Somebody mentioned at the game yesterday that Peterborough were 7/1 to win. Such odds in a two horse race, and in a competition where unpredictability is almost the norm, are unusually generous from an industry not noted for such charity, but when Cardiff City, who have previous when it comes to tripping up as overwhelming favourites (to put it mildly!) are one of the parties involved it’s tantamount to giving money away! Forget about 100% home records and opponents with one point from eight games, yesterday’s 2-1 defeat at Cardiff City Stadium would not have come as a total shock to experienced Cardiff watchers.
Peterborough’s win was no fluke either, even though they have mostly struggled at this level in recent seasons, they have always been a dangerous side with real goalscoring potential and a knack of being able to beat the best. For example, apart from a meaningless game with Birmingham on the final day of last season, the only match Reading lost after their defeat here in early January last season came in March when they were beaten 3-1 at London Road – Peterborough have gone to Hull this season and won to belie their status of certs for relegation in the eyes of many pundits and they’ll have no problems avoiding the drop if they can repeat the level of performance they came up with yesterday on a regular basis. Not content to just sit back like Sheffield Wednesday were, Peterborough showed an attack is the best form of defence attitude and, but for David Marshall’s excellent form between the sticks, they could have trebled or even quadrupled their goal tally – their attitude and performance was nothing like what you would expect from a bottom of the table outfit in such poor form.
On the other hand, the performance of referee Mr Coote was everything I feared it might be when I read how inexperienced he was at this level before the game. The decision to penalise Heidar Helguson for the free kick from which Peterborough took the lead was the source of much comment (I’ve not seen the incident again on television, but I don’t need to – it was a dreadful decision which I was absolutely flabbergasted with at the time), but this has tended to mean that his overall incompetence has generally passed without attracting the criticism it deserved. To book eight players in a match where I can’t remember seeing a bad foul was ridiculous and too often Mr Coote gave the impression that he was not giving himself time to think before flashing his cards – on that performance, I don’t see much of a future for him in the games second tier.
So, having given the opposition credit they deserve and the ref the stick he deserves, I suppose I cannot put off talking about City’s display any longer. I’m not going to say much about the mistakes we made and the poor football we played, but rather about a mindset from team, management and coaching staff before and during the game which I still cannot fathom. To give an idea of what I mean, Malky Mackay said that, as usual, we had the team we were due to face watched three times in the lead up to the game. I assume the reports on Peterborough that he received would have contained information about how they set themselves up tactically, but, if they didn’t, then our manager would only have had to look at the Echo on Thursday or Friday when it carried a report saying that Posh had been unlucky to lose to Middlesbrough last weekend while using a new 3-4-2-1 formation. Apparently, Peterborough had played well using this formation, so it would be reasonable to assume it would be a case of the same again at Cardiff.
Why was it then, that City seemed to be completely caught on the hop by Boyd and Tomlin dropping into the gaps between our defence and midfield? Malky Mackay says that his sides are sent out with the intention of playing in a way which will cause our opponents most problems, but I saw nothing from us throughout the whole game to indicate that we were doing anything to make Boyd and Tomlin’s task more difficult – quite the opposite actually. I can see value in Peter Whittingham playing in his deeper role, but, with the way Peterborough were set up, we needed someone with the old sitting midfielder virtues of ball winning and physical preference to occupy Peterborough’s two floating attackers – also,Whittingham was a long way short of his best, but having him sat just in front of our defence when we were two down struck me as a waste of our best creative player.
Last weekend’s excellent win at Blackburn should have acted as a real confidence boost to everyone involved on the playing side at Cardiff – I’m biased, but you only had to hear and read what other people were saying about it to realise that this was a performance that had made a big impression on many of our rivals. Why was it then that we looked so tentative from virtually the first whistle? We had taken sixteen points out of a possible eighteen up until yesterday and yet you would have thought we we were the ones without a win in eight – did Malky Mackay really tell David Marshall to play the ball out to our defenders who could then pass it backwards and sideways amongst themselves for half a minute or so before Ben Turner launched it sixty yards forward to the Peterborough keeper? Even when we have not played well at home this season, the players have always had an inner belief that has enabled us to grind our opponents down – with what was comfortably our best away performance of the season to back up a 100% winning record at home, you would have expected that belief to be even stronger, but it was missing right from the start.
The thing that baffled me most though was Posh’s second goal – what on earth were we thinking? For just about the only time in the game, Andrew Taylor showed the energy to get into the sort of position which he often found himself in during the Blackburn match to work himself a decent crossing opportunity, so there was nothing wrong with Whittingham playing the free kick short to him. It was typical of our performance that Taylor got the cross wrong, but he had a right to expect someone to have covered for him when he went forward – instead, a simple pass forward saw Peterborough being given a two against one opportunity which left Kevin McNaughton in an impossible position as last man.
Now, it’s one thing if you leave yourself wide open to a counter attack when you are losing 1-0 with a minute left, but, with a minute gone in the second half? Were City just being arrogant in thinking that Peterborough weren’t good enough to take advantage of such an opportunity if it arose? Were they being stupid in that no one realised how wide open we were until it was too late or were we being needlessly desperate when there was still plenty of time left to turn around a deficit against a team whose suspect self belief could have been tested to the full if they had to survive the last forty odd minutes with the score at 1-0 rather than 2-0?
My own feeling is that it was a combination of the second and third alternatives I set out, but once Gayle’s shot hit the net, we were always struggling. Yes, Helguson alone had the chances to have got himself up amongst the Championship’s top scorers in the second half, but Peterborough would have at least doubled those five goals we had conceded at home before yesterday without Marshall’s heroics. We were outplayed, outfought and out thought and our only response as league leaders was to boot and throw the ball longer and higher towards our giants. We had gifted attacking footballers on the bench in Joe Mason and Kim Bo-Kyung who both showed a finishing ability at Blackburn that we never looked like matching yesterday, but they never got a chance – I like Malky Mackay, but I wish he wasn’t so quick to go to the long ball approach when we are chasing a game.
* – courtesy of http://www.walesonline.co.uk/