As I left the ground after last night’s disappointing 1-1 draw with Burnley I listened to the commentary team on Radio Wales discussing how tiredness had been a factor in our performance. A few minutes later I heard a reporter on Radio 5 talking about how the poor state of the pitch is undermining our promotion push, so, which one of these were the major reason for our failure to hold on to our lead last night?
Before I gave my opinion on that, I think it needs to be said that we were up against what I thought was one of the better teams to visit the Cardiff City Stadium this season. Burnley fully deserved their point and I could see where their impressive young manager Eddie Howe was coming from when he said that he was a little disappointed that his side hadn’t won given the way the game had panned out.
So, credit to the opposition, but this is a Cardiff City blog concerned mostly with how our team did and a glance at the league table tells you that we should have seen more from our team than we did last night. Therefore, going back to the original question about whether tiredness or the pitch was the bigger factor in what was a disappointing night, I would answer that, although I saw some evidence of the former, neither of them played that big a part and that to blame them is just looking for excuses for a performance in which key players did not come up to their usual standards (an approach that was too defensive after we went ahead didn’t help either).
Okay, there might have been some evidence of player fatigue, but the obvious question I have to ask is why should that be? Before last night, we had played three matches in twenty three days while Burnley had played five during the same period and yet, in general, their players looked fitter and more lively than ours. Also, if some of our players looked out on their feet in just the second game in a spell of five matches in fourteen days, it does not bode well for our next three fixtures and has to raise questions about the effectiveness of the club’s fitness training. As for the pitch, well I’m going to say that things were much worse when I were a lad – pitches nowadays are like bowling greens compared to the ones we used to get at this time of the season in the 60’s and 70’s and, anyway, Burnley seemed to pass the ball about well enough on it didn’t they.
After our draw at Norwich I remarked on here about how our team did not press the ball after going 1-0 up and we got more of the same last night as it seemed to me that the policy for the second half amounted to nothing more than holding on to what we had. Therefore, while giving credit to Burnley’s domination in terms of possession, it seemed to me that City were not too worried about letting the visitors have the ball as long as we were set up with two banks of four making it very hard for them to play through us. Although wanting us to be more ambitious, I have to admit that this policy almost worked because, with man of the match Mark Hudson putting in another outstanding performance, we made Burnley look a lot less dangerous than they had done in the first half as they were frustrated into often trying long range pot shots after lengthy periods of possession which had got them nowhere.
However, as Scunthorpe discovered on Saturday, something has to give when the ball just keeps coming back at you to defend all of the time – it was just such a disappointment that, when the equaliser came, it was via a route which we had coped with so well all night. Looking at the goal on television a few times, it looks like Jay Bothroyd let Clarke Carlisle go and so Dekel Keinan was left with two opponents to deal with on the near post. Even so, Steve Thompson appeared to be Keinan’s man and so, after a couple of impressive performances to begin with, our new signing has to take his share of the responsibility for the goal as he let our former striker get in front of him to glance in his header.
Therefore, just as at Norwich, City’s policy of sitting back and inviting the opposition onto them failed late on. However, when I looked at the Burnley team with their pair of thirty something centrebacks, I thought that they were the part of the side which we could dominate and seek to exploit. This feeling increased as the game unfolded because Burnley played with a high defensive line throughout and, in the second half especially, there were opportunities to play our strikers in on goal with the right pass. Unfortunately though, our midfield had dropped so deep that the “killer ball” was always having to be played over a longer distance than it should have been and when the chances came the passes lacked the necessary precision (although all of our midfield players were guilty of this at times, the largely ineffective Peter Whittingham was the main culprit in this regard).
That said, even if the right pass had been played, there was no guarantee that, on the basis of last night’s performance, the front two would have taken the chance created. I spent nearly all of the first half wondering if Jay Bothroyd and Michael Chopra were on some sort of bonus for every time they got fouled because that was the only explanation I could come up with as to why they spent so much time appealing to the referee (more on him later) with their arms outstretched while play went on around them. To be fair to Chopra, he did play better than he had done on Saturday and found space well for his goal which he put away with the minimum of fuss, but I’m afraid it was not a night to remember for Bothroyd.
One of the reasons I have become such a fan of Jay Bothroyd since he came to Cardiff is because his attitude and commitment has been the precise opposite of what I had expected it to be back in August 2008 when he signed from Wolves, but, a few minutes either side of half time when he reverted to his normal self apart, it was a pre Cardiff City type display from Jay last night. I mentioned earlier about him appealing for fouls all the time, but there were many occasions in the first half especially where he just stood a yard or two off the play and allowed a Burnley player to go for a ball unchallenged. This sort of thing has in no way been typical of Jay since he has been a Cardiff player and I believe him when he says that, if this is to be his last season with us, he wants to play a full part in getting us to the Premiership, but our front two in general and him in particular will have to play a lot better over the coming weeks than they did last night if we are to make it into the top flight.
Finally, I cannot end without mentioning the totally inept performance of referee Roger East and the linesman on the Ninian Stand side of the ground (the one on the Grandstand side might have been just as bad as the clown on our side, but it’s harder to judge from sixty or seventy yards away). Mr East is the referee who gave Coventry a goal in the game at Ninian Park in 2008/09 and then spent what seemed to be about five minutes chatting with his linesman before deciding to disallow it and give us a free kick in the Coventry half for handball! Anyone is entitled to make a mistake though and, to be fair, Mr East has not done badly in previous visits to Cardiff since then, but last night he was inconsistent in his decision making, didn’t seem to know what the advantage rule was and, seemingly, had to be told that when both trainers come on to treat a player from each team, they both have to leave the pitch afterwards and not just the one from Cardiff – Mr East wasn’t the reason we didn’t win, but he didn’t half make a frustrating night even more frustrating!