The jacks finished the season halfway up the old Fourth Division and baffled as to why there was such a huge contrast between their performances at the Vetch Field and in their away games as they visited places like Workington, Southport and Stockport.
Their manager at the time Harry Griffiths was at a loss to explain how a team that were blowing away sides at home would become so timid on their travels and, having done some checking, it’s easy to see why he was so frustrated.
Swansea scored fifty one times in winning fourteen and losing just one of their twenty three home matches, but there were only two wins to go with fourteen defeats in away games with a paltry fifteen goals scored.
Swansea in 75/76 is just one example of a problem that tends to afflict at least one team every season and the concern for Cardiff City fans after another feeble away performance in losing 1-0 at Millwall, is that this season there are increasing signs that their team might be the Championship’s number one soft touch away from home.
Having been able to watch (or should that be endure?) six out of our seven away games so far, I suppose it could be argued that there has been an improvement of sorts in the last two of them. Unlike at Blackburn, Wolves, Fulham and Derby, it didn’t look like we could collapse at any time and end up being on the end of a thrashing at Blackpool and Millwall.
However, it wouldn’t have escaped the attention of many of our supporters that we were up against a side who had not won all season and another that had not won in eight in these matches. When all three of your away defeats have been by 1-0, there will be some bemoaning of your side’s luck, but two of them have come in exactly the sort of game where a potential top six team would be expected to make their alleged superiority count.
Sadly, just like Blackpool before them, Millwall wanted the win more than we did and yet this is the same bunch of players who have recovered from a trio of bad results at home by beating a Sheffield Wednesday side that was defending an unbeaten away record, a Forest team that hadn’t lost a game and an Ipswich who scored first while being unbeaten in eight.
Millwall manager Ian Holloway referred both before and after yesterday’s game to the pressure Russell Slade is under because of the high expectations at Cardiff. Yet, with the transfer spending seen since summer 2013 and the current wage budget at the club, I think it’s reasonable for the man who is bankrolling the whole thing and the fans who spend hard earned cash to watch their side to expect a lot more than we’ve seen so far.
There’s a trend developing here I’m afraid – despite our continuing inability to keep clean sheets, we are quite good defensively away from home, but five goals from seven games is a woeful figure for a team that was supposed to have a potent strike force following Ole’s summer spending.
While questions still remain about our midfield on all sorts of levels, it has to be said that our army of strikers do not look quite as good now as they did back in June when they didn’t have to play football – Nicky Maynard is making little impact, his misses yesterday showed that Adam LeFondre is still struggling in front of goal, Federico Macheda still does not convince, Kenwyne Jones is too static and Javi Guerra seems to be on his way out of the club.
Meanwhile, leaving Jones aside for now, Joe Mason, who looked such a great prospect for us back in 2011/12, and Rhys Healey, who has shown himself to be a very good finisher at Under 21 level, have both scored as many league goals as the other four put together in their loan spells at Bolton and Colchester respectively.
With our defence doing a so so job, our midfield looking very ordinary and, Jones apart, our strikers not scoring on our travels, a pattern is emerging in City away games and it is one which needs to be addressed and sorted out as soon as possible if we are going to come close to mounting the bid for a Play Off place that I’m guessing is seen as a minimum requirement by Vincent Tan.
It’s possible that upcoming opponents in away games (particularly of the type we have faced in our last two and will do in our next two) might have looked at our squad and our wage bill and felt a bit intimidated at one time. However, they now know that if they play typical Championship football (i.e. put the effort in) and score once against a team that doesn’t do clean sheets, then they are very unlikely to lose and there’s a good chance they’ll win given our lack of firepower on other team’s grounds.
Taken in isolation, 1-0 defeats at places like Blackpool and Millwall go with the territory in a league like the Championship – the one about anyone being able to beat anyone else in this division may be a cliché, but it doesn’t make it any less true.
However, where are those times in away games that you used to get with Cardiff sides of the recent past at this level when you felt the team was in control? There have been the odd few minutes here and there where that has happened this season, but the overwhelming impression I get is of a side that is almost constantly under pressure and struggling for both inspiration and confidence.
So, Russell Slade’s first away game in charge turned out to be as fruitless and flat as the ones under Ole and Gabbidon/Young. Predictably, our manager looked for positives after the match and subsequent results tended to support the view that this defeat had not done any great harm to our cause as the Championship lived up to it’s reputation as a barmy league.
While Bournemouth managing to score almost twice as many away goals as we’ve managed all season in their 8-0 win at Birmingham took the headlines, only Wolves out of the top six yesterday morning won – we just dropped one place and are still only four points off sixth position.
None of this changes the fact though that we have to get out of the routine that was bemusing Harry Griffiths nearly forty years ago. I’ve seen it said that we suffered yesterday because of the effects of playing three matches in eight days. I daresay there is an element of truth in this (after all, Russell Slade has identified a lack of fitness as one of the things he is working on to put right), but, for me, the problems we have in away games are at least as much psychological as they are physical – the belief seems to drain out of us as soon as we leave South Wales.
* pictures courtesy of http://www.walesonline.co.uk/