City return to winning ways in “away banker”.

Before yesterday, the previous time City visited the Stadium of Light, they’d suffered a 4-0 hammering late on in our Premier League season. As the saying goes, City needed snookers to avoid a relegation that had seemed fairly inevitable to me for a couple of months already after that, but the manner of the defeat (even if Juan Cala may have been a little harshly sent off) meant that there would be no miracle escape – indeed two more losses consigned us to not just relegation, but also a bottom spot finish.

However, down the years, we’ve done pretty well on Wearside. The first game I can remember us playing at Roker Park ended Sunderland 0 Cardiff 4 in 1971, a City team struggling badly in the league got a 1-1 draw up there in an FA Cup replay in front of 39,000 (we earned ourselves a Fifth Round tie with Leeds by winning the second replay at Maine Road) in 1972 and it was 1-1 again when we visited the then FA Cup holders and big promotion favourites early on in the 73/74 campaign.

Late in the 78/79 season, a City side in good form went to Roker Park and, essentially, cost Sunderland promotion by winning 2-1 in front of 37,000 and, although the venue may have changed, the scoreline was the same when Michael Chopra’s brace of goals gave us a Halloween night win at the Stadium of Light in 2006.

After that last game, City went five points clear at the top of table and long suffering supporters like me were beginning to allow themselves to believe that the almost half century wait for top flight football in Cardiff was coming to an end.

However, hindsight shows that our win that night was, probably, the high water mark of that season as decline set in to such an extent that the early pace makers found themselves in the middle of the chasing pack (we finished thirteenth) by the time the season ended six months later.

If City “enjoyed” something of a collapse that year, I’d still say that Sunderland’s turnaround was more dramatic as Roy Keane’s strugglers, they were right in the relegation mix after their loss to us, transformed themselves into Champions over the final three quarters or so of the campaign.

So, after we had ended our run of three games without a win with another 2-1 triumph which kept us in a three way tie with Leeds and Wolves at the top of the Championship (we’re only in third place because of the superior goal difference of the former and the fact that the latter have scored one more goal than us), is it possible that both teams can have a 2006/07 type transformation eleven years later?

The first thing to say about that is that, with more of the season left to play than there was in 2006, the change in fortunes for either team would not need to be as dramatic to see us end up in thirteenth and Sunderland top – as to whether it’s likely to happen, I’ll come to us later, but it’s hard to see any reasons for hoping for the same outcome this time around if you are a Sunderland fan.

When they beat us so easily back in 2013/14, Sunderland were on their way to defying the convention which said that the side who were bottom of the Premier League at Christmas always ends up getting relegated – only Earnie’s 2004/05 West Brom side had managed to wriggle clear from such a predicament before.

At that time, the future for Sunderland going into 2014/15 looked a bright one, but, instead, their Premier League existence became so fraught that their relegation last season seemed an inevitable one – indeed, it could be claimed that it was two or three years overdue.

So, Sunderland prepared for their first season at this level since that 2006/07 campaign with a long run of failure, broken only by the fleeting joy of a relegation avoided, behind them. Not only that, there was also the knowledge that their 2016/17 season had looked like a lost cause for much of it’s existence.

Although they managed to remain fairly competitive during the first half of the campaign, Sunderland only won two of their last twenty one matches and, while the fact that they only finished four points behind last but one Middlesbrough meant that they could not be classed as candidates for worst Premier League side ever, the margin of sixteen points between them and seventeenth placed Watford was all the proof needed to see that they were a long way short of being even a mediocre top flight team.

With David Moyes’ latest attempt to regain the managerial reputation he had enjoyed at the time he was named as Manchester United manager having ended in another failure, Sunderland appointed Simon Grayson early enough in the summer to give him a decent chance of starting the new season with something like his own side.

With Grayson having turned Preston into unlikely Play Off candidates in the two seasons since he guided them to promotion in 14/15, he had added to his reputation as something of Championship expert and, rather like with us and Neil Warnock, his appointment looked an eminently sensible one by a Board that had hardly distinguished themselves in the field of managerial appointments in recent years.

I still think Grayson will get things right at Sunderland if he is given the time, but I’m pretty sure he didn’t think his new job would be as tough as it’s turning out to be – after all, when you look at the squad they had out against us, it doesn’t strike me as bottom three material.

However, every season there seems to be a few sides (e.g. Blackburn, Coventry and Leyton Orient last season) that, no matter what their squad may look like, have a “culture of failure” about them which makes relegation almost inevitable. We had it last season until Neil Warnock’s appointment because, no matter how abjectly we performed under Paul Trollope, ours was a squad that was some way off being one of the three worst in the league and Sunderland do need to snap out of things quickly if they are not to become one of those sides who find themselves playing League One football some fifteen months after they were performing in the Premier League.

One thing Simon Grayson needed to do was turn around a home record that had not seen Sunderland win after Watford were beaten 1-0  a week before Christmas last year, but, instead their lowly current position is primarily down to them continuing their awful home form – after a mildly encouraging 1-1 draw with Derby in the first game of the Championship season, Leeds, Sheffield United and Forest had all come to Wearside and won before yesterday.

Now, I had read that Sunderland had been unlucky in that trio of games, because in each of them, they had competed well only to be foiled by some fine goalkeeping, but they didn’t even have that consolation to cling to yesterday as City showed something of a return to form after their recent “wobble” and, by the end, only the most one eyed of Black Cats supporters could claim that the outcome wasn’t the correct one.

After having said that he should have made changes for the visit to Preston some three days after playing at Fulham, our manager surprised many by making just the one alteration (Craig Bryson for Loic Damour) for the visit of Sheffield Wednesday last weekend, so I for one assumed that, injuries permitting, it would be same again at Sunderland.

Instead, Lee Peltier, who is picking up yellow cards at such a rate that he already only needs one more of them to receive a one match suspension, after his uncomfortable afternoon against Wednesday was missing as Jazz Richards was given an overdue start. In the event, it later emerged that Peltier’s absence from the squad was down to injury, but Sol Bamba, rated as an eleven out of ten last weekend by Warnock, was on the bench and came on for the last few minutes, so the selection of Bruno Manga in front of him could not be put down to injury.

Similarly, Junior Hoilett only saw some action yesterday from the seventieth minute when he replaced Liam Feeney who made his first Cardiff start at the expense of the Canadian international and, even Kenneth Zohore, the man the club were saying would not be sold for less than £30 million a few weeks ago would have missed out if Danny Ward had not contracted a virus on the day before the game.

Now, Zohore needs a goal and is not playing as well as he was a month ago, Hoilett’s form has also suffered after a scintillating start to the campaign and, for all of Bamba’s inspirational qualities, there have been one or two chinks in his armour showing lately, but I’m pretty sure that all three of them would be in Warnock’s strongest starting eleven if he was picking one today.Sometimes it’s hard to detect a difference between someone being “rested” and them being “dropped”, but I would argue that Hoilett and Bamba were rested yesterday, as would Zohore have been if Ward was fit.

It would be wrong to say that City walked all over Sunderland yesterday. There was a time shortly after they had scored following Sean Morrison’s penalty area trip on Lyndon Gooch, when the opportunity was there for the home side to go on and win against opponents whose belief after recent results will have not been at the same level as it was in August.

Instead though, City produced exactly the right response to this setback by reasserting their earlier authority as they reacted, not by shutting things up and trying to turn one point into three by playing on the break, but by taking the game to Sunderland at a time when they might have been allowing themselves to think they could exploit the opportunity for a turning point in their campaign.

To mix my regional stereotypes up, I think Neil Warnock uses a bit of the old blarney at times as he says things for public consumption that he may not believe himself – all managers do it to differing degrees – and I must admit that his frequent claims that his bench for this season is as strong as he’s ever seemed like just a way of keeping morale up among those who were not starting every week.

However, when you consider some of the players who aren’t even getting into the eighteen regularly, others like Lee Camp, Callum Paterson and Kadeem Harris who I would have thought will be on the bench at least when they recover from long term injuries and the ones who were missing with minor knocks yesterday, then you have to concede that our manager might mean what he is saying this time.

Even allowing for Sunderland’s somewhat fragile psyche, it is impressive that City could go there while making the sort of changes they did and still win relatively comfortably. If Sunderland truly have not been getting what they deserve from their home games because of the performance of visiting goalkeepers then it’s a claim they could not make this team as Neil Etheridge had a very quite time of it – City were the better side and passed the ball better than they have been doing lately.

As someone who has been concerned about our passing for large parts of our last two home games and also in the match at Preston, I noted with interest this story from the local press during the week. Hardly surprisingly, Neil Warnock was questioned on the subject in his pre game press conference and responded in fine style as he related how he was once asked by Norwich Board members about the Warnock style of football – he admitted to not knowing what this meant, but asked if they were talking about winning or having more shots than your opponents!

Nevertheless, I’m sure that he will have been pleased by the better passing on show yesterday and delighted about the twenty goal attempts (seven of which were on target) that his side had as they consolidated their position near the top of those respective tables – for the record, we are second to Brentford in both charts.

If I could second guess what those Norwich Board members meant, I would have thought something like our first goal at Sunderland would exemplify at least some of it,as a goal kick by a keeper was headed on by the target man to another attacker who passed the ball on to the scorer who put it into the net.

The whole thing was all pretty basic football and so could attract the sort of patronising attitude that things like set piece goals can attract- sometimes I’m guilty of this as well. However, there are skills involved in the sort of goals from free kicks and corners that we’ve been pretty good at scoring in recent years and there certainly were instances of good skills, technique and footballing intelligence to admire in our first goal.

First of all, Etheridge landed a sixty yard goal kick on the head on the head of Zohore which the striker (who is often, rightly, criticised for not being as good in the air as he should be) flicked into the path of Nathaniel Mendez-Laing. The winger’s goals may have dried up recently, but he is the one of what was a rampant front three in August who is maintaining his level of performance best through September and here he showed that he has the skill to go with his pace and power as he hooked a first time pass on to Craig Bryson who had timed his run to perfection to get beyond the last defender and guide a fine volley into the net – I timed the whole thing from Etheridge making contact with his goal kick to the ball hitting the net on this video and it took nine seconds.

Bryson showed an appreciation of the art of “third man running” attacking midfield play that I don’t think any other member of our squad possesses in scoring his first goal for the club and, in doing so, offered evidence of something that had been missing from our play without me realising it – again, more than at any time since we were relegated, we have a squad capable of coping with all eventualities.

If there was a criticism of yesterday’s display, it was probably that we had to rely on the game’s second penalty (finally, Morrison was on the right end of one of those decisions when the man marking him thinks just grabbing our captain as a cross is coming in constitutes legitimate defending) to secure our win, when there were sufficient chances from general play to have done so. I’ve mentioned before that, Joe Ralls never fills me with confidence when he takes a penalty, but he still has a one hundred per cent record from the four he has taken and, last time I looked, that was as good as you can get!

So, that’s our away games over until after the next international break. We now face table topping Leeds on Tuesday (apparently, twenty five thousand tickets have been sold for this game already) and then the perennially highly fancied Derby (who signed Joe Ledley on a contract until January last week) next weekend – two more real tests in a run of very tough looking fixtures, but only at Preston in our last four games have we not revealed the differing qualities this squad has which makes me believe that a Cardiff fade out to a thirteenth place finish is about as likely as Sunderland title win in 17/18!

 

 

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7 Responses to City return to winning ways in “away banker”.

  1. Anthony O'Brien says:

    Paul,

    I remain in awe of your historical knowledge of Cardiff in particular and football in general, and your above chronicle is further proof of your abilities. Also, I think you have used totally the right word when you talk of managerial “blarney”. Correctly or not, I also believe there has been an element of blarney about Neil Warnock’s words of praise for Kenneth Zohore. (readers, please don’t yawn or throw an angry fit if I refer once more to what has become something of a broken record on my part).

    I honestly believe that Kenneth Zohore has been over-hyped. He is powerfully built, strong when running forward, and is now producing backward headers which are an improvement on what he was producing last season. Indeed, as Paul’s report points out, it was Zohore’s flick on which went to Mendez-Laing and led to Bryson’s goal. True enough, but Zohore’s flick-ons are essentially aimless, the ball simply going up into the air more in hope than anything else. The real skill lay with Mendez-Laing’s controlled lob and Bryson’s excellent finish.

    When I wrote about Zohore recently I mentioned the lion-hearted bravery that someone like Nat Lofthouse used to show so many years ago in comparison with the positions Kenneth Zohore habitually takes up on the periphery of the goal area for dead ball situations. He does not rush in “where angels fear to tread”. Neither does he bully defenders when they are at his back (hence the up-in-the-air backward headers), I’d therefore like to quote something that Kevin Ratcliff said yesterday in commentary very early in the second half to explain why Zohore was not going aggressively for the ball: “Zohore is perhaps thinking about not being hurt. — It’s almost as if he’s afraid of ” the centre backs.
    And yet when Bogle came on he immediately got his head to a free kick close to the Sunderland goal, Does this happen with Zohore?

    Recently I read that Neil Warnock had said that he would be willing to sell Zohore if we are out of the promotion race early next year. This may well suggest, I feel, that Zohore is in a similar position to David Marshall, hoping for a move to the Premiership under a promise he will be allowed to go at some time in the future. Alternatively, it may well be another example of the manager’s “blarney” to boost Zohore’s confidence by portraying him as essential to Cardiff’s promotion drive. Who knows? It makes the team selection for Tuesday night’s game even more interesting. If 25,000 tickets are already sold for this game, as Paul asserts, then it should be a fantastic occasion with a tremendous atmosphere. A Cardiff victory would really be the icing on the cake.

  2. Russell says:

    Like Anthony I can only bow to your unbelievable football knowledge, the abiding memory of Sunderland games in the 70′’s as a nieve youngster, was the intense atmospheres when we played them thier hordes of very older looking fans than ours running around our staduim , and finally gaining some territory into our old wooden floored Grangend, and a battle royal following as you can imagine, which we lost .

    Listened to the game on the radio Wales ,eeeek. Ratcliffe just banged on about the wort of a 20 million striker which seeing him doing this and that he failed to see appreciate that although Ken had another ” no goal” game , he failed to recognise the fact the lad is always occupying two defenders time and is contributing by providing space and does provide for others , see goal Kevin , Mr Ratcliffe should realise the striker didn’t place the 20 million tag on his poor young developing head, the madness of the game has, I suspect its partly a wind up to get City fans to ring into their sad post match phone in.

    I would like to have seen Tomlin play in this game as well as the very promising Bryson, what a steal he is , box to box midfield player who can score, Gunnerson and Ralls are okay getting in the box however thier shooting quality in particular doesn’t deliver more in the way of goals for me especially Gunnerson .

    If I had a straight choice between Ledley and Bryson , the later would win for me in our current position and need.

    Brave , and correct decesion to play Manga instead of Bamba , we need to use away games to try different tactics out as it provides competion for all places, and Bamba I felt was poor at Preston away ,

    We now have competion in most positions, I am hoping that Bogle starts to pressure Ken as well as Ward, as he is more of a nature replacement than Ward , I see Ward as a wider striker or off a big front man , not as a main strike , and Warnocks tactics are direct, and rightly so in this league , we need the big man .

    My view on pocession is simple, okay in the oppositions half only if your moving forward , and should be mixed with directness , even Jose see’s that when he chucks Fellani on for Mata, and hey it changes the game .

    I am so chuffed we got through through the last 4 fixtures with five points , playing not as we were, we must have something about us to do so, perhaps some of Warnocks Sheffield steel.

    Leeds at home, potential sell out ,evening game, top of the table clash , intense love affair exposed in full between the fans , oh heaven ,oh can’t wait , I am feeling nervy and its only Sunday.

    Thanks Paul for providing another excellent report and summary and the window for me to rant on , lol.

  3. Barry Cole says:

    A very nice piece Paul especially as Sunderland are close to my heart, not necessary the team but my 15 years in the area , my first wife, her family of mackems and my best friends from our footballing days in the north east.
    Normally I am on the end of a loss when we play Sunderland, my ex wife and I are still very close mainly because of our children. But my friendship with the mates has no bounds as we regularly text each weekend to keep everyone informed on how our teams are doing.
    Bar for the cup replay at Maine road when we won 3-1 and I was in the Sunderland end trying to keep my cheers as low key as possible while stood with my wife, mother in law, wife’s sisters, brother in law and about 10,000 mackems who sometimes don’t really understand that you may not always support their team and the 2-1 win in 2006 when we went downhill from there, I haven’t had much joy in the north east.
    So yesterday’s result I could see coming but what I didn’t see coming was the resignation of my mates who all bar none said it was cardiffs game before we kicked off. I had never known that before as these people are the typical mackems who would die for the cause.
    Again I was in the Sunderland end but how subdued it was, nothing like what I remembered and certainly not what I expected.
    The evening panned out by drink and eats followed the same pattern until we decided that enough was enough of talking football and got down to catching up.
    Without going into too much detail they were amazed that Sunderland even scored and the likelihood was that a penalty would be their only way of scoring.
    I can empathise with the state of Sunderland as we have had this till the arrival of warnock. Owners who thought they knew the best way, owners who felt they knew the best managers and owners having seen their money disappear pulled in the purse strings. In our case the appointment of slade was made because of the lack of trust following mackay and it took some time for tan to rectify his feelings. What we have at Cardiff is everyone back together thanks to the tan and warnock relationship.
    Sunderland are just passing the slade arrival stage. Personally I don’t see them in the bottom three for too long but they are a long way from the team that we beat in 2006 and went on to win the league. If they finish half way they will have had a good season and then they can built on from there. Does that remind you of last season at Cardiff.
    Now to Cardiff, I was pleased to see the changes and I really believe this keeps everyone on their toes, but I feel sorry for damour as he hasn’t done much wrong.
    Another few changes wouldn’t go amiss against Leeds and derby.
    We should have had the game wrapped up inside the first half hour and we really need to take our chances better. At half time the mood in the Sunderland bar was nothing short of deathly quiet, so my mates were amazed that they started the second half on the front foot having been mauled so badly in the first half. Although the Sunderland penalty gave them room for optimism the lads just didn’t have the belief that they would go on and win the game and so it proved.
    I didn’t think we played very well and still we were always going to go up a gear when necessary and so it proved. So it’s now time for the top two clash and should we win, which I am sure we will, it should lead us to a slightly easier round of games through late October and November and who knows

  4. Clive Rymon says:

    Hi Paul,what memories you evoked about Sunderland games of the past,I can remember the game in the seventies away at Main road a surreal atmosphere to say the least,an afternoon game due to power cuts a not a very big contingent from Cardiff,but a fair few from Sunderland if my memory serves me correct.

    Regarding Saturdays game I have only seen short highlights so it is difficult to comment on it,but what I would say is that this team does not know when to throw in the towel,listening on the radio Ratcliffe notwithstanding who did seem less negative than usual it did seem that we had more of the ball and had numerous chances to put the game to bed,as I say not there so just an impression I got.

    My main point regarding this game is Ken Zohore I do hope that he can get a goal soon mabey against Leeds tomorrow as it does seem that he has lost that spark that he had last season.Now I know that this can happen to all players during their careers but sometimes one goal changes all that,he might need a rest where he can reavaluate his role in the team,by all accounts that might have been on Saturday but Ward was ill but I would be very surprised if he didn’t play against Leeds.I only hope his head has not been turned by big money moves because the only way to get that move is to make an impression when you play certainly as a forward ,let’s hope it’s a blip and he shows everybody tomorrow that that’s all it is.

    A really tough couple of fixtures to come this week this will surely tell us where we are in the mix of things,a big crowd is expected and who knows if we get the right result they may come back Saturday notwithstanding the special price for the Leeds game,This game tomorrow could be pivotal for the rest of the season let’s hope so anyway.

  5. Richard Holt says:

    Thanks for the write up as always Paul. These two home games this week could tell us a lot about the direction this season is likely to be heading.
    I was interested to read Barrie and Paul talk about that Maine Road match in 1972. I too was at that match on a wet Wednesday afternoon and for years I had convinced myself that I was the only City fan there amongst about 6.000 Sunderland fans gathered behind one of the goals. Internet blogs and forums have long dispelled that myth but that victory still ranks pretty high in my favourite City memory list.

  6. Richard Holt says:

    Sorry – meant Clive not Paul.

  7. The other Bob Wilson says:

    Some great replies to my Sunderland review and I’m afraid I’m not going to be able to give them the sort of attention they deserve because I’m so busy.
    Barry, it was so interesting reading about your links with Sunderland and I feel for those friends of yours who are going through a rough old time with their team – it’s something we are familiar with at Cardiff, but I suppose the bad times make the good ones so much more enjoyable when they come along.
    As far as the other comments go, the combining factor is Kenneth Zohore. Although I have agreed with Anthony in what he has said about the player in some of our recent matches, I’m more in tune with Russell’s view when it comes to the Sunderland match – his current lack of confidence in front of goal was clear with a couple of poor first touches in promising positions, but, despite getting no protection from a referee who seemed to apply a bizarre interpretation of the rules which said always penalise the attacker when it was Zohore and Wilson in competition for the ball, but apply the normal standards when it is anyone else, I thought his all round game was back to his August levels – it was the best he’s played since the international break in my opinion. Clive, Zohore has only known extremes at Cardiff. For nine months he was largely regarded as useless and then, for the next nine months, he’s been praised to the heavens – seems to me that he could do with a run where he is able to operate somewhere within those two extremes. He’s only 23 and it must have all been something of a roller coaster ride for him – if he could have a middling type of form few weeks, I believe the team would still benefit, but, although I can understand why he would let his lack of goals get him down, he should try to remember that the team are still doing well and, certainly on Saturday, he played a full part in bringing about our latest win.
    Finally, Anthony, I still had to approve your message, but it was there with all of the others this time, so, hopefully, the problem might have been solved.

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