Gunnarsson’s screamer adds to Forest fears.

With his equaliser in the 1-1 draw when they last came to Cardiff, his goal in our usual 2-1 win at the City Ground last October and now the effort which decided yesterday’s match, Nottingham Forest must be sick of the sight of Aron Gunnarsson. However, they must also be preying that the Iceland captain gets the chance to inflict further damage on them next season, because, barring a shock move for Gunnar to, say, Doncaster Rovers in the summer, there’s a real chance now that he won’t be facing them next season – the twice European Cup winners are in real danger of dropping into League One.

With three matches left to play, Forest have home matches with a Reading side with faint hopes of an automatic promotion, but also the odd habit of imploding with very heavy defeats every now and again and an in form Ipswich (3-1 winners over Newcastle yesterday) to come. A trip to a QPR side that have lost their last five would offer hope normally, but Forest are so woeful on their travels that you can’t help thinking that, if they are to stay up, they are going to have to get the points they’ll probably need to do so at home.

For what it’s worth, I think they should stay up because Blackburn really needed to beat Bristol City at Ewood Park yesterday (they drew 1-1) – a run in consisting of Wolves and Brentford away and Villa at home looks a tough one for the Lancashire side to me. If Blackburn are to survive, then maybe Birmingham (2-0 losers at home to Burton yesterday) offer them the best chance of doing so, they’re two points clear of the bottom three, but travel to to Villa for the second city derby on Sunday (when they could, conceivably, be occupying a relegation place), then they have Huddersfield at home, before finishing at Bristol City who are by no means safe yet themselves. You’d think though that Birmingham’s hopes received a boost last night with the news that Gianfranco Zola had brought his disastrous association with them to an end by resigning.

Although, by keeping a lower profile and making what appears to be a good managerial appointment six months ago, it can be said that Vincent Tan’s stock among City fans is higher now than it has been at most times over the past five years, but, nevertheless, I’d still say that an awful lot of them would come out with his name if asked to give examples of foreign football club owners who have been far from successful during their time in charge.

Tan portrayed as the Bond villain from our days in the Premier League seems quite a long time ago now, but a recent report outlining how much each of the twenty four clubs in this season’s Championship spent on agent’s fees during the period February 2016 to January 2017 made for sobering reading. Hardly surprisingly, the three relegated sides from last season featured strongly at the head of the listings - Newcastle were top with their £10.44 million being almost twice as much as anyone else had spent, then came Villa on £5.42 million and Norwich were fourth with £3.27 million.

Given our pretty low transfer spending over the period covered, the relative lack of new playing contracts agreed and the fact that we had a transfer embargo on us for the early months of the period covered, you would have thought City should have been pretty low down the table on agent spending, but, not a bit of it- we managed to scrape into the Play Offs in sixth place having spent £1.97 million!

I can only think that the figure was so high because of spending on agent’s fees when it came to negotiating departures for players, and managers, whose contracts had not run out. There was a time when I’d see that a player’s contract had been cancelled by mutual consent and think it meant that both parties had decided to go their separate ways as some sort of gentleman’s agreement had been reached with no money changing hands – sometimes  I wish I was still so naive!

City may be a better run club than it was, but spending of nearly £2 million on agents over a period when we were supposed to be cutting back is something of an indictment. However, if you were to ask supporters of the three clubs I listed earlier as the ones most likely to occupy the final relegation place (I’m assuming that, even if Wigan beat us on Saturday, they are not going to get enough points from their other matches, at Reading and then at home to Leeds, to stay up) if they would swap Vincent Tan for their current owners, I think they’d all say yes without a moment’s hesitation.

Mr Tan took over from the Venkys at Blackburn as the national media’s epitome of dreadful foreign owners when we replaced them in the top flight, but, although the madcap spending has long since ended at Ewood Park, the fact that fan demonstrations are still taking place against the people in charge at Blackburn only emphasises that the club is still on a downward trajectory.

Birmingham’s decision to sack Gary Rowett in December when they were one point off a Play Off position looked mad at the time and looks even madder now, but, arguably, Forest have the worst foreign owners of the lot.

The only two Championship clubs from 15/16 above City in that agent spending table were QPR (another “joke” club who, presumably, have had to pay big fees in “mutual agreements” because their transfer spending has been pretty modest, by their standards at least, lately) in fifth place with £2.28 million, and, splitting those relegated sides in third, Nottingham Forest with £3.53 million – don’t forget this is a club which was hit with a transfer embargo in January 2015 and then flitted in and out of them for the next two years.

As soon as their latest embargo was lifted on 13 January this year, Forest started spending again as Zac Clough (only a sub yesterday) came in for £2.5 million and the loan signing of Ross McCormack from Villa must have cost them a lot of money – former Forest great Kenny Burns had this to say about McCormack after he was left out by Forest recently having scored just once in his seven appearances for them;-

“I looked at Ross McCormack in particular and I think he needs to buck his ideas up. Getting rid of Nicklas Bendtner last week was the best bit of business Forest have done this season.

He never looked up for it, but so far I’ve not felt McCormack looks up for it either. He’s only here on loan until the summer and you sometimes see players come in and not approach their best form in those circumstances.

That’s what I’ve seen so far. He’s a better player than he showed at Burton. At least I hope he is.”

Now, there have been plenty of times over the years since he left us when I have wished we hadn’t sold McCormack, but not this season – he’s been in “don’t touch with a bargepole” territory since his big money move to Villa Park as far as I’m concerned.

Forest look to have made a good managerial appointment in Mark Warburton to me, but, if they have done, it’ll be the first time that’s happened in years at that club. The demotion they suffered in 2004/05 should have been a one off in the Premier League era for a club of Forest’s size, but, good managerial appointment, some impressive young prospects like Smith, Worrall, Brereton, Osborn and Cash or not and my earlier comments about them notwithstanding,  they had a bit of a look of a relegation outfit about them yesterday to me.

I can remember that Forest team of twelve years ago being thumped 3-0 at Ninian Park in a bottom of the table clash and thinking how awful they were – they looked every inch a relegation side. Yesterday was different though to the extent that, while they hardly put themselves in line for contention in any award for the best side to visit Cardiff City in 16/17, there have definitely been worse sides than them to have come here this season and they can count themselves unlucky to have lost.

I can remember a volley against Barnsley in his first season which runs it close, but I think Aron Gunnarsson’s goal yesterday was the best that he’s scored for us. Neil Warnock joked that Gunnar normally hits a pigeon on the stand roof when he lets fly from distance, but he also made the serious point that he should score more often.
When used as a box to box midfielder in his first two seasons here, Gunnarsson was a fairly consistent scorer, but he has played deeper in recent years and I think I’d prefer to see him used in the role he fills so well for his country and accept that this will mean less goals from him. Whatever the rights and wrongs of that argument, his cracking goal can only increase his chances of winning the Player of Year award at the end of this month – he’d be a worthy winner in my opinion.*

However, relegation sides tend to lose late season matches against teams with nothing to play and are lacking the intensity and purpose they were showing a few weeks earlier. It often seems to happen as well that they lose such games to a goal of a quality out of keeping with so much else that went on around it.

One award that I’m fairly sure Forest would win this season is for the visiting side that had the most goal attempts in a game at Cardiff City Stadium in 2016/17. According to the BBC’s stats, they managed twenty three of them, which meant that there were thirty eight goal attempts in total during the ninety minutes, but, if ever a match told you about the limited value of such stats it was this one, because the two teams only came up with three on target attempts between them (we had two to Forest’s one).

So, if those twenty three attempts to score might not look as impressive in practice as they did on paper, then, taken together with a possession advantage of 61/39 and a corner count of seven to one, it’s enough to make you think that City were a little fortunate to gain a third consecutive home win.

As promised, Neil Warnock made changes from the side beaten at Sheffield Wednesday on Friday as Lee Peltier made his first appearance after a couple of months out injured against one of his former clubs, Peter Whittingham was also in, as was Anthony Pilkington with Jazz Richards, Greg Halford and Joe Ralls dropping out.

Pilkington’s inclusion gave City plenty of attacking options as we went with the quartet which had transformed what had been looking like a miserable 1-0 defeat at the seventy minute mark at Bristol City three months ago into a glorious 3-2 win.

That day, the pace of Kenneth Zohore, Junior Hoilett and Kadeem Harris terrorised the wurzels in the closing stages and with Pilkington weighing in with a couple of goals, including a twenty five yard belter for the winner, those twenty minutes epitomised a period when we looked to have the attacking weapons to be a real threat going forward at this level.

The contrast between then and now was a stark one yesterday. We won the game because we generally defended well against what was at times concerted pressure, but at the other end of the pitch we did little to suggest that the team with the worst defensive record in the division, apart from tailed off Rotherham, were going to have another difficult afternoon.

Zohore was just wide with a decent effort in the second half and his all round play wasn’t bad, but he wanted too many touches with an early opportunity that I felt he would have put away pretty comfortably back in February or March – he wasn’t terrible by any means, but, like his team really, it seemed to me he was not quite “at it” in the way he has been for most of the second half of the season.

It was the same with Hoilett, he wasn’t poor, but his performance levels have dipped somewhat lately and there was another miss from a chance that you would have thought someone with his ability should do better with. On the other wing, Kadeem Harris went through a horror period lasting about a quarter of an hour in the second half, but, just like against Brentford, he played a big part in the goal which decided the game – the trouble is, whereas he was looking like someone who was tending to make a lot of right decisions a while back, now he is, once again, resembling one of those wingers who offer the occasional nugget among a multitude of wrong options.

There seems to be a growing feeling that Pilkington will be one of those players we will be encouraging bids for this summer and, just as with most of his recent appearances for us, there was little from him yesterday to dispel this notion – I think Pilkington has it in him to make a decent number ten, but they have to remain just thoughts because there has been little or nothing happening on the pitch lately to suggest I’m right.

As it was, the main danger to the Forest goal came from shots from distance by our two deeper lying central midfielders. Whittingham shook the crossbar from getting on for thirty five yards early on and then Gunnarsson’s aim was a little bit truer from slightly closer in just as Mark Harris was about to be brought on for a league debut. Having a lead to hang on to prompted a rethink as the introduction of Halford and Ralls (Richards has already come on for Peltier) reflected a what we have, we hold mentality – hopefully, Harris will get his chance before the end of the season.

*picture courtesy of http://www.walesonline.co.uk/

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6 Responses to Gunnarsson’s screamer adds to Forest fears.

  1. Anthony O'Brien says:

    The result was better than the game – another opportunity to play more exciting football in order to encourage more fans to buy tickets went down the drain. So be it.

    There’s only two comments I’d like to make. First, Manga is a class above anyone in the Championship, but his very superiority could be a problem. He is so good that, when clearing the ball, he often prefers to take the most difficult option rather than just clearing his lines. At some point he will get caught and give away soft goals, but I still would love to see him remain at Cardiff next season.

    There is one player, however, from whom Cardiff should jump at any opportunity to make some money if an offer comes in — and that is Kenneth Zohore. I know he has improved greatly as this season has unrolled, but I think his “purple patch” is over. In other words, I can’t see him getting better. He can only half-hit the ball with his right foot, still falls over too easily, and — most crucially — his sense of timing for high balls when his back to goal is minimal. Before I am assailed from all sides, let me add to what I’ve just written.

    Timing of a high ball is something which the great John Charles had in abundance, and which John Toshack, among many others, always hoped to emulate. It was a quality which was equally apparent with Mel Charles., who also had perfect timing in his jump for the high ball. This perhaps should lead to the conclusion that timing is in a player’s DNA. I remember years ago watching Mel Charles in a charity match at Ynysangharad Park, Pontypridd, when he scored four goals seemingly without breaking sweat. But what above all impressed me was his ability to rise high AND EARLY, to appear almost to hang in the air before connecting with the ball and heading swiftly and accurately to other members of his team. This was the result of perfect timing, and even though it may well be improved by practice, it still remains an innate quality. It is singularly lacking with Kenneth Zohore, and means that defenders effectively have him in their pocket unless he is running on to a ball convenient to his left foot.

    I think that Neil Warnock has done an excellent job in building up Zohore’s self-confidence, but this should not blind us to the player’s shortcomings, which I regard as permanent. Another serious criticism is that at times yesterday there was more movement from the corner flag than from Zohore himself. Either he is still not fully fit and likely to become so, or he too easily switches off and loses interest.

    I accept that other commentators will want to shoot me down in flames for my opinion, but after all, it is my honest opinion, based on my own observations, and I am in no way trying to be negative about Kenneth Zohore. In fact, I should be pleased if he can show that I am talking nonsense. The ball is literally in his court.

  2. Colin Phillips says:

    Ho-hum three points are three points and will take that sort of result at any time.

    Just a couple of points. How fickle are football supporters? Shouts from around me in the Ninian Stand aimed at Warnock that he should get Kadeem Harris off. I’m bemused he is a definite threat every time he runs at a defence, pace that frightens opponents and often gets to the byline as he did leading up to the goal yesterday. Alright, sometimes his close control lets him down and he has been known to make the wrong decisions but if he didn’t he wouldn’t be with us. The clean sheet was pleasing, good work by the defence including Morrison another who some fans love to criticise.

    I was surprised by the line-up yesterday, why was Ralls left out? I’d read that he had a good game last time out. Surely Warnock should be trying to give some of the younger players a place on the bench at least. I see no point in having an unfit Ricky Lambert there. Surely Mark Harris could be given a start.

    Looking forward to the summer’s transfer business, what type of players can Cardiff as a club attract? Unless we are prepared to pay high wages (and I don’t think we are) who can we expect to come. Players from lower divisions? players from other championship clubs? players who haven’t been able to break into Premier League sides. A difficult task it seems to me. Two players we’ve seen recently at CCS who impressed me were Jota for Brentford and Forest’s player who played wide left. If Forest do get relegated there’s a possibility that the latter (can’t remember his name) could be persuaded but why would a player(such as Jota) in a side that finished above us want to come to us?

    Any other players that we’ve seen at Cardiff this season that have caught your eye and that we have a realistic chance of acquiring?

  3. Russell says:

    Thanks Paul the game was dreadful and I couldn’t wait to get out of the ground as I thought a dreaded late goal and one nil was looming until Aron struck that beauty, from a rare run and cut back by Harris (which was all get did of note on the wing ,awful lazy display, new contract on offer, maybe not ?? )

    Manga for us and in my view was our best player, although he did tend to go walk about, popping up in different positions.

    The best player was the wide forest lad number with number 18 on his back Carayol ,shamed our lot.

    Still felt Harris could have come on even after going one up, very negative approach. .

    Great to read some positivness about Vincent Tan , we owe him big time for his continued support.

    I Hope now Birmingham go down dragging that Arr’y , dodgy , geezer with them .

  4. The other Bob Wilson says:

    Anthony, I’ve always thought Manga generally finds Championship football pretty easy and so he becomes a little careless.

    If Zohore is going to be seen as an old fashioned target man type striker whose main assets include the ability to guide headers won from long balls played by keeper or defenders, then I agree, the impact he makes in the game will not be great and it probably would be a good idea to cash in on him sooner, rather than later, because, as you say, he is lacking in that department. However, the players from the past you mention were used to having colleagues close enough to them to receive headed passes from them which could result in someone being put through on goal. Despite all the talk of 4-3-3 systems these days, what we tend to get is a central striker with two wide players who are usually too far away to receive any headed flick ons – if anyone is going to benefit from them it would probably be an advanced midfielder playing what has become known as the number ten role.

    City do often play the ball long to Zohore, but I see his role more as being someone who can use his strength and physique to hold on to the ball while colleagues try to get into areas where they can support him as opposed to someone who jumps against the centrebacks with the intention of winning a header to guide into someone’s path.

    Zohore has scored just one header for us and it’s surely instructive that corners or free kicks are never played to him in the air – they always go to central defenders or people like Halford, Gunnarsson and, occasionally, Pilkington. Zohore could, and should, work on his heading because it needs to improve, but I’ve never seen contesting for the ball when it is in the air as his raison d’etre as it was for someone like Toshack. Zohore has been attracting attention and prospering in recent months because he is strong and powerful enough to withstand challenges when he has the ball at his feet, he scores goals that you wouldn’t expect someone built like him to score and because he has genuine pace of a kind that you very rarely get in a big striker – his all round game and awareness has got better as well (e.g. he would never have played the sort of pass which found Whittingham in enough space to have got the shot that hit the bar away previously.

    Colin, I agree about Kadeem Harris. People had a go at me on the messageboard I use because I said that Monday was the first really bad game I’ve seen him have this season – someone made the fair point that I hadn’t seen him at Sheffield on Friday, so perhaps he was just as bad there, but, as someone who has seen about 90% cent of the matches he’s played this season in one form or another, I’d say that I’ve not seen him play as poorly as he did for a spell of about a quarter of an hour or so during the second half on Monday.

    I’m also with you on Morrison, who it seems cannot do anything right in some people’s eye, but has, for me, been one of the few good signings Ole made and I also wondered why Ralls didn’t start (think it may have something to do with him carrying a bit of a knock which, while not serious enough to keep him out of the squad, means he finds it hard to play three games in eight days or, as he had to do over Easter, two in four days.

    I think we’ll see some players who have worked under Neil Warnock before come in during the summer and his talk of wanting to get newcomers signed as soon as possible makes me think that a few of any signings we make will be Bosmans who we probably have been in contact with since January.

    Carayol was the best winger on the pitch on Monday by some distance Russell, but, having seen him a few times down the years, I’ve never seen him be as effective as that before, so there’s a part of me which thinks that he was just having one of those days when most things come off on Monday.

    I’ll make a prediction – Mark Harris will come on as a sub on Saturday!

    Yes, I’d like Birmingham to go down now, but I think they’ll probably scrape clear – still think Blackburn are going to find it tough to get the five or six points they probably need from their last three matches.

  5. Stephen Fairhurst says:

    Just adding a comment on Whittingham in Monday’s game. I thought on more than one occasion he tried to play the forward ball quickly to try to release Zohore. Playing to Zohore’s strength of taking the ball at ground level and trying to run on goal, out-muscling the defender. But I have to also admit I was annoyed with Whittingham when he seemed not to move quickly enough to a ball by the byline a couple of times so it ran out. I have to give him applause for the shot that hit the bar and I suppose that’s the problem with him. When he good he’s very good (he does what he wants) but when he’s bad he’s horrid. Forum talk seems to be he’s not wanted by the club but I not sure if others, for example, Ralls are a direct replacement unless we become a workmanlike side with plenty effort with no place for the skilled player. But isn’t that skill what we really want to see, the dribble down the wing, the incisive ball cutting the defence, a brilliantly placed ball into the top corner from a free kick. The 4-3 end to end or the steady 1-0.

  6. The other Bob Wilson says:

    I think that’s a good summary of what Whittingham can and cannot offer Stephen. Whatever you think of him, the reality has to be that he is not going to get any better at his age. I believe the trend has been for less Whittingham type “touch” players in the Championship in the past decade – it’s a more physically powerful league than it was and, certainly in central midfield, I don’t see many, if any, who bear comparison with Whitts in terms of the type of player they are around now. You mention Joe Ralls, I think he is no Whittingham, but he’s good technically, can show vision in his passing and had impressive mobility and stamina, although ideally you would want more goals from him. I think I’ve just described your typical modern day Championship central midfielder there and it seems to me that, increasingly, someone like Whitts (especially at the age he is now) is seen as an indulgence many managers at this level would be reluctant to entertain. I’ll miss shots like the one that hit the bar on Monday when Whitts is gone and the little examples of instant control and distribution with vision you get from him that no one else in the squad can match, but, certainly in home matches since Warnock has arrived, I’ve been excited by good wing play, occasionally brilliant centre forward play and some at times heroic defending – the current squad, even without Whitts, has plenty more in it to get me excited than the ones he featured regularly in over the previous two seasons.

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