I’ll admit the only motivation behind my claim in last week’s piece that City’s 1-1 draw with Bournemouth last month may not turn out to be the only truly watchable league game at Cardiff City Stadium this season was sarcasm pure and simple. However, yesterday’s 3-2 win over Blackpool turned out to be better than most of the matches played at the ground in 14/15 – but then it only needed to be of moderate quality to fall into that category..
3-2 is a score which normally guarantees entertainment and some quality, but, although there was some of the former yesterday, there wasn’t a great deal of the latter.
For some reason, rugby players and coaches have taken to using the term “we left some points/tries out there” in their post match interviews in recent years when talking about chances that have been missed, well City certainly left plenty of goals out there yesterday as Blackpool showed exactly why they have been the worst team in the league by a distance this season.
City were able to get in down the right side of the visitor’s defence at will, but very little came of the numerous chances that arrived via this avenue as a combination of wrong decisions and poor execution meant that they had to rely on a couple of penalties for their win.
The first of referee Steve Martin’s spot kick decisions was a straightforward one after the visitor’s back line failed to deal with a routine situation as Cameron brought down Aron Gunnarsson, but his second one was more arguable, firstly became it seemed debatable to me whether Addison’s challenge on Joe Mason was an illegal one and also there were questions as to whether it had occurred inside the penalty area.
Either way, both were despatched with minimal fuss by Eoin Doyle who I made City’s man of the match.
I mentioned earlier that there was not an awful lot of quality on display, but Doyle provided a good portion of the little that was seen in the build up to the first goal. Some nifty footwork enabled the Irish striker to wriggle away from a couple of opponents and then, rather than stand there admiring what he had done, he was straight off down the right wing to receive the return pass.
A week earlier Doyle had done very well to work himself into a similar position in the game with Millwall, but then undid all of his good work by putting his low cross behind Joe Mason – this time though Doyle rolled his pass to Mason and although there was a deflection to his shot, the ex Plymouth man had his first league goal in City colours in over two years. Yes, I know we were in the Premier League for half of that time, but there has to be something wrong when someone who looked so good at this level in 11/12 has been given so few opportunities at the club since he scored our second in a 3-0 winb over Blackburn on Easter Monday 2012.
Mason’s goal and Doyle’s first penalty sent City in at half time with the two goal lead their dominance had warranted, but it was typical of the season as a whole that a sloppy start to the second period saw their opponents right back in the game within a few minutes of the restart.
Andrea Orlandi’s goal was a strange affair for a couple of reasons. Firstly because the group of two or three I always sit with were discussing former Swansea players at the time and a split second before he hit his shot, the guy behind me said “yeah and you watch him score now”.
There are rare occasions when I have reacted to goals by our opponents by laughing and this was one of them because the timing of the remark was absolutely perfect. What was not a laughing matter was the way City backed off Orlandi to allow him to become the latest in a long line of players to score with shots from distance against us this season. The weirdest thing about the whole exercise though came when some home supporters started applauding the ex jack’s goal – I was baffled at the time by this and I still am now!
City’s response to this setback was impressive up to a point as a succession of chances were created, but, as mentioned earlier, they let themselves down with the final pass too often.
When City were unable to get their two goal lead back the match reverted into a quiet period that was interrupted temporarily by Doyle’s second penalty.
While it was disappointing that the team were unable to cash in on an opportunity to record their first really big win of the campaign, I’d say some allowances should be made for the fact that there was little or nothing on the game for them and that Blackpool were so poor that 3-1 always looked a very comfortable lead.
The fact that David Marshall was forced into a fairly routine diving save in the seconds which remained after visiting captain Peter Clarke’s goal deep into added time meant that there were a few alarms before it was confirmed that City had ended their home campaign with a victory , but, in general, this had been one of the few matches this season where a home win had always looked on the cards.
Elsewhere, away wins for Brentford and Wolves mean that their Play Off hopes are still just about alive, but draws for Derby and Norwich and a defeat for Middlesbrough mean that the automatic promotion places will, to all intents and purposes, be settled if Bournemouth beat Bolton on Monday – the side I reckon most neutrals want to see promoted would need a combination of a catastrophic defeat and a huge win for Boro to be denied the top two finish which Watford secured with their win at Brighton yesterday.
So, somewhat surprisingly, it looks like the automatic promotion places will be sorted out before the final round of matches, but, even if this turns out to be the case, there will be Play Off and relegation places to be decided – the 2014/15 Championship will get the dramatic finish it deserves, but, as has been the case virtually throughout, City will be somewhere else when the thrills are being provided.
* pictures courtesy of https://www.flickr.com/photos/joncandy/by The other Bob Wilson with 8 comments
Many pundits will tell you that the Championship is the most competitive league in Europe – actually, scrub that, the world. It’s the league where the most humble of sides can beat the recently fallen “Premier League giants” on any given day, a league where nothing can ever be taken for granted.
Well, after the latest round of Championship fixtures, the “most competitive league in the world” is shaping up to be pretty predictable in 2014/15. With the season just over two thirds completed, it’s still a little early to say for certain that this will come to pass, but, as things are shaping up, the teams to be promoted and relegated look to be coming from small groups at the top and bottom of the table.
Things look pretty clear cut to me at the top – Forest fans will be telling themselves that a win over Bournemouth tonight would put them right back in the Play Off hunt, but that ten point gap between themselves and Wolves in eighth looks a very big one to me. At the lower end of the table, there is a pretty widespread consensus that the bottom two are already gone and no one is giving Millwall much of a chance at the moment – Rotherham need to look out for themselves after two heavy defeats and Fulham are still very erratic, but people have been telling me for some time that the current bottom three would be the ones to be relegated and. as of now, I can’t mount much of an argument against them.
This of course presupposes that Cardiff City are not going to become major players in the end of season relegation drama. Such a possibility looked to be well and truly on the cards as January ended, but, with one match to go in the month, February has been a steadying period for the side and last night’s very significant 1-0 win at Wigan means that, besides picking up their first victory since beating Fulham in the back to blue match on 10 January, it’s now five matches since a defeat for Russell Slade’s team.
So, although further dramas at the bottom of the table cannot be discounted completely given the club we are talking about here, all of the signs are that City are going to see out the final couple of months of the campaign in a mini league comprising of about half the sides in the division where the prize for success will be a ninth placed finish and the price of failure will be coming about twentieth in the table.
Even if we end up winning the mid table battle to be “best of the rest”, I’m fairly sure a finish just inside the top ten will be deemed not good enough by many (including owner and Board I daresay) – even with last month’s cost cutting exercise, this is still a very expensively assembled squad.
I’d like to think that the fact I’m not using hindsight would be proved by a look back at some of my pieces on here from earlier in the season when I said that I was never convinced that our squad was as good as many claimed. Truth be told, I didn’t expect the level of performance from them to be as consistently poor as is has been, but I’d like to think that, basically, I had this squad figured out – there were others in the division that I got spectacularly wrong however.
Although it might have not have seemed like it after watching us toil against the likes of Rotherham, Reading and Brighton, it seems that there are worse sides than us in the division. For example, by completing our first double of the season in beating Wigan, we have, surely, shown that they are inferior to us.
Back in August the score was the same when the two clubs met at Cardiff City Stadium, but, back then, the game was seen by many as being very significant because, even then, the three points at stake were seen to be potentially very important at the top of the table come the end of the season. As mentioned earlier, I was not sure that this would prove to be the case for City, but I was convinced pre season about our opponents – I ended my piece about the game by saying “Wigan might have made a poor start, but it’s hard to see them struggling for long” (in fact, they and Norwich were my pre season tips for automatic promotion).
Anyone who says they saw Wigan’s troubles this season coming is a liar in my book – earlier I talked about the Championship’s competitiveness, so seeing a fancied team struggle shouldn’t be too much of a shock, but Wigan are now in real danger of becoming tailed off at the bottom of the league with Blackpool. I’ve looked at their season from afar and thought that they’ve got to start picking up results soon with the squad they’ve got and on the face of it, home matches against Charlton and Cardiff in the space of the last five days represented a great chance to kickstart a revival, but both games were lost without a goal being scored.
In fact, after beating Blackpool and Birmingham at the DW Stadium at the back end of August in the two matches following their defeat here, Wigan have been winless at home since then and it’s now just one point from eight home games after last night’s defeat – teams don’t avoid relegation with records like that.
The home team’s travails should be a warning to City as they, seemingly, face a second season in the Championship following relegation – Wigan had the advantage of another season of parachute payments and, leaving the sort of matters that prompted a boycott of the home Director’s Box by City Board members to one side for now, had an owner who, from a distance anyway, seemed pretty clued in when it came to football in a way that we are not used to at Cardiff. However, at the age of 78, it appears that Dave Whelan’s sure touch has deserted him – the appointment of Malky Mackay was a huge gamble which is just not working.
Settings aside the baggage that appointing Mackay following the nature of his departure from Cardiff brings, I find it startling how his stock has fallen so far in such a short space of time. The clues are there that his relationship with Vincent Tan had broken down when Manchester City were beaten back in August 2013 and so, even at the time of our greatest triumph in the Premier League, the writing may well have been on the wall for him already.
However, go back a few months to the close season and all of the talk was how we had one of best young managers in the game and the persistent rumours about him becoming David Moyes’ successor at Everton were never dismissed as being too outlandish to be true – Mackay to Everton seemed perfectly reasonable at the time. Now, less than two years on, whatever it was that marked him out as a manager to watch has gone. Wigan have taken a meagre eight points from his sixteen games in charge and their record under him is far worse than it was under the man he replaced (Uwe Rosler).
Maybe Mackay can resurrect his managerial career yet. I’ve got my doubts about that though on two fronts, will he be able to recapture whatever it was that made him good, but, maybe more importantly, will the desire be there to try again if, as seems likely, it ends in tears for him at Wigan?
After the game, Mackay declared himself to be touched by the reception he got from the City fans before kick off – sure, plenty of bridges have been burned over the last fifteen months or so with large sections of the club’s support and I’m not going to tell those that have no time for the man any more that they are wrong to feel like that, but I look at him and what has happened to us since he left and I can’t help thinking about how things could have been.
We are where we are though and Russell Slade’s side produced more of what we have seen from them in their previous four matches at Wigan – it’s not pretty (apart from a few occasions against Blackburn about which I’m already beginning to question myself as to whether they really happened!), but, built around the solidity of our centrebacks, it’s solid and was able to survive the loss through injury of our two new full backs.
I say it’s not pretty, but it needs to be recorded that we scored one of our better goals of the season last night as a central midfielder burst forward, beat three opponents and slotted the ball confidently home. Even when he was playing his most effective football for City, I’m not sure if I had asked someone who had not seen the goal who the scorer was based on that description, I doubt it very much if I would have got the answer Aron Gunnarsson, but Gunnarsson it was.
Actually, at the risk of falling into a trap I’ve been caught in a few times already this season, I’d say that Gunnarsson is one of two much criticised members of the current squad who have stepped their game up in the last month or so. While the search for signs of the Peter Whittingham that was regarded as the best player in this league once goes on, his midfield partner is looking more like his old self and at the back, Sean Morrison is beginning to provide some evidence as to why we paid so much for him back in August – Bruno Manga’s more eye catching defending is the inspiration behind a record of two goals conceded in five matches, but Morrison’s steady work alongside him should not be ignored either.
* pictures courtesy of http://www.walesonline.co.uk/
by The other Bob Wilson with 3 comments