Last March we beat Barnsley 3-1 at Ninian Park on a Tuesday and then followed it up with a 3-0 win over Doncaster the following Saturday – these matches represented the first times that we had scored more than twice in a game in the 08/09 campaign which was pretty remarkable considering the sort of season we had been having. There was though another, perhaps more surprising, stat arising from those two matches that passed pretty much unnoticed at the time in that they represented only the second time since Dave Jones took over in May 2005 that we had won successive midweek/weekend or weekend/midweek home games!
In September 2005 Leicester and Crystal Palace had both been beaten 1-0 courtesy of first half goals by Michael Ricketts in a Tuesday/Saturday combination of home games, but that was it until this season as far as our current manager goes and it was even worse under Lennie Lawrence as we didn’t manage to do it once in our two seasons in the Championship when he was in charge!
Therefore, up until three weeks ago, two home games in four or five days very rarely equalled two wins for Cardiff City – even at a ground renowned for it’s intimidating atmosphere. How can it be explained then that at our new “antiseptic” and “characterless” stadium, where the critics thought that not being able to stand would see it lose all of the atmosphere that used to be generated at Ninian Park, we have twice managed to win back to back games played within the space of four days in the only four competitive matches that have been played there so far?
Perhaps it has something to do with a pitch that suits the way we are trying to play, but, up until last season, the Ninian Park pitch was often praised for being one of the best at this level, so I am at a loss really to explain why the move to the Cardiff City Stadium has been such a seamless and successful one in terms of results. However, it is obvious that, for whatever reason, the new ground is bringing the best out of the players both individually and collectively.
When you consider all the negativity that was around amongst supporters (myself included) as the season started, it is incredible to think that as I watched us pick the Rovers defence apart for the umpteenth time in the first half last night, I was beginning to get a bit blase about the whole thing – after all, as Cardiff City fans, we are all so used to watching such attractive pass and move football aren’t we!
City looked a very good side in the first forty five minutes last night, but I suppose an argument could be put forward for saying that they had nothing to beat – for a team on a four match winning run, Bristol Rovers looked a very ordinary side and, for much of the night, their support, which put their City rivals from Sunday to shame in terms of numbers and noise made, was the most impressive thing about them.
However, the way Rovers were able to put together some neat passing movements when they got back to 2-1 (including a flowing passage of quality passing which ended with a great chance to equalise being wildly missed by their captain Campbell) suggests to me that we were, indeed, up against a decent team who, for the first seventy minutes or so, were just not allowed to play by an ultra confident City team that was a long way short of the strongest eleven we could have fielded.
Six competitive games in, it is now getting to the stage where realistic judgements can be made on new players and I thought two of our summer signings had strong games last night. Anthony Gerrard is building on the good initial impression he made and I thought there were a few occasions when a slightly rusty looking Gabor Gyepes had reason to be grateful for his partner’s anticipation and no nonsense defending. Paul Quinn also looked more comfortable after being restored to his “proper” side of the pitch and, although I think there are still some question marks against him in one on one defensive situations, he, again, showed that he has more to offer going forward than some of his full back rivals at the club. What Gerrard and Quinn also have is an ability to pass the ball well and the early indications are that in most matches, we are going to have at least two and probably three defenders who are above average at Championship level when it comes to passing the ball out from the back – this can only help the way we are trying to play.
Although he hasn’t been here as long as Gerrard and Quinn and so it is harder to predict with any certainty how good or bad he will be for us over the course of a season, the way Kelvin Etuhu gave the Rovers defence such a torrid evening as they struggled to cope with his power and pace certainly suggested that he would be a major force at League One level. However, there were plenty of reasons to be optimistic that he will be able to be pretty effective in the Championship over the coming months – an early impression I gain of him is that he is not the most natural of finishers, so, maybe, we shouldn’t expect too much from him in terms of goals – even if I do turn out to be right though, it looks like there is plenty he can offer to make up for that.
Also a word on someone else who is a newcomer in first team terms anyway. Well done to Josh Magennis for his first goal for us. Dave Jones gets a lot of stick (often justified in my view) for the way he handles young players, but I reckon he is getting things just right with Magennis who is very raw and needs careful handling if his potential is to come to fruition – like a few others on our staff, I think he would really benefit from a loan move to a lower league club sometime in the next few months.
It is a testimony to how well we are playing that we have so many realistic candidates for the man of the match award these days and, besides those I have already mentioned, players like Chopra and Burke were possibilities, but I’ll go for Peter Whittingham who looked the player we know he can be last night – if he can keep on showing the same consistency and attitude to go with his Premiership standard natural talent, then it will almost be like having a new £2 million midfielder on our books!
I started with a stat so I’ll finish with the one about how Dave Jones’ City sides are not good at coming back to win after conceding the first goal in games – we’ve only done it five times in his four seasons with us. To date though, it’s impossible to know whether we will see more of the same from the 09/10 team because, 540 minutes into the season, we have not been behind in a game once yet let alone conceded the first goal – Dave Jones and the team are proving to an old misery guts like me who spent most of the summer moaning at them, that, actually, this isn’t too bad a time to be a Cardiff City fan!