As Ali read the Blackburn team out before kick off yesterday, I turned to my mate and said “that’s a good midfield four” – after about five seconds further thought, I added the words “two or three seasons ago”. Yes, Danny Murphy, Morten Gamst-Pedersen, David Jones and David Bentley would have made a decent to good Premiership midfield back in 2009/10, but, at the back end of 2012/13, they looked way off the pace in the Championship and the “All of our yesterdays” theme continued when a very solid looking (that’s putting it diplomatically!) David Dunn replaced Bentley after, as his wont these days, he had posed about doing nothing of any relevance for sixty two minutes.
It was a bit sad seeing players as good as Murphy, Gamst-Pedersen and Dunn have been struggle, but struggle they certainly did and they were definitely part of the problem as a Blackburn outfit desperately ill equipped for the type of league the Championship is, slumped to a 3-0 defeat in which the match stats of twenty shots to two in favour of Cardiff (we had fifteen efforts on target compared to their none) were a more accurate gauge of the difference between the two sides than the scoreline, but, more seriously for that crisis torn club, left them above the bottom three only on goal difference – I’ve got to agree with Dr Who, they’re going down on yesterday’s evidence.
I found Blackburn a fascinating team (actually, that’s the wrong word to use about them, because a “team” is something they definitely weren’t) and could go on about them for ages, but I’m supposed to be writing about the side at the opposite end of the table and so I suppose I should start with the inevitable question – were Cardiff really as good as they looked or was it more down to them being up against a side which, in important areas, lacked the energy, pace and, in some cases, desire to compete with them?
As is always the case, the answer has to be somewhere in the middle of those two extremes. Blackburn were very poor, but the way they were sometimes able to move the ball neatly in tight, potentially dangerous, defensive areas to create space for themselves in the middle of the park showed the sort of talent to go with the big reputations, so I definitely think it’s wrong to put the one sided nature of the game solely down to our opponent’s inadequacies. Indeed, there was an after match clue from the man who says he bases his tactical approach on how best to exploit our opponents weaknesses, that the changes our manager made yesterday might have been primarily down to a desire for City to close down what he described as a very experienced Blackburn front six, rather than a decision based on what he saw as inadequacies in the players he has tended to favour in recent months.
Maybe, that’s harsh on Malky Mackay, but, whatever his prime consideration in making four changes to Saturday’s line up and changing the formation his side used, it was certainly much better from City. A one paced visiting team were hustled and harried into making errors on the ball as had been planned, but I think it’s true to say that most supporters concern themselves far more with what their team do when they have the ball as opposed to what they do when they don’t have it and it’s good to record that we were so much better in that part of the game than we have been so often recently – certainly there was a huge improvement on the turgid and static stuff we saw in the home games against Derby and Leicester before Rudy Gestede’s introduction gave us a bit of a cutting edge.
More energy in the middle of the park was the requirement then, and the introduction of Craig Conway and Craig Bellamy gave us that on the flanks, while the younger legs of Jordon Mutch and Kim Bo-Kyung gave us that in central areas as well where the change to a 4-5-1 (which, in attacking terms, was so much more effective than the version of that formation we saw at this time last year) meant they had the insurance of Aron Gunnarsson operating in a deeper role than of late to help them out and give them the freedom to get further forward than they would probably have been allowed to in a 4-4-2.
What Mutch and Kimbo did though was give us a dynamism and purpose when attacking in open play which has not been present in recent weeks. In the case of the former, his ability to run at, and often beat, opponents in central areas is an unusual talent to have for a modern central midfielder and, therefore, it gives those opponents a problem they aren’t used to facing very often these days. Mutch did that to good effect yesterday and also passed the ball well – it was more like his early season form as opposed to the inconsistent stuff we saw from him around the Christmas/New Year period. As for Kimbo, what impressed me most was his ability to control any ball played to him and to pass it accurately to a colleague. Honestly, I’m not joking there – it sounds very simple, but an amazing number of Championship players (and quite a few in the Premiership) have real problems with doing that.
Kimbo won the post match awards, but I found it hard to separate him and Mutch and I was pleased to see another of our younger players, Joe Mason provide a timely reminder of what he can bring to the team. Mason certainly didn’t suffer in comparison with the man he replaced, Fraizer Campbell, and his goal provided more proof, if it were needed, of his finishing ability – both of his goals against Blackburn were fine examples of the striker’s art and Scott Dann must hate the sight of him! A word also for Leon Barnett who kept things pretty simple on a relatively comfortable home debut, but revealed a turn of pace and sense of anticipation when required which suggests he will cope well in the sterner tests to follow.
Once again, other results went for us. Forest needed another stoppage time goal to keep their unbeaten run under Billy Davies going and I suppose they still entertain automatic promotion hopes, but, with with only six matches for them to play and our sixteen point advantage (as well as a game in hand), it surely won’t be at our expense. Incredibly, when you consider how much of a threat they were considered just a few weeks ago, Leicester’s defeat at Barnsley means that they cannot overhaul us now and the Championship’s flair team can now only make it to eighty three points after their defeat at Blackpool – two wins from our finals seven matches would mean only Watford and Hull could finish above us. Intriguingly, those two sides meet tonight at the KC Stadium and a Watford win would leave us still needing eleven more points to guarantee a top two finish, but any other result will see that target reduced. We would need another nine points if it’s a draw and just eight if Hull win – if it does turn out to be a home win and Watford were then to lose to us on Saturday, we would go into the match with Barnsley a week today knowing a win would see us promoted.
* pictures courtesy of http://www.walesonline.co.uk/