City stop the away rot (kind of).

CoymayOn 19 October last year, Jordon Mutch put us ahead after ten minutes at Chelsea. Just over two months later, he netted our consolation goal fifty seven minutes into a 3-1 defeat at Liverpool on 21 December. In between those two goals, City played a total of 497 minutes without finding the net in an away match. Given that the two sides Mutch scored against were to finish third and second respectively in the Premier League last season, the identity of the sides who shut us out is quite surprising – trips to Norwich, Villa, Stoke and Palace were all considered winnable at the time, but although we ended up taking points at Carrow Road and the Britannia Stadium, the fact we couldn’t score against any of them played a large part in the change of perception of Malky Mackay’s team from one that could survive in the top flight to bona fide relegation candidates.

There are definite parallels between that run and the one the current team are having in front of goal on their travels after yesterday’s goalless stalemate with Birmingham at St. Andrews took it to 430 minutes without an away goal since Kenwyne Jones equalised for us at Brighton on 30 September and with our next five away matches being against teams currently in the top ten of the Championship. the potential is there for the current run to stretch well past last year’s.

This is especially true when you consider who we have played in our last four away matches – Blackpool, Bolton and Birmingham were all in the bottom three when we took them on and Milwall had not won in eight games. When we were drawing our away games without playing well in August and September, these were the matches that were supposed to lead to us climbing into the top six as the squad start to look as good as everyone kept telling us it was. Instead, we have had to rely on a 100% cent record in our last four matches to keep us in touch with the Play Off places, but the momentum such a run at the Cardiff City Stadium should have bought us has not arrived because of our woeful away results and, importantly, performances.

The current scoreless run is already comfortably the worst we’ve had at this level since our promotion in 02/03 and the conclusion I draw from that is that it’s all very understandable because our away performances have been the worst I’ve seen over a significant number of away games during that time – we really have been that bad away from home this season.

When a side isn’t scoring, attention will always fall on the strikers – on many occasions, this can be unfair because there are others missing the chances, but you have to say that, in recent away games at least, the few worthwhile opportunities we’ve had have fallen to our front men. Yesterday, Federico Macheda, who still doesn’t convince me with his all round play, but is at least scoring in home games, missed the two best chances we had, while Adam LeFondre, who always puts in a shift, but cannot buy a goal at the moment (the one he thought he got against Ipswich has, apparently, been taken off him by the dubious goals panel), had a couple of opportunities he might well have put away in more confident times.

Three months into the season and Adam LeFondre still awaits his first goal in a competitive match. I suspect the prospect of facing his former club in our next match  will be enough for Russell Slade to keep him in the team, but even our manager's faith in our misfiring striker must be ebbing away by now.*

Three months into the season and Adam LeFondre still awaits his first goal in a competitive match. I suspect the prospect of facing his former club in our next match will be enough for Russell Slade to keep him in the team, but even our manager’s faith in our misfiring striker must be ebbing away by now.*

Kenwyne Jones is still off on compassionate grounds following the murder of two of his cousins in Trinidad last month and so wasn’t available for selection at Bolton and Birmingham, but it was a brave decision a month ago by Russell Slade to drop the man whose goals had been responsible for our 1-1 draws at Blackburn, Fulham and Brighton in favour of the players who have formed our front two since he took over at the club and, so far, it’s, at best, arguable if Macheda and LeFondre have repaid our manager’s faith in them.

When a team is creating so few chances on their travels I suppose it’s inevitable that there is a degree of anxiety involved for the person it falls to when one does come around, but Macheda and LeFondre are being paid more than most players they’ll face this season (as well as quite a few in the Premier League I daresay) to convert them – LeFondre in particular is struggling badly in that department of the game at the moment and, surely, there has to come a time when Russell Slade must seriously think of switching the attacking personnel and system (which we keep being told is an attacking one) for our away matches.

4-4-2 away from home under Slade has not delivered against three sides of the type this squad, laughably described as the best in the history of the Championship a few months ago, should be trampling all over if what we are told about it in the papers is to be believed. My own view has always been that we were not as good as the hype told us we were, but, on the other hand, we really should be doing a lot better than five points, and five goals, from nine away matches – particularly when you consider that six of the teams we’ve faced are currently in the bottom eight of the division.

Birmingham striker Wes Thomas is shown the red card by referee Kevin Friend after an off the ball scuffle with Sean Morrison who had to leave the field with a head injury. In truth, the sending off happened so late in the game that the only real effect it had was to virtually ensure us the draw at a time when the home side had been putting us under a lot of pressure.*

Birmingham striker Wes Thomas is shown the red card by referee Kevin Friend after an off the ball scuffle with Sean Morrison who had to leave the field with a head injury. In truth, the sending off happened so late in the game that the only real effect it had was to virtually ensure us the draw at a time when the home side had been putting us under a lot of pressure.*

All things considered, there were less changes from the Bolton game than I was expecting (especially when you consider Bruno Manga’s absence was an enforced one due to injury). Our manager’s continuing faith in LeFondre especially is, understandably, getting him criticism on the messageboards and, while the return of the fit again Anthony Pilkington for Joe Ralls was a predictable change, there was more flak coming Slade’s way when the news came through that Fabio, generally regarded as one of our best performers this year, had been left out. I can see why this decision would annoy people, but, having heard the guarded praise the manager gave when asked about the player (he was complimentary about Fabio’s play going forward, but less so about his defending) and seen two of the goals at Bolton come down his side, it didn’t come as a complete surprise to me – it had also been predicted by some in the local media.

In the event, I think it has to be said that Russell Slade could claim his defensive changes in particular worked as City managed just their fourth clean sheet in their last thirty nine league matches. Was it a coincidence that two “old faithfuls” from the promotion team of two seasons ago were in our back four yesterday? Ben Turner (solid and effective in his first Championship game of the campaign) and Matt Connolly (unlucky to have lost his place due to injury after being just about our most consistent player in the first six weeks of the season), along with Aron Gunnarsson, are players who were deemed to be not good enough for the Premier League by many of the critics – that may well be true, but they are proven performers at this level and, with the Icelandic international being possibly our most reliable performer since Russell Slade took over, I’m far from convinced that, with the possible exception of Bruno Manga, the expensive players brought in to replace them are an improvement on them.

Given that Connolly’s worst performance by some distance this season came when he played at left back against Norwich, Slade got it right in my book when he moved John Brayford over to the left to become Fabio’s replacement and slotted Connolly in at right back. Connolly will never be the attacking threat that Fabio can be and Turner will never be as composed on the ball as Bruno looks, but what we had yesterday was a back four that knows all about defending at this level and I don’t believe it was a coincidence that it resulted in our opponents firing a blank.

That’s one reason why yesterday can be seen as an improvement of sorts and another is that I believe that, for the first time this season in an away match, the claim “this was a game we could and should have won” had some justification to it. If we are going to improve to a level where we begin to look like the away team we have been at this level over the past decade and more, then the process is more likely to start with the sort of scrappy and grim encounter we saw yesterday than it is with us playing superbly and blowing someone away three or four nil.

So, I think yesterday has to be seen as a small step in the right direction, but the fact that we are talking about a draw, which offered continuing proof that we are getting things badly wrong at one end of the pitch, against a team who have an unbelievably bad home record as being some sort of progress, only goes to show how far we’ve fallen since Malky Mackay’s “boring” 2012/13 team ruled this league – all this with a squad which cost a lot less in transfer fees than this one did and I’m pretty certain it was paid significantly less than this one is.

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8 Responses to City stop the away rot (kind of).

  1. ROD GROVES says:

    The on going fall out of the oile gunners reign continues ,and belive me the season will continue like this un till January at least ,then mr Slade will hopefully bring a few players in that want to play to win with passion and desire , and that will depend on mr Tans say so.Yes we have had a few good wins at home with the rub of the green firmly with us, but i have yet to see this currant group ,the best in the championship we are told ha ha sorry broke in to laughter then put one single 90 minute match that resembles a foot ball team ,we have seen the odd bit of football thats been ok, but on the hole is has been poor.MOST OF olies players that he brought to the club are not up to the required standard and Russel Slade is stuck with them so the pain will continue ,take the currant front two, Adam lefondre runs around a fair bit and does give effort but 1 deflected goal is a poor return from the games played and is usually taken off ,then we come to the Manchester united reject Federico Macheda the mighty Roman, well not for me yes he has got a few goals to be fair some very lucky by the way ,no pace could not head a bus queue ,and fist touch when ball played in to him is about one in four that is any good, and his desire to run about well sometimes, usually when he has missed controlled the ball and given it to the other team ,he is now playing at the highest level that he is going to he is going one way down hill ,and this week he said he like to get back in to the premiership DREAM ON .

  2. Big Al says:

    A satisfactory start for Slade. 1.66 points per game played under his management. Assuming we maintain this current form we are destined for a place off place this year. In my view an excellent performance. Still lots of work to be done tactically but I am sure with an improvement in our midfield play things can get better. We have the squad to improve performance. Over to you Mr Slade but take my advice you are the leader of this team so make sure you realise you are not there to make all the decisions you are there to make sure the right decision is made. Good luck Boss and keep up the good work.
    Big Al.

  3. rhondda blue says:

    after watching another inept city performance at brum yesterday I just wonder what we do in training all week, we could not string two passes together, gunner for all his endeavour, his passing was woeful on times.
    another team near the trap door that we made to look like top of the table. gabby on? please slade your going backwards. I have seen one good first half of football this season against Norwich, the rest have been of first division quality, the only positive about yesterday’s game was a point away and a shutout. I fear a downward slide unless city get their act together. maybe mr tan needs to sack them all and start again, we have about 40 players and can’t make a first team eleven that can play football, that says it all. FRUSTRATED.

  4. Dai Woosnam says:

    Thanks for an even more thoughtful piece than usual Paul. What I like about your reports is the attention to detail that you show: it is missing in ALL the columnists writing on WalesOnline.
    I liked the three contributions from your readers posted at the time of my writing this.
    I probably empathise most with the one from Rhondda Blue. Russell has alas not got it, and has NEVER had it – not achieving anything of note – but he is a genuine and decent bloke.
    And he will get Cardiff fitter than DJ, Malky and Ole – put together – got them.
    Here in Grimsby, a chap I know living on Cleethorpes seafront tells me that Russell – as befits the PE master he previously was -
    would regularly have his squad running on the sands every day, Chariots of Fire style.
    So within a few months Paul, I forecast City players will be daily climbing wallbars…
    …while alas, City fans may well break that last word into two: taking solace in the bars, to avoid daily
    …climbing the WALL (!!!)

  5. The other Bob Wilson says:

    Thank you all for your comments. I must admit to being in a bit of a quandary when it comes to our new manager – I don’t particularly like the football we’re playing, he seems to distrust footballers with talent, I don’t think 4-4-2 away from home is working, the strikers he shows so much faith in are not doing enough to justify that faith, despite a point on Saturday, I don’t see any real improvement in our away performances and he put three centre halves on the bench at Bolton!
    However, I find myself agreeing with Big Al – ten points from six matches is Play Off form if replicated over the course of a season and these are facts as opposed to the opinions listed in my first paragraph. I’m not saying that this applies to you all, but there are plenty on the messageboards who didn’t agree with the Slade appointment and are almost willing him to fail as they seize on anything they see as negative to pursue an agenda which looks ridiculous when you consider that, as Al points out, we are getting 1.66 points per game under our new manager at the moment.
    I’ve just been looking at our results over the past couple of seasons and it’s interesting to see that the best run of league results over a six game period since we were closing in on promotion in March/April 2013 is the eleven points we got from the matches when the Gabbidon/Young partnership was in charge and Russell Slade’s first two games after taking over – that is the only time Slade’s ten points from six matches has been exceeded and he was responsible for more than half of those eleven.
    Granted, a lot of the time involved was during a relegation season, but, since the end of September we have been in our best run of league results in more than eighteen months and yet so many are saying our manager is not good enough.
    Another factor to bear in mind is that Slade has inherited this squad – although I’m always trying to find something good to say about Ole because I liked him, Rod is right, he was an absolute disaster as City manager and his time in charge looks worse with every passing day.

  6. Graham says:

    Time to stop what we all thought sensible : keeping the same set of players unless injury required replacements .. Le Fondre, Macheda, and Pilkington now should be dropped [oops, "rested"] .. players who term themselves ’strikers’ should strike regularly .. replacements? 5 names come to mind – get Mason back from Bolton .. give Guerra a[nother] chance .. Kim, Daehli, Burgstaller should be seriously considered for starting or bringing on from the bench .. and are there any striker youngsters from our junior squads ready for serious first team consideration? And I do wish Gestede would stop scoring for Blackburn!

  7. Dai Woosnam says:

    Graham is spot on with his comment on Gestede.
    It hurts the hell out of me to see how he has been transformed into the most dangerous frontman in the Championship.
    After City did all the spade work !!
    Like i said at the time of his departure: do we know whether he was pushed out, or did he want to go? And how come a chap whose heading was so erratic, has now become so lethal? What does it tell you of Malky and Ole as coaches?
    And do we know just what pittance he went for?

  8. Dai Woosnam says:

    Meant to also add that my alter ego has just posted this on to WalesOnline:
    Alas Alfie is a Kenny Miller Mk 3.
    Tony Pulis went down in my estimation by buying Kenny Miller Mk 2 (aka Fraizer Campbell).
    All three the same player.
    All great 100 percenters, but with no ice in their veins.
    If you want a bloke who is great running the channels, you might as easily play Mo Farah.

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