Last week it was their limitations, this week Warnock’s Cardiff show their strengths.

It appears to be the same for any club in the country. While it would be stretching a point to say supporters love a crisis, I think it is true to say that messageboards and phone ins are busier when the team they are the subject of have been beaten – in fact, on a national show like 6-0-6 (a programme which has long since lost it’s attraction for me from it’s early golden days when Danny Baker was the presenter) the format has become let’s get the fans of the one of the “giant” clubs who have lost today to ring in calling for their manager to be sacked.

It’s the same on a smaller scale throughout the leagues – it appears people want to talk more about their team when they think there is something wrong with it than they do when they’ve just won.

I’m as guilty of this as anyone. For example, I found it a lot easier to come up with my piece about City’s loss to Norwich last weekend than I’m doing with yesterday’s superb 2-0 win at Elland Road which Neil Warnock described as, by far, the best performance so far in his time with the club – in fact, Warnock was hard pressed to think of a better away performance during his managerial career.

Maybe the best way to handle things is to look at our last two, very contrasting, matches as a pair, because I believe, between them, they offer an accurate assessment as to where we find ourselves now as the season goes into it’s final third.

It may be that people find it easier to spot what is wrong with the team, rather than what is right with it – or maybe they take what is right with it for granted?

To get an idea of what I mean, you need to go back to what many fans (myself included) were thinking before a ball was kicked – in essence, we were a team which was strong at goalkeeper and centreback, with decent full backs and any success we would have during the season would be based on this strong foundation, because we looked a bit light when it came to creativity, attacking pace and a goalscoring threat.

In it’s simplest terms, the reason why, despite relegation looking much less likely than it once did. we still need to be concerned more about leaving the Championship this season in a downward direction than an upward one is that is that, while the pre season assumptions made about our attacking play have largely been proved to be correct, the ones made about our defending were seen to be false during the first half of the season.

However, while it’s probably too soon yet to say that the defensive woes which blighted our campaign before Christmas are completely behind us, the evidence since the turn of the year is that we are now playing in a way which, firstly, some of us were expecting back in August and, also, we are getting closer to being the sort of team I thought we would be under Neil Warnock’s management.

For a while, the improvement in results under our new manager could be put down more to the team rediscovering the knack of goalscoring, rather than any improvement in our defending. If one game typified City during Warnock’s early months in charge, I’d say it was the 4-3 defeat by Barnsley in which our new found goal power was completely negated by rank bad defending (and goalkeeping).

Yes, the Barnsley game was an extreme example of what was going wrong, but the fact that we reached the arrival of 2017 having only kept two clean sheets all season proved that what had been assumed to have been a strength before a ball was kicked was, in fact, our main weakness.

The New Year has seen a big change though. With one exception, our Championship games in 2017 have been much tighter affairs – leaving aside that madcap last twenty minutes at Ashton Gate that saw us score three and concede one, seven hundred minutes of league football have produced just twelve goals.

That is very slightly over one goal at either end every hour – as I say, the late stages of the Bristol game distorts things somewhat, but, even so, we are still only seeing an average of two goals a game this year.

The good news for City fans is that the overriding reason why we are seeing far fewer goals in our matches in the last few weeks is that we have started defending like a team with that good goalkeeper and defenders I thought we had back in August should defend.

Eight Championship games beginning with the win over Villa on January 2 have seen just six goals conceded and, of those, one was down to rank bad luck (Bristol City’s first goal), two, possibly three, (Brighton’s and both goals Reading scored) could be said to be goalkeeping errors and another (Cameron Jerome’s last week) was the result of someone not doing their job properly at a defensive free kick.

I’d say the only league goal we’ve let in during this time where the opposition genuinely opened us up was Bristol City’s second one and even then, we could have done better in preventing the cross that led to it being made.

The side which only kept two clean sheets in it’s first twenty three Championship matches has kept four of them in eight games during 2017 – finally, Neil Warnock is instilling the defensive solidity and organisation that has been a trademark of his better teams.

The overwhelming feeling I got as we saw out the final ten minutes yesterday was how comfortable it all was. Obviously, our opponents having a player sent off (possibly a bit harshly?) helped on that score, but the truth is we were comfortable while Liam Bridcutt was on the pitch and it was eleven against eleven – people can talk about Leeds missing important players like Pontus Jansson and Charlie Taylor, but I make it we had three likely first teamers out with injury and another in Junior Hoilett deemed to be not well enough to be in from the start.

People can talk about Leeds having an off day, but they don’t have too many of those this season, so why did they have one yesterday? My answer would be that we played to our current strengths and “did a job” on them.

Leeds were stifled, thwarted and frustrated by a City defensive effort which was helped by Sol Bamba (arguably the best of what is beginning to look a very strong collection of centrebacks again since his signing in October) and Sean Morrison at the heart of it, had Matt Connolly looking a lot like his old self at right back and Jazz Richards bringing that quiet confidence and calm he has when he is on his game to the left back position.

In front of those four, Kadeem Harris, did his bit defensively while also having one of his better days going forward and the pairing of Joe Ralls and Aron Gunnarsson were their typical selves in a defensive context, while also being that bit more effective going forward than they often are.

I was going to say Elland Road was silenced when Sean Morrison headed us in front, but the truth was that our performance made it a pretty quiet place for the whole ninety minutes – after three consecutive losses to them, it’s great to see normal service resumed in Cardiff v Leeds matches!

It’s the other two members of our midfield five, I want to give some credit to though. After the game, Neil Warnock told about how, with Peter Whittingham left out and Ralls disappointing when it came to set piece delivery, City had to find someone to take the free kicks and corners. Almost by a process of elimination, they arrived at Craig Noone and the recalled winger, in much the same way as Don Cowie used to do occasionally in years gone by, took the chance to show that, just because he takes so few of them it doesn’t mean that he isn’t any good delivering from dead ball situations.

I can remember Noone comfortably scoring  a penalty last season against Sheffield Wednesday and him scoring  from a free kick against Bolton during Peter Whittingham’s very long run without a free kick goal – Noone’s scoring record from free kicks taken during his Cardiff career may be 100%!

The quality on the free kicks Noone provided in either half from different sides of the pitch was a reminder that, in some departments at least, we compare very favourably with other Championship teams and I think it’s true to say that if he were at some other clubs, he would be their dead ball specialist week in, week out.

One of those free kicks made Morrison’s task in heading us into the lead a pretty simple one, while the other one perhaps should have been put away by Greg Halford in the first half. If Halford could be criticised there, I’d say that, more than in any of his appearances so far, he showed that he can do a good job for us over the coming months.

Looking at it now, the January transfer window was seen by the club’s money men as an opportunity to get other clubs to pay at least of some of our player’s wages by loaning them out to them. With the injuries we have to the likes of Lee Peltier and Bruno Manga, the decision to loan out Semi Ajayi (who played his third full ninety minutes in three games for Rotherham yesterday) could potentially cause a problem and, similarly, sending Emyr Huws (scorer of the only goal in Ipswich’s win at Villa) and Stuart O’Keefe on loan for the rest of the season looks a risky move.

However, I don’t think it’s been fully appreciated yet just how versatile Halford is. With him in your eighteen, most scenarios that could occur in terms of injuries are covered and it needs to be remembered that Halford is a proven performer at this level over a decade and more – he is better than many City fans think he is and, especially with the small squad we will have for the remainder of the season, strikes me as the sort of underwhelming, but shrewd, signing our manager specialises in.

So, the nine outfield players behind Kenneth Zohore, who had the reward of a third goal of the season for another selfless and effective performance, all did their bit in nullifying Leeds, but so to did keeper Allan McGregor who, while doing nothing spectacular, gave another example of his overall competence. This suggests that, after a few dodgy moments in McGregor’s early games for us, we may have solved the goalkeeping problems that were created by the bizarre selling of our best two in that position in the weeks before the transfer window closed.

Although I’d say that with his signing of Hoilett and the faith he has shown in Zohore and Harris, Neil Warnock has done much to improve the previous weakness of a lack of pace in our attacking players, he talked again about our lack of natural goalscorers in his post match press conference yesterday.

It’s telling that if you watch City lately on one of the highlights packages Sky put together of every Championship game or one of their, very rare, appearances in Channel Five’s main game in their highlights show, those highlights don’t tend to last as long as they do with  matches involving most others in our league.

In many respects, this is because we don’t allow our opponents too many sights of goal these days (I can’t remember any serious chances Leeds had that didn’t turn up in the highlights packages on Sky and Channel Five), but another reason for it is that there are never that many occasions when we really threaten our opponents goal either.

Channel Five chose not to show Zohore’s header from a Ralls cross which was cleared off the line by a Leeds defender (or was it going wide?), but, that apart, I don’t think either organisation could be accused of being biased against us – the truth is that when you have a team which is not that creative and, by their manager’s own admission, lacks natural goalscorers, there are hardly going to be shots raining in on goal from all angles.

That conclusion may seem a harsh one when you consider that  we have scored twenty eight times in the twenty games we have played under Neil Warnock. After all, it equates to something like sixty five goals over a forty six match season and that’s considerably more than Russell Slade’s Play Off challenging team managed last year, but I’d say that our goalscoring record under Warnock’s tenure is a testimony to someone who is getting the very best out of a pool of attacking talent that is nowhere near as deep as many others in this division.

I think the best way to look at it is that, while it may have taken him longer than he thought, our manager is getting the defending right and when we are set up to contain opponents, we now have a little more to hit teams with than our threat from set pieces. However, it’s when sides sit back against us (like Norwich did after they scored and like Burton did for most of the time) that our lack of quality attacking options becomes more apparent – Rotherham looks a banker home win next week, but all of the evidence of this season so far suggests that, if we do win, it will be through another Burton type grind.

As things stand, we don’t possess the attacking tools to consistently break down better teams than Burton and Rotherham if they come here intent on defence. Yesterday offered further evidence of our strengths as of now (defending, good spirit and set piece delivery) and we should better appreciate what we are good at, but, assuming we don’t go down, the challenge for the club for next season is to come up with a way of overcoming the weaknesses that, surely, will preclude us from ever being serious promotion challenges.

Unfortunately, it’s here where we are at a serious disadvantage compared to most of our rivals in this league. Maybe Vincent Tan could be more generous in giving Neil Warnock a budget which enables him to bring in at least some of the new players he wants, but, sorry to harp on about this again, the truth is that until we can either start producing youngsters from our Academy of a standard that gets other clubs willing to offer millions for their services or we stop seeing players leave the club “by mutual agreement”, rather than for a transfer fee, it’s going to be virtually impossible for us to stay within the FFP regulations  and give our manager a few million to spend on new players every summer.




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13 Responses to Last week it was their limitations, this week Warnock’s Cardiff show their strengths.

  1. Barry Cole says:

    Well Paul you have certainly put together a great synopsis of where we are. The last few lines are very important in that we have failed miserably in producing home grown talent over the last few years and maybe more. I do believe the structure is now in place to rectify that problem but we won’t see the benefits for a few years yet.
    Therefore it is imperative that we now get the right players for next season and the need for tan to release the purse strings is even more essential.
    I know I have banged on about this for a couple of seasons but it’s always been the answer, we are short of a creative midfielder and a goalscorer and I am confident that Warnock not only knows this but has already set his stall out to fill those gaps for next season.
    I did say last week that I could see 4 points this week and if we play the type of football that took place yesterday then that could be six. We are just not consistent enough but it is coming. I think you have the answer and that is how the teams play against us. If they come out against us like Leeds did and how derby will operate then there is a good chance that we can provide a sucker punch result each time. Where we just haven’t got the quality is when teams shut up shop and that’s why that creative midfielder is so important.
    Before I go on to the game yesterday I just have to say that when Warnock was appointed a black cloud of negativity regarding our team lifted and it has been a slow and deliberate improvement by all our that can only be down to a leader who I feel would have his army behind him and when he gave the order to get out of the trenches the team would have no hesitation in following him.
    Unlike a number of fans who seemed to have reservations on Warnock I never had and if there was anyone I could see that would get us out of the mess, he was the one.
    He has always liked Cardiff and the fans and isn’t he proving just that now.
    We are only a few results away from safety now and although after the damaging Norwich result when I admitted that we were unlikely to get into the top six, what I can see is that the confidence will keep improving as we work towards the end of the season.
    So before I get to the game yesterday. I can only emphasise that I thoroughly enjoy my games once more and following the dark days of slade, who has to take full responsibility for the negative and lack of entertainment the team produced. Having already lost a number of fans through some very poor decisions this proved to be the nail in the coffin. I hope that the message that is now getting out encourage the fans back but even so when we really take off next year I am sure they will return, we need those fans now to compliment the change that is happening on the field.
    The game proved to me how far we have come under Warnock and how well he is getting the best out of the players. Not only did they fight with every ut played some very good counter attacking football. With mcgregor in goal there does seem to be a more confident approach to defending and what a signing bamba is. Morrison had one of his better games and I can’t wait for manga to return. Now the midfield and this is where I cannot see the legend who is peter whittingham fitting in now because it was certainly more effective without him. Ralls had a better game and gunnarsson is just a realavation. Harris had a lot better game and zahore scored a goal. I say that tongue in cheek because his work rate is very impressive. Which leads me onto the player who really could add quality to the team. Noone have flattered to deceive for a long while but he is a catalyst and on his day is unstoppable. I believe that had slade given him more time on the field he would not have had a crisis of confidence. I believe Warnock will get the best and after his effort yesterday I think he will form part of the team in the coming months. I went to the game and at no time did I have a negative feeing even though my train decided to run a bit late. It’s great not be be stuck in a bubble lol.
    Throughout the game I felt as though we created whereas Leeds huffed and puffed. There was a once when I had my heart in my mouth but we were already two up.
    So the tea did a job on Leeds and if you look at the the other top teams we have played when we have lost by the odd goal I cann only see that the Derby game is going to be a lot closer than anyone thinks.
    I will stick to my 4 points but I have a sneaky feeling that 6 isn’t asking too much.
    So onwards and upwards and I am still chomping at the bit until the next game. Something I can say I never had during the dark days of OLE slade and co.

  2. Barry Cole says:

    I can assure you that the spelling mistakes and missing letters are the cause of this super dooper iPad that changes word so long after I have passed them. If you have tried to spell noone which comes out as no one you can understand the frustration.
    Anyway I hope you have got the gist of the post I think I have lol

  3. Anthony O'Brien says:

    Paul’s analysis is masterly, and the comments from Barry Cole — definitely a glass half-full type of person -= are music to my ears. I certainly got the gist of the post and feel fired up by his optimism and enthusiasm. His very words lift our morale,

    There is nothing I want to add regarding yesterday’s win but I’d like to mention something else which made me feel happier about the future — namely, the recent interview of Craig Bellamy published on WalesOnline. In one word, it was brilliant. It made me a glass half-full person in respect of what he is achieving (and aiming to achieve) with the younger players. Perhaps, after all, the future is bright.

  4. Russell says:

    Thanks Paul your synopsis of yesterday’s result and the season under NW is spot on ,and does show how good a man manager he is .

    I’m glad you mention Halfords valuable contribution and quiet skills at this level, NW has brought him to stabilise and mostly use him in containing away games, he can take corners, free kicks, pass well and be a danger in the box, he has an ability to be a holding or forward player. ( Another of those underwellming signings, we here NW can make, man knows his stuff .)

    I think that clean sheet was the first since our first away game this year? And will have greatly pleased our leader.

    I intensely dislike Leeds so this result is most pleasant and allows us some breathing space over a tough 6 game period., the run in after Tuesdays game against Derby looks good, other than Newcastle, but that’s the last one and they be disinterested by then

    Think NW has proven given time, a fair transfer kitty he can turn our club into a force, he has already added the bite, we have strength in depth in his backroom team, he has the ability to locate underwhelming signings.

    In line with your correct viewpoint on the accademy and the progressions , we do need to use that avenye effectvely as we are trapped in the FFP with no discernable sign of us increasing in coming revenues search, we seem to suffer from having to pay high wages for players to join us in Wales, therefore we have to find young potential talent from afar,as do other clubs ,as our local pool seems bare .

    Great result

  5. Royalewithcheese says:

    Dear Bob
    Now that Caliburn, Gunman, Nigelblues, Old Git, Victor!!! and others have quit the ring and messageboards have gone to the dogs – which, incidentally, you’ve carried at times for no personal gain and probably little or no gratitude – your blog has become a vital resource for anyone wishing to read and write about Cardiff City. But is that why your pieces are becoming longer and longer? :))

  6. The other Bob Wilson says:

    Morning everyone and thanks for your contributions.

    Barry, games like Saturday’s start nudging my optimism levels up until they reach somewhere pretty close to yours! Sticking to the theme of my piece whereby I believe that our last two matches offer a good snapshot of there we stand now, I must say that while it shouldn’t be forgotten how much we struggled to create anything which troubled Norwich, the level of pressure we put on them in the second half makes me thing that a draw would probably have been a fairer result, whereas, by the end, there could be little doubt that we were deserving winners at Leeds. Warnock has definitely improved the team and, based on his record in this league over the past three decades or more, you’d have to back his judgement as to what is needed to further improve it. I still feel that it would be a bit much to expect Vincent Tan to back our current manager to the same extent he did with Malky Mackay for our Championship winning season, but I think he may be pleasantly surprised with the effect a signing or two which suggested a renewed level of ambition at the club would have on season ticket sales. Also, I know exactly what you mean about typing “Noone” on auto correct, it’s got so bad that I try to find alternative ways of letting everyone know who I’m talking about when I refer to him!
    AMO, I agree with you entirely about the Bellamy interview. There will be short term for our youngsters (I see the Under 18s were beaten 4-0 at Ipswich on Saturday to follow on from 6-0 and 7-0 losses to Charlton and Coventry in the five matches since we, basically, start fielding an Under 16 team for these fixtures), but the hope has to be that the stand out players in the group will emerge unscathed and improved by the experience – something had to change, because the system has not been working as it should for around five years now.
    Russell, I would say that, traditionally, we probably have had to pay higher wages to get players to come to Wales, but Cardiff is hardly an outpost these days and so I’m not sure that applies any more – you are right to emphasise how much the right locally produced youngster can save us in wages and make for the club in today’s overpriced market where £10 million has become a fee that something between a quarter and a third of Championship clubs would be willing to spend in the pursuit of promotion.
    Royale, the fact that my pieces on first team matches have got longer has not escaped me. As a general rule, I aim to keep my reports on matches below first team level to around the one thousand word mark – first team reports were the same sort of length back when the blog started in 2009, but now they are double that or more. I’d also say that no longer being able to use Jon Candy’s excellent photos along with the fact that so many of the pictures Wales Online use now are the property of companies who don’t take kindly to having places like this using their work means that there is less chance to break up what becomes paragraph after paragraph of unremitting text – an already long piece is made to feel even longer.
    I always try to start my first team reports with a definite structure in mind, but there are times (the piece on the Leeds game being one of them) where I just let my stream of thought take me wherever it wants to – either way, I usually find I’ve got to something like 2.500 words by the time I’ve said everything I wanted to.
    I’m open minded about making my pieces on first team games shorter and can see how my current approach may put some off reading the blog – what do you readers think, do you have any thoughts on the matter?

  7. Anthony O'Brien says:

    Everything you write is relevant and worth reading, immaterial of length. I don’t think Royalwithcheese is actually complaining, but simply making an observation.

  8. Colin Phillips says:

    No problem at all with the length of your posts, Paul.

  9. Russell says:

    Nothing wrong with good length

  10. BJA says:

    Paul – Keep on expressing your thoughts and views in whatever manner you wish, and make them as long as you deem necessary. Absolutely fine by me.

  11. Royalewithcheese says:

    It was a gentle, utterly selfish hint on my part. Bob knows me well enough and I’ve said it before. It’s just me. I’m a very impatient reader and can’t stop myself skimming over. I’m still searching out Bob’s every word after all this time. That says it all.

  12. Lindsay Davies says:

    Well said, Royale. Speaking as an Exile who doesn’t get down to our blessed city all that often, I relish our Blogmeister’s elegant thoroughness, and, indeed, ALL the generous-spirited MAYAn contributions. You all display much less anger and let-down than I feel, since I handed in my Season Ticket. By the way, I don’t regard myself as a ‘fair-weather’ supporter – I feel we all have a right to demonstrate our views of what we regard as ineptitude and mismanagement; although I do refrain from too much comment, as I no longer have a lot of first-hand knowledge. Whatever, what a win that was, at Elland Road.

  13. The other Bob Wilson says:

    Thanks for your replies. seems like I’ll keep on providing my reports which last longer than War and Peace!

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