Whenever the dramatic decline in attendances at home Cardiff City games this season is debated, you can usually guarantee that someone (usually a person who no longer attends matches) will say that people shouldn’t be surprised by our gates having been halved in something like eighteen months – after all, Cardiff fans are “notoriously fickle”.
In many ways, it’s a fair criticism. I’m a bit too young to have gone to the famous game in the 1960/61 season against the Spurs side that would go on to complete a League and Cup double a few weeks later, but I know enough about it to be able to say that it was one of the great Ninian Park nights with 47,000 there to watch our 3-2 victory.
However, a bit of research tells you that more that half of those present that night did not bother turning up for our next game when Blackpool came to south Wales – there were 21,000 there for that match and when we entertained Blackburn just four weeks after the Tottenham game, only 13,000 turned up.
There are other examples – 50,000 to watch Leeds in an FA Cup tie in 1972 and 13,000 for a bottom of the table clash with Fulham seven days later, 35,549 (many swear blind it was much more than that in reality) against Hereford in April 1976 and then one in three of the City fans present that night weren’t there three days later when we entertained Swindon and, more recently, a capacity crowd of 22,009 for another FA Cup tie with Leeds in January 2002 and very slightly more than half that number when Peterborough arrived six days later.
So, yes, us City fans are fickle, probably more so than at other clubs, but I’m going to defend modern day Cardiff fans a little here, because I’d argue that we are only reflecting what we are seeing from our team this season.
Yesterday’s 2-2 draw at Cardiff City Stadium against a Rotherham side which had lost eight of it’s last nine away matches in all competitions was a perfect example of City’s fickleness this season – how can a team that played so well in winning at Wolves (and, having now watched the whole game on the club’s website, I can confirm that we did turn in a very good display), then stutter to a draw against a team thoroughly used to losing on their travels just a week later?
Actually, that’s something of a flawed question, because a bit more analysis shows that City’s fickleness runs a lot deeper than suggested above.
Truth is, City aren’t just fickle from one match to the next, they are fickle and inconsistent throughout the course of the individual matches they play. The most conclusive proof of that assertion is provided by that notorious trio of home games before Christmas where the team played well to get themselves a couple of goals clear of Play Off rivals, Burnley, Sheffield Wednesday and Brentford only to promptly hand back that hard won advantage. Granted, we were still able to fashion a winner against the last named team, but that well worked goal only really offered more proof of the inconsistency in performance, almost from one minute to the next, that runs through so many of our matches.
It was there again yesterday. After the first thirty five minutes or so, I’d convinced myself that there was no way weren’t going to win the game – even during a quiet opening, we looked to be in control of proceedings and, once we stepped things up a bit, Rotherham were struggling to live with us.
Often, those looking on just know when a goal is coming and I’d had that feeling for a minute or two before we scored our first goal. During the ten minutes either side of going 1-0 up, there were definite similarities in our play to the impressive stuff seen at Molineux – strikers making clever runs that were being found with clever and accurate passes (usually from Peter Whittingham) by colleagues, all of which represented a clear goal threat.
The movement and intelligence of Anthony Pilkington and, to a much lesser extent, Joe Mason threatened to rip Rotherham apart for a while. City were really looking the business and then suddenly, to misquote Keyser Soze, like that, it was gone!
All of a sudden, City started getting careless and, possibly, complacent. It wasn’t as if Rotherham were laying siege to our goal, but, going back to that feeling you get that a goal is coming, two or three minutes before their equaliser, my mate sat next to me said “City need to sort themselves out quick or they’re not going to be in front at half time” – he was saying the very thing I had been thinking only a few seconds earlier.
Again, I had a feeling of foreboding early in the second half when we had to defend a corner while Matt Connolly was off receiving treatment for an injury he picked snuffing out a dangerous looking attack by the visitors. Sure enough, although the goal came from a freakish deflection off Pilkington’s knee, we were 2-1 down within seconds and this was the signal for Rotherham to take control of the game for a spell.
So, it could be argued that I, and I daresay quite a few others, had seen the game’s first three goals coming, but that was certainly not the case on my part at least, when it came to it’s final goal, as, from nowhere, City came up with an equaliser as Pilkington completed a hat trick of sorts.
After that, a match which I’d say would have, largely, provided good entertainment for any neutrals watching, swung from end to end with us at times looking short handed at the back as we chased a winner – we had the better chances in the closing third of the game and were a little unfortunate that the two best of them fell to defenders.
However, although I think Rotherham manager Neil Redfearn was pushing things a bit when he claimed “I think we deserved to win. We were the better of two good sides”, maybe a draw was a fair result, because I left the ground feeling that fickle City had not been good enough over the course of the ninety minutes to accept another chance to make ground on the teams above us.
Looking at individual performances, there were two which really stood out for different reasons.
Anthony Pilkington is, in many ways, a player who personifies the fickle 2015/16 version of Cardiff City. Seen by many as a good signing when he arrived and generally recognised as one of our more classy players, Pilkington can provide moments of great skill and quality, but, like too many of his team mates, he has a tendency to flatter to deceive as those moments are not sustained long enough – also, rather like Craig Noone, playing on the wing in this team can mean you often flit in and out of games as you are either starved of service or it takes too long to reach you.
Being used in a more advanced and central role in the last two matches has seen Pilkington become much more prominent though. Noone may have, rightly, captured the headlines after the Wolves match, but Pilkington was right up there among our most influential performers on the day and yesterday he was easily our most impressive player as far as I was concerned.
There was a brightness and threat behind much that he did. I suppose Pilkington might have done better when played in for a shot visiting keeper Lee Camp blocked just before his first goal and the truth is we would have won but for his own goal, but that is to be hypercritical -as mentioned before, that was just down to pure bad luck.
Talk of luck takes me on to the yellow card Pilkington received for a dive in the penalty area. I’ve only had the one look at the incident, but I had a good view of it at the game and I just assumed that when the whistle was blown, a penalty had been awarded.
At the time, I thought referee Jeremy Simpson had made the biggest mistake of what was a fairly inconsistent afternoon’s work by an official I’d not seen before. He wasn’t terrible by any means and appears to be someone who is on his way up in his refereeing career as he’s done a lot more Championship matches this season than he has in others, but, overall, I thought we came out on the end of more wrong decisions than Rotherham did and, to that end, he was a factor, albeit a small one I’d say, in our failure to win.
This brings me on to the second of our players who had the biggest impact yesterday. If City have been inconsistent individually this season, then I’d say the biggest exception to that rule has probably been Lee Peltier. Yes, I know he is hardly the most eye catching of players and doesn’t do an awful lot going forward, but, apart from Matt Connolly, I cannot think of any other outfield player who has consistently been a seven out of ten performer week in, week out for us.
Unfortunately, yesterday was not one of those seven out of ten games for our right back. Watching these highlights only confirmed three things I suspected at the time.
First, that, although Joe Newell did well to convert what was hardly a tap in for Rotherham’s first goal, he was helped by two pieces of poor Cardiff defending when Peltier let him go as he was played in down the left and then when David Marshall (not his usual, very good, self in recent weeks) chose to leave his line and was easily side stepped by the scorer.
Secondly, it really was a shocking miss from that header inside the six yard box and third, I don’t think there was anything wrong in Mr Simpson’s decision making when it came to the decision to send Peltier off. At the time, I didn’t know that he’d already been given a yellow card and so assumed for a short while that he had received a straight red card. I thought that was slightly harsh, if understandable, decision, but when I realised it was for two yellows, then I didn’t see that the ref had any alternative.
Finally, a welcome to our latest new signing Lex Immers. Yes, I know I spent half of my piece on the Wolves match talking about the transfer embargo that had been placed on us the day before, but the very complicated regulations which accompany it allow teams to bring in loan players to “top up” their squad as long as certain financial criteria are obeyed.
Therefore, we were entitled to bring in three new loan players (that figure could rise again if more of our players leave during the transfer and loan windows) and Immers, a midfield man cum striker, from Feyenoord is the first of them.
It was in the latter capacity that the Dutchman made his City bow yesterday when he replaced Mason with half an hour to go. It did not take him long at all to play a part in our equaliser and then go on to make a decent first impression, but what sort of player have we signed?
On the face of it, you would think he was exactly what Russell Slade wanted when you consider that he had identified pace and creativity as the two ingredients he wanted to add to his squad in January. After all, CEO Ken Choo remarked that Immers has “has the technical ability and pace that we are looking for.”.
However, the two Dutch journalists Wales Online consulted for an opinion on Immers offered a contrasting view and I have to say that the impression I gained yesterday was that it was they, rather than Mr Choo, who were right on the pace front at least!
Maybe the best thing to do for now is read this, very good, more balanced and generally positive piece which tries to offer an objective opinion on someone who, if nothing else, it appears divides opinions sharply!
*pictures courtesy of http://www.walesonline.co.uk/