we were the unfittest team in the division last season, we are eighth I think he said it was this year. I mentioned in my piece on the Burnley game that they have a history of scoring late goals to rescue points, so you may well be right about them being the fittest side in the Premier League last season, but the strange thing is that I thought Reading’s, Sheffield Wednesday’s and Brentford’s domination of the games last quarter was more pronounced than theirs was.
    Finally, we come to the varying opinions on our manager. The first thing I’d say is that I believe there are valid criticisms of Russell Slade to be made for the way he has reacted to his team starting to lose the control they had in our last three home matches. As I said in my piece, if the plan is to stick with 4-4-2 come what may (as has been the case in each of those matches), then you are a bit hamstrung as to what you can do to change things from the substitutes bench, but what I don’t get and cannot agree with is our manager’s apparent dictat that the formation must not be changed. So, I think there is nothing wrong with criticising Russell Slade there.
    However, my feelings towards our manager have softened a bit since going to home games has become something I look forward to doing again. Mike also mentions something that too many people (including myself at times) ignore and that is the tendency to concentrate entirely on the parts of games where we struggle.
    As someone said on a messageboard after the Brentford game, those who are constantly critical of our manager find plenty to talk about when it comes to about the sixty fifth minute onwards in our recent home matches, but appear to think the fact that we’ve managed to get 2-0 up by quite early in the second half of each of our last four home matches (something which barely happened at all in the first year of Russell Slade’s time in charge) to be some kind of coincidence or fluke which had nothing to do with our manager.
    As I mentioned yesterday, Russell Slade’s record in terms of wins to losses is too good for him to be as useless as his biggest critics make him out to be, the problem he has in my view is that he and others at the club have set the target for this season as a top six finish and I’m afraid that, based on what we’ve seen so far, I’m far from convinced that he, or his team, have it in them to cope when the pressure is really on in the spring.

  8. Dai Woosnam says:

    Paul, thanks as ever.
    You rightly ask where I got the “corner” stats from.
    The BBC SPORT website and their report on the game…which I read less than two hours after the final whistle.
    Looking at the match stats section, I rubbed my eyes at the time in disbelief…not so much at the more “possession” to the opponents stat, but at…

    9 corners to Brentford, and ZERO to the City…!!
    Hence me referring to it.
    And with it bearing the imprimatur of the BBC, supposing it was “gospel”.
    And guess what?
    Just before writing this response, I took a trip back to their site to check the report. And blow me…they have now mysteriously changed the zero into a FOUR.
    Interesting, eh?
    I wonder how often they do that?
    Maybe somebody complained.
    But trust me Paul…it is over 44 years, since my summer of LSD trips.
    No acid flashback at work, I promise you.
    And I have steered clear of hallucinogens ever since. (Well apart from a few too many bottles of Newcastle Brown Ale one night, circa 1978.)
    It really DID say zero corners.
    Thanks, btw, for the classy way you corrected me.

  9. I don’t know if this is a fair comment, but I have the feeling. without having actually noted it, that the Cardiff players did not rush in numbers and great enthusiasm to Kenwyne Jones when he scored his first goal – and as he has scored so few of late I have nothing really with which to compare the reception. What is obvious is that he did not celebrate with his trademark somersault when he scored his all-important second. It may be that the ground was too wet, or he was too tired, or whatever. At any rate, I could quite easily see him refusing to sign a new contract with Cardiff, due not only to the reduced wages on offer but to other factors. (Please keep all howls of protest to a civilised level). If this would clear the way for a dream strike-force of Saadi and Watt, so be it, provided a strategy is produced by the management to ensure they complement each other effectively – a strike-force which I think would get goals, encourage more attractive football, and provide welcome defending from the front which in turn would help our own defence and midfield. There, I’ve said it!

    PS. Saadi seems to be the forgotten man at the moment – but he has all the qualities which are so impressive in Tony Watt. With both in the team the infamous 4-4-2 could be a match winner, with the added bonus of allowing a more flexible type of game as and when required

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