City stumbling their way out of Play Off contention.

CoymayOn Friday in his pre match press conference Russell Slade said that it wasn’t imperative that Cardiff City beat Queens Park Rangers the following day. Our manager’s thinking was that as long as we could keep pace with Sheffield Wednesday until we go to Hillsborough with the current five point deficit between the teams still in place then we will not be out of contention for that final Play Off place.

I suppose, on a strictly logical basis our manager was correct – if you play a team five points in front of you when there are still six points to play for, you must have a chance of overhauling them.

However, those words felt wrong to me at the time and not just because our goal difference is so inferior to theirs that we’d, almost certainly, finish below them in the secenario our manager set out.

After yesterday’s 0-0 stalemate, they feel even more wrong now. With Wednesday following up their 4-1 hiding at Bristol City last weekend, by letting a 1-0 half time lead slip against a bang out of form Ipswich team , the opportunities have been there in our last two matches to make real inroads into the point deficit that was established after our draw at Burnley. However, we’ve not been good enough to take them and unless we do reduce that gap in our next two matches, we will be heading to Hillsborough with virtually no chance of getting past Wednesday.

On Tuesday we go to an in form Brentford team, while Wednesday entertain an MK Dons team clinging on to their Championship status thanks to former City striker Alex Revell’s highly unlikely penalty save (the Dons keeper was sent off after they had used all of their substitutes) had helped earn them a 1-1 draw at Preston.

Wednesday might be wobbling a bit, but you’d think they’d consign their opponents to the drop on Tuesday, but, say, they were to draw again, are we really saying that another point for us will be acceptable because of that?

What our manager appears to be pinning his hopes on is Wednesday dropping points when they go to Derby on the same day we entertain relegated Bolton. Derby have surprised me by taking nine points from the three matches they’ve played since we beat them and so, it’s entirely realistic to think that they can beat Wednesday on their own ground, but, based on our last two matches, is Bolton really the home banker that it should be?

The answer to that is yes I suppose – a look at Bolton’s away record this season tells you so anyway. However, it seems to me that, after proving the critics wrong for a couple of months, we’ve started to look like a team without a proven striker at this level in our last three matches.

Sean Morrison shows his frustration as his header from a corner, one of only two on target efforts we had according to the BBC's stats, is brilliantly saved by QPR keeper Matt Ingham.*

Sean Morrison shows his frustration as his header from a corner, one of only two on target efforts we had according to the BBC’s stats, is brilliantly saved by QPR keeper Matt Ingham.*

I’ve been doing some research on the BBC’s website regarding our record when it comes to the proportion of efforts on target out of total goal attempts for this season and, overall, they show that we hit the target with about one in three of our goal attempts (one hundred and seventy seven of our five hundred and twenty eight tries on goal either end up in a goal or force an opponent into stopping that happening – I suppose there may be one or two that one of our players has “cleared off the line” as well!).

The original reason for me doing this was to prove that, since the departure of Kenwyne Jones, Joe Mason and the aforementioned Revell in January and our failure to replace them with established Championship standard goalscorers, we’ve become less efficient at hitting the target than we were.

The truth is though that this is not the case. The last time any of the three departed strikers appeared in a City shirt was when Mason played an hour against Rotherham on 23 January and, after that game, we’d had three hundred and forty four goal attempts with one hundred and fourteen of them on target – that’s an accuracy rating of 33.1%.

Since then we’ve managed one hundred and seventy four efforts at goal and hit the target on 63 occasions. So, in actual fact, we’ve become better at getting shots on goal, because our accuracy rating has improved to 36.2% – as an aside, we averaged 12.3 shots per game with our “specialist” strikers, with 4.1 of them being on target, whereas that’s risen to 12.4 per match with 4.5 of them being accurate enough to hit that target since Anthony Pilkington and co took over.

So, it would appear that we have become more productive and accurate when it comes to our shooting and heading at goal. However, although my original line of thinking has been proved to be wrong, the signs are there that, at the most important time of the season, our lack of quality strikers is costing us.

It’s now just one win in five at a time when we can least afford a return to the sort of results which blighted our first season and a half back at this level. In those matches, our attempts on target ratio has dipped to 25.4 % and in that time, we are only averaging three of them per game.

In our last two, so frustrating, matches, there’s nothing wrong with our total goal attempts figure – we’ve managed thirty two of them, but, very tellingly, only five of them have been on target.

That high goal attempts figure is despite a first half yesterday in which I cannot remember us having a goal attempt, on or off target, at all. Russell Slade was quick to compliment our opponents for their part in this as he used one of the buzz terms which have arisen in the game in the last year or two – “playing between the lines”.

Seemingly, QPR stopped us doing that in the first half – by that, I presume our manager meant they reduced the effectiveness of players like Lex Immers. It seems to me that we have become a lot better at “playing between the lines” recently and, as a result, we have become a lot less rigid compared to the days when a 4-4-2 formation under Russell Slade was exactly that.

I’ve mentioned before that the replacement of the statuesque Jones with Immers has had many benefits for the team, but yesterday’s game only served to confirm an impression I gained over the course of a few weeks that the Dutchman doesn’t really “punch his weight” when the ball is in air – he’s not as good with his head as you might expect someone of his height to be.

When you add the fact that Pilkington’s strengths lie in different areas to heading as well, it really does emphasise that City need to be more flexible in their attacking play than the getting the ball wide to two wingers who then cross for the big man in a pair of strikers that Russell Slade said he favoured when he was first appointed City manager.

This doesn’t mean that crosses when they come cannot be aerial ones – Immers was able to put away Aron Gunnarson’s fine ball with his head at Fulham after all, but, generally, it seems to me that the sort of cross Joe Ralls provided the Dutchman with at Bristol City for his goal is the more likely one to produce dividends from our current front two.

That’s why it was so disappointing for me that we, almost exclusively, took the aerial route with our crossing yesterday. I can recall a couple of occasions where City players tried a low driven cross in the first half, but they came to nothing primarily because we were not getting midfield players or full backs into the box to offer enough targets to the crosser.

Things improved in that respect in the second half, but despite the increased options for the crosser, the thinking was always, as far as I can recall, to look for the “big man in the box” who, for about 80% of the game wasn’t there unless we were talking about a corner or free kick – the only time it almost worked in open play was when Pilkington headed just wide from a Scott Malone cross.

Our manager unwittingly reveals a side to his basic thinking on the game when he, almost always, works the words “but he’s only twenty one” into the conversation when he’s talking about out only current target man striker Kenneth Zohore. Now, from what I’ve seen of him so far, I can understand, to some degree, our manager’s reluctance to include him in the starting line up.

The age factor mentioned before is obviously important to our manager (by the way, Ipswich aren’t quite out of promotion contention yet, but they brought on a sixteen year old yesterday who promptly netted their equaliser – can you imagine our manager introducing, say, a nineteen year old for his debut in a game with nothing riding on it, let one with something on it? No, I can’t either.) and I cannot deny that the young Dane falls into the “raw” category currently as he struggles to best utilise the physical advantages he possesses over many of those who mark him.

Clint Hill hacks our other on target effort off the line as kenneth Zohore's shot, half blocked by Ingham, trickles towards goal.+

Clint Hill hacks our other on target effort off the line as kenneth Zohore’s shot, half blocked by Ingham, trickles towards goal.+

However, what I don’t understand is why we played the whole game yesterday as if someone of Zohore’s stature was there on the pitch when, for nearly all of the time he wasn’t. The one dimensional nature of our crossing meant we were not playing to the strengths of the two players in our team who were the nearest thing we had to strikers, but it also begged the question as to why, if that was the way the ball was going to be delivered from the wings, it took so long to get Zohore on the pitch?

I’m afraid yesterday was another of those occasions where Russell Slade’s substitutions had me scratching my head. Going back to playing between the lines, it seems to me that Tom Lawrence is as good as any at doing that  on our staff currently, yet we had Sammy Ameobi brought on to break the record for the most ever substitute appearances in a season by a City player. One effective run along the left touchline apart, Ameobi offered as little as his previous appearances suggested he would, but he did contribute to the overall lack of composure shown in front of goal by blazing wildly over when presented with a decent opportunity very late in the game.

It wasn’t just that Ameobi was seen as our best option to break the deadlock by our manager that was odd though, it was also that it was Stuart O’Keefe who made way for him as Peter Whittingham was brought in from the left into the vacant central midfield spot.

I’m afraid that Whitts had one of those afternoons when, apart from the occasional good dead ball delivery, he made little or no impact on the game – to me, Lawrence or Zohore (with Pilkington dropping out on to the wing) for Whittingham seemed the much better option for the first change made.

It was hard for me to get my head around why our manager then waited a further quarter of an hour to make a second and third switch – it was hardly as if we spent the fifteen minutes after Ameobi came on hammering away at the QPR goal.

At the end of a week in which “impeccable sources” claimed that Mr Slade was going to be offered a new contract to take us into the 2016/17 campaign, yesterday’s events offered a reminder as to why there are still many out there who will regard that news with doubt and, in some cases, downright hostility.

My reaction to the news our manager was likely to be staying on was a good deal more philosophical than it would have been around the turn of the year (I’d say I was about 55/45 against offering him a new deal as I read the story), but I thought yesterday offered a reminder of limitations which should count against the man if the goal next season really is promotion to the Premier League.

No matter how good a job QPR did do in stopping us “playing between the lines” in that first half, does that fully explain why a manager whose team talks are “legendary” (according to Wikipedia at least) sent his side out for one of the games which will define our season in a frame of mind that rendered the opening forty five minutes a non event?

To have Mr Slade clinging on to the argument that we should have had a penalty (not seen a replay of the incident yet, but referee Steve Martin did give us two spot kicks,  one distinctly dodgy I seem to recall, when he was last at Cardiff City Stadium for last year’s visit by Blackpool, so the odds were always against him giving us another one) as he tried to justify a performance which just wasn’t good enough under the circumstances says so much about the paucity of incisive attacking play his side showed. It all only seemed to emphasise the notion that this fifty five year old manager, who is still waiting for his promotion, will come up short when it comes to delivering the Premier League place that we are assured is still the aim of those in charge at the club.

*photo courtesy of

+photo courtesy of

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11 Responses to City stumbling their way out of Play Off contention.

  1. Clive Harry says:

    I was already looking forward to a fresh start next season and had said I would rejoin the fold and even get Trust membership until this week”s contract news broke.
    You can now place me in the doubt verging on hostility (non personal) category and I find myself back in limbo when thinking about the next campaign.

  2. paul says:

    I was starting to believe Slade could get us into the play offs. that was until the Fulham and QPR games. Slade, yesterday proved that he is unable to motivate a team when the nervy games come along.
    yesterday was a day when we should not have allowed QPR to get a foothold. What did we do, square or backward slow passes instead of fast incisive balls down the channels getting the defence to turn or getting Noone into the game with a quick ball out to him.
    Qpr doubled up on noone but not on Malone so it proved they knew where our strenght was. What does slade do??? Bring on Ameobi on the left who is more likely to trouble the 10 year old in row Z rather than the keeper.
    As nice a man Slade is he is not up to the massive task that Cardiff City is or the the task that the hard core of us deserve.
    Justification for this is yesterdays match. Never mind the result even if we had won there was no urgency there, and the following.
    1. Lacks the ability to motivate
    2. His tactics do not meet the requirement for the championship.
    3. He is unable to make timely substitutions, 10 minutes at the end of the game is generally his idea of a change.
    4. He appears to hope things will come right rather than make changes to ensure they change to our benefit.
    5. Lacks confidence to use youngsters
    6. Appears to set in his ways and will not give players who appear in form a chance (Kennedy)
    7. Appears to think Malone is a good full back. I guess he is if the left back position is anywhere on the pitch other than the left side of the central defenders as he is rarley seen there.

  3. Anthony O'Brien says:

    A refreshing aspect of this site is that all contributors tend to talk good common sense, as the foregoing commentaries reveal. I could not believe how poor Cardiff were yesterday as an attacking force (give or take a few minutes at the end when it was effectively panic time). Siegfried Sassoon once wrote of two soldiers in the First World War who spoke kindly of their general, but “He did for them both with his plan of attack”. I am not calling for the manager’s head, but his “plan of attack” (if that is the correct description) is – and has been for a long time – manifestly not working. The continued reliance on high balls to the front men, as has already been noted, is a waste of time when neither front man is particularly good in the air. It is to their credit, however, that both Immers and Pilkington continue to challenge for the up-and-under, but eventually, human nature being what it is, a sense of frustration is almost bound to set in. This could even mean that Immers, who is denied the opportunity to play his natural game and is yet doing enough to let other clubs become aware of his abilities, could choose or be persuaded to join some other team at the end of the season. It’s just a thought.
    At any rate, the “plan of attack” to which Cardiff rigidly adhere, is like asking an ordinary carpenter to turn himself into a master joiner who is forced to use a blunt chisel. Rigidity can also become rigor mortis.
    Another sign of rigid approach in terms of our attacking performance can be seen in what Craig Noone is compelled to do. All successful football teams, at whatever level, have players who can slide the ball inside the fullback, allowing a wide man to overlap. Cardiff’s rigidity normally prevents this happening on the right wing where Noone is obviously obeying orders, even though he is very much left-footed. His body position means that he is effectively facing his own goal whenever he receives the ball (usually at the same time as a defender). Even if Noone then shows clever footwork to beat his man (or men) he has to run inside. Yet, if he could run on to pass inside the full back and get to the line, he could put in a cross or pull the ball back for an onrushing colleague who would then have a goal chance. BUT Noone could only make this run to the byeline if he was wide on the left. However, his SOP means that, like a good soldier, he will continue to obey orders. Like our front two, he is bound in the long run to feel frustrated. Paul and others have frequently taken the management to task for not giving youth a chance To me it seems that the management will not trust experienced players, either.
    Flare and initiative have been drummed out of the team, even though the situation and the expectant crowd yesterday was ideal for an all-out attacking “plan of attack” that would have led to a win against a lacklustre side and would have excited many of the crowd to return next time. Our tactics were, as usual, pedestrian, proven not to work, and yet there was no sign from the bench of urgency or a willingness to try something different. Again, as usual, the substitutions were uninspiring and a case of too little, too late.
    The kings of France leading up to the Revolution were castigated for doing nothing new, for not realising that change was required, for learning nothing from past experiences. Can the same be said of our management team, I wonder?

  4. Russell says:

    Was left frustrated again yesterday son went to the pub to numb the pain , in reality I have felt for sometime we would fall short and have been fortunate to have some interest left in the chase for a play off spot.
    I have a sneaky feeling we will win at Brentford, which will make Saturday a lively one and prolong the agony of hope and despair for this season.
    Your statistics made intresting reading and supported my theory we were a one trick pony with Kennyne Jones ,easy to read, at least we vary the game.

    Feel some symphony for Slade with the transfer embargo as a Tony Watt may have made use if those chances.

    His substitutions smacked of panic and what else could I do ?

    The side lacked any zip , and called out for a Fabio type effort.

    I think seventh will keep Slade in place for another season, and cash will be provided, so upward and onward.

  5. Barry cole says:

    Well Paul I have tended to keep quiet on slade because I knew the answer as to whether we would make the play offs. Needless to say I have purchased my season ticket for next year onn the basis that it will be without slade in charge. To my horror there is talk of giving him another contract and if that is the case then forget about any premiership dream because this man is a looser. Let’s face it when we really need so positive thinking this man goes all out to produce absolute rubbish from his mouth. I watched him on the touch line at Burnley and his body language spoke loads on his negativity.
    He just got away with it at Burnley but of course the usual happened at Fulham when we had controlled the first half and totally lost the second when their manager made a change that slade couldn’t react to. He has been and will always be hopeless.
    If tan had got rid of him after the Shrewsbury match even with his number two in charge we had the team to challenge the top two and we should have been comfortably in the top six.
    Tan either cannot read the games or he has a Man that will never say no to him and therefore feels safe even though he is going to lose more money. Sorry but from my perspective tan is now the reason we are not moving forward by continuing to stand by a looser.

  6. Adrian Lloyd Pickrell says:

    Yes, I myself cannot see it happen now. I had hoped for points against Fulham and QPR and with Wednesday being very kind to us by dropping points everywhere I felt that those last two games were the make or break ones. Alas we did not achieve.
    May still happen but it’s a long shot with a rusty rifle now.
    The contributors above have made some very valid points, and with Anthony’s reference to the French Revolution… I hope there will be money to spend for next season and that “the mob” will not be left to “eat cake”.

  7. Anthony O'Brien says:

    I sometimes think that “Let them eat cake” was first uttered by someone who spoke Welsh — in other words, pronounced as “Let them eat cack-ee” which for the most part is what we are being given for our delectation and delight from the Russell Slade brand of unedifying football. I just wish he would have shown a little more “taktische Flexibilitat” by now.(Sorry, still can’t do an umlaut)

  8. paul says:

    Lots of good comments here in responce to a very good article. I have enjoyed reading MAYA for some time now as it envokes a lot of thought and is generous in praise whilst critical when needs must.
    Too much of the later with Slade.
    I gave my justification why slade should go above but I did not give what I felt would answer the problem.
    We need a younger manager, someone in tune with the modern game, proffesional, commands respect and will raise the expectations of the city following. Who i hear you ask. Gary Monk!!! NO.
    There is only one man for this and he may need someone up top to direct him and that could be a Lenny Lawrence figure.
    Craig Bellamy is the man for me. He has studied coaching under a variety on managers and coaches and he is ready to take a post this summer after he 2 years gap leave. he loves the club, he wont just stand there and allow our team to be bullied by others and that includes blinkered refs. Hull city game. Sarginson.
    He will ahve the crowd behind him and unite the club and bring the atmosphere back.
    I dont agree with some comments though. Such as while slade is there i wont go. Who are we supporting here, The manager or Cardiff city? I support the city and its an unfortunate fact of the game that we will never choose the manager. This is why it is such a talking shop, we all have differing opinions and few of us agree on all aspects. The one thing we should all agree on though is we support CCFC no matter who the manager, owner, coach or tea lady is. Faces will come and go but CCFC are always there, BLUE, red, green yellow, black or pink. It is always CARDIFF CITY THAT WE LOVE AND SHOULD BE SUPPORTING.

  9. Clive Harry says:

    Whilst I agree with much of what Paul says, I have been stuck with watching City for 59 years and seen terrible sides with clueless managers and dodgy owners. The difference was that the Club was virtually beyond hope for much of the time and it wouldn’t have mattered who was in charge on or off the field. The situation often seemed hopeless but I felt like Paul does now – that not supporting in adversity seemed like giving up on the Club.
    However, the situation is now totally different – we have a decent team in a poor Championship which should have been pushing for promotion to a Premier League which I believe is also the weakest it has been for years. We have had huge financial backing which has been squandered and even now, every time we turn a corner and things look as if they are improving, bad decisions continue to dog our progress. The latest being that our tactically turgid throwback of a manager is likely to be given a new contract. As usual, the news comes just as support is rallying and once again dissatisfaction is planted in the minds of many fans.
    I’m sure I shall begin watching again in the future but after the length of time I’ve been watching I think I’m allowed some slack. I have simply had enough of mismanagement ruining our chance of success, particularly on the pitch. What does amuse/annoy me are those supporters giving up on the Club who have actually only known the recent relatively successful era.
    Like Paul, I still love the Club and watch every game on Player but my frustration and lack of enjoyment at the way we are managed has made my attendance pointless at the moment.

  10. The other Bob Wilson says:

    As usual. thanks to everyone for the sort of insightful and thought provoking comments which do so much to add to what this blog can offer.
    I’ll just make a few general comments regarding the issues discussed. Firstly, my comment about me being around 55/45 in favour of us getting rid of Russell Slade this summer was virtually identical to what I said in a messsageboard thread last week concerning the argument about our squad being good enough for automatic promotion or, at the very least, a Play off spot. It’s a theory I’ve never subscribed to – in fact, if we end the season in seventh position, that will be a few places higher than I was predicting from about the first month of the campaign onwards. So, if anything, I’d say Russell Slade could be over achieving with the group of players he’s got – I can well understand the general perception which you hear beyond the Cardiff bubble that he has done a very good job here.
    The trouble is, I tend to agree with those who say that not being able to spend money on new players in January has worked in our manager’s favour because his record when he has been able to do that (albeit the sums involved have been pretty modest) has been mixed to put it mildly. Then there’s the feeling, which I had virtually throughout the ninety minutes on Saturday, that Russell Slade doesn’t have what it takes to grab an important game by the throat and change it by his decision making. For a side going for the prize we were on Saturday to not have a single effort on target (in fact, I still can’t remember there even being one off target!) in the first half of such an important match was dreadful and, although the performance got better after the break, some confusing and non productive substitutions only confirmed to me that the doubts many have regarding our manager are still there – it wasn’t a good weekend for a manager whose stock had been gradually rising.
    Regarding supporting the club what ever. There’s no way it’s entered my head not to go to games next season because Russell Slade looks like being offered a new contract – I’ve outlined above that, on balance, I’d prefer it if he went, but the truth is that I’ve enjoyed most of the matches I’ve watched since about November. However, in the months before we changed back to blue last year, I’d made up my mind that I would not be renewing my season ticket for 2015/16 if we were still wearing red and I know I would have stuck to that decision if the rebrand had not been reversed.
    So, I can see where Clive is coming from, but the planned debt to equity conversion means that I’m a lot more prepared to cut Vincent Tan some slack than I was and, when looked at from his perspective, Russell Slade is doing most of what he was hired to do. Trouble is, we are getting towards a position when we should be looking to start moving forward again in terms of showing some renewed ambition, but is our manager really the man to do get us some tangible results from that renewed drive? I don’t believe he is and, like Paul, I see Craig Bellamy as an ideal choice to take us to the next step in our rehabilitation – it’s a disappointment to me that the speculation we heard so much of around the turn of the year has, seemingly, turned out to be groundless.

  11. Colin Phillips says:

    An excellent article and some very good comments, such a pleasure to come on this site and have some sensible discussion, not always possible on some forums.

    I am a little late posting this as I have been either busy or knackered (can you believe that?) I agree with most points made but just thought I’d add my tuppence-worth.

    Saturday was a chance missed, in my opinion, not just to stay in the race for a play-off position but of confirming the opinion of the newcomers in a crowd of 27,000 plus that watching Cardiff City is pleasurable and somewhat exciting, an impression they might have gained watching the Derby game but probably dispelled after the most recent “effort”.

    Why the difference?

    Team selection, possibly. I feel we play our best football when Immers, Ralls, O’Keefe, Pilkington and Lawrenceare in the side. They seem to be on the same wavelength and are able to open up the opposition defence and create chances (even if those chances are often spurned). Obviously the manager’s decision to have Noone instead of Lawrenceand although I like Noone’s pace and ability to take a man on and beat him (Whitts unable to, or unable to try) he, when he is played on the right is becoming a “one-trick-pony”.
    Another thing that struck me on Saturday was that Marshall seems to be under the impression that Kenwyn (insert any tall strong striker) is still up front for us. He may well be under orders (the wrong orders, if so) to kick it high and long but all that does is giveth opposing defenders the opportunity to crash into the backs of Pilks and Immers and I think both were getting frustrated with their supply on Saturday. In my opinion, distribution is one of Marshall’s weakest attributes, seems reluctant to restart quickly with a throw (either no options or he can’t see one??). Malone would seem to be the obvious route, alright not the strongest defensively (no help from Whitts!) but he is willing to go forward and link up.

    After Saturday, as others have posted, I have grave doubts about “The Gaffer” having the ability to take us further forward.

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