Forget the Elephant, City have a Blue Whale in the room!


In his post match interview following yesterday evening’s 1-0 loss at Bristol Rovers in the First Round of whatever the League Cup is called this season, Paul Trollope confirmed that Cardiff City are close to signing Wigan Athletic’s twenty two year old Welsh international midfield player Emyr Huws on a permanent deal.

Now, based on what I’ve seen of him, I like Huws and think this could be a move that works out well for both parties. For me, one of the very few things Chris Coleman did wrong this summer was to leave Huws out of the final twenty three for the Euros, but it was still very encouraging to see the player giving his all in the final warm up game against Sweden despite knowing at that stage that he had missed out on selection for the Finals.

So, yes, provided the deal can be finalised, I think Emyr Huws can be a good signing for City, but, still you have to say that there has been an element of Nero fiddling while Rome burns about our summer so far because an own goal and a penalty in nearly five hundred minutes of football since Lex Immers scored in the early minutes against St. Pauli nearly three weeks ago is all the confirmation needed to tell you that our biggest problem last season has not been adequately addressed – in fact, the signs so far are that the problem has got worse.

When a side is not scoring, the tendency is to look at two areas when trying to work out why this should be – essentially, it’s because the strikers are not good enough or the service they are getting isn’t good enough.

To look at the latter first, although Joe Ralls hit a lovely defence splitting pass very late on to help create the chance from which we came closest to finding the net, the central midfield trio we started with last night of Ralls, Aron Gunnarsson and Stuart O’Keefe had a functional rather than inspirational look to it – even at their best, it’s not a threesome which has you thinking that they’ll tear the opposition apart with their creativity.

We have been told on a constant basis that City are adopting a more patient approach this season and so we are going to see more building from the back than we’ve been used to from the team. Now, I’m all in favour of this, but I hope and trust that if any of our back three see that a long pass (as opposed to hack downfield) which could hurt our opponents is on, then they are encouraged to play it, rather than told to play a shorter, “safer” ball – for much of last night, you might have thought that passes from the back into the channels were banned.

To digress a little for a moment, I wasn’t best pleased to hear that Don Goodman would be the “expert” alongside the commentator for Sky’s coverage of the game. It’s not that I particularly dislike him, in fact I quite enjoy listening to him when he’s not covering a City game. However, it’s always seemed to me that he barely ever has a good word to say about us when he watches our games – even when we were winning the Championship, he seemed to be very grudging in his praise of us.

So, at first I bridled somewhat when he started being critical of our “passing for the sake of passing” last night, but the evidence of what I was watching meant that I couldn’t maintain this approach for long – Goodman was right to be critical of our laboured passing game which was being played, almost entirely, in areas where Rovers were perfectly happy to let us have possession.

A few years ago, “possession” football was King, but we seem to be in a period of some reappraisal of that idea now and the success enjoyed lately by a few teams who don’t seem to be too bothered about losing the battle for possession of the ball is showing the limitations of an approach where keeping possession of the ball is key.

Even someone like me who is much happier to see me my side with the ball than without it, can see the potential problem of continuously playing balls which ensure you keep possession – such passes can take longer to play and, in general, the further you look to play the ball, the less the chances of keeping it become.

There have been times in the past few weeks when City have struck me as being guilty of trying to keep the ball at all costs. Looking at this from a striker’s point of view, I would have thought that it would become very discouraging as you continuously looked to make runs into space only for a team mate to check back and, typically, play a five yard pass backwards or sideways.

So, going back to our lack of goals, it could be that our strikers are good enough and are making the right runs only for the desire to keep possession to take priority over a willingness to take a bit of a gamble. I believe there is a small element of truth in there somewhere because we do look as if the choice between risk and reward that all sides which value possession have to make is weighed a little too much towards the avoidance of risk currently.

There is a converse to this which I believe applies far more to us here though – if your strikers aren’t giving the players behind them good options when they have the ball, then the choice the man in possession has is whether to look for the simple pass which keeps you in possession or hit a “fighting ball” forward towards a largely static front player perhaps half a pitch length in front of them – if the man with the ball chooses the former, then inevitably, this will lead to accusations of a lack of urgency in the side’s passing.

For me, this was, by far and away, the main reason for our pedestrian and punchless performance. Now, it needs to be said that you don’t get the sort of complete picture as to how much work off the ball your strikers are putting in if you are watching a game on the television rather than in the flesh, but, for me (and Don Goodman’s comments backed this up), our starting front two did nowhere near enough to present the sort of targets to those looking to hit them that they should have done.

From what we’ve seen up to now, it’s pretty obvious that Paul Trollope sees Anthony Pilkington and Frederic Gounongbe as his first choice front two, so last night should have presented Kenneth Zohore and Craig Noone with their opportunity to prove the Head Coach wrong, but, instead, all they did was confirm that Trollope is correct in his current thinking.

Zohore’s career at the club so far has been a mixture of long famines interrupted by the occasional feast which suggests that there might be a player there who can become a quality Championship performer, but it was back to the famine with a vengeance last night.

Some credit should go to the Rovers back three (the best of whom was yet another centreback we decided wasn’t good enough and released in their mid teens!) mind for their clean sheet, but, in truth, they’ll seldom have such an easy game over the coming months. I’ll not accuse Zohore of doing this on the basis of just one game, but we can all probably think of players we’ve had in on loan who let their standards slip once they had the security of a nice, long contract behind them can’t we. As I say, it’s too early to leap to conclusions about Zohore yet, but he cannot afford too many more showings like that.

As for Noone, I was only mentioning yesterday that I thought he could make a success of the number ten role, but this was the old frustrating and too familiar Noone I’m afraid . We can all remember that display at Man City, the spectacular goals and the pin point crosses, but, for the past two seasons, he’s been living on those while his performance generally falls thanks to a mixture of predictability, wrong options taken (a failing too many of our forward players were guilty of last night) and poor execution – I always say that players of Craig Noone’s type will frustrate you at times, but the balance between this and those occasions when his talent makes a telling difference has shifted far more towards the former since we were relegated.

So, our second choice front two showed exactly why they are down the pecking order last night and it’s true to say that, just as our creativity should improve when our two most perceptive passers, Peter Whittingham and Lex Immers, are restored to the side, then we did look more of a threat when Pilkington and Gounongbe appeared off the bench.

Indeed, I thought Gounongbe did pretty well as he tried his best to give our players that moving target to hit that they had not seen in the opening hour. Pilkington is our best option when it comes to movement and awareness around the penalty area and, after Chris Lines’ fine strike (again though, I found myself agreeing with Goodman when he claimed Simon Moore maybe could have done more to prevent the goal) five minutes from the end of extra time, he received Ralls’ pass and played in Gounongbe brilliantly only for the import from Belgium to be denied an equaliser as his effort bounced to safety off the inside of the post.

Perhaps Gounongbe could have done better, but I’d say his miss last night had more to do with bad luck than any ineptitude on his part. It seems to me that those claiming to use what happened last night as evidence to write him off already, are doing so entirely on the back of his far worse miss at Birmingham - if it wasn’t for that, the criticism for last night’s miss would have been far less.

Nevertheless, even though we have four players (at least) who can come into the side and give us more of a goal threat than the starting eleven carried last night, I still look at what we saw during the second half of last season, when three of those four were available, and what’s been on show in the past month or so and think we are a long, long, long way short of what’s needed to have a strikeforce which will win you promotion from the Championship.

We’re, possibly, signing the central midfield player who can give us more authority in that area and I would have thought we will look to add a full back/wing back when Fabio completes his move to Middlesbrough, but, even if we make a couple of very good signings for these areas, it’s hard to see an improvement on last season’s Play Off challenge which never really ignited, if we don’t get someone in up front who is better than what we have presently. Forget about whether he’ll get us twenty goals a season or not, at the moment, I’d happily take someone who has the cleverness, fitness and mobility to make the runs that will trouble centrebacks while also giving our deeper players the forward passing options that we lack.

Finally, it looks like we’ll be missing Stuart O’Keefe for a while with a broken arm which meant that we had to play out the last ten minutes or so while a man short – I’ve only seen the incident once, but it looked like it was a pretty dodgy challenge which caused the injury. Also, apologies for the lack of pictures from the game to accompany this piece - I’m afraid that it’s looking like it’s going to be tougher to come across photos in the media from our matches which people like me can use from now on.




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7 Responses to Forget the Elephant, City have a Blue Whale in the room!

  1. Anthony O'Brien says:

    If football reporting was an Olympic competition, Paul’s report today would win gold — superbly well written, balanced and perceptive, judicious and comprehensive. Every point is made crisply and accurately, with the minimum of fuss and the maximum of impact. In contrast, last night’s game was so appalling it would drain the dictionary of negative words. Yet, let’s be charitable and regard it as perhaps a one-off, a work in progress, with proof of the pudding hopefully apparent in next Sunday’s match. There were one or two good signs, especially the link up between Pilkington and Gounongbe’s just after Bristol Rovers had scored. Pilkington’s awareness and weight of pass was excellent, Gounongbe’s movement superb, His shot reveals the coolness under pressure of a genuine marksman, and his incisive forward runs were worthy of a better result, if passes had been made accurately and at the right time. Hopefully, Emyr Huws (still to be signed at the time of writing) will supply a modicum of authority, of “presence” in midfield and enhance the team’s ability to shoot from distance.

  2. rhondda blue says:

    Shocking last night again, to be honest it does not look any better than last season,
    if we end up playing that type of standard of football through the season we will go down. Fabio now being sold, talk of Gunnersson being sold I wonder what’s going on at my club, as for Graig Noone, what’s happened to him. The best thing Vincent Tan could have done in the summer was to employ a top English or European coach to overall the club from top to bottom, a massive clear out and start again, a lot of very average players signed on good contracts with not much skill to be honest. I would like to know who our chief scout is as I would sack him too for the rubbish he is bringing through the door. ( what did Zohore do last night, nothing). And the club wonders why our ticket sales are not so good, wake up city before it’s too late. I have my season ticket as I have had for the last 50 yrs or more but we seem to be going backwards when every other club is going forward. Rant over, I hope they prove me wrong as I support my club through the good and bad times unlike some.

  3. Roy says:

    Good analysis, Bob. So much better than all the ignorant knee-jerk reacyions on the CCMB. You’re a sane voice crying out amongst fools.

  4. Dai Woosnam says:

    Yes, this was indeed a superb report. Made even greater given how desperately poor the game was.
    So congrats are due to you Paul.
    But no congrats go to Mr Trollope. Any more of this yawn-inducing nonsense, and I can see Mr Barry Cole soon calling him “trollope”. And Barry will have my blessing.

    Look, at my stage of life, everything I do is a race against the undertaker. I have no time for this “passing for the sake of passing” rubbish. I am gonna be sent to the BIG SLEEP soon enough…I do not need any dry runs.

    Here are my observations in no particular order of irritation…
    1. One can see a scenario of PT being sacked mid 2017, and his buddy (wait for it…Lennie Lawrence!!) taking over… !!

    Please, dear Fates – or whoever it is that rule our existence – THOU CANST NOT BE SERIOUS !! ? This is the man who was sacked by GRIMSBY (for godsake!) …an end that even Barry’s “russell slade” managed to avoid !!
    In fact, LL came to us directly from getting his P45 at Blundell Park.
    Him being back at Cardiff City is a backward move…nice guy though he is.
    2. I see our goalkeeper coach is being shared with the England national team. Pity.
    They shoud take him full time. And then we can employ a goalkeeping coach who can teach a goalkeeper to go for the ball with his correct hand !!
    The boy Moore should have been taught this by anyone with half a brain on the Isle of Wight, years ago.
    That an esteemed coach cannot tell him that going for a ball with your wrong hand is just “not on”, is astonishing. Well strike that…maybe it is not so eyebrow-raising, given that I firmly believe the standard of keeping has deteriorated since the advent of goalkeeping coaches…who are all sheep anyway. No free thinkers amongst them. All uniformly teach keepers to stand far too distant from their goal-line.
    A keeper going for the ball with his wrong hand is the equivalent to a rugby winger dashing for a try in the corner, with the ball held under his INSIDE arm.
    A clear no-no.
    And yes I realise that the shot that won it last night was (to use the vogue word) a WORLDY …but to be beaten from that distance, is just plain wrong, given that Moore is a very athletic keeper. He has time to take a big stride before diving…but hey, goalkeeping coaches never stress the importance of using one’s feet before diving.
    3. I am loath to criticise City strikers…given what an idiot dear Rudy Gestede made me (and most of us reading this) look !! Ha! That said, I have to express surprise how kind you were on Freddie’s miss.
    To me, it was far worse than the one at St Andrews. Particukarly as the keeper started diving to his right just as Freddie cocked the trigger…leaving two thirds of the goal empty. All he had to do was …ROLL IT IN.
    4. Sir Vincent is right…we just do not shoot enough. We would rather contemplate our navels.
    5. However all is not lost. One player shone out last night as one who can see a forward pass that is NOT to feet…(yes, jeez Mr Trollope…please realise that you need to train the players to play the ball always forward and into SPACE …not to feet. Playing to feet is fine, if those feet belong to Ronaldo or Messi…but not our lot).
    And that player is JAZZ. A couple of sublime passes from him.
    6. A quite disgraceful booking for Bruno last night. Why yellow cards cannot be overturned, is beyond me. And the referee had a good view of it too. An astonishing decision, because we must give the Man in Lemon the benefit of the doubt, and assume he was NOT on drugs. Sometimes I wonder if this life is but a dream…
    7. Strike that last sentence.
    It really is BEYOND DOUBT a dream.
    For Manchester City have just paid £47.5m for a defender who cannot defend.
    (He is a lovely mover mind! Might make a very good water carrier, and in fairness he CAN see a forward pass!!)


  5. Russell says:

    Thanks Paul . I was jeering on Glammy last night ,in the old , which was a significant failure , men v boys .

    Read a few comments , although I did feel that the Rovers game had a loss written all over it, at least it saves us having to add another League Cup agony event game to the tier of disappointing cup results since the Liverpool final , who wants all that joy anyway ..

    I do think we should let a few names go now and freshen up ie Noone ,Gunnerson , and Manga at least we will get good money for them , they alone should have been too much for a Rovers team to handle, along with ploddy Morrison , he can go as well , they don’t deliver consistency enough for me .

    I don’t think Zohore is ever going to set the world on fire, at best a bench impact , developing player , the others though should have delivered more .

    We need another striker , as we don’t have one to call upon yet , other than Pilk’s ,who is not a natural center forward , and Gounongbe is very much unproven ,at this stage .

    Its good to see John and Connolly having good games again . Pilk’s , Ralls are good lads and always put a shift in , and that’s what we have a team that can put a shift in , no dynamism , no pace , no risk , now Wales get away with this style because every now and then , boom they can release Bale and Ramsey , we don’t have that luxury .

    The current style of possession needs variation and moments of attack with the odd long ball or run at pace from wide or centrally positions , isn’t the possession tactic about mixing it up , and getting the opposition to think and wonder , what next ? I do think Teams have worked out the sideways / back possession thing, it now needs variation applied to it .

    I’ d like to see Harris , Kennedy get more game time. Emyr sounds a good signing that means one out and I guess its Gunnerson,which won’t be a bad thing , as I think we have outgrown each other. If only Adeyemi could get himself going as he has all the attributes for a lengthy thrusting strong midfielder.

    Its early doors so lets see what next week brings , hopefully we will have some very uplifting game reviews and comments from Paul , the only decent Cardiff City journalist ,I know and read .

  6. Colin Phillips says:

    Very good report, Paul.

    As for the performance I am too depressed to comment.

  7. The other Bob Wilson says:

    Thanks very much for your replies – not got enough time at the moment to go into too much detail, so here are a few quick observations on what you say;-
    1. Glad to see that we’ve now signed Emyr Huws AMO and I’ll also take this opportunity to wish Fabip all the best at Middlesbrough – thought this
    was a classy goodbye to City by him.
    2. Rhondda Blue, apparently the club are disappointed that there’s not been more season tickets sold, but, let’s face it, there’s not been much happened this summer at City to convince you to start going along to games again if you weren’t attending last season.
    3. Dai, agree with you about Jazz Richards, I thought he was one of our best players on Thursday. As for John Stones, I mentioned on a messageboard this week that if Man City can improve his defensive play by 15% they’ll have some player on their hands – trouble is, I also believe that’s an awfully big “if”.
    4. Russell, firstly my sympathies to you on having watched Glamorgan’s latest batting debacle in the flesh! Regarding the players we are likely to sell in the next few weeks, I often ask myself in whose best interests are these stories we hear at this time of year about potential departures from City likely to be – the potential buyers or potential sellers? City need to sell and they don’t seem to be having any luck in shifting the players that want other clubs to buy, so I’m sure we can expect plenty more stories in the coming weeks about how this club or that club are after Gunnarsson, Noone, Managa, Adeyemi, Marshall, Ralls, Pilkington etc. etc.
    5.Colin, I’m consoling myself with the thought that we have to be better tomorrow than we were on Thurdsay don’t we, don’t we, don’t we?

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