I’ve got this season ticket holder friend who is a regular in the Wales “I told you so” team and around this time for the past few years we have been having the same conversation where he says that pre season friendlies are glorified training matches which the club charge us a small fortune to watch. He has long since stopped going to such matches and tells me each year that I’m wasting my money going to watch them. He’ll be in his “I told you so” element when I see him next on Saturday and, although I’ll answer that it’s always worth going to these games to get an early look at our new players and to see City take on big teams. four “proper” pre season matches at Cardiff City Stadium since it opened without so much as a City goal to celebrate means that my protests will be half hearted ones.
Let’s face it, the punters hardly got their money’s worth last night did they and I can’t help thinking that if a Dave Jones side had played like that then many of those emphasising the positives which came out of the match would be singing a very different tune! City started brightly and could have gone ahead early on, but from around the twenty five minute mark onwards, we struggled for controlled possession and, apart from a long range effort by Joe Mason late in the first half and a possible penalty shout for a foul on the same player after the break, we never looked like scoring. Once we started to make substitutions, it soon became clear that the players coming on were, in most cases, not as good as the ones they were replacing and a second Celtic goal was always more likely than a City equaliser.
The brutal facts are that if we went into the league season with that team and turning in performances like that, then we would spend most of the campaign being concerned with what was happening at the bottom of the table rather than the top, but it needs to be said of course that there were mitigating circumstances behind what happened last night. Firstly, Malky Mackay has stated that we need more players in defence, midfield and attack. Therefore, it’s obvious that our squad is still very much at the “work in progress” stage and when you consider that we had two players (Earnie and Craig Conway) who would be in our strongest current team missing and two more (Quinn and McPhail) who would be pretty strong contenders for a starting place missing from our too small squad as well, then last night’s performance becomes more understandable. As well as this, Celtic were four days from playing their first competitive match of the campaign, whereas it was still eighteen days until we play at West Ham – Celtic wouldn’t have been so much quicker in thought and deed than us if the match had been played in a fortnight’s time.
So, I’m sure that the outlook isn’t as bleak as I painted it earlier, but, I’d still say that last night did further reinforce one aspect of the team building process that our new manager is, surely, already aware of. Malky has said that there will come a time when relying on the Bosman free or, relatively, low cost transfer market will not be enough and we will need to start exploring different options. When he was talking about Craig Bellamy recently, our new manager used the term “X Factor” to define what he could give us at Championship level – I assume what he meant was that Bellamy can give us that something special which can make the difference between taking one point or three or no points and one. Although Earnie and Conway are two players capable of making things happen, I think last night offered proof that we are in need of quite a bit more of the match winning quality that players like Bellamy could give us. On that score. Malky Mackay has said that Peter Whittingham is a very important part of his plans for next season and that soon became clear within minutes of the game starting as everything we did seem to go through him – just as against Reading in his last match at Cardiff City Stadium, I thought Whittingham was very good in the first half, before fading somewhat after the break, but he did seem to be our only real creative outlet and the only possible provider of the aforementioned X Factor.
In saying that, I don’t want to be too critical of his team mates – especially the four new signings on view last night. I thought Gunnarsson was the pick of the new players and showed up well in that initial period when we were on top and I’d say Cowie and Taylor were competent without doing anything spectacular. None of them provided much in the way of inspiration though and, although that may follow with some of them, it could well be that their strengths will lie in other facets of the game. It was much the same up front where Mason was quiet overall while showing a few nice touches (he was fighting something of a lone battle up front at times mind, given Jon Parkin’s ineffective showing) and it was here where this lack of the X Factor showed most.
It looks as if immediate steps are being taken to address this with Scotland International striker Kenny Miller, reportedly, in Cardiff to take a medical today prior to signing a contract with us (I still believe that agreeing terms with the player could be a problem mind). It had been assumed that Miller, who has won fifty five caps for his country, would be returning to Rangers after his ill fated, but highly paid, brief spell with Bursaspor, but, with the Glasgow club’s bid being well below the fee of around £800,000 that City are, seemingly, willing to pay, it looks like they may have missed out on a player who scored twenty two goals for them last season before moving to Turkey in January. It also seems certain that we will by signing Slovakian Under 21 captain Filip Kiss on a season long loan deal from Slovan Bratislava. Twenty year old Kiss is a midfield player who scored six times in twenty nine matches last season as his club performed the domestic double – little else is known about him and the only thing you’ll find on You Tube featuring him are pictures of the Stuttgart keeper clogging him in a Europa League match!
City’s interest in Miller is being taken to mean that we are no longer after David Goodwillie by some. While I can see the logic behind that thinking, I reckon it’s more likely that Miller’s wages at Cardiff if he signed (he is reportedly on £45k a week at Bursaspor, but realises that he will have to take a significant wage cut if he is to return to the UK) would make it more likely that it will be Craig Bellamy who we will stop chasing because we would surely be looking at a combined wage of £50k a week or more for them. Anyway, Goodwillie is due in Court today to answer an assault charge and there are still plenty who maintain that he will be signing for Cardiff as long as there is a favourable outcome to the case for him.