My honest answer to the question posed above is “probably not”, but there can be little doubt that Fraizer Campbell has become one of, if not the most, important player we have in the month or so since he signed for us. It’s being reported that his two goals in the win at Wolves yesterday, which helped City hit the 70 point mark and kept the gap over Watford and Hull at eight points with a game in hand, were his fifth in five matches for us, but, in terms of actual playing time, Campbell has completed 283 minutes for us, which, when you add in time added on at the end of each half, amounts to something like three full matches.
When we signed Campbell I said on here that I honestly didn’t know what to expect from someone who, obviously, had a good pedigree, but had being having a tough time of it in recent years with injury problems – given the problems he had been having scoring at Sunderland, there had to be doubts as to whether he could do the business even in the second tier. Optimists talked in terms of Campbell scoring ten goals by the end of the season, I thought that was, almost certainly, wishful thinking and it will still take some doing, but the ability to find space in crowded penalty areas, which he showed in scoring yesterday and against the wurzels, says he can do it and, maybe, a bit more.
When you look at the five goals Campbell has scored so far and add up the total distance he has been from goal, it would probably come to less than half of the sixty eight yards that Mark Hudson netted from against Derby last season. Up until January, Cardiff were a team which lacked a consistent goalscorer – the goals were being shared around and we had a handy lead at the top of the table, but, if we could get someone to do the job the injured Nicky Maynard had been bought to do, then, surely, nothing could stop us?
Well, the signs are that we now have, to use the modern parlance, that “fox in the box” we wanted - add Campbell’s goals to the ones the rest of the squad were coming up with and they may as well start carving our name on the Championship trophy already hadn’t they? Trouble is though, football is so weird – as soon as you start taking something for granted, it makes you look like an idiot. For example, after losing just four matches on our travels last season, I spent all of the summer taking it as read that we would be as consistent as before away from home (I wonder if Malky Mackay did as well) and what happens? We lose five out of our first eight, conceding eighteen goals in the process!
As hinted at in my piece on the Brighton game, something similar is happening as far as our goalscoring is concerned. When I said “ the goals were being shared around” above, I should have qualified it with the words “from August to the end of the Christmas/New Year holiday period”. Joe Mason scored on New Year’s Day to secure the win at Birmingham, but, since then, the only league goals we have scored which did not come from Fraizer Campbell were the ones by Kim-Bo Kyung and Tommy Smith at Blackpool. By the time we play next at Middlesbrough in six days, it will be more than two months since anyone other than Campbell, Kimbo and Smith have scored for us in a league match (the last two named could well not be in the starting line up if Malky Mackay decides to go with the same eleven next week) – it’s not costing us at the moment, but we are certainly in danger of becoming over reliant on one player with a history of being out for long spells through injury.
If I had one wish for the next fortnight or so, it would be that Peter Whittingham scores from a free kick or we net from one of his corners. “Crisis of confidence” is, perhaps, putting it a bit strongly, but it seems incredible when you think back to the goals he scored against Wolves, Millwall and Blackpool and the way Matt Connolly barely had to move or jump for the headers he scored from Whittingham corners against Blackpool, Burnley and Middlesbrough, that our play maker would not score a goal for four months and that you would have to go back to the win at Barnsley for the last time we scored from a Whittingham corner or free kick.
As he showed yesterday, Craig Bellamy is ensuring that we still carry a threat from free kicks and corners, but, getting Whittingham back to something like his best from set pieces would have the effect of increasing the chances of players such as Hudson, Turner, Connolly, Helguson and Gunnarsson ending long spells without a goal by their previous standards – in theory, sides will be paying more attention to Campbell in the coming weeks and this could be lead to more space for others to cash in.
As for yesterday’s match, the first half saw more of the good football we played against Bristol City and Brighton (the points return from those matches might not have suggested it, but I thought they were the best performances we’d produced since the win at Blackburn) – indeed, Malky Mackay stated that it was the best we had played all season (he did qualify that by adding the words “in parts” mind). The only criticism that could be aimed at the team I suppose was that they had not got the second goal which their superiority deserved and, even though Campbell’s instinct for sniffing out chances ensured that it did eventually come, the second half was more reminiscent of the, grinding, winning “ugly” stuff we have become used to over the past four months or so.
Wolves really should have equalised when Sylvan Ebanks-Blake made a right mess of the sort of chance that his ex Man United colleague Campbell would put away in his sleep currently, but City’s dominance of the shots on and off target figures, as well as the corner count, suggests that the result was right over the ninety minutes – that ability to grind things out should not be under estimated, indeed, it might well be the main reason for that eight point lead.
City now face two sides low in confidence – Middlesbrough looked a shadow of the side which impressed me so much in their defeat at Cardiff City Stadium in November in losing their home televised match with Millwall on Saturday evening and Derby are without a win in five, with only Bristol City having less away points than them. Nobody should take anything for granted in this league, but it’s a fact that, on all bar one occasion, we have followed up a defeat with at least two consecutive wins and the opportunity is there for more of the same in the next eight days.