Well the system changed – those who have been crying out for us to start with the 4-4-2 formation we use at home got their wish, as the 4-5-1 (the source of all our away problems according to some) was ditched for last night’s 2-1 defeat at Bolton. Instead, the side that turned in what has been described as the most complete performance of the Malky Mackay era in demolishing Burnley last week were given the chance to show they were capable of putting their stamp on the game right from start in away matches as well.
Therein lies the problem though, because, once again, we showed that, although the wins at Cardiff City Stadium keep on stacking up, the confidence we should be gaining from all of those victories does not seem to travel with us when we go away. This may sound strange, but I thought the match was lost in the first half as much as it was in the second because we were unable, or unwilling, to grasp the opportunity that a nervy Bolton team, and crowd, were giving us. After about a quarter of an hour, I said to myself “they’re there for the taking if you just step things up a bit” – it only had to be a notch or two, but we didn’t, or couldn’t.
Instead, what we got was what has become a familiar first half performance from us in away matches. As the half time whistle blew I struggled to recall another shot on target apart from the one which had given us the lead, but it was mentioned by one of Sky’s team at the match that, on target or not, it was our only goalscoring effort of the first forty five minutes – I’m still trying to come up with anything we managed which proved them wrong. It wasn’t that we were just interested in parking the bus or anything – we weren’t exactly inviting Bolton on to us, but we just seemed happy to try and keep possession and hope something turned up.
Now, to be honest, I didn’t have any high expectations about last night’s match beforehand and I’d say that, overall, we deserved a point from a performance that was better than what we showed in our last three away games. However, rightly or wrongly, our attitude in the first half suggested that we believed Bolton would not improve after the break. I was wary about Bolton because I thought that, surely, the desire to make a positive impression in front of their new manager would be enough to make what many regard as the Championship’s best squad play to something like their potential. In the end though, all they needed to do was show what they were capable of for fifteen minutes or so and it proved too much for the brittle outfit that is 2012/13 Cardiff City when they play away from home.
It has taken us just seven matches to lose as many away games as we did in the whole of the regular season in 2011/12. Perhaps a side with the resilience and stubborness that the less talented outfit we had last season often showed on their travels would have coped with what Bolton threw at us during the middle third of the second half, but, although I’d say the back four we are using is our strongest one currently, it does lack a bit of pace and that seemed to me to be a factor when the home side stepped things up.
Therefore, we once again found ourselves in a position where we were chasing the game and, just as at Bristol and Forest, we finished the match with the home side having to defend desperately as we carved out the opportunities that we didn’t seem too bothered about creating in the first sixty minutes or so. Now I know that we can’t go playing throughout in the sort of gung ho fashion that we are being forced into in the closing stages of too many of our away games, but there has to be a happy medium surely between the two extremes we show at the beginning and end of these matches hasn’t there?
I believe that the basic approach to playing away hasn’t really changed since last season when what I believe is a predominantly negative approach worked – there may have been a few too many draws, but we didn’t fall away in the final third of last season because of our away results. There was nothing wrong with it in our first game at Brighton either where we returned with a good point, but I feel that letting in four at Bristol (who are in the process of proving that they are still a poor team at this level) in our second match planted seeds of doubt and it shows how much they have taken hold that, apart from the Millwall match, I’d say yesterday’s, pretty average, performance was our best away from home since then. The approach that worked last year isn’t this time around and I still feel Malky Mackay needs to be more positive in terms of selections and attitude if things are to change.
Of course, it needs to be said that the tone of this piece would be a lot different if the officials had done their jobs properly. I thought they were poor for both sides (Bolton had a perfectly good goal disallowed), but we suffered more from their ineptitude than the home side did. In disallowing an Aron Gunnarson goal, which he later admitted was a wrong decision, at Cardiff City Stadium last season in the game with Millwall, referee Tony Bates proved he isn’t a “homer”. I’m pretty sure though that the penalty he gave to Bolton would not have been awarded if the incident had happened at the other end of the pitch and, say, Joe Mason had collapsed as dramatically as N’Gog did – you only have to see the far more obvious penalty he didn’t award when Mark Hudson was blocked by Warnock in added time to realise that.
Blaming the ref is just missing the point though, we have lost more than half of our away matches and, with only two of our remaining five games this month being played at Cardiff City Stadium, the table will look a lot different going into December if we keep on with our timid approach away from home.
Just a few words to finish about three newcomers to the Cardiff City ranks. The vastly experienced Dick Bate has been appointed as Academy manager to replace Neil Ardley – those comments in the link by Aidy Boothroyd are some recommendation, but the Northampton manager is a long ball merchant and it has to be said that Howard Wilkinson and Colin Murphy also showed similar such tendencies at various times during their managerial careers, I hope, and assume, Mr Bate worked with those managers to provide a counter balance to their philosophy – the appointments he’s had with the FA tend to suggest that we won’t be seeing the Academy sides playing hoofball in the coming months! There have also been two additions to the playing ranks. Luke Coulson certainly looked a decent prospect in the Development squad match with Millwall last week and Ronnie Hawkins has had trials at Norwich and Ajax after being released by Tottenham in the summer – welcome to Cardiff City to all three of them.
* pictures courtesy of http://www.walesonline.co.uk/