Midfield weakness apparent again, but for a different reason.

CoymayOne of the best developments in the game over the past twenty five years or so in my opinion has been the advent of the Play Off system.

The obvious benefit of it has been that four sides from each division of the Football League can prolong their season by contesting what is in essence a mini tournament with a final at Wembley played amid tremendous tension with the prize for the winners being a place in a higher division the following season – the difference in financial terms between victory and defeat in the Championship Play Off Final has seen it sometimes described as the biggest game of the domestic season.

What I have in mind in this instance though is how the Play Off system can give sides a sense of purpose in the latter stages of a season that wouldn’t otherwise be there.

Although yesterday’s loss to Wolves makes it the longest of long shots now for Forest, the fact that you can now be promoted by finishing sixth when you once had to come third means their fans can keep on dreaming a little longer. In League One, I’d say even Gillingham down in fourteenth place could still yet end up playing Championship football next season and, in League Two, where a seventh place finish is sufficient, the possible promotion teams include Morecambe in thirteenth.

All of this makes Cardiff City’s 2014/15 season remarkable, even if it is for the most mundane of reasons.

Congratulations to Aron Gunnarsson and his partner on the birth of their child - Gunnar worked as hard as ever and played a big part in the goal, but there was the usual lack of craft and attacking flair from City in the middle of the park.*

Congratulations to Aron Gunnarsson and his partner on the birth of their child – Gunnar worked as hard as ever and played a big part in the goal, but there was the usual lack of craft and attacking flair from City in the middle of the park.*

Even now, with only a month of the season left, I’d say there would still be an element of tension in the dressing rooms of at least three quarters of the teams in the Football League because there will be the thought that they could still be going up or down.

At Cardiff though, most supporters were resigned to not going up two months ago (I’d guess it took the players a month longer to give up on it), while I’d say players and fans accepted relegation was not going to be an issue after we won at Wigan and Rotherham – in essence, there has been nothing really on our games for more than a month now and I’m struggling to remember the last time we had two months at the end of the campaign filled with games with nothing riding on them.

This was the reason why when I entered the newsagents yesterday morning  to be greeted by a discussion on how City were going to get on at Reading, my first contribution was to say “it doesn’t really matter does it – mid table mediocrity” – I honestly hadn’t given the game a thought since waking up.

There was one thing that excited me about the match beforehand and that was the news that Eoin Doyle and Conor McAleny were going to be paired together up front and that Joe Mason was finally going to feature in a Cardiff City squad for the first time in nineteen months.

I figured that with Kenwyne Jones away at Bournemouth (where he, so predictably, scored within a minute of coming on to salvage a draw at Ipswich) and Alex Revell injured, City would have no alternative but to play to the strengths of strikers who have to rely on stealth, rather than heading ability and power, to get the better of their markers.

City would have to pass the ball to feet and patiently probe for openings against Reading and, of course, I just took it for granted that the team would be able to seamlessly take on what would, despite the better football we’ve seen in recent weeks, be a pretty drastic change of style of play.

On the face of it, an outcome of 54/46 in the possession battle for the team who have come second in that particular facet of the game for about eighty per cent of the time this season suggests that they did, but this was an occasion where the statistics really did lie.

The side which those stats show are only better than tailed off Blackpool when it comes to retaining the ball in this year’s Championship may have had more of it than their opponents, but it seems that, whether we rely on the rapier or bludgeon up front, we find it equally difficult to fashion attacking opportunities when we don’t have a corner, attacking free kick or throw in – I really should have known better!.

Reading scored a simple goal early on and, with them being one of those sides for which relegation is still a theoretical possibility, seemed happy to settle for that against opponents who were unable to fashion themselves even a sight of goal in a turgid first forty five minutes.

City’s lack of attacking punch may have been down to that nothing to play for feeling which I referred to earlier or it might have been that McAleny, Doyle and Mason (who replaced the latter for the final quarter of the game and managed to touch the ball just the twice!) were not as effective as I expected them to be, but, of course, they did have that midfield, which has been such a problem all season long, behind them – for most of our games this season, there’s been a temptation to pin their lack of quality in the attacking third of the pitch down to them not having the ball often enough, but, if anything, having more of the ball will only make that lack of creativity and guile all the more apparent,

City are hardly great entertainers, but two of the reasons why they are a more watchable side in the season's final third than they were in the middle third are the two youngsters who have arrived from Everton - here Matt Kernnedy and Conor McAleny celebrate the latter's fine, late equaliser.*

City are hardly great entertainers, but two of the reasons why they are a more watchable side in the season’s final third than they were in the middle third are the two youngsters who have arrived from Everton – here Matt Kernnedy and Conor McAleny celebrate the latter’s fine, late equaliser.*

City did finally rouse themselves as an attacking force around the hour mark when home keeper Federici had to turn aside Craig Noone’s shot, but this only woke up the Reading attack as City had to rely on the woodwork and an outstanding Marshall save to stay in the game.

A second Reading goal continued to look more likely than a first Cardiff one right up until the game’s eighty ninth minute when someone on the City team came up with one of those moments of quality that they have been so conspicuously lacking all season which can transform a game  - McAleny’s snapshot from twenty yards after receiving a good pass by Aron Gunnarsson was past Federici almost before he could move and, all of a sudden, City had a draw which they didn’t deserve to keep their nice little run going as the season winds down.

I must say that I like the look of the two lads who have come in from Everton,- I’ve talked about Matt Kennedy before on here, but McAleny has a touch of class to him, there’s still a suspicion that he’s a bit injury prone, but I’d hope that City would do all they could to get him if there was a chance of his loan being turned into a permanent deal – failing that, it would be great to see him here on a season long loan.

It’s probably just me being daft, but I find it so hard to relate to many of the players we have signed in the last year or so – perhaps it’s because it feels like they are just “passing through” at Cardiff? On the other hand, it seems to me that Kennedy is at a stage of his career that makes this a very important move for him – he has the natural ability to ensure that his next move will be one up the footballing ladder if he puts the work in to go with his skills and I hope Russell Slade’s summer recruiting will see more of a balance between between potential and the “steady Eddie” types than we have had up to now.

Mention of our manager prompts me to end with a slight moan about him. Tom James has been on the bench in recent matches and we have a player on loan in Semi Ajayi who Arsene Wenger thought was good enough to be selected as a sub for Arsenal on four occasions – if James and Ajayi were both fit, wouldn’t it have made more sense to have had one of them on the bench instead of Danny Gabbidon who seems unlikely to be offered another contract by the club?

* pictures coutresy of http://www.walesonline.co.uk/

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12 Responses to Midfield weakness apparent again, but for a different reason.

  1. Matt N says:

    Hii Paul, thanks for your report. I feel you’ve hit the nail on the head with your comment on emotional connection to our recently signed players. I’m not convinced that Slade is going to be here long enough to see his team click. I’ve not actually been down the city since our dreadful cup exit to Bournemouth at the back end of last year, and that part decision part coincidence has yet to have me yearning to go back under Russell. Nice chap, shame about the tactics. I too would love to see some of the youngsters let loose – give them a taste of proper action. Especially those that have yet to go on loan.
    Lastly, on Kenwyne – he made me a nice little profit yesterday as I stuck a few quid on him as last scorer. Imagine what he could do if he was always motivated – whoever decides to assign him a personal sports psychologist will have a 40goal a season striker on their hands!
    I’ll probably be at the Millwall game, but am looking to move back to Cardiff in the summer, which should mean more opportunities to get to the games. Not sure I’m convinced a season ticket is a sensible investment right now though!
    All the best and happy Easter
    Matt

  2. Anthony O'Brien says:

    Paul, I agree with Matt – your report really hits the nail on the head. I went to the game yesterday on a supporters, bus and was delighted to be in the company of some real and committed fans, including Howard who was in charge of proceedings and Andrew who talked on the wireless during our return trip. But – and this is a “but” that grieves me to write – the behaviour of some of the Cardiff fans appalled me. In particular the responses and attitude of certain individuals, who spent the whole time hurling abuse at the opposition fans rather than watching the game, made me think of “untermensch” (a word whose historical connotations I’ll leave unexplained). To me the real untermenschen were those posturing vile characters whose hatred of fellow human beings went beyond the obscene.

    Coming with relief back to the actual football yesterday. I felt particularly sorry for Doyle, whose constant movement received no support from the Cardiff midfied. There must be a player somewhere who can pick out an accurate and defence-splitting pass but it seems that we’re more likely to see Elvis Presley than such a player in the Cardiff ranks. I presume that Doyle’s substitution was because he had picked up a slight injury or run out of steam. He didn’t win anything in the air, I admit, even though his colleagues continued to rely on high balls for the most part, but at least he went through the motions of actually challenging the defenders for aerial possession. (The implication of this comment I’ll leave to the reader).

    Incidentally, Paul, your comments on my response to the res-seated “folly” are equally on the nail.

    A final thought for Dai Woosnam: Should we say “Cardiff City is crap” or “Cardiff City are crap”?

    Easter Greetings to all.

  3. rhondda blue says:

    must agree with you about gabbidon paul, why is he been given a slot on the bench if as slade says we are building for next season, baffling, as his constant picking of whitts and gunner in midfield yet again (i have nothing against these players,great on their day) but we have been battered in that position all year and he refuses to change it, what signals does that send out to the likes of the rest of the players on the fringes.we have nothing to play for now and i would like slade to rest whitts and gunner and give some of our up and coming players to play out our season to see if they can cut the mustard, if not let them go. the style of football played this year as been shocking and if slade is at the helm next year, i will be regretting my renewal

  4. Russell says:

    I’m not a Slade knocker ,however I just don’t understand why we don’t blood the youngsters from the bench at least.

    Interestingly I can remember the same criticism being levied at both DJ and Malky ,its something we have lacked over the years investment in our younger talented players.

  5. Dai Woosnam says:

    Thanks Paul for the hard graft and considerable CRAFT that went into your report.

    Sorry AMO but it is nice of you to think of me as a grammarian, but in truth I think that grammar is the slang of prigs.

    I care not a jot about split infinitives or grocers’ apostrophes! In 40 years it will all be gone, methinks. Replaced by the ubiquitous txtspk.

    Matt N makes a good point when he says RS is a “nice chap”.

    Imagine a choice of DJ, MM or RS as a next door neighbour. No contest is there?

  6. Anthony O'Brien says:

    Dai, Thank you for your reply to my hypothetical question, but I wasn’t actually looking for a grammatical exposition, only to underline that, whichever way we look at it, the Cardiff team is/are (both incidentally correct because “team” is a collective noun) currently very poor. The only thing worse than their display yesterday was the behaviour of those Yahoo individuals mentioned above. The fighting fans you mention elsewhere suggest that they also exist in Grimsby. A shame if it all gets out of hand as it habitually did a generation or so ago. By the way, your writings suggest you may well be a grammarian manqué.

  7. Dai Woosnam says:

    Thanks, AMO for your compliment.
    I will go to the barricades to fight for MEANING of words, but I care not whether someone uses “less” or “fewer”.
    However to see a great word like “disinterested” now lost to the tidal wave of the ubiquitous “uninterested”, is very sad.
    And “poseur” lost to the Del Boy brigade who talk of “posers” (and they do not mean compilers of crossword puzzles!)
    And people who use “au fait” when they mean “au courant”.
    Pronunciation does not much bother me …apart from people who cannot pronounce my name the Welsh way, and insist on rhyming it with Fu Manchu.*
    I say it does not bother me, but that is not quite true.
    For when football commentators mention the phrase “coup de grace”, why do they bizarrely say “KOO de GRAH”, instead of saying it the correct French way “Koo de GRASS”?
    Methinks it started in America…but God knows they have a terrible record there. These are the people who called Van Gogh “van GO” !!!

    * Very pleased to see some grainy old footage recently that showed PG Wodehouse pronouncing Bertie’s surname to rhyme with the town of Edward Elgar’s birth.
    Kindest,
    Dai

  8. Dai Woosnam says:

    Just had breakfast on Easter Monday, and it occurs to me Paul, that I did not deal with AMO’s point about the rabble element of Cardiff City fans.
    Apologies, AMO.
    Look, I am well aware that all clubs have their thugs. As AMO says, here in Grimsby on Saturday, there was fighting outside the ground. It flared up just as I drove past a few minutes before kick-off. As I drove on, seven police vehicles flashed past me on their way to the brouhaha, sirens deafening me.
    And the police helicopter was sent up too.
    I thought someone just HAD to have been murdered.
    Not so. No arrests even (as far as I can ascertain).
    Massive overkill.
    But I mention it, because if you can get that sort of thing before a Conference game with an attendance of below 4,000, it follows that it will happen in bigger stadia.
    And as for the yob element at CCS, one can safely say that they are set no example by their supposed betters in the “blue-till-I-die” brigade and the gutless keyboard warriors who comment on articles in WalesOnline.
    All those vile banners and chants re Mr Vincent Tan: the greatest benefactor my team has ever had …or methinks, WILL ever have.
    And the keyboard warriors who never use their own names to write pernicious nonsense about Mr Tan, and thoroughly depress one with their daily mantra of “Slade and Young out!”
    Had Hitler crossed the great North Sea, I have a distinct feeling that many of these would have been collaborators. No moral core: these people want results TODAY.
    But even though I regard some of them as cretins, let nobody doubt that they are skilled in the black arts.
    There is one chap who has dubbed Russell Slade “Coco”, after the clown of that name.
    And it has caught on, and gained wider currency.
    Shameful, really.
    It does not even have the wit of the name they gave him here in Grimsby: Mr Chips. No it was not THAT subtle a joke – it was not a reference to Russell’s schoolteaching past and the movie Goodbye Mr Chips – but at least there was a modicum of wit involved, in that it alluded to the fact that Russell arrived at Blundell Park from The Theatre of Chips, aka The McCain Stadium (demolished and now is a small housing estate!)
    But calling the man a CLOWN is downright offensive… and agressively so.
    Is there any wonder that the yobs feed off the lack of respect that they can feel all around them?
    I want to say a bit about tactics, but I am done for the moment.
    So I will sign off now.
    Kindest,
    Dai.

  9. The other Bob Wilson says:

    As always, thanks for the replies (someone only mentioned to me recently that they are more entertaining than anything I write – I took it he was joking!).
    Just a few quick thoughts on some of the points made;-
    1. Matt, regarding Kenwyne Jones, if he was motivated every week, we’d never have seen him playing for Cardiff – as you imply, he’s got the basic ingredients to be much too good a player for us to stand a chance of signing.
    2. Anthony, I’ve never even begun to understand the attraction of paying £20 of £30 to stare, point and sing abuse at a bunch of people you don’t know from Adam. I remember the FA Cup win against Man City in 1994 when it seemed to me that the majority of people stood around me on the Bob Bank saw virtually nothing of the football from what was probably our most memorable game of that era, because they were too busy indulging in “banter” with the opposing supporters.
    3. Rhondda blue, I’m struggling to say anything that I haven’t said before on the way the Whittingham/Gunnarsson combination have played this season – suffice it to say that unless his new baby has been keeping Gunnar awake to all hours, it’s a nap that they’ll both be there again in the middle of the park this afternoon.
    4. Dai, my earlier use of the word banter is pertinent to some of what you say, because it’s now become a word that I can’t stand as it’s used by those involved to try to legitimise all sorts of boorish behaviour. I’m like you in some ways in that I can be quite easy going about things like punctuation, but, for example, I hate the way people from this country (and I don’t mean just youngsters) say “math” when they mean “maths”, the pronunciation of nuclear as nucular drives me ballistic (see what I did there!) and the recent development of using the term “going forward” (our manager is a particular culprit when it comes to this one) when, more often than not, the word “next” is all that is needed to be said is an example of the type of corporate speak that I always try to avoid.

  10. Anthony O'Brien says:

    Powerful stuff from Dai. And Paul, your articles and comments are always a delight to read – informative, balanced, thought-provoking, interesting, and fair-minded. In fact, I’d go so far as to say your work is unique among all the sites which deal with Cardiff City. Don’t be embarrassed, but it seems to me that you are a gentleman (a word I do not use lightly) with a genuine love for football and a profound depth of knowledge and tolerance to go with it. Like all your readers I’m sure, I genuinely look forward to reading and enjoying your work on this site. We all owe you a depth of gratitude.

  11. Dai Woosnam says:

    I am sure AMO speaks for all of us contributors when he so eloquently said what he just said about your site, Paul.
    And one thing I want you to remember is this: the number of people who read your blog bears NO RELATION to the number of contributors.
    I personally know of 6 fans who regularly read you, but never think of firing off a comment.
    Indeed, I reckon it is not that dissimilar to your role when writing in the Echo. There a myriad people consumed your words, but only a tiny proportion ever responded by taking pen to paper.
    And talking of WalesOnline: you are a big loss to them, as your ability to express yourself stood out against your competition.
    I endorse every word of AMO’s re your blog. It is not just head and shoulders better, it is head, shoulders and TORSO above your competition!
    Long may you prosper…even if we DO disagree on such things as that divine red away strip (gosh, those two Everton lads look like world-beaters in that photo of the goal celebration at Reading!), and the importance of possession statistics.
    Kindest,
    Dai.

  12. The other Bob Wilson says:

    Thanks very much Dai and Anthony, you are too kind – mind you, you might not feel the same way after reading what I said about yesterday’s hiding (it was a hiding in the end, despite the way we played in the first half)!

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