Better, but………………..

Coymaydespite a selection which, I daresay, pleased far more supporters than the one at Swansea did and a switch to the 4-4-2 formation which had been called for all season long by some, Cardiff City’s home goalless stalemate with Aston Villa last night leaves them closer to relegation this morning than they were before kick off yesterday.

It’s probably fair to say that with just four defeats in thirteen away matches now, Villa were the toughest of the five opponents we had before the end of the season in what were being called winnable home games, but, even so, a draw last night has, surely, to be viewed as another two points dropped rather than one gained.

Yet, at half time I thought there were genuine grounds for optimism that we were on our way to a second successive home win – we hadn’t made the what was becoming traditional bad start to a game under Ole Gunnar Solskjær and, if dominated would have been too strong a word to use, had been the better side with the Villa woodwork being hit twice in a thirty second spell and  a goal, correctly, disallowed along with some bright and, at times, vibrant football that had the visitors on the back foot for long spells with Brad Guzan undoubtedly being the busier keeper.

It’s almost goes without saying that we had yet another obvious looking penalty shout turned down, as, just as he did when he was here for the Sunderland match, Chris Foy chose to ignore a blatant foul on a City striker which he would surely have given if it had taken place outside the penalty area. This time it was a Nathan Baker foul on Kenwyne Jones that got added to the long, long list of strong penalty claims which we’ve had turned down and it would be very informative to hear why the officials involved didn’t consider them to be fouls or handballs. It needs to be said as well mind, that, as well as being the only side in the league not to be given a penalty this season, we have not had one given against us either and there have been a few times when I’ve thought they should have been.

Kenwyne Jones in action with Villa defender Joe Bennett - like a number of Ciuty players, he seems to have turning in a ninety minute performance.

Kenwyne Jones in action with Villa defender Joe Bennett – like a number of City players, he seems to have trouble turning in a ninety minute performance.*

Amazingly, given the stick he’s had down the years from City fans over that Leeds match, Mark Clattenburg’s refereeing in games he’s taken involving us has been of a consistently higher standard than any other of his so called “elite” colleagues and  one thing I won’t miss if we go down are the officials who seem to believe someone has to commit actual bodily harm on an opponent or pick the ball up and walk with it under their arm for ten yards before they point to the penalty spot!

So, forty five minutes in and things were looking good – embarrassingly, we still had just the one goal to show for the twelve first halves where we have attacked the Family Stand this season, but our reputation as a second half team left definite grounds for optimism. Unfortunately, however, it soon became clear that, although the eventual result wasn’t as damaging as Saturday’s, we were experiencing a Swansea type second half fade out.

I didn’t spot anything that Paul Lambert did tactically to explain why it was now Villa, not City, who were forcing the issue, but force it they certainly were and if a draw was probably the right outcome over the ninety minutes, I’d say that by the end of the game it was Villa who were more justified in wondering how they didn’t end up with the three points.

Quite why they didn’t came down primarily to two more magnificent David Marshall saves, with the one he made from Andreas Weimann in added time being the best seen from him this season in my opinion. However, Marshall couldn’t have kept Villa out by himself and there was also some very good centreback play for City fans to applaud.

Steven Caulker and Ben Turner have both struggled in the past couple of months with the latter in particular looking drained of confidence at Swansea where, very unusually for him, he was found wanting when dealing with a dead ball situation for the jacks’ third goal. Many expected Turner to be dropped for last night’s match, but, in adversity, he showed the character and commitment that City are going to need in spades over the next three months. I was going to say that Turner was back to his form of the autumn when his blood and thunder approach combined with Caulker’s more interception based game looked like a very effective combination at this level, but, with a couple of clever short passes thrown in as well, it was actually better than then because his distribution was of a higher standard.

After a less than convincing forty five minutes at Bolton in his first full appearance for the club, Magnus Wolff Eikrem came on as a replacement for Jordon Mutch for the last hour of the game and did better with some composed and, occasionally, incisive passing - I feel he should take confidence from what he did last night.*

After a less than convincing forty five minutes at Bolton in his first full appearance for the club, Magnus Wolff Eikrem came on as a replacement for Jordon Mutch for the last hour of the game and did better with some composed and, occasionally, incisive passing – I feel he should take confidence from what he did last night.*

With Caulker also stepping out from the back to give the pass which enabled Kevin Theophile-Catherine’s cross to provide our only worthwhile second half chance, City had a solidity down the middle which they have lacked in league matches under Ole until last night and, if the support from full back still wasn’t entirely convincing, Theophile-Catharine looked a more reliable defensive option than Fabio had done in his two matches and Declan John stuck to his guns well after a start in his duel with Mark Albrighton which suggested the teenager was going to be in for a very long night.

Overall then, it was much better from a defensive viewpoint, but I’m afraid that further forward it was a lot less convincing. Playing a pretty rigid 4-4-2 like City did does increase the workload on the midfield quartet and with three of them suffering second half fade outs (Zaha, and after fine first halfs, Noone and Medel) which I think went some way to explaining the turn of tide after the break, I can’t help thinking that a fluid 4-5-1/4-3-3 is the better option. I say this for two reasons, first to give some more help to the midfield and, second, we lack the predatory striker who can consistently score from the opportunities provided by the target man playing alongside him.

That said, speaking as someone who has been consistently blaming our midfield fives for not creating enough chances for our strikers, I accept that this is by no means a straightforward matter with consideration also having to be given to who is fit and available for the Hull match – Craig Bellamy may have been a little harshly treated, but he’s got no one to blame but himself for his suspension and Ole didn’t sound too confident about Jordon Mutch’s injury in his post match interview, so it could be that people like Whittingham, Kimbo, Gunnarsson and Cowie might come back into contention.

Whatever formation we play though, it’s now just three home matches in thirteen in which we have scored the first goal, while, if we maintain our current rate of scoring, we are going to end up with something like twenty six to twenty eight league goals scored in the season. I’ve not looked it up, but I’m pretty sure that a total in that range would represent a club record low for league goals scored in a season – there is absolutely no way I can see us staying up if that happens.

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

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5 Responses to Better, but………………..

  1. Derek O'Brien says:

    Genuinely wanted you to win last night, don’t want to see you go down, pity about Bellamy who was great on Saturday and caused us lots of problems and he has always praised us for the quality of our football. Good luck for rest of season.
    Swansea jack

  2. Dai Woosnam says:

    Thanks, Paul for so clearly “telling it like it is”.
    The trapdoor is beginning to open now. And City would have been a step nearer the drop if it was not for David Marshall last night. Your recent article in The Echo singing his praises, proved prescient, eh?
    I do not see a better goalkeeper in the Premiership. And were it not for his curious over-reliance on his wall when it came to saving free-kicks, I would put him as the CLEAR best.
    One City fan I know, yesterday said to me the following: “it won’t be the end of the world if we go down. We can come back stronger”.
    I asked him to breathe his words back in.
    And after a suitable pause for him to realise the folly of his words, I laid it on him.
    “I remember saying those identical daft words myself …
    …in April 1962.”
    And then reminded that it took half a CENTURY to come back! And back from a journey to hell, with 9-0 league defeats at Preston and 0-5 at HOME to Maidstone along the way. And a game or three at 91st in the pyramid!
    Ole must do everything to avoid the drop. Poison away teams’ lasagne …whatever it takes.
    And whether he performs a miracle or not, one thing is for sure: in the close season he must take the whole squad to the Hardangervidda Mountain Plateau, in Norway. They will carry their own personal tent, and provisions and they will encounter landscape tougher than Dartmoor, the Brecon Beacons and the Falklands combined. (Yomping the last-named did Phil Stant no harm, eh?)
    The Hardangervidda Mountain Plateau is WORLD famous for its yomping: people get sponsored to yomp it in the same way as they get sponsored to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. (Which come to think of it, we can maybe throw in as an extra task for the City squad, as the highest point on Hardangervidda is only about five and a half thousand feet.) But just covering the ground with heavy back packs will get City players fit. Hardangervidda is nearly 4 times the size of Dartmoor.)
    Look Paul, I know that all this will be anathema to you. We are different animals. (And long may the world be full of different opinions: it is what makes the world avoid boring uniformity.)
    You like your football played from the back. I like my football played from the front. You call my football Route One; I call yours Tip Tap. I liken your football to touch rugby: I prefer the real full-blooded thing.
    I would love to find the person who stole the phrase “the beautiful game” and applied it to Touch Soccer. It ain’t: it is the FRAUDULENT game.
    I realise that I am in a minority of one: that the Paul Abbandonato/Paul Evans view rules the roost in modern day thinking, But trust me BOTH Pauls: fashions change.
    And as GBS said “fashion is nothing more than an induced epidemic”. People cannot think for themselves any more.
    There will be people – not you in fairness – who will explain away City’s hopeless performances in the last 20 minutes of Premiership games these past 3 months, on NERVES or TACTICS.
    It is neither.
    It is a rank lack of physical fitness (says me who can hardly walk these days as I am so fat!)
    But then I am not paid £30K a week. Were I, then I would make sure I was fit. I would be ashamed if I was not.
    It is de rigueur these days to laugh at that wise old football manager who allegedly never let the players even SEE a ball in their training. He reckoned that this way, they would want the ball more on a Saturday afternoon!
    I often wonder if that was not apocryphal. I am fairly sure it was. Because ball skills are vital.
    But the pendulum has swung too far the other way. And it is time to GET FIT.
    Vincent … if you cannot afford a flight for the squad to Kilimanjaro as an extra, there is always the sand dunes at Merthyr Mawr just down the road from The Vale !!
    Keep up the good work Paul. I love your blog. Not just because you always come up with a very balanced and well-written report, but also because you have the magnanimity to allow me to express my antediluvian views unedited!

    Kindest,
    Dai

  3. The other Bob Wilson says:

    Thanks Derek. On Saturday, I thought a few of our players threw the towel in and we undoubtedly looked like a relegation side – I listened to the last few minutes of the game on Radio Wales and was a bit surprised to hear a few “the old Swansea are back” comments. I’m not having a go here because you were well worth the win and, in the end, I couldn’t complain about the margin of victory, but I think you need to get results against other sides before such claims will be justified – either way though, I think you’ve got enough going for you to stay up.

    As for us, I don’t think anyone can criticise the team’s attitude last night, but the creative ability and cool thinking in attacking positions we have lacked virtually all season were missing again. A clean sheet (at long last) offers some hope because, despite our new manager’s more attacking approach, I just don’t see where the goals are going to come from – we need to win games 1-0 because we aren’t going to win many, if any, of our remaining matches 3-2, so keeping a clean sheet was a small step in the right direction.

  4. The other Bob Wilson says:

    Thanks for the reply Dai. I agree with what you say on one count and disagree with you on another one.

    I’m with you completely about staying up – you only have to look at how hard Bolton (who so many were tipping to go straight back up about eighteen months) are finding it for your proof that it wouldn’t be a doddle for us. Just because we were largely successful during our decade in the Championship from 2003, it doesn’t automatically follow that we will be in 2014/15. In fact, given that Tan has not come through yet with the promised debt to equity conversion (which is also required under Financial fair play rules at UEFA apparently) and the domestic Financial fair play rules limits how much sides can spend on transfers in the Championship, I would say that, as the club is now, it is more likely to struggle than challenge for another promotion if we go down.

    As for your other point about fitness, it would have been more accurate to say I agree with some of it, but not all of it. The last three matches have seen us struggle for the last thirty minutes against Norwich and the last forty five against Swansea and Villa and I put much of this down to the fact that a lot of our players don’t look match fit. For me, Zaha, Noone (who, seemingly, is carrying an injury) and Jones fell into that category, while Mutch seems to be prey to minor injuries which may explain why he so often fails to make it past the hour mark when he starts – Gary Medel also seemed to struggle in the second half last night. While match fitness should follow with more games for some, I agree that fitness training should be something that more could be done on during pre season for 14/15.

    Where I differ from you is in your apparent contention that sides which play a passing game are not as fit as more direct teams. While I can see that a short passing game played well might see players having more time to get up the pitch when in possession than a long ball side, I would also say that if that team was planning to play a pressing game when the opposition have the ball (as so many do nowadays) then they would need to be very fit indeed.

    One last thing, I’d agree that a really well coached long ball team could make an impact in British football simply because hardly any one tries to play like Wimbledon used to these days and so teams wouldn’t be used to facing such tactics. If that side won a trophy or two I’m sure others would try to copy them and we might see a revival of the type of football you favour, but I don’t think we’d see too much of it being played these islands and a few other European countries – the long ball game has had little impact on major World and European tournaments in the time I’ve been watching football and I wouldn’t see that changing no matter how popular it became in the Premier Division or the Football League.

    Regards.

    Paul

  5. Dai Woosnam says:

    Thanks Paul. A very fair response.
    In fairness to me though – and if fat slob ME cannot be fair to me then who can?(!!) – I don’t think I said that Touch Football exponents were less fit than my Attack Attack brigade.
    For clearly Guardiola’s all-conquering Barca ream were as fit as they come, when vanquishing all-and-sundry with their pressing game, ensuring they quickly won the ball back, to keep it for the next 6 minutes solid.
    My problem is what happens in the 6 minutes they then have the ball. You and Paul Abbandonato DROOL* over them, as they make pass after pass in their little triangles, and eventually give it to Messi to put an end to the severe bout of triangularitis..
    I fall asleep, and tell people to wake me up when the game of football reappears.
    You are absolutely right that this is the football favored all over Europe. And you are right that my sort of football has won nowt in the past few decades.
    But once a national team DO adopt it, and win trophy after trophy, watch the rest of Europe follow suit.
    Most things in sport, theatre, cinema, literature are essentially IMITATIVE. Or like I put it in my earlier piece, and in the words of the great Ray Davies: because we’re “dedicated followers of FASHION”.
    Thanks again for your considered response. I applaud you for it.
    * the word was not used pejoratively. And yes I do realise it is not a full six minutes. It just feels like it.
    Kindest,
    Dai.

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