Mackay style win means survival hopes linger on.

CoymaySo, after writing “forget the fact that there are still fifteen points to play for, we are down now and, in all likelihood, we will be finishing bottom of the league.” last weekend following the absolutely woeful 3-0 defeat by Crystal Palace, am I prepared to reconsider those words following City’s hard fought 1-0 win at St. Mary’s over Southampton yesterday?

I’ll answer that in two parts. Firstly, I’m prepared to concede that I may well be wrong about us finishing bottom of the league – Sunderland, who are now four points behind us with two matches in hand following the 1-0 home loss to Everton, will have played at Manchester City and Chelsea by this time next week and so, you have to believe that the distance between them and the rest of the division will, at best, be the same as it is now. Although their last four matches will offer them some hope in that they include games at the Stadium of Light against three sides in the relegation battle, Sunderland’s home record against teams in the lower half of the table is pretty awful and I reckon they’ll have too much to do to prevent relegation in twentieth place.

The second part of my answer is a little more complicated – I still think we are going down, but I would be foolish to believe that an away win against a team that has taken points off three of the current top five this season means that the outcome of our campaign may not quite be as straightforward as I thought it would.

What gives greatest hope I suppose is the fact that two of our four remaining opponents have nothing much to play for – granted, Stoke are in fine form and will be tough opponents next week, while free falling Newcastle have the talent within their ranks to beat anyone in the league on their day, but I’d like to think that City will have that extra bit of desire that might make a difference if they can remain in the game going into the last half an hour against these teams. Sunderland will be a real dog fight, no doubt about that and I still don’t think we want to go into the game with Chelsea needing to avoid defeat, but, all of a sudden, getting to, say, thirty six points doesn’t look as impossible as it did last week.

I can remember Roger Johnson scoring with a long range shot at Hull in 2007, but I'm struggling to recall any other goals scored by a City centreback in recent years that were better than Juan Cala's matchwinner yesterday*

I can remember Roger Johnson scoring with a long range shot at Hull in 2007, but I’m struggling to recall any other goals scored by a City centreback in recent years that were better than Juan Cala’s matchwinner yesterday*

Perhaps it was that little bit of extra desire that proved crucial yesterday? Whatever it was that enabled us to chisel out a so valuable three points, it was ironic that the tactical approach that put us in the position to get them was straight out of the Malky Mackay book of how to win football matches!

At the back end of last year Malky Mackay was not only under pressure because of his ongoing feud with Vincent Tan and results which had left us too close to, but not in, the bottom three. Besides that, he was, incredibly in my view, feeling the heat because some City fans, many of whom said little or nothing about our former manager’s pragmatic brand of football during the previous season when we were winning a title, had decided that they now wanted to be entertained as well as see their team survive in the Premier League.

Indeed, when Mackay was finally dismissed after Southampton had taken his team apart at Cardiff City Stadium on Boxing Day, we were told that that one of the reasons the man who had taken us to the most prestigious honour (in league terms at least) that we had won in our history had gone was that he was too boring.

For a little over three months, Mackay’s successor had tried a variety of formations and approaches and had, largely, failed to provide the results we needed. The entertainment factor under Ole Gunnar Solskjær had been a little higher than under Malky Mackay in my opinion, but, apart from a deserved win over Fulham and a lucky one over Norwich in basement battles, the victories we needed resolutely failed to materialise – mainly because the down side of that bit more attacking threat we carried was a defence that was conceding around two and a half goals a game on average.

Now, I’m not saying that Ole had followed an all out attacking approach up until yesterday (the three at the back formation first used at Spurs was a recognition that we could not go on conceding at the rate we had been), but it is quite revealing that the best result of his reign so far was achieved on the back of a team selection and tactical approach that cried out solidity in a match that was labelled by most as a must win one.

The recall of Peter Whittingham to provide two sitting midfielders in front of a back four was, essentially, a defensive move and, with Kimbo and Mats Dæhli in the wide areas having to concentrate on covering their full backs for much of the opening forty five minutes especially, Fraizer Campbell was as isolated up front as he had ever been under Mackay as Jordon Mutch’s chances of providing the striker with the support he needed were curtailed by wave after wave of Southampton pressure.

Although the tactics used were similar, perhaps the differences between the managerial philosophies involved were seen in the team selections. Although Dæhli (who, unlike so many in our team, does not give the ball away for fun) did a decent defensive job overall on the left, Kimbo struggled at times to give Kevin Theophile-Catherine much effective support down the right. With the Frenchman generally defending quite well and Fabio (who was very careless in possession at times) coping better than I thought he would with Ricky Lambert’s habit of drifting into positions where he was jumping against him rather than one of our centrebacks, the defensive shortcomings of our two wide midfield players didn’t cost us as much as they may do on another day if we go with the same outlook and personnel.

Overall, I do believe we’ll need to show a bit more quality than we did yesterday if we are going to get to the thirty six/thirty seven point mark because, certainly during the opening forty five minutes, it seemed to me that we stayed in the game more by luck than judgement. Southampton have been an entertaining and accomplished side this season and I believe most teams would have struggled to contain them in that first half – dare I say it, but did a degree of complacency on the home side’s part have something to do with our win?

If any one City player deserves to be part of a team which stays up this season, then it has to David Marshall - there were four of five good and a couple of excellent saves from him yesterday.*

If any one City player deserves to be part of a team which stays up this season, then it has to David Marshall – there were four of five good and a couple of excellent saves from him yesterday.*

Going back to the Boxing Day game between the two sides, it was, to all intents and purposes, all over in twenty seven minutes as the visitors netted three times. If anything though, yesterday’s opening period was even more one sided than the one at Cardiff City Stadium had been because, with Gary Medel, seemingly still suffering from a virus that has affected him recently, we looked much slower in mind and body than the Saints. Some good saves by Marshall, the woodwork and some last ditch blocks ensured we got to half time at 0-0, but we are going to have to play better than we did yesterday if we are to make sure we are still in with a chance going into the second period in our next three games.

If we can do that, then the enigma that is Wilfried Zaha comes into the equation – yesterday Zaha was as good as he had been poor against Palace. Just as against Norwich, Everton, Liverpool and West Brom, Zaha was effective when coming off the bench in a way he never has been when starting against the likes of Swansea, Hull and Palace – if City can unleash him against tiring defences (ideally when we are leading), then he undoubtedly can provide the “X factor” that Malky Mackay used to talk about and Ole did in his meeting with supporters last week.

So, in essence, the plan yesterday was to keep things tight and nick something on the break or from a dead ball situation – although they still needed a couple of superb Marshall saves to preserve their lead once they had got it, it’s to City’s credit that they were able to hang on to it with fewer problems than they had faced when the score was 0-0.

In general, teams get out of situations of the sort we are in by winning matches 1-0 or 2-1 more than they do by coming out on top 3-2 or 4-3 – it might not be entertaining, but it’s the way it is and it’ll be interesting to see if, as has been his wont in his time here, Ole is more ambitious in his approach when it comes to a home game.

* – courtesy of

This entry was posted in Out on the pitch and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Mackay style win means survival hopes linger on.

  1. Chris says:

    Another great article Bob thanks. Still buzzing from a fantastic away win here.

    Would appreciate if you could add my link to your site:

    A collection of everyone’s thoughts from forums, social media, papers etc. A snapshot of Cardiff City thoughts.

  2. The other Bob Wilson says:

    Thank you Chris – I’ve added your site as requested.

  3. Chris says:

    Thanks Bob. Here’s hoping for a few more 1-0 or 2-1 wins over the next four weeks!

  4. Dai Woosnam says:

    Great report, Paul.

    Nicest thing to see with Wilfried Zaha incidentally, apart from his commitment, was his evident genuine delight when celebrating Juan Cala’s goal.

    I always felt that his inclusion against Palace was a bridge-too-far, NOT because he would not try – FAR from it – but because in his subconscious, he would be knowing that 90 minutes of brilliance from him could help put the club that was his passion throughout his boyhood and youth, down into the Championship.

    Thus, whilst I do not know the mechanics of it, if Ole said to him “how do you feel about playing against Palace?” it would have been a superfluous question.

    Why? Well because Wilf would obviously realise that as a pro he had to answer with “No problem at all”, but deep down Ole should have known that Wilf was not going to be dynamite on the day.

    The main thing for Ole is to keep the relationship with Moyes so that he can borrow him on another loan spell in the future. But then, let me breathe those words back in.

    Moyes may not be there, and Man Utd may be loath to loaning him to the Championship !!

    But then …
    I suppose, NEITHER eventuality may occur!

    Dai Woosnam

  5. The other Bob Wilson says:

    Afternoon Dai. I noticed how pleased Zaha was when we scored as well.

    I think you’ve got it pretty much spot on in your summing up of what happened with Zaha and Ole last week.

  6. Dai Woosnam says:

    Thanks for that, Paul.

    In the few days that have elapsed since the win at Southampton, I have read several people online saying it should be noted that the win was in BLUE.

    Jeez…they are as mad as Vincent Tan, with his “lucky red” nonsense.

    They should recall that the win at Fulham was in red…and the defeats at Arsenal, Man Utd, (and perhaps some others) were in …BLUE.

    When they were 91st in the league pyramid not that many years back, well, that was in BLUE too !!

    In an ideal world, Ole persuades Vincent to return to blue this close season. But failing that, he must then decide to fall into line behind his boss on the colour issue, and call for 100 per cent support for the team …without the massive distraction of the strife over the shirt colour affair.

    It remains for me a singularly trivial matter.

    “Trivial”? Yes, trivial. Absolutely it is.

    Imagine if you were a fan of The Brooklyn Dodgers and in 1957 you learned that your version of Vincent Tan was moving the club’s base, and that if you wanted to see their home games in future, you would have to travel two THOUSAND five hundred miles to Los Angeles, and then travel the same distance back after every home game!

    Now THAT is something to get one’s “hair off” about!

    It goes without saying Paul that I am not expecting you to share my opinion. One could perhaps say in a most apposite way: you have already nailed your colours to the mast!

    But we have agreed to differ here. And it is to your credit that you see my point of view, even if you do not share it.

    That said, let me sum up, by saying that whilst I respect the sincerity of the blue diehards, I do think that some may have lost any sense of perspective here.

    My theory is that in LIFE generally, people need a sense of priorities. Need something SERIOUS to grumble about! So in the absence of life-threatening dangers, moan about the bluebottle (pun unintentional!), rather than the deadly mosquito.

    And here’s my sentence to end this piece on: the colour of a football shirt is as irrelevant as the blush on a dead man’s face.

    Dai Woosnam.

  7. The other Bob Wilson says:

    Although I wouldn’t have put them quite in the same category as you Dai, my initial reactions to the rebrand were I suppose along the lines of “it could have been worse” – in fact the loss of the bluebird didn’t bother me in the slightest and, to be honest, I still can’t get too worked up about it now.

    However, if the past two years have proved one thing it is that reactions to the sort of changes Cardiff City fans have had to put up with vary from person to person to such a degree that I don’t think you’ll find many of them who are in complete agreement on every single aspect of the rebrand.

    It’s the sort of subject which can lead to entrenched opinions on either side and I’m sure there are plenty who feel exactly the same about the changes now as they did when they were first revealed in early May 2012.

    I, on the other hand, have shifted my position and there are a number of reasons for that. For example, I’ve found that I missed us playing in blue more than I thought I would, I’ve also been impressed by how some, not all mind, who are implacably anti red have conducted themselves since the changes were announced and the absence of the promised debt to equity conversion has also been a factor in making me change my mind.

    However, the biggest single factor has been the growing certainty, which I was prepared to ignore for a while, that what Vincent Tan did was just plain wrong. Football clubs aren’t like a can of beans whereby you fool the people into buying something by changing the packaging every now and then and Tan has shown continually since he became more hands on at the club that he just doesn’t get this fundamental truth of football financial and business management.

Comments are closed.