Fifteen goals from twenty one games, the stat which towers over all of the bad luck stories.

CoymayNew manager Ole Gunnar Solskjær bemoaned his side’s bad luck as they crashed to a very damaging 2-0 home defeat by West Ham which meant that City had dropped into the bottom three for the first time this season. From his perspective this was a perfectly understandable reaction from Solkskjær – after all, he had watched his side lay siege to the the West Ham goal in the second half as his team enjoyed sixty three per cent of the possession over the ninety minutes.

There were reasons to bemoan Cardiff’s luck as well. Kimbo’s first half shot deflected on to the underside of the bar and down on to, but not over, the line. If it had been left to the totally inept set of officials to make the decision, then a goal would probably have been awarded, but the video technology introduced this season ensured that the correct decision was made – a slightly different connection off the West Ham defender or the crossbar would have seen us awarded the crucial first goal, but it was not to be.

Lee Mason and his two linesmen (especially the one on the Ninian Stand side of the pitch), were one a few sets of officials we’ve had this season that made a mockery of the claim that there is some sort of elite operating in the Premier League when it comes to the game’s decision makers. It’s over exaggerating to say Mason should get an assist for his part in West Ham’s first goal because play went on for about twenty seconds after he nodded Gary Medel’s pass to the nearest West Ham player to put an end to what looked a good opportunity for a counter attack, but it wasn’t the first time, or the last, where he helped out the visitors.

The incident which led to Guy Demel being stretchered off with what appeared to be a serious head injury (it turned out he had concussion) looked like a possible penalty from my not too good viewing position and there were a couple of others in the second half which were certainly strong shouts for our first spot kick of the season. Like the other one, I didn’t have the best of views of these incidents, but I certainly did of the blatant shirt pulling by Jack Collison on Steven Caulker as he jumped for a Craig Bellamy corner and yet the linesman,  who was straight in line with me and twenty yards closer to the incident, chose to do nothing.

Ole Gunnar Solskjær addresses the crowd before his first home game in charge - it didn't have the desired effect!*

Ole Gunnar Solskjær addresses the crowd before his first home game in charge – it didn’t have the desired effect!*

In doing so, he took the cowards way out like so many of his colleagues do when it comes to this blight on the game – I’m not being one eyed here either, because we could well have not made the League Cup Final two years ago if Howard Webb had not missed, or, more likely,  chose to ignore an obvious shirt pull by Aron Gunnarsson in the Semi Final Second Leg and awarded Palace the penalty they should have had.

Given the view he had, yesterday’s linesman should not be officiating at this level if he missed the foul on Caulker – it happened no more than fifteen yards from him. However, a few minutes later he was flagging furiously for a foul by Craig Noone when the winger got the ball from keeper Adrian as he fell to the ground. Now, it was almost certainly the right decision, but, once again, I was right in line with the official and, like me, he couldn’t have seen the ball because the keeper’s body was in front of it, so he had to be making a guess as to whether Noone had kicked it out of his hands.

I could also mention the first West Ham goal where Matt Jarvis looked suspiciously offside as he was played in down the right to cross for a criminally ignored Carlton Cole to score with ease, but the point has been made  - every game we play we seem to be denied an obvious penalty by poor decisions from the officials.

That has to be bad luck right? Well, to an extent, but now we get to the crux of the matter which, all of the excuses we can make notwithstanding, dominates our season and tells us exactly why we are looking increasingly likely to occupy one of the bottom three positions come mid May. With the season now more than half way over, we have scored  a pathetic fifteen goals in twenty one matches and you have to consider that stat in the context of yesterday’s match.

The incident where West Ham right Guy Demel was concussed by team mate Roger Johnson - Johnson did well on his return to Cardiff, but City's unimaginative attacking played into his hands.*

The incident where West Ham right Guy Demel was concussed by team mate Roger Johnson – Johnson did well on his return to Cardiff, but City’s unimaginative attacking played into his hands.*

Yes, we could have had more luck in terms of the run of the ball and possible penalties, but, as for the latter, we would have to score from all of these spot kicks we are being denied week in, week out and with the standard of finishing we’ve seen this season, can we be confident that they would be converted even if refs started giving us them? The BBC’s stats show we had nineteen goal attempts, but just seven of them were on target and, from memory, only one of them was not straight at Adrian – some of those shots were well struck, but like so many of our goal efforts this season, they lacked the precision or placement to cause serious problems.

So, that miserable goalscoring figure is solely down to poor finishing then? Sadly, the answer to that question has to be no – Fraizer Campbell should have done better than put a great opportunity too close to Adrian from eight yards out and Andreas Cornelius showed his complete lack of confidence in front of goal at the moment with a poor header from a decent opportunity, but all season long, I’ve thought our main problem has been a midfield short of consistency, inspiration   and guile.

It didn’t help that we were without our best performer in this area over the past three months or so in Jordon Mutch (his energy and ability to run beyond the striker might have provided the link between attack and midfield in a totally lacklustre first half which Solskjær was right to remark on in his post match press conference), but the truth is, even with him in there, our midfield has been pretty ordinary as a unit this season. Yesterday, they were faced with a side which was undergoing a crisis of confidence, were shipping goals galore and were reduced to ten men for the last quarter of the match - it should have been the recipe for a side making a fresh start under  a new manager to impose themselves on the game from the first whistle, but, instead, City looked almost diffident, nowhere was this moreso in our very ordinary midfield.

Players such as Whittingham, Kimbo, Odemwingie and Noone all do the odd thing during games which have you murmuring “well played”, but, overall this season, they have been too lightweight, inconsistent and predictable to be considered good enough to be regular starters in even ordinary Premier League midfields (I realise that is a bit harsh on Noone who hasn’t done too badly in the limited chances he’s had this season, but the fact is our results have been awful since he’s been playing regularly). Yesterday cried out for a Mark Noble type, that is someone with the ability and, so importantly, character to stamp their personality on a game – Noble was excellent I thought, whereas the one midfield player we have who has managed to dominate the occasional match this season in Gary Medel had another of those increasingly common afternoons where the game passes him by.

The introduction of Craig Bellamy, looking more like the player he can be, certainly pepped things up in the second half. There was also a promising first appearance from Magnus Wolff Eikrem, who passed the ball more accurately than most of his team mates, while giving the occasional glimpse that he may be able to provide the incisive delivery from open play that we so manifestly lack. Truth be told though, there was much huffing and puffing, but little to surprise or hurt West Ham who defended with character and resolution once they had been given something to cling on to

Our latest signing, Mats Moller Dæhli.+

Our latest signing, Mats Moller Dæhli.+

In defence, the recall of Mark Hudson in place of Ben Turner was only a partial success. Our new manager has, correctly, identified that we give the ball away too much and so Turner’s place was always going to come under pressure, but although Hudson’s passing is better than the man who hadn’t missed a minute of our season before yesterday, it isn’t to the degree that the unease he showed playing on the left made it a worthwhile change to make – if passing the ball out from the back is going to become a very important consideration in the selection of our centrebacks, then I’m afraid that the simple truth is that we need a new one.

Reinforcements are on the way apparently (albeit not at centreback seemingly) – Manchester United left back Fabio is reportedly coming here on loan, as is England international winger Wlfred Zaha who, for whatever reason, has been a spectator for most of the time this season. Hannover striker Mame Biram Diouf seems set to be given a chance to make the sort of impact in the Premier League that he didn’t in his earlier spell at Old Trafford or in his subsequent loan move to Blackburn and Molde goalkeeper Ørjan Nyland has been repeatedly linked with a move to Cardiff City Stadium.

Last night also saw the confirmation of the signing of the very highly rated Mats Moller Dæhli from Molde for an undisclosed fee. It’s incredible when you think of it, that a player would turn down Manchester United for Cardiff City, but that’s what Dæhli has done by deciding to follow Ole Gunnar Solskjær to Wales. the attacking midfield player cum winger has rejected a return to Old Trafford and, if he’s half as good as some of the pre publicity makes out (he was compared to Samir Nasri and David Silva yesterday by Ole), then we’ve certainly got a player on our hands.

However good Dæhli may be though, you have to wonder if, at just 18, he can have much of an influence on a relegation scrap in “the best league in the world” and I have doubts about whether some others are the sort of players you need for what we are going to face in the next four months, but I understand that Ole faces huge problems  in trying to change the way we play and get the results to keep us up at the same time. What yesterday did was prove to those who, very naively in my opinion, informed us that Ole would just tell the team to go out and play attacking, passing football and all of our problems would disappear were wrong.

The vast majority of first team contenders at the club over the closing months of the campaign are going to be players who were brought here to play in a certain way by our previous manager, some of them  will be good enough to take on board what they will be asked to do from now on, but there will be plenty who will be less effective because of these changes – I believe we need to improve significantly in central defence and midfield as well as get more strength in depth up front if we are to survive playing the Solskjær way.

* pictures courtesy http://www.walesonline.co.uk/

+ picture courtesy of Pete Thomas, Cardiff City

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4 Responses to Fifteen goals from twenty one games, the stat which towers over all of the bad luck stories.

  1. Dai Woosnam says:

    Very informative piece as usual, Paul.
    Before I start, let me say that my short-term memory is totally SHOT.
    I can still call out my school register of 1955 in alphabetical order, but put a gun to my head and ask me what I had for dinner last night, and I will say to you “shoot me now!”
    That much said, I now have my built-in excuse if I am wrong in my next sentence (!!)
    If we accuse Howard Webb of moral cowardice 2 years ago, we have to simultaneously acknowledge his courage in a CCFC game the previous season when in the vital play-off game v Reading, he rightly penalised the Israeli fellow for the pull-back on Mills. That was Webb too, wasn’t it? Or am I losing the plot?
    The shameful thing there Paul was that DJ did not immediately castigate that Israeli after the game. All this “we keep things ‘in house’ in this club” stuff that managers spout, is just so much pernicious nonsense.
    Players who pull shirts should be named and shamed.
    And trust me – this is not 20/20 hindsight on my part – Cardiff’s decline this season can be directly linked to one seemingly innocuous event.
    On Nov 9th, Cardiff were more than holding their own against Villa at Villa Park, and we had got to the 76th minute when Gary Medel needlessly tried to pull a Villa man back by his shirt, well outside the penalty area, when no danger was resulting.
    Of course, with a goalkeeper like David Marshall, you may just as well have given away a penalty: so incapable is he of saving ANYTHING hit from the other side of a defensive wall.
    It has been an almost perpetual nosedive for City ever since that senseless act.
    And did we hear Malky take him to task after the game? Did we heck! (Just like he was silent on Nat Jarvis throwing away that game at Macclesfield with similar stupidity.) The more I think about Malky, the more I am convinced he should go into politics. (He has made enough money now out of CCFC as to never need to work again in his life…not that he will be poorly paid as an MP !!) He has the politician’s ability of always saying exactly what he thinks will benefit HIM and not rock the boat…and often refusing to say what SHOULD be said.
    Take last night on MotD. What a waste of time getting him on. Yes he comes over as a nice chap. Lovely chap to have as a next door neighbour – far better than that surly chap DJ – but a fellow that you would never think in a million years has wasted at least £30m of Vincent’s money.
    Waste? WHAT waste?
    Let us start with Gary Medel. Is he a nice tidy player? Yes.
    Is he worth the best part of £12m?
    Come on …thou canst not be SERIOUS.
    And with signing him, we hit on a thorny problem: signing people with no command of English or the UK culture.
    Frankly, Lee Mason was merciful to him yesterday in showing him just a yellow for his attempt to get an opponent carded. I would have just loved it if he had got a red for that. And I want my man “oggs” (lower case deliberate) to read him the riot act. And tell ALL his players that brandishing imaginary cards and shirt pulling will not be tolerated. A fine of two weeks’ wages every time.
    And mentioning Medel and his language learning, brings me to importing non-English speakers generally.
    I know that the language school at UWIST (is that what they call themselves these days? Living away from Cardiff, I am not sure if they haven’t gone the way of so many academic institutions and changed their name three times in my 15 years away) are making a pretty penny from City. But I seriously wonder if the language hassle is worth it.
    Yes I know, when one thinks of Man Utd with the non-English speaking young Ronaldo, I immediately identify myself as a dunce with that remark!
    But frankly, for far-from-extraordinary players like Medel, Kim, Theophile-Catherine, the Slovenian fellow …well, I wonder if it is worth all the hassle. And not to mention having to pay for a personal translator like Kim has had 24/7.
    BTW, did Ki have one at Swansea?
    Oh, I think I missed Gestede out of that list. He has now developed all the linguistic and footballing skills at Cardiff, and now he has gone for a song to Ewood Park.
    Tell me I am dreaming.
    And then there is Nicky Maynard. Malky wasted £2.75m on him. I say “wasted” a little tentatively, because I recall that goal he scored at Accrington this season, that was pure class. My man “oggs” – like Malky – does not seem to believe in him, so he is off out on loan. More money wasted.
    Then we come to Steven Caulker, the man Paul Abbandonato laughingly calls a “colossus”. He would not even be a colossus in the CHAMPIONSHIP. Give me Leon Barnett every time: a man who begged to join City for £2m but Malky wanted to spend 4 times more of Vincent’s money on the marquee signing of Steven.
    Barnett is a better last-ditch tackler, and at least as good with his head in the opposing box, and much more dangerous with his feet.
    He would have probably put away that half-chance SC had yesterday.
    But I will hush myself now. And yes I know: “if wishes were fishes” etc. (We can all be wise AFTER the event!)

    Suffice to say that the impossible has happened: I now feel very sorry for Vincent Tan, the James Bond villain who – not that long back – seemingly only needed to be photographed stroking a black Siamese cat to make me join the “Vincent out” brigade.

    I can now see that he has been let down by his manager. I hope that oggs can bring in only Scandinavian foreign players, as these all speak English and do not brandish imaginary cards.

    Right. Rant over.
    Gosh these things are better out than in.

    And finally let nobody even DARE accuse me of xenophobia! I am married to a spouse who did not have English as her first language. So I both sympathise and empathise with the problems players have learning language and culture.
    But I did not ask my darling wife to play Premiership football. That is the difference.

    I will leave the xenophobia to the disgraceful Movers and Shakers at the top of the football establishment who I keep hearing making anti-Tan remarks along the lines of “and he just does not understand football culture or British loyalty to tradition” nonsense.
    And these same cretins try to make out that Malky was never given proper transfer funds!
    The man wasted an absolute fortune. At least £30m of the dough Tan has given him.
    And now, in closing, can I ask you Paul to please get to the bottom of the John Brayford/Bermuda Triangle scandal.
    In a year of puzzles, this is perhaps the joint greatest (along with “was Cornelius really injured all that time he never made the bench?)
    Kindest,
    Dai.

  2. Geoff Lewis says:

    Hi Paul,
    Happy New Year to you.As always you were spot on in your report on yesterday’s carnival. I agreed with everything you said. We do not seem to get the ” rub of the green”, from these so called Premiership officials- Lee Mason and his linesman, were a joke.
    Nonetheless Cardiff were woeful, especially in the first half. We were chasing fresh air again.
    Better second half when Bellamy appeared , more action and came close on a few occasions.
    To me the players have not a clue what do with the ball, once they are in the final third of the opponents half this needs to be addressed by OLE and hs staff.
    Hudson was poor out of position on the left hand side. Bring back Turner- far stronger player. Whittingham crap can not take a decent corner.
    Malky made lots of bad signings especially Cornelius, he has not got a clue, he is like a carthorse, same as Odemwingie waste of money and Maynard too.
    I agree with the last writer why Malky did not sign Leon Barnett, completely baffled me. The guy was great in the air ,good passer, ideal centre back.
    I thought Eikrem looked a class player yesterday. Wait and see.
    Hopefully a few good signings and we will be back on track. Mind you this is “Cardiff City”, nothing is ever straightforward.
    Regards
    Geoff

  3. Graham T says:

    Well, after that rant from Dai .. is there anyone else who believes with me that our problems stem from the way Whittingham plays nowadays? Just watch what he does – more often than not when a team-mate passes him the ball he passes it straight back – without even looking towards the opposing team’s goal area to see if there might be something that he as an alledgedly creative midfielder might usefully do with it .. game after game, Whitt’s passes are either back or across – and usually immediate .. and he’s frightened to SHOOT!

  4. The other Bob Wilson says:

    It’s strange, I did a piece in the Echo a fortnight ago simply thanking Malky Mackay for his two and a half years with the club and got a reply from someone chiding me for looking back and saying now is a time to move on and look to the future.

    Last weekend we went to Newcastle with a squad of Malky Mackay’s men and won with Ole, rightly in my view, getting a lot of praise for the way he turned the game around with his substitutions – again rightly in my view, no praise was directed at our former manager because the game had nothing to do with him. However, we lose our next match and, suddenly, some on the messageboards (and Dai to a lesser extent on here) are saying it’s Malky Mackay’s fault!

    The trouble at the moment is that anything defending Malky Mackay can be construed by some as, by implication, having a go at Ole and there is no way I want to be seen as doing that – that said, what I saw on Saturday concerned me. There is no way this can be proved of course, but I happen to believe that a Malky Mackay side playing Malky Mackay football (unattractive as that might be to many) would have stood a very good chance of staying up if they could have got on with their jobs without the discordant off stages noises we’ve heard from Tan and co since late September.

    We now have a new manager who wants the team to play in a different way. It’s much too early yet to say whether this will be successful or not, but, for me, Saturday showed that this is not going to be a straightforward task for Ole because I wonder if a fair number of the players he has inherited are capable of playing a more technical game to the standard needed to give us a chance to stay up. So much is going to depend on how players signed this month do, but, probably more important is whether Ole and his staff can get players like KTC, Hudson, Turner, Whittingham (I’m afraid I agree with a lot of what Graham says about him), Gunnarsson, Kimbo, Odemwingie, Noone and Cornelius performing in the manner he wants them to on a consistent enough basis. For differing reasons, I’m not sure they can – based on Saturday’s evidence they face a huge task (and that’s always assuming Tan stays in the background and lets Ole get on with his job).

    A few words on Malky Mackay to finish. Last week I watched an interesting discussion programme on Sky Sports in which MK Dons manager Karl Robinson was a guest and he was asked whether it was easier for a manager to succeed in the transfer budget with a low budget which concentrated his mind so to speak or with a large one which meant he could afford most of the players he would see in any given week. His reply was that he had not really had enough experience of the second scenario to give a definite answer, but he said that he thought the option he did have experience of was the easier one. I’d say he was right in that opinion and that Malky Mackay is the latest in a long, long line of managers who have struggled when given what so many in his profession outside the Premier League must dream of, that is substantial funds to spend in the transfer market.

    Unlike quite a few of our fans it seems, my opinion of our former manager hasn’t changed that much over the last month or so. I still feel he is the best manager I’ve seen at the club and I believe he did a great job in the transfer market in his first season (although one of the players he did spend a pretty big fee on, Kenny Miller, was not a huge success). In his second season (with a automatic promotion or be sacked ultimatum behind him before a ball was kicked according to respected Telegraph journalist Paul Hayward), he did a good job with his transfer budget I’d say – yes, there was Velikonja, but, even if we reject the rumour that he was a Tan rather than Mackay signing, the Championship title won by eight points leaves him well in credit.

    Unfortunately, this summer doesn’t look so good for our former manager – I don’t share Dai’s opinion of Caulker and rate him a very good signing and, until recently I would have said the same about Medel, but, although I don’t have too many doubts about his playing ability, his attitude in recent matches hasn’t been the best in my view. I happen to think there still might be a good player trying to get out with Andreas Cornelius, but, even if I’m right (and I accept there isn’t much evidence available to back that view up) I have serious doubts about whether we will get to see proof of it this season and so that had to make him a poor signing for a club not in a position to gamble nearly £10 million on “one for the future” like a Chelsea or Man City might do. Odemwingie and the very strange John Brayford signing are also transfer deals which don’t reflect well on Mackay or Moody now either, so if they deserved, say, an eight out of ten in 11/12 and a seven out of ten last season, something like four out of ten seems more appropriate for 13/14.

    I will defend Malky when someone applies Premier League standards to a signing made to get us out of the Championship like Dai does with Nicky Maynard. That player barely kicked a ball for us before he got the injury which all but ended his season, so I don’t see how anyone can say he was a bad signing – to me he was someone who would have been signed with the hope he might be able to do a job for us in the Premier League rather than the belief that this would be the case. Similarly, I can’t agree with Dai or Geoff about Leon Barnett – if Malky was wrong in his opinion about him not being good enough for the Premier League, then he is in good company because Tony Mowbray, Paul Lambert and Chris Hughton, to name but three, have all made that decision about him in the past.

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