Sixteen efforts at goal, nine of which were on target, conjures up a certain impression for anyone who was not there to watch the match in which one of the teams produced such stats. Okay, it doesn’t mean the shots were raining in on goal exactly, but it does hint at a pretty busy afternoon for the keeper and defence opposing the attack concerned.
The fact of the matter is though that today’s lunchtime 0-0 draw with Millwall represented ninety minutes of tedium for those present. Millwall supporters could go away from the match content with a handy point in their fight against the drop, but for City fans, it only offered further proof, if any were needed, that our Play Off hopes are floundering because of a series of tepid and flat displays at the ground which was such a hard place for opposing sides to play at for the first two thirds of the campaign.
Forty year old Maik Taylor in the Millwall goal did have some fairly difficult crosses to deal with, but as far as shots or headers to save went, he could have been sixty and been able to deal with what City sent his way. Just for a second or two until you noticed the linesman’s flag disallowing the “goal”, it looked like Aron Gunnarsson had beaten Taylor with a header from a Liam Lawrence free kick and there was also a Joe Mason effort cleared off the line, but, apart from that, all the veteran keeper had to deal with were looped efforts by our goalshy strikers which tended to betray their lack of confidence in front of goal.
It’s now four goalless matches in five at Cardiff City Stadium for a side which, up until the match with Blackpool on 4 February could be relied upon to put on hard working, fully committed, dynamic and, usually, winning performances in front of their own fans. Given the mediocre stuff we’ve become used to over the past two months, it’s easy to forget just how good City were in most of their pre February home matches and I would say that out of the fourteen halves of football we’ve played at home since beating Palace to get to Wembley, only one (the second forty five minutes against Peterborough) matches the quality we showed from August to February.
I mentioned three qualities (“hard working”, “fully committed” and “dynamic” ) City fans came to accept as the norm from their team in home matches, but, sadly, I think we are only getting the commitment now. The desire to work hard is still there I believe, but tired minds and bodies mean that the players are not capable of putting in the sort of shift that they were earlier in the season any more.
This brings us on to the dynamic part and, to an extent, tiredness has played it’s part here as well. However, I would argue that at least some of the lack of dynamism is self inflicted. Much has been made of our lack of pace and I would certainly agree that we have been short of it recently – the thing is though that we haven’t lost any players through injury or transfers out who were doing so well earlier in the season, so this lack of pace was not hurting us too much from August to January.
What has changed though is that, recently at least, Steve McPhail has returned from his latest illness enforced break and, being the sort of player he is, this means a drop in tempo from what we had become used to seeing. Now, I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing because it also brings an element of control that may previously have been lacking, but, put it with the decline in tempo from others and it makes us so much easier to play against – especially when the one player we have brought in who is a first team contender is someone else who tends to lower the tempo of play.
Now, I must say that I thought Liam Lawrence played as well as I’ve seen him in a City shirt today and, although I’m not sure about the Man of the Match nomination he picked up from the match sponsors, I did rate him as one of our best performers -however, at a time when we have been lacking our earlier urgency, we have brought in someone who makes that situation worse!
I’ll nail my colours to the mast and say I wanted Malky Mackay here and I still believe that, overall, he’s done well so far, but we have “blown up” in the last few months of the season just like his Watford team did last year and, to a lesser extent, the year before that. Combine this with the fact that, as I see it anyway, we have included two players in recent games who actually make us a slower team at a time when others are flagging and I think it’s fair to say that our manager has lost much of the goodwill he earned earlier by making some decisions that are hard to comprehend.
City have become so slow and deliberate in their build up play that all sides need to do against us defensively in open play is keep two disciplined banks of four (or five as far the midfield goes) and they know that we are very unlikely to hurt them – we’ll pass the ball from side to side neatly enough in front of them, but it’s all done so slowly that nothing will come of it. Unfortunately, City weren’t even much of a threat from set pieces today either as Peter Whittingham’s dead ball delivery fell some way short of his normal standards
It could be legitimately claimed that the second half was one way traffic. Certainly, apart from a few late chances for Millwall as we left gaps at the back in our efforts to come up with a winner, virtually all of the play was towards their goal, but, to quote Denis Healey the visitors must have felt like they were “being savaged by a dead sheep”!
I’ve been typing this while all of todays other games have been taking place and the way the results have worked out mean that we are still right in the Play Off hunt. When you ask yourself though when is the last time we’ve looked remotely like a side that’s going to finish in the top six (at home in particular) or the team we saw in the first half of the season, it’s hard to avoid the feeling that our promotion hopes are fading with barely a whimper .
* pictures courtesy of http://www.walesonline.co.uk/