Bottom of the league, but some encouraging signs at least.

CoymayOnce we lost to West Ham it became almost inevitable that we would be bottom of the table going into February. United may not be the power they once were, but logic said that successive visits to Manchester in our remaining Premier League fixtures would see us remain on eighteen points while home games against Southampton and Stoke and Stoke and Hull respectively for Sunderland and Palace would see them get the one point they needed to see our worryingly poor goal difference consign us to last place.

Unfortunately, both of the sides below us yesterday morning did enough to move above us – Sunderland showed the spirit which earned them a point they should never have got at Cardiff City Stadium by again coming from a couple of goals down to earn a draw, while Palace edged a 1-0 win. The worst case scenario would see those two sides move a decent distance clear of us with further victories in their next match while we are at Old Trafford, but there would be a bonus of sorts involved because it would keep Stoke and Hull (both of whom have still to visit Cardiff) looking over their shoulders – it also needs to be said that Sunderland’s remaining away programme looks tougher than ours, while Palace’s fixtures next month should give us the opportunity to close up on them provided we do the business ourselves.

That though is the crux of the matter, Norwich’s win yesterday means that, with the exception of Swansea (who have the chance to change things today when they entertain Tottenham), all of the sides from Villa down have won at least one match since we last picked up three points – we can look at “winnable” home matches and a run of fixtures next month which offer the hope of climbing  a long way up the table, but our last two games at Cardiff City Stadium have seen us completely botch things up against the two teams currently on the same number of points as us. Because of this, I’d say we are now in a position whereby our rivals can afford the occasional home draw against sides around them in the table, whereas, unless or until, we can get back to the sort of position we enjoyed during the first half of the season, we need three points every time.

There are grounds for hope though. During the week I did some research regarding that well known stat that only one side which were bottom at Christmas have escaped relegation (West Brom in 04/05). You would have thought that sides which dropped to the foot of the table with less of the campaign left would stand a lower chance of climbing clear, but it’s not true. Besides the Baggies in Earnie’s first season with them, Oldham were bottom going into February in the Premier League’s first season in 92/93 and Wigan were two seasons ago and they both stayed up – furthermore, all three teams were propping up the league going into March as well.

An unusual view of Manchester Cuty's first goal - Kevin McNaughton was able to get back to hack Dezko's effort clear, but television pictures showed the ball was about a foot over the line.*

An unusual view of Manchester Cuty’s first goal – Kevin McNaughton was able to get back to hack Dezko’s effort clear, but television pictures showed the ball was about a foot over the line.*

Of course, far more often, the bottom team, is relegated, but there are those precedents which show this isn’t always the case and, in a season where the battle to beat the drop is as tightly contested as this one is, I’d said the chances of a team defying the odds are better than they’d normally be.

If history tells us we are far from doomed, then it also has to be said that our recent away performances have offered some hope as well. To be honest, I had virtually given up on us collecting any more away points after our defeat at Palace because I couldn’t see many games where we had a chance of avoiding defeat – Swansea maybe, West Brom possibly, Sunderland perhaps, but that was it. Don’t get me wrong, I still firmly believe that if we are going to stay up, then it’s going to be at Cardiff City Stadium where we turn in the performances and get the results which ensure it, but, while I have a tendency to focus entirely on last weekend’s feeble flop against West Ham, our away displays this month have been quite encouraging.

At Arsenal we showed a spirit, defensive organisation and discipline that so nearly got us a draw and the win at Newcastle in the FA Cup shouldn’t be forgotten either. If what happened at the Emirates suggested that we might be able to cling on for  a 0-0 at places like Man United, Spurs, Everton, Southampton or Newcastle, then yesterday’s 4-2 loss at the Etihad Stadium against  a Manchester City side that I think will end the season as Champions suggested that we might have the armoury, and attitude, to ensure that keeping a clean sheet did not represent our only hope of getting something out of these games.

This season’s Manchester City side are like no other I’ve seen in the Premier League era in their attitude towards home matches. They are utterly ruthless – whereas other top teams in this league have often been prepared to “declare” and accept two or three goal wins, Man City want a sixth if they have five, want seven if they have six etc. Therefore, I had visions of us going the way of Norwich (7-0) and Spurs (6-0) when we made our second sluggish start in two league games under Ole Gunnar Solskjær yesterday.

Now, I know we were up against a top quality team so it was going to be very difficult for us and I shouldn’t be too critical, but we did ourselves few favours by the way we started – we should have conceded a penalty inside a minute and we were under siege right from the kick off. It was only a matter of time before the hosts scored and they duly did when Edin Dzeko knocked in the one hundredth goal of their campaign in the fourteenth minute.

The strange thing was however, that going a goal down seemed to relax City and they began to get a foothold in the game with the returning Jordon Mutch showing up well in the middle of the park. It was the performance of Craig Noone though that really suggested that we might have the attacking threat to cause Man City more problems than I for one had anticipated.

Before yesterday. Noone has been something of a success story in his first team appearances when compared to our other creative attacking midfielders (the aforementioned Mutch apart). The winger did have a tendency to fade in the last half an hour of matches, but his level of consistency has been better than the likes of Kimbo, Bellamy, Odemwingie and Whittingham – although results have been pretty awful in the matches he has started, I’d say he had definitely earned the right to a longish run in the starting line up.

Yesterday Noone took things on to a different level, he played his best game for us and, given the quality of the opposition and the huge task his team faced, I’d have to say it was right up there with the best displays from a Cardiff City winger I’ve seen. The highlight of his performance was the delightful goal he scored around the half an hour mark when City fans were able to dare to dream for a while – after neat build up play by Kevin Theophile-Catharine and Aron Gunnarsson provided him with a half chance, Noone turned Vincent Kompany inside out, then gave Joe Hart the “eyes” before rolling his shot in on the near post as the keeper was left clueless as to what sort of effort he was going to face.

Noone was rampant down the right in the second half and, just as at Chelsea where our performance deserved better than a 4-1 defeat, there was a spell of about fifteen minutes when City were definitely causing their illustrious hosts problems. The wingers ability to run long distances with the ball enabled us to play further up the pitch than expected and we were able to use the additional room this gave us quite effectively. Under the circumstances, it was ironic that it was Noone losing possession to Yaya Toure which led to the goal that tied up the win for Man City with less than a quarter of an hour left.

The outstanding Craig Noone celebrates his lovely goal which, briefly, leveled things up.*

The outstanding Craig Noone celebrates his lovely goal which, briefly, leveled things up.*

If Noone was, to some degree, culpable for the third goal, he also had to accept some blame for the first one as well as he allowed David Silva (perhaps with the aid of a handball?) to get to the byeline and turn the ball across for Dzeko to score. Perhaps under our previous manager defensive weaknesses like this might have seen Noone left out for the next match, but the early signs are that Ole thinks differently – if that is the case, then I agree with him.

In the first four months of the season when a succession of very difficult home fixtures ensured that our attitude was a cautious one in most of the games we played, the reluctance to use Noone was more understandable because draws here and there were acceptable in the grand scheme of things. A combination of the nature of the opposition and our league position means that the situation has changed now. We are going to be playing a number of matches which fall into the must win category – Craig Noone, playing close to the heights he reached yesterday, currently represents one of our best bets of getting those wins.

It needs to be remembered though that a side that is so set up to attack all of the time as Man City are when they play at home are a completely different proposition compared to a relegation rival playing away who knows a point will do them fine. Noone, or his attacking team mates, won’t have as much room to prosper, but I’d like to think that what we saw in an attacking sense at the Etihad that we might be able to find the penetration and goal threat which proved so elusive in our last home game.

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

 

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6 Responses to Bottom of the league, but some encouraging signs at least.

  1. Big Al says:

    Hi Bob,
    Good to see your report offers some hope I’m afraid I can’t agree with you on this one at the present time.
    There is no question about it the off the field issues starting in the middle of October 13 between Tan and Malky was the start of our decline. Both of them caused this major crisis albiet Malky appeared to try and resolve the breakdown in communication.
    On a positive note we currently have a good backbone to the team and if we now get a player with Saha’s pace on the left side of the pitch together with a quality consistent fullback on the left hand side we may be able to get sufficient points in February to give it a go.
    Just hope Ole can see this major problem and is able to resolve it in the January window otherwise it’s too late.
    Bluebirds bluebirds we can we can we can stay up? Give it a go team.
    Big Al

  2. Dai Woosnam says:

    Fine piece, Paul.
    Ah wingers! I have been calling out for them for years!
    That is what makes Swansea at their best such an exciting side. Dyer and Routledge keeping the touchline chalk on their boots.
    Noone will – along with Mutch – go down as Malky’s best signing, even if his subsequent neglect of them both was pretty shameful.
    You are right about Noone being to blame for being muscled off the ball by Toure, but what I want to know is what the heck is he doing running two thirds of the way across the field anyway?
    I want him staying on the touchline with chalk on his boots, and only coming inside when a goalscoring chance is on.
    Now, Ole – I have given up on my “OGS” (Oggs) as I have to be man enough to realise it was never a runner: stillborn indeed – needs to get a left winger (what is the betting he will get 50% more out of Craig Conway than Malky?) and either work miracles on Cornelius, or get a centre forward on loan (since Campbell, Odemwingie, Kim, etc are players to FEED off chances laid on by a big man, and not centre forwards themselves). Pity that Grant Holt has been snapped up.
    Correct me if I am wrong Paul, but you do not seem concerned about our central defenders. To me, the vastly overpriced Steven Caulker, Hudson and Turner are all CHAMPIONSHIP standard.
    And then one really needs a midfield dynamo to complement Jordon Mutch.
    Maybe the equally overpriced Gary Medel could be played further forward left side, and Steven Caulker moved to the role of midfield holding player (defensive shield)? Paul Abbandonato calls Caulker “a colossus”: perhaps he is, in Jonathan Swift’s land of Lilliput. But not for Cardiff City he ain’t.
    I have always maintained that he is not a last ditch tackler: he never will be. He was like a hypnotised victim swaying a half second too late each time, in the direction of the hypnotist’s magic wand, when Aguero first moved one way, then the other, then back the other, to score his goal yesterday!
    I certainly think this move to Caulker providing aerial cover in front of a Hudson/Turner pairing, FAR more of a viable proposition than that proposed by Paul Abbandonato of Medel playing central defence, as he does for Chile.
    Medel can REALLY win 50/50 balls: and a strong tackler is what most is needed in the middle of the park left side. Gunnarsson and Cowie are 100% triers, but are Championship standard.
    And anyway, at centre back what does Medel do to win headers against an Adebayor … or a Ngog in the Cup next week? (Let alone an Andy Carroll!) Stand on their toes to stop them jumping?
    Yet the last time I looked, a reader’s comment endorsing Paul A’s view had – incredibly – had massive “plus” votes! Truly, YCNMIU.* Pinch me, please! I sometimes think that when we die we will eventually wake up and realise that this life has been nothing more than a bizarre DREAM.
    * = You Could Not Make It Up (even if you tried).
    Dai Woosnam
    daigress@hotmail.com
    Grimsby, UK

  3. Dai Woosnam says:

    Oh, I forgot to say..
    I hope it is not me seeing something in a slightly paranoid way, but WHY did MotD not show the Negredo yellow card incident, which some good judges say should have been a definite red?
    For the fact is, that such a serious foul, had the roles been reversed and Gunnarsson fouled Negredo, would have not only been included, but also definitely made the pundits’ three minutes at the end of the footage.

  4. The other Bob Wilson says:

    Thanks Al. Despite going to the bottom of the table, I’m more hopeful after Saturday than I was after the West Ham match. Truth is though defeats with honour against the top teams are not going to do us any good on their own. If lessons can be learned from getting beat by Man City which lead to us being able to win the matches which really count against the teams around us in the table then some good will come of it, but I could have said something similar after the game at Arsenal and look what happened in our next league game when we faced an injury hit and out of form West Ham team.

  5. The other Bob Wilson says:

    Thanks Dai. I think if you asked most fans of a certain age what position on the pitch they most enjoyed watching a good performance from, an awful lot of them would say winger – there’s something heart warming about watching an old fashioned winger on his game absolutely destroying a full back.

    Wingers aren’t really fashionable any more though and I think this has something to do with the success Noone enjoyed on Saturday – Premier League defenders aren’t used to facing many of them these days.

    Even the ones that do still play are a kind of variation on a theme. The trend nowadays is to play them on the “wrong side” so their inclination is to cut infield and shoot with their good foot rather than get past the full back on the outside and then cross it on that strong foot from the bye line – a mate of mine recently complained about Noone being played on the wrong wing when he was used on the left!

    It doesn’t matter how often you say it, I’m not going to agree with you about Caulker! With our manager seemingly wanting his centrebacks to be able to pass out from the back, I don’t see him moving to a new position any time soon because he’s the best passing centreback we have by a distance (he’s also the best central defender we have in my book). I’d also say that in the modern game there is less need for a good header of the ball to screen the back four because not many sides use an aerial approach – for me, Medel is best kept where he is and we should look for a centreback who can defend as well as Ben Turner can, but pass it better to play alongside Caulker.

    As for Negredo’s card, a yellow seemed right to me as the time – I reckon it would have got plenty of discussion on Match of the Day if a red had been issued.

  6. Dai Woosnam says:

    Dear OBW,
    Sorry I lapse occasionally into calling you “Paul”. Old Sigmund must be working overtime in my subconscious.
    I guess the problem really comes from my aversion to the nom de plume, per se.

    [Eh Dai? You use one yourself on WalesOnline!
    WELL NO, NOT REALLY.
    Yes you do. A name vaguely redolent of your actual name.
    WELL YES ...BUT THERE IS A REASON. AND THAT IS THE FACT THAT THEY WILL NOT LET ME SIGN-ON VIA MY iPAD WITHOUT A FACEBOOK OR TWITTER MONIKER. AND MY AVERSION TO THE NOM DE PLUME IS AS NOTHING TO MY AVERSION TO FACEBOOK ...BUT JUST TO BE ABLE TO READ SOME FACEBOOK POSTINGS I HAVE ALAS NEEDED A FACEBOOK IDENTITY. AND I FIGURED, I'LL BE BLOWED IF I AM OPENING A FACEBOOK ACCOUNT IN MY OWN NAME! I WANT TO RETAIN A MODICUM OF PRIVACY, WHEN ALL IS SAID AND DONE.]

    Regarding your comments Paul: they are as always very fair. I would just add this to your latest.
    As for only people of “a certain age” loving wingers: with respect, I am not sure that this quite holds water. Kids today are THRILLED by the likes of Andros Townsend, Jesus Navas and Adam Johnston. These are not wing backs in a million years! They are wingers straight out of the Cliff Jones, Francisco Gento, Garrincha mould.
    That Malky did not have the courage of his convictions with Craig Noone, is a terrible indictment of a man who was paid a fortune to MAKE DECISIONS.
    At least in Ole, CCFC seem to now have a manager with guts to back his hunches. Alas I am not altogether persuaded about all his ideas.
    He seems to still believe in this modish nonsense of goalkeepers starting attacks by rolling the ball to their backs, to work it patiently upfield! Golly, how I adored the brilliant demolition job Alan Hansen did on this current trendy thinking, on MotD at the weekend.
    My ideal CCFC boss would ban “roll-outs” and all “pass-backs” to the goalkeeper.
    And my ideal manager would have the vision to think outside the square.
    And that means playing people in different positions to their norm, to get the best out of them.
    Take David Luiz. He is vice captain of Brazil. They all love him there. As a central defender. His place in the national team is not in question.
    He was also a central defender for Benfica, and even won Portuguese Player of the Year with them.
    At Chelsea, it was discovered that he had greater strengths as a defensive midfield shield who burst forward with long strides, and can “see a pass”. I believe Steven Caulker to be EXACTLY from the same mould.
    And I will never forget the driver of a black taxi cab I told you about by private email. He picked me up in central London in August. We got talking. It turned out he was a Spurs “nut”: a regular season ticket holder for over 30 years.
    He said this about Caulker: “Steven is great going forward, but he cannot really defend where it matters.”
    It seemed harsh to me at the time, but I think I know what he means now. Just play him in the right position please, Ole.
    And that brings me to Gary Medel: look, I know that Gunnarsson and Cowie are reasonable bets for 60/40 balls. But around the centre circle, one wants a guarantee of someone winning the 50/50, and ideally the 40/60 too, and CCFC have only ONE man who can deliver there. It is a shame to have his tackling ability wasted a bit: the tackles that are crucial are those in the centre circle that STOP attacks before they are fully formed, and more importantly then put the opponent under immediate pressure.
    How I would LOVE it if Ole would try some training games down at The Vale with both these expensive signings playing further forward.
    Will sign off now. Hoping your health continues to improve.
    Kindest,
    Dai.

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