Our start to the season has seen me spending a lot of time talking about what a tough start to the season we have been given by the fixtures computer – I’m beginning to bore myself with the way I keep on banging on about how hard our first seven home games are! On the other hand, I suppose people will look at away games at West Ham, Hull and Fulham and say that represents a fairly gentle introduction to the Premier League on our travels, but the very fact they are away games raises a dilemma because the received wisdom in virtually every level of professional football is that you go into such matches with a degree of caution – certainly in the opening stages of them anyway.
I still maintain that the quality of opponent we have faced at Cardiff City Stadium means that we have adopted the right tactical approach even though that received wisdom I mentioned earlier says that the onus is on the home side to do the attacking. Add on the West Ham match on the opening day of the season when no one really knew what to expect and I think we have have two matches left out of our six so far against sides expected to be somewhere around us at the end of the season.
Although the matches against the top sides are fantastic when we get something out of them, it’s the games against the Hulls and Fulhams of this world that will eventually decide whether we are still in this league next season. Hull’s useful start (home games with Norwich, us and West Ham gave them the chance to get off to the sort of beginning to the campaign that they have done mind) makes our 1-1 result there look a better one than it did at the time and, while it was hardly a case of us parking the bus there, I’d said we started that match with a fairly cautious approach and it needed the jolt of falling a goal behind to draw us into a more attacking frame of mind.
So, on a pretty basic level, our starting tactical approach had been broadly similar in every match we had played until yesterday’s and supporters like me who have been waiting to see how we would fare in a game where the onus was on us to force the issue looked set for a pretty long wait until we could get our answer. I didn’t see yesterday’s match as being one where we would attack from the start, but, just as I did when we went to Hull, I hoped we could grow into the game in time and take advantage of playing against opponents who we could approach with a bit less respect than, say, Man City and Tottenham.
However, as it turned out, we went into yesterday’s match with a very positive approach which manifested itself not just in a desire to get forward, but also in some crisp tackling by our midfielders and forwards which saw us putting the home side under pressure in areas high up the pitch. The magnificent backing from over 3,000 travelling supporters surely helped matters as well and, buoyed by an early goal from captain Steve Caulker, City played their most dominant forty five minutes of the season so far – I truly cannot remember too many occasions in the Championship last season when we were so much on top as we were in the first half yesterday.
Before we start going overboard about our win mind, I think it’s best to point out that we were up against a team which looked devoid of confidence and contained a significant number of players whose attitude, to be frank, stank. For the first forty minutes, the home side turned in the sort of performance which gets managers the sack. Martin Jol is, obviously, under real pressure at Craven Cottage, but I thought he deserved credit for recognising how badly things were going for his team and, even though he’d already had to make a substitution in the opening ten minutes, reacting by making a tactical switch which saw Ruiz replacing Kacaniklic so early in the game.
If anything showed the extent of City’s supremacy it was this, but, amazingly, they had to go in level at the break because Ruiz promptly showed the sort of virtuosity which three of four members of his team can come up with at any time by curling in a tremendous left footed shot from twenty five yards to make it 1-1. Hardly surprisingly, that moment of brilliance from Ruiz led to an improvement in the home side’s display after the break and they looked a little more like the sort of side Jol must aiming for.
Any squad which contains the attacking flair of Berbatov, Ruiz and Taarabt backed up by the finishing of an in form Darren Bent has to be respected. However, the first three names I mentioned all fall into the mercurial category mind and so you cannot rely on a performance from them. Not only that, they contribute virtually nothing when it comes to the unglamorous aspects of the game – actually, there were times yesterday when the thought occurred to me that I was watching something akin to a game between the old and the new Cardiff City’s!
Fulham this season strike me as a “nice” side to play against and, certainly, without Scott Parker in there to bring some order to proceedings, the six or seven more defensive members of their team struggled to cover for the erratic contributions of their so called match winners who have a different interpretation of the term “team play” to most others. As I say, Fulham reminded me of some of Dave Jones’ “old” City sides and such opponents tend to be meat and drink to Malky Mackay’s “new” Cardiff outfit.
As usual, City were dangerous from dead ball situations with Fulham being so inept at defending Whittingham’s wicked corners and free kicks that my pre season prediction that we could expect a lot less success from them this year compared to last looks more ludicrous by the week! They were also disciplined, organised, hard working and tigerish in their harrying and covering, but, and I believe this needs more emphasising, also, neat, accurate and incisive in their passing at times.
There was a fair degree of style to the way we quickly moved the ball on occasionss and, even in the more competitive second half, it was City who created the best chance when substitute Jordon Mutch played in a superb low cross from the right which Fraizer Campbell wastefully fired over the top. Mutch had been used strangely in our first four matches as he racked up a total of around ten minutes in substitute appearances, but he played well at West Ham in midweek and earned the chance to get something more substantial than the fleeting appearances off the bench he had managed so far. Kimbo’s injury with thirty five minutes to go gave him the opportunity to contribute more and he did so with a vengeance.
Having been on the wrong end of a added time winning goal last week, it was City’s turn to benefit from one this time as Mutch battled for a high ball from David Marhsall, took a couple of touches to move infield and then arrowed a sweet left shot from around twenty two yards into the top corner of Stockdale’s net with his so called weaker left foot – it was an outstanding first goal for the club and could turn out to be so important come May.
So, well ahead of schedule in most people’s eyes in terms of points gained so far, a nice little gap of four points above the bottom three, twenty two efforts at goal to show we can create chances at this level and players making match winning contributions off the bench to put pressure on those currently starting – things are going well at the moment in so many ways. However, to finish on a more cautious note, the BBC’s figures show that only four of yesterday’s twenty two goal attempts were on target and although a total of sixty three efforts at goal isn’t a bad figure for our first six matches, the fact that only fourteen of them were on target is a cause for some concern. Actually six goals from those fourteen attempts is a good ratio, but I still think we need to be showing more composure in front of goal.
* pictures courtesy of http://www.walesonline.co.uk/