City emerge from the dross (again) to claim the points at Cardiff City Stadium.

CoymayStill unbeaten in the Championship this season and now up to second place after yesterday’s 2-0 home win over Huddersfield, there can be no doubt that Cardiff City have started 2015/16 far better than many, including myself, were expecting.

Yet, given what was on offer for all but the final quarter of yesterday’s encounter, it was easy to understand first, why only thirteen and a half thousand bothered to turn up and, second, why the atmosphere was as flat throughout as it was at any time last season.

There were so many similarities between yesterday’s game and the one with Wolves three weeks ago it was uncanny. A misleadingly bright start which saw Kenwyne Jones have a shot beaten away by visiting keeper Ged Steer within the first two minutes and Joe Mason shoot not too far wide shortly afterwards probably meant that we looked slightly more dangerous in the first forty minutes than we did against Wolves, but it really was turgid stuff again as we fought out a, mostly losing, battle between the two penalty areas against a team who had not won a game yet.

Ironically, I believe the one of our three league matches we didn’t win (Fulham) saw us produce our best footballing display at  home so far and we’ve also played some good stuff at QPR and Forest. However,so many of our home games under this manager, and the previous one, have felt flat and lacking in the sort of things I started going to watch my team play for – of course, it’s good to win games, but I come out of them these days without that feeling of elation I used to get when we’d taken the points.

Although the connection between the club and I is as strong as it ever was in terms of me attending matches, I, increasingly, believe that the rebrand, our farcical season in a league I’d waited nearly three score years to see us play in and the thoroughly miserable experience that was season 2014/15 have taken a bigger toll on me than I first supposed – it is still my club and I want to feel like I used to about it, but, despite the promising start, it’s just not happening yet for me this season.

Now, I accept that is a harsh judgement after we’ve just recorded our third successive win and find ourselves in one of the automatic promotion positions (okay, I realise that means very little in mid September, but it should still create a feelgood factor and a buzz around a club which I’m not aware of with City at the moment), but I’m afraid that’s how I feel and I’d be very surprised if there aren’t others who echo those sentiments.

Just as against Wolves, there were long periods of play where nothing at all was happening from a City point of view, but, unlike in the previous home game, I didn’t have the feeling that, at least we never really looked like conceding a goal – we were so ordinary in the first sixty five minutes and Huddersfield were winning so many of the fifty/fifty balls that I feel sure that more confident opponents would have punished us.

City were forced into an early change yesterday as Lee Peltier was replaced by Scott Malone after the full back had been fouled by Johnathan Hogg - Hogg received a yellow card and has previous at this ground for poor tackles on City players as it was his tackle which led to Craig Conway spending months in the treatment table in 2012.*

City were forced into an early change yesterday as Lee Peltier was replaced by Scott Malone after the full back had been fouled by Johnathan Hogg – Hogg received a yellow card and has previous at this ground for poor tackles on City players as it was his tackle which led to Craig Conway spending months in the treatment table in 2012.*

Eventually, City emerged comfortable winners against Wolves and the single thing which made that happen was the introduction of Sammy Ameobi for Kenwyne Jones early in the second half. There is no doubt that the same switch around the hour mark yesterday had a similar lifting effect on our level of performance even though it was by no means a wholly popular decision by Russell Slade at the time.

Speaking for myself, although I was not one of those who booed the withdrawal of Jones, I was surprised by it. The easy conclusion to draw when one player is replaced and the team starts playing better (especially when it happens in successive home games) after the change is that he should lose his place in the starting line up, but I don’t think it’s as simple as that here.

Although not in full couldn’t care less mode, there were traces of it on show yesterday from Kenwyne, but, even so, there were also occasional moments of quality like when he beat a man out on the touchline inside his own half and then hit a fifty yard pass that only just failed to put Joe Mason in on goal and how he rolled his marker to set up a chance he should have made more of really just before he was taken off which not many strikers in this league can match. He was also playing well against Wolves – the fact this was not apparent in the team performance had more to do with the failings of those around him than his own shortcomings.

As for Ameobi, he finds himself in a strange position in that while he is making a big impact from the bench, the fact that he is doing so against defences which have been worn down to some extent at least by the physical damage caused by marking Jones and the effects of having to deal with Mason’s movement means it must be very tempting for Russell Slade to leave things as they are and keep on using him as an impact sub.

Even though he had cause to be knackered after his fifty yard run which saw him take on three or four opponents and came out on top in what was a test of his speed and strength, the way Ameobi slowly walked back into position while blowing very heavily perhaps suggests that he is still not at peak fitness?

However, it’s going to become harder and harder for our manager to justify not starting with Ameobi if he continues to have the impact off the bench that we saw against Wolves and Huddersfield. It’s just that with this manager’s devotion to the 4-4-2 cause, I don’t see it being at Jones’ or Mason’s expense unless they get injured – I believe it’s more likely that he will get that staring place on the wing if it comes.

While there was no denying Ameobi’s big part in the first goal (finished in the sort of manner which suggests that Anthony Pilkington should have scored more goals for us in what, to be fair, has been an injury hit first year at the club) and the part he played in the second one, I think the raising of our game in the minutes leading up to the opening goal had an awful lot to do with Peter Whittingham reminding people like me, who have tended to question his place in the team in the last season or two, what he is still capable of giving us.

Whittingham’s shot from twenty five yards beat Steer, but also flashed just the wrong side of the post as we entered the phase which decided the game. Following this, he then reverted to his quarterback role as he first found Mason to send the striker on a run which ended with a shot which Steer held easily and then freed Ameobi with a lovely ball which split the visitor’s offside trap in the move which ended with Pilkington scoring.

That five minutes from Whittingham was a throwback to the early days of our Championship winning season when he was a leading factor in a series of entertaining home wins (Wolves, Blackpool, Burnley and Hull spring to mind) which have tended to be forgotten about now in many people’s rush to label the 12/13 side as boring.

Yes, much of the stuff the title winners produced from about November onwards was far more Roundhead than Cavalier, but the message had been sent out early on that City had the capability of putting opponents to the sword when they wanted to (it shouldn’t be forgotten that they did this in late season home wins over Blackburn and Forest either).

At the moment, I see some comparisons with our Championship winning team in the way we have ground out a couple of home wins, but I don’t believe Ameobi alone is going to be enough to provide us with that little bit extra which gives a team more than just the option of “winning ugly”.

So many Championship matches are a real slog and so the teams who master the knack of winning ugly are always going to have a chance. However, to get to the Premier League, I think you need to be able to sometimes show that bit of quality which your opponents cannot cope with – that something which goes beyond just winning ugly and, based on what I’ve seen of this group of players during the past eight months or so when results have been largely good, I’ve not been convinced that they will be able to do that on a consistent enough basis.

Certainly, it will help a lot if Whittingham can have a few more of those spells when he rolls back the years like he did yesterday and if Jones can apply the considerable talents he has by the standards of this league on a more consistent basis. However, I remain to be convinced that this squad has enough “stardust” in it to justify some of the claims being made on it’s behalf that I heard on Radio Wales’ phone in programme last night about top six finishes.

That’s probably why this piece has ended up being more negative than I intended it to be. Of course I’m pleased to see us where we are in the table while still being unbeaten, but I’m not getting that feeling which has me looking forward to the next match as soon as the last one ends at the moment.

Watching us play at home especially is still heavy going and it is at home, not away. that teams seize the imagination of their supporters.

The club will be concerned to see attendances still heading in the wrong direction despite our good start - there are plenty of reasons for this, but a home game which seized the public imagination (the draw with Man United nearly two years ago is the last time I can remember this happening) might improve matters a bit*.

The club will be concerned to see attendances still heading in the wrong direction despite our good start – there are plenty of reasons for this, but a home game which really seized the public imagination (the draw with Man United nearly two years ago is the last time I can remember this happening) might improve matters a bit*.

 

In added time yesterday we had a free kick by the corner flag from which Ameobi was able to work himself into a dangerous position on the bye line, but he then had no option than to blast the ball across goal, presumably in the hope that it would hit a Huddersfield player and rebound into the net, because there was no one within twenty yards of the goal in a blue shirt for him to pick out – they were more concerned with the defending our own goal.

Now, I can fully understand why any side would do that when they were defending a one goal lead, but a two goal one? Why couldn’t we go for the jugular and try to provide a bit more entertainment for supporters who have had precious little of that commodity in recent years? It all seemed so typically Russell Slade to me.

Actually, that’s not fair on our manager, because we’ve been that sort of side for as long as I can remember, but I can’t help thinking that the club (who, to be fair, are trying to reconnect with their support) as a whole could benefit on so many levels from a more positive on field attitude in matters like this – we always look like a team that is doing just enough to win our home games.

I say that knowing full well that there were times not so long ago when I would gladly have accepted any home win no matter how it arrived and there have also been times a couple of years ago when 20,000 plus were going to be there next game no matter how poorly we played, but those days have gone now.

Despite results getting better, gates are still going down (each home league game so far has seen a decline of around a thousand in the attendance figure), so I’m not sure that wins alone will be enough to see attendances climb to the sort of levels we’ve got used to at Cardiff City Stadium  - to be more accurate, I’m not convinced that “just doing enough” wins are going to do the trick.

*pictures courtesy of https://www.flickr.com/photos/joncandy/albums/with/72157658111560859

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11 Responses to City emerge from the dross (again) to claim the points at Cardiff City Stadium.

  1. Barry cole says:

    That is a great summary on exactly how I feel, I comment on Wales on line as tonyevansforever and have continued to make the point that we need a midfielder capable of creating and defending the midfield. We have been and still continue to be over run in midfield and we really haven’t played one of the better teams yet.
    We now have 10 players in the team on Saturday who were here before slade and that tells a story as well

  2. Blue Bayou says:

    The first half was ruined as a spectacle by watering an already wet pitch. At times, players from both sides resembled Bambi on ice. When the ball was rolled back to David Marshall in the first half, you could see a large spray stream from the ball. If we’d had another torrential downpour similar to the one a couple of hours earlier, the pitch would have almost been unplayable!

  3. Dai Woosnam says:

    Paul…
    Fine report as ever.
    What a priceless line this was of yours re KJ…
    ‘…
    Although not in full couldn’t care less mode…
    …’
    I am still chuckling over it now! Made my day today. Just as Watford’s fabulous goal made my night, on MotD yesterday.
    A beautiful kick from the keeper headed on and clinically despatched. Great direct football. The ball does all the work.
    I know I am in a minority of one here – but then only dead fish swim with the stream – but I actually think City are not direct ENOUGH.
    And mentioning MotD…that QPR defender should be fined 2 weeks’ wages for that kamikaze backpass to Green. Managers who sanction backpasses are paid up members of the Dunces’ Club.
    I am so pleased that Mr Slade is temporarily succeeding…even though I told you when he was appointed, about the surprise of my fellow Grimbarians. And I certainly do not consider him to be a top coach. But I do know a decent man when I see one…and since Barry mentions WalesOnline, I instinctively side with Mr Slade against the crude boo boys who would be happy to have a management team of Adolf Hitler and Pol Pot as long as City could win the Premier League.
    Not me. The club!s HONOUR is eveirything.
    The greatest benefactor our club has ever had, derserves a decent man in charge, and not as before, a man who was hellbent on damaging him in the Court of Public Opinion.
    Viva Mr Slade! Viva Mr Tan!
    Kindest, as ever,
    Dai.

  4. Dai Woosnam says:

    Just re-read my posting and spotted my howler re the Nottingham Forest penalty…it was not of course on MotD but on that clunky C5 Football League programme.
    Do you reckon they have given Adam Virgo his P45?
    Methinks the whole programme needs ditching in its present format. Particularly the obsession with so-called fans all surrounding the presenters, a format that seems de rigueur these days…from Sky Sports to Top Gear.
    Kindest,
    Dai.

  5. Paul Fenton says:

    Paul, I always enjoy your in depth analysis of what’s going on down the City. Particularly about the academy players etc.
    As you said half way through your article you didn’t intend to be negative but you were. That’s the trouble with some of the negativity down the City,particularly after last season. I’ve been watching them for over 60 years and last season was dire and demoralising and one of the worse ever. However towards the end of last season there were signs of recovery. Give Slade his due. What a mess that incompetent idiot of a manager that Olly Solksjaer left the club in! With an assortment of overpaid players who were UNFIT for purpose. You point out the poor attendance. The fact that a lot of so called fans who in someways understandably didn’t renew their season tickets are now ‘ cherry picking ‘ their matches. To pay for two matches within 3 days is a big ask financially and I’ll be very surprised if the attendance on Tuesday night isn’t higher. Your description of watching dross was a bit unfair as don’t forget the opposition came for a draw and City had to get around having a packed midfield. In fairness again to Slade swapping Jones for Ameobi worked a treat. And. Yes we won and we are second in the table. Finally, Peter Whittingham,will everybody and get off his back. He’s a fantastic player, a loyal servant to the Club and to the local-community. Instead of looking at the odd gaffs think more of his assists( Notts Forest for example).

  6. What is wrong with Peter Whittingham? Nothing that movement from the men in front of him couldn’t put right. As I’ve said before, you could be David Silva but you couldn’t put your passes through if the men in the front do not create space by (1)moving or (2) by failing to move quickly enough when they try to bend their run to say onside, and then moving forward with strength and determination. And the best of Ameobi, who was like a breath of fresh air when he came on, won’t be seen until he plays in manifestly best position(s) – wide or in the hole behind a genuine centre forward (which Ameobi is not). Changes should have come much earlier. (All in all, though, the game yesterday did provide something eminently worthwhile – the report on the match and the follow-up comments, all on this very site).

  7. Iain Stuart says:

    Once again TOBW you have almost read my mind in the way that you have appraised yesterday’s game. I’d said to my mate just into the second half, after we’d muffed up another move, “I wish I could say something positive about this performance but every time I’m commenting I seem to being negative”. Now, where has that come from?My mate suggested that Slade may yet go down in history that he’s CCFC’s luckiest ever manager, indeed our very own Mike Bassett (England Manager).????

  8. Iain Stuart says:

    Once again TOBW you have almost read my mind in the way that you have appraised yesterday’s game. I’d said to my mate just into the second half, after we’d muffed up another move, “I wish I could say something positive about this performance but every time I’m commenting I seem to being negative”. Now, where has that come from?My mate suggested that Slade may yet go down in history that he’s CCFC’s luckiest ever manager, indeed our very own Mike Bassett (England Manager).????

  9. MIKE HOPE says:

    As usual your report is more detailed and informative than the summaries from our professional journalists.I realise that you have to give your honest opinion and feelings but I am disappointed that someone with your influence seems to have over-emphasised your negative thoughts.Is nostalgia making you forget some of the depressing football we have seen in the past.We all know that we do not have the country’s greatest team or greatest manager but between them after six games they are second in the table despite playing all six games without our two first choice centre backs and three without our first choice keeper.I think this is an achievement that deserves praise rather than brickbats.We have enough negative on line comments from so called supporters who can’t wait for us to have a bad run of results to justify their bias against Slade.The club has asked what it can do to bring back supporters.After three successive wins an emphasis on the positive rather than the negative in match reports would probably be a help.I know it was not your intention but the response from Barry cole suggests that your report has encouraged the boycotters.He has presumably managed at a higher level himself because he is constantly claiming that Slade is out of his depth.I hope that you enjoy the rest of the season a little more and I look forward to reading your excellent reports.

  10. The other Bob Wilson says:

    Thanks for all of the replies – I thought what I said would attract comments and I was definitely expecting some that disagreed with me, but the fact that there are also those who agree is comforting because it offers some small proof that my line of thinking isn’t completely out of touch with what fans are saying.
    What I hope I always do is give an honest opinion. Before writing anything on here about first team games in particular, I try to gather my thoughts and attempt not to let preset opinions influence what I’m going to say – as much as possible, I try to write about the ninety minutes City have just played and that alone. Obviously, it’s not possible to be completely objective, because you are bound to remember what happened last week, last month, last year etc. but I like to think that if someone I’ve been critical of in the past does well, then I’ll say so and vice versa.
    When I came to looking at Saturday’s game, it was only when I sat down to analyse it prior to writing my piece that it struck me that there wasn’t a great deal to be positive about apart from the result itself. Of course, three points is the primary aim when every team in the Football League takes the field, but if you put all of those ninety minutes’ we’ve played at home in the Championship under Russell Slade together (I make it there have been twenty one of them now), I see very little to suggest we are capable of holding on to second spot or even sixth.
    I thought we played pretty well at Forest and when you put that with all of the momentum a side on a run like ours should have built up, then I was expecting more from the team on Saturday. Yes, I know what I said about trying to look at just the ninety minutes, but, using that criteria and one where I’m a fan going to watch my team which hasn’t lost in nine league matches, I thought it was all a bit banal on Saturday.
    As I mentioned in my piece, there should be more of a feelgood factor around the place when a team is in a Play Off or automatic promotion place, but the crowds we are getting and the library like atmosphere among those who are still attending on Saturday indicates that the normal rules don’t apply at Cardiff these days and haven’t done so in my opinion since Malky Mackay left. There are many reasons for this in my book, but among them is that the football being played at home games is not succeeding in firing up the supporters. Granted, circumstances make that harder for the team and the football management staff to do at Cardiff currently, but the early evidence is that wins in the manner they are coming in home games is not attracting the crowds back to Cardiff City Stadium.
    Just a few observations to finish;-
    1. Dai, Watford have always been a kick and run side! Also I agree with you entirely about Channel 5’s Football League coverage (I defended it after the first programme on the grounds that every one deserves a second chance, but it’s terrible isn’t it) and the almost compulsory need for studio audiences these days.
    2. Paul and Anthony, I was especially pleased to write something good about Peter Whittingham because it’s something I’ve not been doing too much lately about a player who would still be an automatic choice in my best ever City team.
    3. Blue Bayou, that’s a very fair and relevant point you make about the pitch. In fact, it reminded me that I did remark on it being very lively and that the players were having trouble keeping their feet. In the international last week, Ashley Williams hit what looked to be a perfect diagonal ball out to Jazz Richards on the Ninian Stand side of the ground only for it to bounce over his head for a throw in. There was nothing in the speed of the pass to indicate that this was going to happen and yet the pitch turned what was a very good ball into a bad one – the pitch at Cardiff City Stadium is a very good one overall, but it can sometimes penalise good play.

  11. Dai Woosnam says:

    Writing this on holiday in Wemyss Bay.
    And after hearing of City’s disappointing result against Hull.
    But Paul, allow me the luxury of a further comment re Watford’s playing style.
    I have been in a bar tonight and sat next to two Man Utd fans disgusted with the 6 passes needed to get the ball from one end of the pitch to the other.
    LvG should take a leaf out of Watford’s book.
    That goal against Swansea was a thing of beauty.
    Not something of a fluke, like the brave Dyer goal for Leicester v Villa.
    That wonderful kick from Gomes was more than matched by an even better act from Troy Deeney.
    Did you see that sublimely cushioned header that set up the easy chance for his colleague to score that winning goal?
    Truly a thing of beauty.
    Like a knife cutting through butter.
    Nothing remotely “kick and rush” about that.
    …whatever…
    …we will agree to differ, Paul.
    As Samuel Clemens famously said…
    …”it is ‘difference of opinion’ that makes for horse races”.
    Ha!
    Kindest,
    Dai

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