“Is that all you’ve got?”

CoymayBefore yesterday’s match I was wondering if my reaction when we scored would be as low key as it was for both of our goals in our previous home game. That teaches me for being so presumptuous – the only time I genuinely thought I might see a City goal during the dreadful goalless draw with Rotherham was when sub Federico Macheda fired in a low angled shot that goalkeeper Adam Collin turned away. It took around seventy mind numbing minutes for that to happen and it represented one of the very, very few moments when some football threatened to break out amongst the dross that Cardiff served up as they continued to hold to the resolution they made for 2014 - to do all that they can to prove that football is anything but a beautiful game.

Before going on to talk about us though, I think I should give some credit to Rotherham. In his pre match press conference Russell Slade said that the recent loan signings Steve Evans had made suggested that he wanted to play a more technically proficient game with less emphasis on making the game bitty by disrupting the opposition’s rhythm and I’d say Rotherham’s performance proved he was right. There wasn’t a great deal of good football on display yesterday, but nearly all of what we did see of that commodity came from Rotherham who also showed when they didn’t have the ball that they hadn’t lost the knack of making life difficult for the opposition – if I was a Rotherham fan, I would have left the game happy with my team’s performance, but disappointed that their lack of a cutting edge meant that they didn’t get the win they deserved.

It almost goes without saying these days that we had less of the ball than our opponents (the BBC say we lost out by 51 % to 49%, but it seemed to me at the time that it was more like 60/40 in the visitor’s favour). After the game our manager talked of us not passing the ball quickly enough and this being a contributory factor in us not getting enough crosses in. I think this gives a clue that Russell Slade prefers to see his players risk losing possession by going for what might be the more difficult pass to a winger as opposed to the safer option of a simple sideways or backwards pass to a team mate.

Now, playing in such a way is not designed to see you winning the possession battle by a big margin and I don’t think our manager is too alarmed by the simple fact that we have lost it in seven of the nine matches he has been in charge of. However, surely, he must be concerned when his team looks as clumsy and clueless when they do have the ball as they did yesterday? I don’t believe we’ve passed the ball well all season, but we were woeful in that department yesterday – I wasn’t being entirely serious when I said during the game that David Marshall was our best passer on the day, but when I think about it, who was better than him?

On a similar theme, the best cross I saw us put in came from Sean Morrison of all people. The responsibility for crossing the ball basically falls on four people in the system we play – our full backs and wide midfield players. None of those four did well enough in that department yesterday in my opinion – the full backs were not that good in any facet of the game and as for our wingers, Kimbo showed predictable enthusiasm in his first league appearance of the season and also was as good as anyone at winning possession back after losing it, but there was barely anything from him in terms of an end product, while Craig Noone, after an awful first half showing, improved after the break to the extent that he was able to beat his marker a few times, but it never led to anything too concerning for the visitors.

To be fair to those four players, all of their chances to cross came in open play and so they only ever tended to have our two strikers, and possibly the opposite winger, to aim for. Adam LeFondre worked as hard as always, but, just as with his team mates,  I saw nothing to indicate that he had gained any belief from our first away win and our fine run, in terms of results anyway, at home (why have we started our last two home games so cautiously – we looked like an away side hanging on for dear life in the first twenty minutes against Reading and it was the same again yesterday).

This appears to be a

This appears to be a “doh” moment from Peter Whittingham as he smacks his head in frustration at how bad he and his team mates were yesterday.*

As most crosses tend to be lifted off the ground, the natural target for them would normally be the taller of the two strikers and this brings me on to Kenwyne Jones. I can only presume that he lunched well yesterday, because, until he was taken off three quarters of the way into the game, he had been having a nice siesta for an hour and a bit – this was the Jones of last season as he proceeded to make his co strikers comments on Friday about him being the Championship’s Didier Drogba look at best unfortunate and at worst idiotic.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a pair of centre backs have so many uncontested headers as Rotherham’s did yesterday. It was ironic that it was one of our centrebacks who put the best cross in because it was only when Morrison and Ben Turner got forward for dead ball situations that we ever looked like winning a header in the attacking third of the pitch.

Rotherham keeper Adam Collin easily catches one of those crosses that Russell Slade wasn't happy with while Kenwyne  Jones looks on with his feet firmly planted on terra firma - just like they were for most of the afternoon. +

Rotherham keeper Adam Collin easily catches one of those crosses that Russell Slade wasn’t happy with while Kenwyne Jones looks on with his feet firmly planted on terra firma – just like they were for most of the afternoon. +

If we are going to insist on playing a version of the game often seen at Plough Lane during the eighties, we really do need to become a lot better at it than we were yesterday. This applies particularly to the man who is the focal point for our attacks, but also to the area which I still believe is the crux of our problems this season – central midfield. Aron Gunnarsson was a long way short of recent standards yesterday, but he’s more suited to such a game plan than Peter Whittingham is. Yesterday, Whitts was tidy when he had the ball and, truth be told,  may just have pipped Marshall to the best passer award, but, as is so often the case these days, he was on the edge of the action and you have to question whether someone else is better equipped physically to play in central midfield in a 4-4-2 where the plan appears to be to get the ball quickly into the channels out wide and knock crosses in.

Everything we’ve seen so far from Russell Slade suggests he’ll not deviate too much from his two up front and two out wide approach which means that, unless we go three at the back, I don’t see how we can get in the three specialist central midfield players we are crying out for into the team. Therefore, we need more “legs” from our two in central midfield than we are currently getting. We’re crap at passing the ball even with Whitts in the side, so, if we are going to keep on playing in the manner we have done under Slade (and under Ole for much of the time this season), then we may as well get more of an athlete like Tom Adeyemi in there to cope better with the huge physical demands the two central midfielders have been lumbered with this season.

Speaking for myself, I find it pretty depressing that it’s deemed that we have to play this way. I saw quite a bit of Leyton Orient last season and, albeit at a lower level than us, they didn’t play the sort of stuff that sent a bloke sat close to where I was yesterday to sleep (genuinely, he had nodded off), so I don’t believe this is how Russell Slade plays no matter what. I can only assume he thinks he inherited a shambles and believes this is the best way he can mould them into getting results – to be fair, this is something that he has been able to do so far, despite the awful football.

On a positive note, a third clean sheet in four matches after months when you began to wonder whether we’d ever see one again, has to be a good thing and, although Morrison and Turner were given more problems in the the air than they are used to by Rotherham’s Alex Revell, their combination was the most impressive part of the team yesterday with the former not having much competition for the award of City man of the match in my book.

Finally, Turner, who I always find great value in press conferences, gave a very honest account of things after the game where he was asked about the team being booed off by some of the crowd at the final whistle. It was good to hear him, correctly in my book, identify that there were off field matters which contribute to how supporters feel about their club presently and he said the atmosphere is not the same now as it was two years ago when we were last in this league. Of course, we were also wearing red while winning the Championship, but. for me, the atmosphere is worse because those still going to games tend to be a lot less tolerant of the rebrand than they used to be.

With morale so low among supporters, good quality winning football from the team would not completely overcome the depth of feeling against the red shirts, but it would at least lift the mood at matches and Ben was honest enough to state that it was down to the players to do their bit to improve the atmosphere. However, I keep on coming back to the point that’s been on my mind for months – this is, almost certainly, the second most expensive squad in the club’s history (actually, we have so many players that it might even be costing us more in wages than last season’s did) and yet I saw Watford play more quality football in the first ten minutes at Fulham on Friday than I’ve seen from us all season. When, if ever, are we going to see something to justify all of the hype coming from the media and from within the club about how good we are – based on what I’ve seen since August, and, in particular, the rubbish that has been served up in the last two home matches, I’ve got to ask our players is that all you’ve got?

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

+ picture courtesy of https://www.flickr.com/photos/joncandy/sets/

 

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5 Responses to “Is that all you’ve got?”

  1. rhondda blue says:

    good write up on such dross, yet again at home a team near the trap door plays us off the park, and what does slade say, didn’t expect that, why, we have been doing it all season. If he is going to stick with 2 up front then he needs to sort out our midfield, woeful again, they could not string two passes together. Our forwards will never score with lack of quality ball from midfield. If it’s not working slade, change it, you have a squad of about 39 players. If you have no intention of playing these players get rid now as they are costing our club some serious money. Yet again yesterday I watched first division football by a first division manager who did nothing to change it standing on the touchline. I will upset a few people now and say bring back dave jones, at least we played the best football under him with no money. Another ruined weekend, thanks City

  2. Dai Woosnam says:

    Thanks Paul for a fine and thoughtful piece.
    Rhondda Blue is absolutely right when he says “I will upset a few people now and say bring back Dave Jones”.
    If a patently good, balanced, and well-rounded man like Russell Slade is replaced by that paranoid and surly individual, then it will be the end for me.
    The man at the helm of a club needs to be representative of the ethos of that club, in my opinion.
    That is why I would never engage in a Faustian pact of agreeing to “my” club winning the UEFA Champions League trophy, on condition the team was managed by Adolf Hitler and trained by Pol Pot.
    To me RESULTS are definitely secondary to pride in one’s institution…in whatever walk of life, and that includes football.

  3. The other Bob Wilson says:

    As always, thank you both for your comments. Dai, I agree with Rhondda Blue regarding the performance on Saturday, but, although I wouldn’t be as critical of him as you are, I’m with you over Dave Jones – there were definitely good times under him, but the same old faults were always present and that’s why I’ll always rate him as a good, but not top class, City manager.

    I agree in theory with what you say about pride in an institution, but I’ve not felt proud of anything to do with Cardiff City for more than a year (the last time I did was the draw with Manchester United in November of last year). I don’t know if you read the piece I did last week about John Marenghi’s letter to the club, but that story sums up exactly why I feel the way I do.

  4. Dai Woosnam says:

    Thanks Paul for your – as always – considered response.
    Just seen on TV the Fonte howler for Soton against Man Utd.
    Golly that was a close shave, eh?
    To think that the Smiling Norwegian offered £5m for him!
    The sooner FIFA take the bold step of outlawing all back-passes to goalkeepers, the better.
    It is like having your very own suicide bomber in your team!

    Kindest,
    Dai.

  5. Dai Woosnam says:

    Just a thought re my last posting a few days ago.
    Gosh, how I liked looking at West Ham against Swansea!
    Wingers. A team that goes forward. And those wingers put crosses in to a brilliant target man.
    Andy Carroll was virtually unplayable on the day.
    If only Cardiff could play this way.
    It was so reminiscent of that brilliant Liverpool line up with the ball getting out to the wings as soon as possible, and then crossed for John Toshack to nod down to Kevin Keegan.
    Those were the days, eh?
    I was reminded of it on Tuesday night when Liverpool got into a terrible pickle by the keeper rolling the ball out every time instead of kicking it. The Basel keeper made no such mistake: he kicked it every time.
    The Basel goal came as an indirect result of Mignolet choosing NOT to kick the ball down the field, when he should have.
    Interestingly, only in the last 20 minutes did Liverpool threaten, and that is when they decided to stop all the negative tippy-tappy balls in their own half and get the ball quickly into the Basel defensive third of the pitch.
    It was hardly surprising that suddenly the Basel defence started making errors.
    So, Paul…when all your esteemed contributors write in and say that City under RS are too direct, always please remember that you have one contributor – me – who reckons that Mr Slade is nowhere near direct enough!
    Hope you are well.
    Kindest,
    Dai.

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