City tick all top six finish boxes in same game for the first time.

CoymayYesterday lunchtime’s tremendous 4-1 win over a Brighton side who could have joined top of the table Hull on the 60 points mark with a victory themselves should, surely, lead to a reassessment of Cardiff City’s prospects for the last ten weeks of the regular season on the part of many of their supporters.

I say that knowing that we are talking about a team here that has found it impossible to record back to back Championship wins for almost six months and a team whose level of performance has varied tremendously at times over the ninety minutes of one match, let alone from game to game.

However, yesterday City hinted at a future which I for one thought was beyond this squad and manager. Now they face two games, at third place Middlesbrough on Tuesday and, next weekend, at home to a Preston side that have to be rated as genuine top six contenders after their win over Sheffield Wednesday yesterday, which will prove whether a door which has creaked very slightly ajar will open up further or be slammed in our faces.

There are all sorts of qualities needed by a team that manages a top six finish in this most competitive and physically taxing of leagues and it would be wrong to say that City hadn’t displayed some of them over the course of their first thirty one Championship matches this season. For example, early on in the campaign, they were very solid defensively and showed an ability to win games without playing that well, while lately there had been some evidence of them finding goals easier to come by both at home and in away games.

Also. although I’ve not been wholly convinced on the belief front, I believe the spirit and work ethic within the squad is the best it has been since we were promoted – no great compliment I suppose when you consider what we’ve had to put up with over the past two seasons, but, even so, I believe there is the sort of honesty within this group of players which a top six team needs.

Therefore, I think those fans who have maintained the football played under Russell Slade for the duration of his seventeen months in the job has been “dull”, “dire”, “turgid” or whatever other adjective they want to damn it by are wrong to maintain such a belief.

Yes, for much of the time it has been hard work watching us play, but, for about a year now, it cannot be denied that we’ve been an effective Championship side.

If you were to count back our last forty six Championship fixtures (i.e. a regular season’s worth of games), our record for the period would read;-

W   19   D   16   L   11   Pts   73

Now, over the past twenty years, seventy three points has been enough to enable a top six finish on occasions – five of them in fact. So, it seems that the sort of record we’ve had in our past forty six matches is good enough to ensure a place in the top six for a quarter of the time, but, generally, it tends to be up to five points short of the sixth place finisher.

To be honest, those stats show that we’ve been closer to being a top six side in the past year than I would have said we were, but the overall impression they give is that we have been falling short in some of the areas required for a Play Off team.

So, what are these areas we needed to improve in? Well, my view on that is that our main failing has been that we have been unable to come up with anywhere near enough what I would call “complete” performances – be that in a single game or over a sequence of them.

The superb Anthony Pilkington celebrates his goal. It's hard to pick a Man of the Match when so many played so well, but I cannot remember the last time I saw a City striker play with such a combination of ability and desire, so

The superb Anthony Pilkington celebrates his goal. It’s hard to pick a Man of the Match when so many played so well, but I cannot remember the last time I saw a City striker play with such a combination of ability and desire, so “Pilks” gets my vote – and to think that he’s really a winger!*

That’s not to say that we’ve not had matches where we have turned in good performances. For example, winning 2-1 with nine men at Brentford last March against a team that were going very well at the time, a couple of victories by the same score at Nottingham Forest, the 2-2 draw at QPR, the recent win at Wolves and the home games with Charlton, Reading, Burnley and Sheffield Wednesday this season are all ones in which I thought we played well.

It also needs to be said, that such is the nature of the league, even the best sides in it do not have too many games in a season where everything clicks into place and someone cops a thrashing. Brighton’s record this season offers proof of that – they’ve won fifteen times, but, only against Brentford on the fifth of this month has their margin of victory been by more than a single goal.

Therefore. it’s expecting too much of any Championship team to demand these “complete” performances from them once every four or five matches – the Championship just doesn’t work that way.

However, I believe it’s reasonable to have expected more such performances from City. Instead, what we have tended to get are groups of games where we do well in one aspect of play, but at the expense of something else.

At the back end of last season, we were getting top six results away and bottom six results at home. That sequence was, largely, reversed earlier this season when we were winning at home, but not away – our strong defensive record during this period was also at the expense of our attacking play, as we were averaging just a goal a game for a period in October and November.

When we came out of that spell and started to play in a far more enterprising and entertaining manner from early November, the goals began to flow, but we started to leak far more at the other end and lost the knack of holding on to leads late on. So home wins began to turn into draws, thereby cancelling out to a large degree a rediscovery of how to win away from home.

As mentioned previously, performance levels could vary greatly over the course of a single game – there was never that feeling that the team were capable of getting things right at both ends of the pitch at the same time…….until yesterday that is!

I must admit I went along to the game in a pretty downbeat mood. As has become traditional for home matches lately in this pathetic winter we’ve had, it was absolutely pissing down and there was a strong to gale force wind blowing - also, I couldn’t get the thought out of my head that I’d probably end up watching  a low scoring draw.

After all, Brighton had drawn ten out of fifteen away games (it needs to be remembered that only one of these had been lost as well) and five out of our last seven matches at Cardiff City Stadium had finished all square – with us having failed to score in  our last two, my pre match prediction was that we’d see another 0-0.

The first inkling that the day may not turn out as I expected came when I was informed of the City 18 in the Trust Office before the game. Lex Immers in for the suspended Sammy Ameobi was no surprise, but the selection of Deji Oshilaja as a sub certainly was – Russell Slade had finally turned to another young player at the club when he took over besides Joe Ralls!

When I got up off the floor and regathered my senses, a few things began to come a bit clearer to me – Deji was never going to be brought on (he wasn’t) and at 22, he shouldn’t really be categorised as a youngster any more, but that matters not one jot. At that age, he is in nappies in Russell Slade terms and yet, still, our manager was forced, probably as a result of a gun being held to his head, to select him as a sub!

As for the game itself, I daresay those supporters who have become reluctant to say anything good about the team or manager in the past year and more will probably claim we were lucky. Certainly, it must be said that this commodity was on City’s side just over a minute into the match when Stuart O’Keefe (as an ex Eagle facing the Seagulls, possibly more fired up than was required?) slid into Iñigo Calderón with a reckless challenge that could easily have led to a straight red card on another day.

Instead, referee Darren Bond (a new name to me who got a few things wrong, but generally impressed as he did his best to keep the game flowing) chose to only caution the City man – I’m 99% certain the game wouldn’t have turned out as it did if the referee had shown less leniency towards O’Keefe.

I suppose there will be those who say the three goals we scored in the first half an hour all owed a lot to a combination of poor defending from our opponents and good fortune on our part. They’ll contend that the penalty which restored the three goal lead after Brighton had suggested they could still get something from the game after a strong start to the second period, which saw Dale Stephens score his second goal against us this season, fell into the “I’ve seen them turned down” category.

I’ll willingly accept that I’ve fallen into that type of fan who has been unwilling to give much praise to players and manager (particularly the manager) in the past, but not this time.

This was the ninety minute, “complete” performance that I doubted the team was capable of. If I were awarding marks out of ten to individual players, none of them would have got less than a seven and there would be three who had nine – we were strong at the back individually and collectively, with David Marshall more convincing than in some recent displays. After his lucky escape, O’Keefe did a great job along with Ralls in keeping things ticking over in midfield and, if there are still those who wonder what the former brings to the team, they need look no further than to note who it was who was making the lung bursting run to try and support substitute striker Kenneth Zohore when he shot across the face of goal in the closing minutes – O’Keefe’s energy levels are amazing.

However, for the first time in absolutely ages, it was the attacking players who took most of the plaudits for a very good Cardiff performance. Before yesterday, Brighton were conceding less than a goal a game, so, while their defending at times made it hard to believe that stat, I’m going to say that they struggled because it’s not often they come across a front four playing with such understanding, cleverness, skill and ruthlessness as Cardiff’s did yesterday.

Individually, Anthony Pilkington, Peter Whittingham, Tom Lawrence and Immers ( a clumsy figure of fun to some Feyenoord fans apparently, but an intelligent player with a decent technique on this evidence) were all very good (the three nine out of tens I mentioned earlier came from these four), but, collectively, they were a level higher than that. Perhaps we played with a creativity and incisiveness to come close to yesterday at times in our Championship winning season (an away win at Blackburn and home matches with Wolves, Blackpool and Burnley spring to mind), but, for me, you have to go back four or five years to the Burke/Chopra/McCormack/Bothroyd/Whittingham sides with McPhail and Ledley in support to get as complete an attacking performance as that – our four were that good yesterday.

Peter Whittingham smashes in his penalty to make it 4-1, but it was his lovely first goal which really took the eye. When we were just humoing the ballo forward either side of Christmas last season, the notion that we could score a goal which involved a centreback carrying the ball out from the back to play a pass into the path of a midfield man who had made an intelligent run beyond his marker before rolling a clever placed shot into the net would have been ludicrous - our first goal, especially the finish, was a thing of beauty. +

Peter Whittingham smashes in his penalty to make it 4-1, but it was his lovely first goal which really took the eye. When we were just humping the ball forward either side of Christmas last season, the notion that we could score a goal which involved a centreback carrying the ball out from the back to play a pass into the path of a midfield man who had made an intelligent run beyond his marker before rolling a clever placed shot into the net would have been ludicrous – our first goal, especially the finish, was a thing of beauty. +

As for our much maligned manager (yes, I know I was doing a bit of light hearted maligning myself earlier!), I’m sure he would now be in the process of being ripped to shreds on the messageboards and in the pubs last night if the 4-1 scoreline had gone against us, so isn’t only right and proper that he gets his share of praise when his team plays so well?

The Brighton Argus headline for their match report is “Sorry Albion blown away by stylish Cardiff” – well, there’s something that I never thought I’d read while Russell Slade was  at Cardiff! We’d not “blown away” a team in yonks – it was well before Mr Slade’s arrival. We last won by a three goal margin in April 2013 and, as for a Cardiff team being described by our opponents as “stylish”, well I’ve just Googled “Stylish Cardiff City” and, apart from the Argus piece, there was nothing football related found!

The thing is though, we were stylish and, even if it only turns out to be a one off, well at least I was there to see it when we did turn on the style. A performance like yesterday doesn’t suddenly mean that all of his critics have been completely proved wrong, but Russell Slade has now got a game to point at where he and his team reached heights few thought they were capable of - all of a sudden, him still being in charge next season doesn’t seem such a depressing thought.

A real bonus yesterday was that it wasn’t just those hardly souls who turned up to watch (the attendance might have been given as 14,000, but it seemed to me as if there were about five thousand less home fans present) who got to see it. With the match shown live on Sky, you would hope that many of those who have stopped going to games this season got to see what happened.

Will a performance like yesterday’s result in a jump in our attendances? I don’t know if it will, but, if there’s any justice, it should. As opposed to those who do not go any more because of the rebrand, those who have stopped going this season were prepared to buy a season ticket for last year when we were still playing in red – it would be interesting to know how they are feeling about Cardiff City this morning.

Granted, a lot of them renewed those season tickets in the hope that we would still be in the Premier League, but it seems to me that just as many, if not more, were put off by a combination of boredom and the general malaise which could be put down to all sorts of factors including the rebrand, relegation and a loss of the connection between club and fans.

Well, yesterday was the best proof yet that Cardiff City home matches aren’t boring any more and, truth be told, haven’t been for a few months. We may not win all of the time (when did we ever?), but now I come out of most games having at least been entertained. Similarly, last week’s announcement by Vincent Tan that the club’s debt level will fall by around £75 million through a combination of a conversion to equity and of the writing off of a portion of debt is evidence that things have changed off the pitch as well, while I get the definite impression that there is a desire to rebuild the relationship with supporters from the likes of Ken Choo, Mehmet Dalman and maybe even Mr Tan himself. Unless you’re in the hard core who walked away after the rebrand, your reason for not going to games no longer applies and it’s you who have changed in your relationship with Cardiff City, rather than the other way around.

*picture courtesy of http://www.walesonline.co.uk/

+ picture courtesy of http://www.theargus.co.uk/

 

 

 

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12 Responses to City tick all top six finish boxes in same game for the first time.

  1. russell says:

    Thanks Paul another Sunday morning review to enjoy.
    I like sides that are spunky and we have a few in the side now. Pilks, Okeefe,Malone,Connolly, Ralls.

  2. Dai Woosnam says:

    Good magnanimous “mea culpa” Paul, from you on behalf of all of us who have doubted Mr Slade and Mr Tan.
    I saw the game here in a pub in Malta, and was shouting “goal” so often that the chaps in the adjoining room watching the Arsenal v Hull game got envious, and a couple jumped ship.
    What lesson do I learn above all others from yesterday?
    Easy.
    My favourite hobby horse…viz. managers must try to play even SEASONED pros out of position. For then they might strike gold.
    Anthony Pilkington, you proved yesterday that you are everything that dear Joe Mason WANTED to be.
    DW.

  3. Clive Harry says:

    Hello everybody. Having criticised Russell Slade on here on a number of occasions, I thought it would be churlish of me not to post some well deserved praise for a change. In fact I would go so far as to say that yesterday’s display, apart from a spell just after half time, was arguably the most exhilarating for several seasons. It’s not easy to single players out after that sort of performance but I thought some of Lawrence’s wing play was delightful (he looks more at home in that position to me than as a striker), the movement of our front two was superb, O’Keefe’s energy brings a different dimension to the midfield (thank goodness his card was yellow and not the red it could have been), and our centre backs look streets ahead of most of our opponents pairings in those positions recently.
    There were so many pleasing things that happened yesterday but a few stood out for me, firstly Connolly bringing the ball forward and threading a lovely ball through to Whitts whose finish was sublime for the first goal. Secondly, Immers running with the ball and dummying past a defender before putting his shot inches past the post. Finally, Whitts’ penalty was unstoppable – I’ve always thought a lot of his penalties in the past could have been saved simply by the keeper standing his ground because the ball frequently went virtually central with the goalie having dived to the side but Banks at his best wouldn’t have got near that one.
    Now if I can revert to type, our manager has rightfully received a lot of praise for the way the team was set up but my criticism of him is that I have grave doubts about his selectorial ability when changes aren’t forced on him as a result of injury, suspension, and player sales. In the past we’ve seen the same failing partnerships, players and tactics being set up week after week and some baffling selections and substitutions but I think necessity has been the mother of invention recently and long may it continue.
    To finish, matters on and off the field recently have left me hugely encouraged and I’m sure the Club hierarchy will be delighted to know that I’m considering a return to the fold!! I think it’s also important to be able to move on and not hold the same entrenched views when things are obviously on the change so Russ, here’s your chance, keep winning and entertaining and you can stay!

  4. Geoff Lewis says:

    Hi Paul,
    Excellent review of yesterday’s game. It was one of the best games that I have watched Cardiff play for a long time. It did remind as Paul indicated, when Burke, Chopra, Boothroyd and Ledley were playing for us.
    Pilkington outstanding yesterday in the role of striker, never stopped chasing, running hard, together with Immers, Whitts, Lawrence(better on the wing)O’Keefe and Manga in defence(What a player), they all upped their game.
    Travelled by train yesterday, had lunch and a few drinks before the game, I was not sure if I was dreaming as the score was 3-0 to us at half time.
    After the match walking to Grangetown station with my Son and one of my grandson’s, I said to my son I can take all of this rain and gale force winds , after the way we played today.
    Regards
    Geoff

  5. Russell says:

    I think Slade, like the team are still learning and growing together, love or hate Slade (yes he’s limited, or lacks experience at this level) he has in my eyes built a team where they try and make up for subtle skills.

  6. Barry cole says:

    Well put Paul and as I am one of the worst offenders when it comes to slade I will not get over what was the best game I have seen at home for at least 18 months. We have played like this away of late so it is coming. My problem has always been that I know we have the players to get into the top two but not the manager. Had we had another manager I don’t think we would be bothering too much about the top six, we would be in the top two.
    I never understood after immers first game that slade could put ameobi in front of him. This is what bothers me with slade in that he is reactive and until something makes him change he doesn’t actually see it.l it’s the same with games, when changes take place his reaction is slow and we have lost or drawn games another manager would win.
    But in all honesty I can’t fault the team or management performance on Saturday t one swallow doesn’t make a summer and unless we go on a run now all this vision will be lost. Slade will have to develope this run by picking the correct team to play matches against differing opposition and not include players who are not good enough ie ameobi. He will also have to react a lot quicker when teams change tactics.
    Should we do this with slade in charge I will agree that having had a lot of other things to deal with he has come through this and I could change my opinion on his management style. The problem is that we have been there before and I don’t want to jump on a bandwagon of one good game. If as we all hope this continues and bucks the slade trend then I will be the first to hold my hand up.
    Cmon you bluebirds 6 points Middlesbrough and Preston then let’s look at it

  7. Richard Holt says:

    Thanks for the write up Paul and it must have been a much more pleasurable task writing this than is usually the case. Obviously it was a very encouraging display although I wouldn’t yet alter my prediction of a mid-table finish. Four points from our next two games might get me thinking however. So pleased it was televised as not only could I watch it (I’m still a couple of weeks away from being able to do any long drives) but it might just encourage some of the stay aways to return.

  8. MIKE HOPE says:

    A great report, Paul, and I particularly liked the rallying call in your final paragraph.The fact that the game was live on TV with lavish praise coming from neutral professionals should also help to bring back some of our missing fans.
    Much of the negativity around the club comes from bloggers who are boycotting games.Their criticisms are mostly out of date and some repeat tactical weaknesses that they have read elsewhere.
    After the recent statements from Vincent Tan and the on-field improvements all genuine fans [whatever their opinion of Mr Slade ] should surely want to come to CCS to support the team.
    I fully agree with your analyses of individual players and would add only that the play of O’Keefe been a revelation.
    His natural tempo is , I think, higher than we have been used to and this has rubbed off on those around him giving us a more energetic and much slicker mid-field. This reminds me of how Bellamy used to affect his team mates.
    Like you I did not approach Saturday’s game with much relish and getting saturated on the walk to the ground before entering what looked like an empty stadium with rows of soaking wet seats did not help.Who would have thought that two hours later I would have been leaving with a wet arse and the biggest smile since we beat the Jacks 1-0!

  9. The other Bob Wilson says:

    Thanks for the replies everyone – no matter how old and cynical I might get, it’s always so good to read largely positive things about your team isn’t it.
    First thing to say is that I’ve assumed sfblue and Blue Bayou are the same person and so have only kept the former’s post which was an earlier one than the others – let me know if you want the Blue Bayou ones restored though. As for what sfblue says about the first goal, as it turns out, I was watching the highlights of the game on the club website yesterday and the person who was commentating with Richard Shepherd (don’t know his name) was talking as if the whole thing was a planned move. I suppose it’s possible that, as a club employee, he had some sort of prior knowledge of something that had been worked on in training, but, as teams seem more conscious of opposition “spies” when it comes to training routines these days, I doubt it if that was true – I would have thought there’d be a desire for as few people as possible to know about any moves planned on the training ground. Therefore, on balance, I think I’d give the players involved credit for their quick thinking and good execution.
    Russell, did you see that even Whitts got involved in a little bit of handbags just before half time? It seemed to me that the side were more motivated than normal – someone had done a good job (perhaps too good when you consider O’Keefe’s challenge in the first minute which looks worse with every viewing!) in winding the players up.
    Dai, what you say about Pilkington made me think – there’s very few positives that can be said about Ole’s time in charge, but £1 million for Pilks looked a good deal at the time when he was thought of just as a winger. Truth be told, he wasn’t doing a great deal to justify that opinion before he picked up the injury at Watford in November 2014 that virtually ended his season, but he’s been better out wide this season. However, when you then consider the impact he’s made as a striker, £1 million seems an absolute bargain.
    Clive, great to hear you are thinking of returning to the fold so to speak! A couple of other things took my eye from what you said. First, I alluded in my piece to how Immers was perceived as something of a donkey in some of the opinions of him I read from Feyenoord supporters, but that was at odds with the balance and incisiveness he showed in that run you referred to – indeed, he looked very comfortable in possession generally. Regarding Whitts and penalties, I was watching QI on IPlayer yesterday and one of the questions was where is the best place to put a penalty when you take it? Speaking as someone who always tried to nutmeg the keeper when I was in a one on one with him, I’ve always believed the answer to that question was straight down the middle because, invariably, the keeper dives to one side or the other. It turns out I was right, because it’s been proved statistically that straight down the middle is the surest way of scoring from the spot, but, I think one of the panelists was right when she said that lots of players are probably reluctant to do this because they’ll look idiots if the goalkeeper just stands his ground to make an easy save.
    Geoff, I thought what you said about your walk to Grangetown station summed up the relationship between a devoted fan and his team delightfully – must say that, despite the great win, I was still cursing the weather as I struggled up Landsowne Road into the teeth of the wind and driving rain mind!
    Barry, you and Clive make a decent point about Slade almost being forced into picking that forward line and I notice that one of the Wales Online articles over the weekend talked about City “stumbling” on to the right formation. For myself, I think Whitts is doing better than I thought he would in reinventing himself as a left sided midfielder with an eye for a goal and that, potentially, Lawrence could be very effective in the number ten role, but he’s not getting the goals that a player in that position should do, whereas Immers has been able to, so I’d keep them as they are – I think Pilks to central striker was forced on to Slade because there was hardly any one else available to play there, but, to be fair to our manager, I didn’t see or hear one supporter telling him that he should be playing through the middle as a striker when he was out on the wing!
    Richard, coincidentally, I’ve suffered from an eye complaint called marginal keratitis for the past twenty five years or so. Fifteen years ago, I was signed off work for a couple of months and back and forth to hospital all of the time before being given some steroid based eye drops and told it was nothing to worry about. By and large, the steroids have done the trick – I used to get what I call “red eye” two or three times a year, but in the last decade, it’s been a lot less common. However, I had a few tell tale signs in my left eye towards the end of last week and, with my eye drops being well past their sell by date, it’s developed into the worst outbreak I’ve had for years over the weekend – anyway, I’m with you in that one game is not going to make me change my opinion that we’ll end up two or three places short of the Play Offs (I can’t help remembering how some of Dave Jones’ early teams suffered in the closing weeks of seasons because the squad wasn’t big enough), but, what I would say is that, all of a sudden, a top six finish looks more plausible than I ever expected it to be.
    Mike, I think you’ve captured the essence of what O’Keefe has added to the team there. I can remember a messageboard thread about him a while back in which someone said that he’d been told by someone in the Palace dressing room that O’Keefe was proof that you can make a career for yourself by running about a lot. I must admit that, for much of the last year, I’ve shared that view, but he’s been a revelation lately and I believe that, with increasing confidence, he is now showing that he can play a bit more than people thought he could.

  10. Colin Phillips says:

    A foul day for watching or playing football but the Cardiff defenders seemed to cope much better than Brighton’s with the conditions. I’ve never been convinced by Connolly at centre-back (felt he sometimes dwelt on the ball rather than getting it safe) but I thought he was outstanding on Saturday, even setting up a goal.
    Couldn’t really find fault with any of the players, let’s hope that the same team takes the pitch tomorrow – will they play with the same fire and cohesiveness, that’s another question, we can be a bit Jekyll and Hyde-ish.
    If we do turn it on again and again, then who knows perhaps the play-offs beckon. The realist inside me is saying no, though.
    Good report Paul but i can’t agree with your comments on the referee, OK he only gave O’Keefe a yellow (too far away to judge) and he did give the penno (ditto) but he missed a hell of a lot as did the lino on the Ninian side.
    On Saturday we played as we have done in spells in recent home games but this time we kept it going longer and the shots went in for once. Except for the period around their goal I felt we were well in control and made Brighton look ordinary.
    On to tomorrow and if Boro play no better than they did at ours it is not beyond us to take at least a point.
    I hope I am not getting too carried away and that it will all end in tears.

    PS no problems with Slade’s subs this time – made sense.

  11. Geoff Lewis says:

    Paul,
    I was a bit lucky I had the rain and wind behind me, you were facing it directly as you walked towards Lansdowne Road. Memories again I lived there , when I was first born back in 1944, we lived in number 210. Some years later George Edwards the ex Cardiff City player/director was in lodgings with Mrs Padfield next door to us.
    In one respect beside my grandfather taking me to games in the early fifties, I used to talk to him about Cardiff City.
    Regards
    Geoff

  12. Anthony O'Brien says:

    I’ve been without computer access for a few days, and only now have I managed to catch up with the various contributions to this site. How I’ve missed it – and what a delight to read the comments from everyone – all well written, measured, and based on perceived actions rather than cantankerous comments for the sake of it. To one and all – keep up the good work.

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