Most of the speculation prior to yesterday’s 1-1 draw at Blackpool centred on whether Darcy Blake would be able to keep his place in City’s midfield now that Aron Gunnarsson and Filip Kiss had returned from their injuries. The consensus seemed to be that Blake would lose out to Gunnarsson in the only change to the team that beat Doncaster, but what all bar one or two on the messageboards didn’t account for was that Kiss would also start his first game at Cardiff with Robert Earnshaw becoming the second of the two City players used by Wales only ten days earlier to be left out as Malky Mackay decided to counter the number of players Blackpool push forward at home with a 4-5-1 formation.
On the face of it, the change of system sounds like a defensive move and. although I wasn’t there to see it in operation, the personnel used by City suggests that, if it was the sort of 4-5-1 that can be passed off as 4-3-3 when you attack because you have players who are normally forwards playing in withdrawn positions, then City were using Don Cowie and Craig Conway as their auxiliary strikers. However, even if the reason behind the change was based more on nullifying the opposition, it produced a performance that, by all accounts, saw City taking the game to their hosts as they won eleven corners to three and, according to the BBC’s stats, produced twenty five efforts at goal compared to eleven from Blackpool.
Although the normally pretty honest Ian Holloway didn’t acknowledge it in his rather strange post match press conference, by setting City up in a way Blackpool didn’t expect, Malky Mackay had seemingly won the tactical battle between the two managers. However, Malky’s switch did not get the reward it, or City’s overall performance, deserved. In the first half especially, it sounded like City were completely on top and, at times it appeared that a goal was imminent, but when it didn’t arrive, I think it’s fair to ask why this should be so. Perhaps the presence of someone more used to playing up front than in midfield (Joe Mason maybe?) could have made some difference, but one goal from twenty five attempts is a poor return and it appears that both of our centrebacks had chances that you would expect them to score on another day. More worrying than that though is the miss which saw Kenny Miller shoot wide when played into a one on one position with Matt Gilks – in isolation, such a miss would not attract too much comment, but when the player concerned is his club’s major pre season signing who has not scored in six league matches (as well as around forty five minutes in a cup match) then that is a matter for concern.
Now it seems that Miller’s overall performance wasn’t bad yesterday and I’m not one of those who has been too critical of that side of his game anyway, but we really do need Miller to start scoring soon if we are to see the new system (or the one we’d been using before, for that matter) really succeed. I believe that Miller only needs a goal or two to be up and running, but it is a fact that, for a player with such a good goalscoring record, he has been through some pretty long lean spells in front of goal (e.g. seven goals in thirty three appearances for Celtic in 06/07, four in thirty for an admittedly awful Derby team in 07/08 and five in thirty two for Wolves in 03/04).
Unfortunately, for City, Kevin Phillips is currently enjoying something of an Indian summer at Blackpool and I don’t think anyone could have been too surprised when he fired home after around an hour to equalise Don Cowie’s fine header minutes after the half time break. It was an excellent effort by Phillips that was selected as Sky Sports News’ Football League goal of the day and yet Cowie claimed after the game that Phillips told him he meant it as a cross – I must say it certainly didn’t look like that to me!
Assuming Phillips’ effort was intended as a shot. it does, maybe, re emphaise what our side is currently lacking. On the whole, I don’t think we are missing the likes of Bellamy, Boothroyd, Burke and Chopra that much this season, but I’m fairly sure that one of them would have come up with something Phillips like to make sure that we got three points from a game that we controlled so much of. It’s that “X Factor” again that Malky talked about a few months back - we have some players capable of providing it, but, based on the evidence so far, not enough of them.
Even if Phillips’ goal was some sort of fluke, I’d say that those comments about our lack of match winners still count, but, perhaps, it would confirm that it might be best to write off yesterday as just one of those matches that, no matter what we tried, we were fated not to win? There were plenty who said we were boring in beating Doncaster last week – maybe, in this division where the certainties of one week are transformed into the no hopers of the following one and vice versa, we should accept that it is the way of things that we get three points for a routine and pretty mundane display against Doncaster and just the one for a far more dominant one against a better team seven days later.
Anyway, I had been encouraged by our start before yesterday and now, after the Blackpool match, I’m much more so. Yes, we didn’t win and although an unbeaten away record after four games looks good, it is devalued somewhat by the fact that three of them have been draws, I’d still rather focus on the fact that our manager has shown some tactical acumen and that we have, hopefully, started to prove that, unlike last season, we have the midfield personnel to play an effective 4-5-1 system on a week to week basis. With the local press telling us that there will be loan signings in a week or so, perhaps the additional x factor that we require is on it’s way – I genuinely feel we won’t be too far away come the end of the season.