From bad to worse as Cardiff’s wobble becomes something more serious.

 

If there is a league in this country which proves the validity of that well worn term that a season is a marathon, not a sprint, then it, surely, has to be the Championship. It is a nine month (nearly ten if you make it to the Play Off Final) campaign punctuated by many periods where you are playing three matches a week and, on top of that, there are very few games which teams can coast through because, as befits a league where you frequently see so called strugglers beating the “elite”, the margin between success and failure is usually a very thin one.

Therefore, the Championship is a competition that, to borrow from another sport, favours stayers and it usually tends to involve a gradual accumulation of points as targets set over what are usually six game periods are met or often bettered.

So, how does a long drawn out sporting event like the Championship, the Grand National or a marathon in a major athletics event tend to be won? Well, the first thing I’d say is that there is no set formula for being victorious. For example, two seasons ago Burnley, Middlesbrough and Brighton broke clear of the rest of the chasing Championship pack and it was obvious for weeks before the end of the regular season that it was any two from three for the automatic promotion places.

The fight for those two places went right down to the wire and, in the end, it was Brighton who missed out – hardly surprisingly, they were then beaten in the Semi Finals of the Play Offs. In marathon terms, it was like three athletes condensing the twenty six miles, three hundred and eighty five yards down to a burn up over the last hundred of those yards – it makes for a great finish and is probably the way all neutrals would want the competition to end.

On the other hand, you can get the killer burst from someone well before the culmination of the event which turns it into something of a procession. Again in marathon terms, this is when someone piles on the pressure around the fifteen to twenty mile mark and the rest can’t cope. In cases like this, that circuit around the track in a packed stadium to end the race becomes a lap of honour – it’s a boring way to finish in terms of it being a spectacle, but it should be a tremendous experience for the winner.

That’s exactly what happened to Cardiff City five years ago when we were on our way to winning the Championship. Already at the top of the league going into the Christmas and New Year period, City stole a march on the field by picking up four wins from four with their twelve point haul being five more than anyone else in the division could manage.

Although it didn’t feel like it at the time of course, that was the title virtually decided and, far from “limping over the line” as some killjoy supporters claim, we crossed the finishing line just as the others were entering the stadium.

However, what I cannot ever recall seeing in a high quality marathon field is the winner, or the silver or bronze medalist for that matter, experience the ordeal of what is known as hitting the wall just over halfway through the race.

For those who are unaware of what hitting the wall means it’s when a runner’s legs turn to jelly as they slow to walking pace and their sense of coordination appears to leave them – it makes for very dramatic viewing especially when it happens to one of the race leaders.

By doing the complete opposite of their predecessors from 2012/13 in failing to take a single point from their four holiday period matches, Cardiff City hit their own wall yesterday as they were beaten 2-1 at Loftus Road by Queens Park Rangers to follow on from their dismal losses against Bolton, Fulham and Preston.

Thankfully, other sports are more forgiving than Athletics, the horse that almost comes a cropper at Beecher’s Brook or the Chair as it loses dozens of yards to those in front of them can sometimes come back to win and if I had the time (which I haven’t I’m afraid), I’m sure I could find some sides that have won automatic promotion despite having a pointless Christmas and New Year

However, there can be no avoiding the fact that we look like one of those marathon runners that are reeling around unsure how they are going to manage to take their next step at the moment – where there was strength of mind and clarity, there is now mental frailty and confusion.

There are some straws to cling to. I’ve heard ex pros say that there are nearly always three, maybe four, members of a team who are some way off their A game, no matter how well the side is playing, but when you’ve got eight or nine struggling (as I believe we had in both of our last two home games), then you’ve got no chance. However , all of the indications are that we played better yesterday (it’s hard to see how we could play worse than we did against Preston mind) and, completely bizarrely, Bristol City’s 5-0 pasting at Aston Villa means we actually climb a place to third!

Before this horror period, City fans could be forgiven for thinking that a game was as good as over once we went a goal up – after all, we didn’t drop a single point from such a position before Christmas. That was then and this is now though – when Callum Paterson was fouled as he challenged for a Joe Ralls cross, the latter showed his mental strength following his last, truly dreadful, penalty against Norwich by calmly dispatching the resultant spot kick to give us the lead. Sadly though, our defence couldn’t cope as QPR upped their attacking intensity and the absence of Sean Morrison was clearly felt again as the home side could easily have netted more than the two they did get to turn the game around.

It goes without saying that you don’t tend to get much luck when you’re in a rut like ours and the pictures of a disallowed goal for Junior Hoilett against his old club appear to show that he received the ball from a touch by a defender, rather than Kenneth Zohore, so the decision to disallow it for offside was wrong.

Neil Warnock has always had a habit of deflecting attention away from his team’s failings after a defeat by zoning in on some decision or another from the officials that he claims cost his team a point or, even, a win. Based on what I’ve seen down the years, these claims can run the range of justified right through to completely spurious, but, to be fair to our manager, the pictures say that he was justified in his complaints this time.

Indeed, the fact that referee Tim Robinson (a new name to me) chose to consult his linesmen before making a final decision (a consultation which took a long time) surely indicates that there were doubts in his mind about the offside decision? Therefore, the subsequent decision to stick by the original ruling seems wrong when you consider the edict from FIFA some time again that, in an effort to make the game more watchable, the benefit of any doubt concerning offside decisions should go to the attacking side.

In saying that, I think Mr Warnock is realistic enough to know his side has got major problems – a team that is in the upper echelons of the Championship should be able to cope far better with the challenge of preserving a lead against opponents in eighteenth place and with just one win in their last ten games than we did.

The equalising goal, scored from a header direct from a long throw in, was a shocker from a defensive point of view, while the winner showed that Bruno Manga is probably going through his dodgiest period yet in a Cardiff shirt – its got so bad with him that he was playing better at right back a few games ago than he is at centreback now.

Also, I would hope and expect that our manager has ordered some sort of internal investigation into why we have had such an horrendous time of it with injuries this season. At his meeting with supporters at the end of November, he said that we “did not know the half of it” when it came to our injury situation, so I’d assume that we have had, and almost certainly still do have, members of the squad who are playing through a pain barrier and, probably, would not be involved if circumstances were different.

The situation is so bad in central midfield that Lee Peltier was the latest partner for Ralls in the middle of the park yesterday. People who were at the game have been saying that the defender did a reasonable job before going off with yet another injury and it’s true that it is not a position with which he is totally unfamiliar, but it does tend to endorse my view that the ability to be able to pass the ball to a team mate figures fairly low down on Neil Warnock’s list of priorities when it comes to the sort of central midfield player he wants.

Of course, it has to be said that those aforementioned injuries are making life very difficult for us in that area of the team, but, even when everyone is fit, it is hard to see someone at the club who justifies the term “midfield playmaker” in the sense that Peter Whittingham, Steve McPhail or Graham Kavanagh did with their ability to spot and execute a pass which could open up a defence.

All of our four senior central midfield players are capable of passing the ball well at times, but when it comes to the blending of artists and artisans, it’s pretty obvious that our manager has a big preference for the latter over the former in this area of the pitch (if we discount Lee Tomlin as a midfielder, which we surely must, then do we have an “artist” among our central midfield in the first team squad?) – you look at our central midfielders and it’s no surprise that our possession and passing stats are so poor.

All of a sudden, who we bring in this month has become a lot more important than it was looking ten days ago and I hope there is some truth in the rumours linking someone like Charlie Adam with the club. At 32, Adam’s best days are behind him and he will add little in terms of speed and mobility, but I’d like to think that there would be more than a reasonable chance that we would still have possession of the football after he, or someone in the same mould as him as a player, had attempted a pass.

It will be very interesting to see what the attitude is towards Saturday’s FA Cup tie with Mansfield now. In recent years, the FA Cup has become synonymous with weakened teams and embarrassing defeats at Cardiff, but will the need for the morale booster of a win of any type dictate a change of approach whereby we see as strong a side as possible taking the field?

My own view is that it won’t and I must say that, given the injury situation he is having to deal with, I could fully understand it if Neil Warnock decided to indulge in some squad rotation (for example, I would expect someone like Jazz Richards, an unused sub yesterday after three months or so out of the team, to start) . However, given that Mansfield will, in complete contrast to us, be coming off a holiday period which has seen them take ten points from a possible twelve, it would be no real surprise if the match ends up being another Fulham, Reading, Shrewsbury or Wigan as a sparse home crowd watches their side make an early exit from the competition.

City owe those supporters who have had to witness those shocking performances over the past four seasons a win in this competition and it would also mean a lot in terms of the wall we’ve hit since those days such a short time ago when we were four points clear of the club in third place and had an eleven point buffer when it came to the Play Offs.

Finally, don’t forget you can be added to the blog’s subscription list, whereby you will be notified by e-mail when a new article is published on here, by applying through the Feedback section or e-mailing me at paul.evans8153@hotmail.com

 

 

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10 Responses to From bad to worse as Cardiff’s wobble becomes something more serious.

  1. Graham says:

    Talking about our increasingly desperate need for creative mid-fielders, weeks ago I was one of those asking why we didn’t sign Joe Ledley when he was hanging about literally in Cardiff waiting for a club to sign him .. we didn’t when we could have, but Derby did .. and it’s Derby who have now taken over the 2nd spot from us ..

  2. Adrian Lloyd Pickrell says:

    Good morming Paul, good morning everyone.
    A very happy new year to you all and may good health and happiness be your constant companions.
    Thanks for the report Paul, I really appreciate the effort you put into your match reports as I do not get to see many games and I rely completely on your reports to keep me updated about what actually happens on and off the pitch.
    A dreadful Christmas for City with the only positive event being the wearing of white shorts with our blue jerseys (does anyone actually call them jerseys these days?) against Bolton.
    I was wondering when we would start to struggle and I am surprised that we held out until Christmas before falling at four fences in our current Grand National.
    Over here in Germany, football fans shake their heads in disbelief when I tell them about the Championships Christmas schedule. As you probably know, there is a winter break here from mid December to mid January allowing players to recover from the knocks and niggles of the first half of the season. When I start checking my phone here when City are playing over the festive season, my friends start to ask me if we play every day!! Teams like Dortmund and Shalke (local teams near me) very rarely play twice in a week. When this happens they call it “The English week” and a defeat on a Saturday is usually put down to the fact that they had to play on a Tuesday as well this week!! “The lads were shattered”.
    I can only hope that in the relatively quiet period after Christmas City can get some walking wounded back to into shape and start again with the same attitude and potential with which we started the season back in August. Hopefully with the added ingredient of a good midfielder and…although I have always given him the benefit of the doubt until now.. I think we need a more confidence inspiring goalkeeper then Etheridge.
    All the best to you all,
    Adrian

  3. Colin Phillips says:

    Thanks, Paul.

    Do you know how Murphy performed yesterday was his distribution any better?

    Things are looking a little bleak at the moment and I am surprised that we are in third place.

    If Warnock fancies getting out of bed for the Mansfield game he will surely rest the players who we are told are not 100% fit. I’m one of those few who paid to watch the Shrewsbury and Fulham games and I’m not going for this game. A good cup run would improve morale and give us some momentum but with our smallish squad and so many injuries I’m not sure we need one.

    I will be becoming more and more dependent on your excellent essays, Sir.

    Col

  4. Clive Harry says:

    Morning Paul and fellow contributors.
    At the risk of sounding repetitive following my previous rant about Peltier’s shortcomings as a full back, hearing he was in midfield yesterday turned me to drink (although it doesn’t take a lot for me to feel like that admittedly!). I won’t go off on another one today other than to say that with our midfield ‘resources’ why is Stuart O’Keefe at Portsmouth or even Tyrone Duffus at Hereford rather than in our midfield? Looking forward to watching the Development Team against Mansfield on Saturday!

  5. BJA says:

    Happy New Year Paul and fellow bloggers. Once again a most perceptive report, and I would not disagree with a single word. You are the Master.
    A thoroughly depressing ten days, and the team are clearly running on empty. Injuries have taken a severe toll on mainstays Gunnars and Morrison, and although reports would have us believe that we have one of the strongest squads in the Division, results are proving otherwise.
    Those that started the season so well have gone completely off the boil, and I am not sure that it is worthwhile including them on the bench. All this seems to do is to replace one average performer with another. So unless we are able to bring in some quality performers, what is the remedy to our current ills. My suggestion – give a couple of younger players a chance.
    In our advance to the FA Cup Final ten years ago, a certain Arron Ramsey appeared on the scene. So how about Sion Spence being given a chance. And what has Mark Harris done to deserve being ignored. Also, if Kadeem Harris is now fit enough to turn out for the Development squad, then surely he should come back into the reckoning. Finally, I would prefer Pilks to Feeney who we may be wishing to keep – bizarre.
    Listening to the game yesterday, and seeing highlights made me realise how poor we are at defending high balls coming into our penalty area – Matt Smith’s goal a case in point. We really must start organising our defence to attend to these situations or we will end up dropping out of contention for the end of year bun fight. That would be hugely disappointing.

  6. Paul says:

    Guys. I agree we are not playing well but when you are going through a bad patch you need the so called ‘ rub of the green’ from officials.
    Why do CCFC seem to get a disproportionate amount of wrong calls. NW states he has never seen such poor standard of refereeing, well welcome to CCFC. It’s gone on for as long as I can remember. I firmly believe the only way it will improve is by crowds and media putting these idiots under pressure as if we don’t the FA will ignore it.
    I was listening to the Liverpool v Leicester match on Monday and the Scousers booed and whistled every decision against them or any time wasting. Not isolated but it sounded like the whole stadium. Officials are being paid and should be up to standard and brave. Not the trembling jokes we generally get.
    I enjoy your articles but you should criticise refs when they are s-_te.
    Let’s look at the 4 games. Bolton, a possible one point bar a debatable penalty. Stuffed by fulham. 89 minute against preston we should have had a free kick for foul on bogle instead they get corner and score. Another point gone. QPR. Another possible point if the goal had stood.
    Yep we are playing poorly but your article would have read something along the lines of ‘teams who get promoted are able to scratch out points when playing baldly’
    Come on refs you are draining a teams confidence and are effecting a genuine promotion challenge by altering the results.
    Also with those 3 possible draws we would still be second and not fourth.

  7. Russell says:

    Thanks Paul for your summary, listening to the game it did appear we engaged some energy in an end to end game , with their young lad Smith testing our resolve and now suspect defence on another day we may have come away with some points , and strangely be back in second place , which if were honest doesn’t represent our output ,over the last few months.

    Nice to see Healey involved and providing some threat , some brave team changes nearly brought a result which would have us cooing about Warnocks ability .

    I have wondered if this slump may help Warnock even further In prising more funds from the bank of Tan , this next month will greatly challenge the club in terms of commitement and funding , if Tan spends well then he’s locking in Warnock surely, as were not a club that can simply bank roll again in the summer if a new manager comes in ,and clearing out as we know can hurt .

    Interesting times , play as money development players as one can on Saturday .

  8. HarryKirtley'sGhost says:

    Thanks Paul, as ever. Superb.
    My long piece after the Preston game was delayed in the blog system so that some of my friends here will not have seen it, because my fate (now that I have cowardly chosen to don an alias) is that when it is cleared by the system, it gets posted to the time I originallysubmitted it, which can be 12 hours or more earlier. By this time several people have seemingly posted “after” me, and I thus do not get read by some of my pals on here.
    It is to your great credit Paul that you have tried to find a solution, but the system has us beaten, methinks.
    The obvious solution is to use my proper name, but I will only do this as and when my bete noire comes out of the bushes of anonymity in Mid-Rhondda. I don’t mind a fight, but it has to be a fair one.
    Anyway..talking of fights, or rather LACK of fight, we come to the City. Sorry Neil Warnock, I love you fit to burst, but our travails are entirely down to you…and not down to the players. (As I reasoned in my contribution after the Preston game.). Sure we could do with a proper centre forward like £25k Jordan Hugill or Matt Smith (oh dear AMO, you were a voice in the wilderness when you urged City to sign Smith a while back…!!) but our real problem is that our manager has become soft in his old age.
    In my piece after Preston, I put forward my theory as to why we are in this sudden mess. And quite simply put, I suggest that this is a classic case of “The Walls Have Ears”…i.e. the players have got wind of the manager’s TV comments of early December, viz., words to the effect “the lads have outperformed and are due a losing streak”…and so it is classic “wish fulfilment” from them…!!
    Neil…you are getting soft in your old age.
    Start throwing a few cups about. And tell your players that you do not expect ANY lost game…let alone a losing …STREAK.

  9. MIKE HOPE says:

    The use,or non-use,of Tomlin mystifies me.
    We made only two substitutions in this game.Tomlin might not be the fittest player in the world but his skills, not least set piece deliveries, should surely have been used in the final ten minutes.
    I recall that paragon of virtue, Joey Barton,claiming that at QPR Taraabt was allowed to ‘get away with murder’ when it came to fitness and discipline.
    Is Warnock making sure that he is not accused of this with Tomlin?
    Is it worth ‘cutting off his nose’ to achieve it?
    Our cup opponents, Mansfield, have lost only one of their last 17 games in all competitions so unless we are at or near our best we could be going into the Sunderland game facing a confidence shattering six consecutive defeats.
    With this in mind I hope that Warnock will see the Cup tie as an opportunity to get a win rather than a source of extra unwanted fixtures.

  10. The other Bob Wilson says:

    Thanks for the replies – rather unusually I disagree with some of the comments made!

    Graham, choosing Bryson over Ledley seemed a strange decision at the time to me, but when the former scored such a good goal against Sunderland after making the sort of run beyond the striker that he used to in his best days at Derby, I figured our manager had got it right again – I think I mentioned on here recently that, having done it once, Bryson has been unable to repeat it since (it’s hardly as if he is getting into the scoring positions and then missing the chances, I can hardly remember him having a shot since the Sunderland match).

    Adrian, I know when they experimented with a winter break in Scotland, it was felt that it didn’t work because it was so difficult to predict when the worst weather of the winter would come – it could be any time from October to March. However, if we ever did have one over here, I would hope it would start in the first few days of January because you, surely, have to keep some sort of Christmas programme – I’d have a full programme on the Saturday before Christmas of, as much as possible, local derby fixtures on the Saturday before Christmas and then reverse fixtures on Boxing Day before playing the Third Round of the FA Cup on New Years Day or the weekend of January 1. Doing this would, hopefully, regenerate interest in the Cup by ensuring sides are more likely to pick stronger sides if they knew it was their last game before a break of a few weeks.

    I can only comment on Murphy’s performance from the highlights I saw Colin. I thought he was a little slow getting down to a header which he touched on the post in the first half and, as the scorer headed in from about six yards out, he has to take some lame for the shambolic equaliser, but he had no chance with the deflected winner and made one good tip over save. I can’t comment on his kicking in Monday’s game, but I can remember a League Cup game earlier in the season where his slowness in getting the ball away almost resulted in a couple of them being charged down.

    I’m with you about Peltier in midfield Clive – it sounds like he made us a bit harder to play against than we were against Preston and I feel that our manager will have liked that because, increasingly, I feel our central midfield is picked with the object of stopping our opponents from playing, rather than trying to impose ourselves by what we do when we have the ball.

    BJA, I think regular readers on here would agree that I probably go a little bit over the top in my advocacy of younger players, but I must say that, based on what I’ve seen this season, I don’t think there is anyone, with the possible exception of Cameron Coxe, who is close to a call up to the first team on merit. The fact that our Under 18s are playing such little Development team football this season tends to make me think that it would require something very special from an Academy team player to make the breakthrough into the first team, while players like Jamie Veale and James Waite seem further away now than they did a year ago and I#d say a lot of that is down to policy of playing teams full of trialists because it makes it impossible to get any continuity going, while someone like Waite has sometimes had to stand down to accommodate a trialist.

    Paul, I think you are right to say that incompetence from the officials cost us a point on Monday, but I can’t agree with you about refs being biased against us. My policy on here regarding match officials has always been not to mention them unless they either are very good or very bad, but I find I’m talking about them more this season than I normally do. So, I think the recent talk from Arsene Wenger and Neil Warnock about the officiating being worse than normal this year may have a degree of truth to it, but I’d argue that these poor officials are equally inept to either side rather than favouring one side over the other. Surely, we would never have got to second at the halfway point of the season if there was some sort of refereeing conspiracy against us?

    It’s an interesting point you raise regarding how much money will be available for new players Russell – my own view is that recent results won’t make any difference, but I may well be wrong. I note that Feltscher and Declan John have left the club in the last few days and this does strike me as a bit of clearing of the decks which would free up a small amount of money.

    Dai, you mention changing your posting name back again and I should tell you that I’m having to approve all of your messages now, whereas before it was maybe one in ten – I’ve given up trying to explain why I have to approve you and Anthony O’Brien’s messages and no one elses (I’ve even had a look on the help forum WordPress run, but could find nothing there about it. Regarding Matt Smith, I’ve no doubt that the policy of keeper always kicking long would prove more successful than it does currently if he were in our team, but, although he seems to have no trouble finding the net against us, his goalscoring record is not good at this level with fourteen in the last two and a half seasons – he is doing better this season with six already, so he could easily make it to double figures but he only managed six and two respectively in the seasons before that.

    Mike, I agree with you about the mysterious failure to use all of our substitutes (again!), but not about Tomlin who, I’m afraid, I’m rapidly losing patience with. I was prepared to cut him a lot of slack while he was facing his court case and took the, very occasional, moments when he influenced a game as a sign of what he could do when his mind was clear and his body a bit fitter, but there’s been no real improvement in the near two months since he was given his, pretty light, sentence – after thinking that our manager needed to be a bit more sympathetic towards our luxury player, I’ve got to say that I’m fast coming around to Neil Warnock’s way of thinking.

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