It’s too early to tell yet, but last night’s 3-0 win over Derby County at Pride Park may have enabled City to have put to rest two possible problems which, over the next few weeks, threatened to effect their bid to feature in the top six at the end of this season - for all of the talk of consolidation amongst supporters, I’d be surprised if the powers that be at the club are thinking in the same way. Firstly, after a run in which they failed to win in six games on their travels, despite having been ahead a total of five times, the victory offered proof positive that City can hold on to and then build on leads gained in away games. Secondly, starting the month in which our season traditionally goes off the rails with a big win (last night equalled our biggest winning margin in November since we returned to the Championship eight years ago) will, hopefully, mean that the “Curse of November” will not be as big a factor as it was under our previous manager.
Now, of course, it needs to be recorded that, even by their standards, Derby County had a pretty horrific injury list for last night’s match – so much so that fifteen year old Mason Bennett was given a first home start to follow on from his debut at Middlesbrough last month and veteran winger cum full back Kevin Kilbane was also pressed into action at centreback. However, a few things need to be born in mind here, firstly, Derby have spent all of the season in the top six despite missing several members of what would probably be their strongest starting eleven, also, Bennett was picked in front of three forwards with quite a bit of first team experience who were on the Derby bench last night and, finally, they had someone in their starting line up (Russell Anderson) who has won eleven caps for his country as a centreback, so the selection of Bennett and Kilbane hardly meant that they were down to the real bare bones in their respective positions.
I find listening to City away games on the radio or relying on Sky Sports News to be kept up to date to be a fraught experience – I tend to be much more relaxed when I can actually see what is happening! Therefore, when you also consider what has tended to happen since the opening day win at West Ham, I took half time reports that City were 1-0 up and cruising with a pinch of salt – no side that is only 1-0 up can really be cruising, but this applies especially to the Cardiff City of 2011/12! To be fair to those commentating on Radio Wales, they did keep on emphasising the need for a second goal, but once that came, last night became one of those very rare occasions where you only needed the evidence of what you were hearing to tell you that City were going to end up with the three points.
So, within the limits of what you can gather from a match by only listening to a commentary, why did City come away with all three points last night when they couldn’t manage it at places like Blackpool and Leeds where they played 4-5-1 and led 1-0? Well, as mentioned earlier, Derby’s injury hit team has to be a factor, but a midfield four of Ward, Hendrick (who has looked pretty impressive in my, admittedly limited, sights of him this season), Bryson and Ben Davies looks decent to me. However, as has been proven in many City matches over the past few seasons, a decent five in midfield will dominate a decent four and it seems that it was in this area of the pitch that City were most dominant. Sunday’s game at Leeds offered proof that a side playing 4-5-1 certainly doesn’t always have most of the play against one playing 4-4-2, but, increasingly in the modern game, if the midfield unit of the former are all doing their jobs properly, then it can be very hard for the latter to get a grip on proceedings.
I thought our midfield was pretty passive and lacked drive at Leeds – on the face of it, the inclusion of Filip Kiss had a lot to do with why this was not the case last night. Kiss has a reputation of being a bit mad with some City fans because of the way he puts everything into tackles, but in his more recent appearances, I would say the clues have been there that he offers us a lot more than that. For example, I’ve been told that Kiss’ ability to run at players was a factor in us getting back into the game at Hull – he was also effective in that department when he came on against Ipswich and his sharply taken goal last night was a reminder that his goalscoring record for Slovan Bratislava wasn’t bad at all. Also, Kiss supplied the perfectly delivered pass which put Peter Whittingham (who, seemingly, looked exactly what he is last night – that is, one of the best players in the Championship) through for our third goal.
Kiss also seemed to make a difference because he was able to give Kenny Miller the sort of midfield support that Joe Mason (unluckily relegated to be bench last night) never got at Leeds. Playing as a lone striker in a 4-5-1 must be a tough task because it can offer very little in return for an awful lot of effort – thankfully Mason got his goal on Sunday which must have made all of the chasing down of Leeds defenders he did more tolerable, but there were times when he looked just what he is – a kid making his way in the game. On the other hand, Kenny Miller has some knowledge of playing in that position and is used to the role – Mason has shown he is up to doing the job when City play at home, but I wonder if it’s still a bridge too far for a youngster who has been superb for us so far, to do it in away games. Therefore, I’d say having Miller in from the start meant that Derby were posed with more defensive problems than they would have got if Mason had played – I must admit though that the fact I find myself wondering if this is actually true makes me think that I might be doing the youngster a disservice here!
With one goal conceded in three matches, there are signs of improvement defensively as well. The Hudson – Turner partnership is looking more solid and, although he wasn’t tested very much, it was good to see Tom Heaton get a further forty five minutes following his impressive display against Burnley last week. With David Marshall being withdrawn because of illness rather than injury, there seems every chance that our first choice keeper will be back to face a Crystal Palace side who’ll come to Cardiff City Stadium having not conceded a goal in six matches, but, it’s reassuring that we have real competition for the goalkeeping job, just like we do at centreback and in central midfield – although I daresay seven or eight of the teams around us could claim the same thing, you get the feeling that the addition of a couple of good players (I’d say a quick and skilful wide player and, maybe, another big forward in our case) could see us having a real chance of securing that coveted top six spot.
Finally, it’s been reported on the messageboards that a Derby fan passed away in the ground at last night’s match - in the unlikely event of anyone connected with the deceased reading this, I’d like to offer you condolences on your loss.