More late frustration for limping over line City.

There’s not been many City games that I’ve left the ground angry at under this manager – Wigan maybe, Norwich possibly, but I was after yesterday’s 1-1 draw with Birmingham. I was angry at our general performance, but, more particularly, how we let opponents who had generally been second best for about eighty per cent of the game to get on top in the last fifteen minutes.

I was angry about our attacking play for the majority of the game, at the lack of substitutions, the way we avoided using the flanks and, of course, yet another late goal conceded which had cost us points.

Most of all though, I was angry at how an opportunity to entice supporters back to Cardiff City Stadium had been wasted. Credit to the club for another end of season deal aimed at boosting attendances, but you have to think that if waverers were not tempted back by last season’s free tickets for the last four home games offer, they are unlikely to be by one of tickets for a fiver like we had yesterday.

Last season, over 28,000 turned up to watch a good 2-1 win over promotion chasing Derby in early April in the first of the free admission matches. The response yesterday wasn’t as dramatic, but a crowd of 20,334 (which looked a bit bigger than that to me – my guess was about 22,000) is not to be sneezed at and yet how many of them will have been tempted to invest in a season ticket on yesterday’s evidence? Not many I would have thought.

Subsequent events made me adjust my opinion to some degree. However, I still feel disappointed that yesterday’s game had a flat, end of season feel to it and there’s a frustration that, for the third time in a row (fourth actually, when you consider we were leading against Fulham going into the last twenty minutes), we blew an opportunity to get to, or near as damnit to, the fifty point mark which should be enough to banish any thoughts that  a late collapse could see us plunging down the table again.

The fine run of results through January and February is not being maintained in March and, having edged into the top half of the table, we appear to be heading back towards the fourteenth to seventeenth range which I suppose is a fairer reflection of where we deserve to be when considering our level of performance as a whole so far this season.

However having heard what Neil Warnock had to say in his post match press conference yesterday, I feel more sympathetic towards him and his players. Apparently, there has been a bug doing the rounds at the club – we knew about Aron Gunnarsson being not quite right in the last week as he was forced to miss the Blackburn game, but Kadeem Harris’ strange looking absence from the action until after Birmingham’s equaliser was explained by him being another illness victim and there was some talk that Craig Noone (who was on the bench, but did not get on) was another sufferer.

Probably more unsettling for a squad which is certainly on the small side after a January transfer window where the main object of the exercise appeared to be to get as many players as possible out on loan has been the amount of injuries they’ve been suffering.

There’s good news in that Bruno Manga’s injury picked up in the African Nations Cup is not the season ender that it was originally thought to be, so, with him now back in training, he may be available soon.

However, there’s no chance of Lee Peltier and Rhys Healey playing any time soon, Matt Connolly was missing again yesterday, Rickie Lambert is only available very rarely these days, Greg Halford talked a few days about a potentially career threatening injury that he is still not over yet (he says he is only operating at something like 70/75 per cent fitness levels at the moment) and Fred Gounongbe appears to have vanished off the face of the earth!

Others such as Jazz Richards (very good again yesterday), Joe Bennett and Anthony Pilkington have missed chunks of the season and so it was little wonder to hear Warnock express concern at the number of muscle injuries his squad seem to be prone to – the manager hinted that it was something which would be looked into in the coming weeks.

Under the circumstances, Neil Warnock’s comment after the game that his team would “limp over the line” this season seems to be true in terms of how far we are going to finish behind those at the head of the field and there’s also a factual element to it as well as we appear to be having to use players who wouldn’t be risked in bigger squads because of injury concerns (e,g Halford).

Would we have been able to have kept on pushing on towards that always very unlikely top six finish which some were beginning to talk about after the 5-0 win over Rotherham three weeks ago with a clean bill of health though?

My own answer to that question is no for a couple of reasons. First, operating with similarly sized squads ten years or so ago always tended to see us succumb to tiredness in the last month or two of a forty six game campaign and I don’t see why that should be any different this time.

The second reason for me thinking we may have seen similar results in our last four games even if we had more senior players fit is that we aren’t as good as we looked at times during the winter months. So many sides at this level have pretty long spells where they never look like losing and then others where it’s hard to see where their next point is coming from, before they eventually have to settle for a place in that mid table league where about ten sides who never convinced their fans that they were genuine promotion contenders or had them worrying that too much about being realistic bottom three finishers fight for the honour of finishing ninth or tenth.

After a first half of the season for Joe Ralls that was something of a struggle, he’s playing much better now as he has the best goalscoring season of his career. Three penalties definitely help with that, but , nothing personal Joe, I”m not sure I want to see you taking too many more! Of the three he has taken and scored from, the one under most pressure at Derby has been his most impressive, whereas, although I’d never blame a keeper for not saving a penalty, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Ali El- Habsi of Reading and Tomasz Kuszczak yesterday were thinking “I should have saved that” as they were retrieving the ball from the back of the net – it’s hard not to think that a spot kick miss is coming soon from Ralls.*

Of course, it reflects very well on Neil Warnock, his coaching team and the players that for most fans there was that fear about us being realistic bottom three finishers for half of this season at least and yet they had us thinking for a while that they might be too good for the “also rans” league which the sides who occupy that area around the middle third of the table compete for.

In my case, I put our improvement which, essentially, took place from November to the end of for February down to the introduction of attacking players who enabled us to play at a tempo not reached by a City side for half a decade or more. Suddenly, I was beginning to observe how some opposing defences had been unable to cope with our attacking pace.

The signing of Junior Hoilett played a big part in this process, while, recently, Craig Noone had played his part in us becoming more of an attacking force in this league. However, it has been the emergence of two players who were here long before Warnock arrived in Kenneth Zohore and Kadeem Harris that was the biggest factor in this process.

Three months ago, the notion that Neil Warnock would be using the words “we missed Kadeem really” as he tried to explain away what he saw as a lack of “that little bit of zip around the box” would have been laughed at by some, but it was true about yesterday where, for most of the time, our attacking play was akin to the slower stuff we’d become used to since our relegation in 2013.

Anthony Pilkington has attracted some stick on the messageboards after the game. I think Pilks is a good footballer who can be clever with his passing and movement on the edge of the opposing penalty area, but there’s no doubt that Warnock was right to mention our lack of that little bit of attacking zip that we were becoming used in recent months and the fact that it was Pilkington there, rather than Harris, had something to do with this.

That said, for me, Hoilett had one of those games that he is prone to now and again when hardly anything he tries comes off. He was very effective in a more central attacking role against Huddersfield in November, but it didn’t work against Birmingham and he only improved when he moved out to his, more normal, wide position.

When Kenneth Zohore (who was called into the Danish Under 21 squad last week) started off on that run which led to his great goal against Preston, Neil Warnock has said that his Assistant Manager Kevin Blackwell said he was a “greedy ……….” and once or twice I found myself thinking much the same yesterday.

Over the last few months, I’ve been made to feel proud about Zohore’s progress because I stuck with him when so many others had given up on him, but, yesterday he looked at times like that very raw looking performer of last season who mixed up the odd bit of attention grabbing ability with a lot of wrong options taken and general naivety in and around the penalty area.

Maybe it was a case of the very big workload that has been placed on him in the last few weeks catching up with him, but, in contrast to recent matches where Zohore has been a seven, eight or nine out of ten performer for City, I thought he only merited a six, at best, yesterday.

In other positions, I’d like to think that those who were suggesting Allan McGregor could have kept out the equaliser will get to see a video of it and accept he had no chance with it. Lukas Jutkiewicz should really have buried his header, but instead, it hit McGregor, hit Jutkiewicz on his shin and rolled into the net. The City keeper made a couple of good saves in either half from Craig Gardner and remains a reassuring presence at the back.

I’ve already mentioned Jazz Richards who besides making a great last ditch block on  Jutkiewicz also got forward as much as I’ve seen him do for City – Birmimgham’s three man central defence and their wing backs were partially responsible for this, but it also was probably a sign of his confidence these days. Joe Bennett did pretty well also, while Sol Bamba turned in a typically solid performance, as did Sean Morrison who also won our penalty.

So, pretty good at the back, and, with them playing a part in us actually having more of the ball (52/48) than our opponents, the midfield did okay as well. Gunnarsson was not quite his usual self for this season and Halford kept things simple, but Joe Ralls has really stepped up to the plate in recent weeks and was one of my two Man of the Match candidates – Richards just shaded it for me though.

Was the extra applause that greeted Peter Whittingham’s introduction and much longer and louder clapping that he received as he came over to take a corner in my part of the ground perhaps an indication that many feel this great servant of the club is not going to be with us much longer? Maybe it is and, sadly, I have to say that Whitts did little get City to think of maybe upping the contract offer already on the table – there were the usual delightful touches now and again, but we didn’t improve as an attacking threat with Whitts on instead of Halford – indeed, we probably did less going forward after the substitution.

There was a moment very late on when a few Birmingham players rounded on Harris after they, presumably, took offence about the way the ball was returned to them after one of their players had been treated for cramp, but generally this was a “nice” end of season encounter between two teams who knew they were not going up and were very unlikely to go down – I hope we don’t get too many more of them between now and 7 May!

*picture courtesy of http://www.walesonline.co.uk/

 

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10 Responses to More late frustration for limping over line City.

  1. Matt N says:

    Thanks Paul, I left the ground feeling much the way you did and made some comment to my dad about the players already having their flipflops on, but a bug would explain such a dull-edged performance. I thought Whittinghams introduction brought the standard down when it should have made our passing game that much better and I actually thought our defence looked a bit out of sorts, particularly Bambas touch and some of Bennetts decision making early on. The highlight for me though was from your man of the match – Richards’ touch on that ball which came down from the heavens was Berbatov-esque. Little things please little minds I suppose! The lowlight would be in the last five or so minutes, a minute before the equaliser, when Zohore stood watching as Birmingham players passed the ball between each other about 5 yards away. When your team is coming under pressure you need any opportunity to ease the situation and edge up the pitch – I’d put it down to inexperience, and I guess the last couple of months have put credit in his karma bank, but I can’t imagine his teammates thought much of his attitude at that moment.
    So, maybe we are approaching something of a winddown. But with nothing really to play for/worry about now I hope that some of the interesting names which are starting to appear on the bench of late get the odd run out – Meite and Harris (M) are the names which spring to mind.
    All the best

  2. Russell says:

    Thanks Paul, your first three paragraphs some upped perfectly this awful game.

    I’ve used the term limping to the end of the season a few times recently in posts , due to the physiological fact of being relatively safe from relegation and the thankful avoidance of the embarrassing outcome of sneaking into the play offs,with a half cooked squad . In my opinion the urgencies in the players game have slightly wained , and probably taken its toll since January .

    I agree with that yesterday the defence played well with Richards upping his game again, Bennett though did get caught out of position, all in though ,it’s a capabke back four to set out as a backup bone for next year, minus the keeper who allegedly we can’t afford to sign permanently, which is a pity as he’s decent.

    To be fair to Birmingham they set up not to lose , and carrolled our attackers very well, as soon as they spotted we had no width in our play .

    I don’t buy the Warnock illness excuse that so many managers use for a botched efforts ,we had Noone,John,Harris,all able to come on and change a dreadful tatical line up, that looked like we were playing a top 6 club away from home .

    A better verbal response from NW to our recent decline in performances would be to say “”"” it’s been a tough month on the road , after a great run of performances and results against good sides , that has seen us into a safety zone, and the players are feeling that now “”"

    Perhaps the club should extend the five pound offer to next week as it will be a low crowd after this dismal display , with rugger hunger returning to once afain effet the mind set of some.

    Finally , I think Whittingham does need to move on or, reduce his wage massively, he never had great pace ,or tenacity and as he gets older that weakness is becomming more obvious , however he is a true City legend , whom I genuinely thank for some great moments over the years .

  3. Anthony O'Brien says:

    Conceding a late goal — too often to be coincidence? Why? Perhaps due to an erosion of stamina towards the end of the match; psychological reasons such as a lack of mental toughness, or complacency because everyone and his dog seem to think we are safe for this season; a breakdown in communication and/or organisation; panic inside our own half which leads to the ball being “hoofed” anywhere upfield; a centre-forward not receiving support when he does manage to get the ball at his feet, or on the other hand not being able to produce much in terms of hold-up play; goal chances squandered; and so on. Perhaps a combination of all these factors, and doubtless more I haven’t thought of. But they all point to a corrosive shortfall in real skill, an ability to control the ball and use it productively, even under pressure. As I’ve asked before — are deficiencies in ball control due to natural deficiencies in the players themselves, or are they due to black holes in their training regime? I wish I knew.

    On another tack, it was great to see so many at the ground yesterday. It came as a surprise to me because I had not seen the £5 carrot advertised anywhere. Clearly my own fault, but also a word to the wise on the advertising front. And, yes, it was a great opportunity missed to maintain the rise in numbers for the rest of this season and beyond. There are some good signs of the team’s progress, but an all out attack and plenty of excitement would have been wonderful to see, even if practical good sense means it was unlikely to happen. Perhaps there will be another opportunity next Saturday. We can all hope!

  4. Colin Phillips says:

    Another accurate assessment of our situation, Paul, thanks. This following last week’s prescient effort reflects well on your thinking.

    I found yesterday’s game very disappointing and if I remember correctly we put up the same sort of performance as when there last were five pound tickets on offer. At a time when we needed to play attractive football we failed dismally.

    The team selection didn’t seem right, we have played our best stuff when we have had two wide players. Birmingham were not very good but we didn’t really threaten too much in the first half and I was wondering where a goal was going to come from.

    I thought Warnock would have changed the shape at half-time and bring Kareem on for Halford, needless to say I was horrified when Whittingham replaced the injured Halford.

    The game deteriorated even more after that change but I was settling for a scruffy win and three points. Wasn’t to be, was it!

    Excellent performance by Jazz and deserved ‘Man of the Match’ for getting back and closing down their striker that time. Thought Bamba was sound again – so why do we always (almost) concede late???

  5. BJA says:

    Paul, once again spot on Just when I thought we could possibly be returning to the top half of the table, our nervous nineties took hold and we only ended up with a third of the points I think we deserved, albeit with a low key performance. And if Brentford win their game in hand mid-week, we will drop down another place..
    As is my custom, I wait for just about everyone to leave the stand before I make my way to the exits and try to get a feel for supporters’ reactions as to what they had witnessed over the 90 minutes. It seemed to me that there was a surprising acceptance as to what had happened late in the game, obvious disappointment but with seemingly no criticism towards the team. So it would appear that as we are now accustomed to our capitulations in the final minutes, but did not lose, supporters are leaving in a reasonable state of mind. Yesterday, however. that was not my frame of mind. Paul, you mention anger, and that too was my reaction. I just fail to understand why our coaching staff are unable to appreciate that with just a one goal advantage, and overall possession roughly even, opponents will press much more late on in the search of an equaliser. So it becomes vital for ball retention. But our defensive members persist in clearances that inevitably yield possession immediately to the opposition. Somehow the shape of the team goes awry. As a consequence, we are more vulnerable and we know what happens then!!! Why NW and his bunch cannot sort out these deficiencies is a bother. Twice in five days we have given up four points, but over the season to date, goodness knows how many – well into double figures I imagine.And with Ipswich calling next week and equalising in the ninetieth minute yesterday, be prepared.
    Yesterday’s selection seemed a little odd. Surely if players are feeling off colour, they should not be considered. That being the case, why did Kadeem arrive on the scene in added time. Strange. And sadly, for me neither Pilks nor Whitts gave performances that indicated they will be in NW’s mind for next season.
    A rather sad day all in all.

  6. Geoff Lewis says:

    Hi Paul,
    Spot on again with your review of yesterday’s game. It was a big disappointment for every one. The first half, both teams were lethargic and just going through the motions, not really interested or concerned that there was a good crowd there to hopefully witness a good game of football on a pleasant day( weather wise).
    With the penalty, I thought the goalkeeper had almost saved it. I think if we get another penalty, Ralls may screw it up.
    Team effort Ralls, Richards, Bennet, Morrison and Bamba fairly good, others okay to poor.
    It was on the cards that in the last 10/15 minutes, as we fell deeper into our own half they would equalise or even win it!
    On the way into the stadium met Matt Connolly, I said you are still injured then? He replied he should be okay for next Saturday and then said “Enjoy the game”!
    Well that put the dreaded curse on it!
    Geoff

  7. Barry Cole says:

    Spot on Paul with your reflections on yesterday. So my report from the north face of the eiger is down to two things. I managed to listen to Cardiff city player in sunny Bernese Oberland and what followed is much the same as Tuesday. This time though we should have won easy unlike Blackburn. I am not going to chastise NW as I think he has a problem with the health of the team . Nothing that an international week and more will not put straight. What wont be put straight is that for the last three years we have been lacking a good goalscorer and a midfielder capable of creating chances on a regular basis. I would hope that NW has that in hand because without those we will still be devoid of killing games off.
    Secondly, After brum scored I was ready to make the leap of faith over the hotel balcony when in front of me came the red Bayern Munich coach and players. My wife had had enough by this time and expecting me ready shouted what time is it. You all knew that answer ten two I shouted back but she wasn’t listening she had had enough of the game as I had. Roll on next time onwards and I hope upwards.

  8. The other Bob Wilson says:

    Morning everyone. I’m glad it wasn’t just me who left Saturday’s game feeling disappointed and a little let down – I think regular supporters have come to expect better than that from Neil Warnock and his team over the past four or five months. Matt, I sometimes look at some of the things the pros do and think “I could have done that on a good day”, but controlling a ball coming from such a great height like Richards did? No chance! You also capture very succinctly why Zohore’s performance was a little bit of a let down to me – to be fair, he has been asked to do an awful lot of very hard work over the past months and so it would be wrong to be too critical of him, but there did seem to be a little bit of someone resting on their laurels after so much praise involved.
    I tend to agree with you about the substitutions Russell – there’s been plenty of talk about finding out about certain players over the coming weeks, but just one change, made in added time, hardly suggests that sort of attitude, indeed, it makes you think our manager has already made up his mind on some of them and, if that is the case, why have them on the bench at all?
    Anthony, I’ve heard it said by someone (possibly Matt Connolly?) that the difference between this squad and the one that won the league is down to attitude and leadership – apparently, players such as Bellamy, Helguson, Hudson etc. were very influential on and off the pitch. The person who said that was of the opinion that, if anything, the current squad is better technically than that one – can’t see it myself and, I tend to agree with you, I’d say the majority of sides we play in this league are more technically proficient than us.
    Colin, as alluded to by Matt, I think Saturday’s late goal conceded can be partly put down to people who play upfield taking wrong options and not working as hard as they normally do when we are a goal up. However, it’s also true to say that our defence and midfield had resorted to boot it anywhere mode which allowed Birmingham to start believing they could get something out of the game – going back to that promotion squad, I used to think it was game over if we scored first in what had been a tight game, because the belief in that side usually allowed no way back for our opponents who became more and more desperate as the minutes passed – unfortunately, it’s us who tend to get desperate when there’s a 1-0 or 2-1 lead to defend late on.
    BJA, the above covers much of what you said, but I will say that one of the reasons why I thought I might have been over critical in my reaction to the game was that so few of the people I walked out from the game alongside seemed not too bothered at all by what had happened. As for Ipswich, they’ve drawn their last six, so a repeat of the Birmingham game does seem on the cards doesn’t it.
    Geoff, with Manga and Connolly coming back to fitness, Warnock mentioned that he needs to see Bamba in that defensive midfield role that he filled against Villa. At the moment, Richards has to be our number once choice full back, but I can see Connolly coming back in for Bennett – we were very solid playing that system against Villa and a back four of Connolly, Manga, Morrison and Richards, with McGregor behind them and Bamba just in front of them looks a strong defence by the standards of this league to me, but would they be able to hold on to a one goal lead in the last few minutes – our problem seems more psychological than physical.
    Nice line about ten to Barry – hope you enjoy your trip to Switzerland!

  9. Lindsay Davies says:

    Thanks Paul, and you other MAYANS. I wasn’t there, so I only feel competent to address the PRINCIPLE of things. Am I alone in thinking it’s inexcusable that professional sportspeople can hide behind “there’s nothing left to play for” at any time, let alone in early-March? Are we all expected to wait until they give a damn again? Quite apart from the fact they are PAID to give of their best at all times (and, I’m genuinely not one for quibbling at footballers’ pay), what’s all that intense pre-season about? The weekly training and coaching, putting on that kit, striding out in front of 15-20,000 potentially adoring fans? What’s this about Zohore being tired, poor lamb? Doesn’t he want to be employed, made demands of, have expectations and praise heaped upon him? God knows, over the past three or so seasons, haven’t we had enough dire, dull, dreary, half-baked football, without now finding an excuse for it – admittedly, with some truly great stuff interspersed in amongst it. We should, at all times be demanding of these guys, within reason and politesse.

  10. The other Bob Wilson says:

    Morning Lindsay. I agree that we should be demanding of the players and that went to the heart of why I came out of the game on Saturday feeling let down. However, my mind goes back to this time of year in one of the various jobs I did while in the Civil Service. In this job, the end of the financial year was a busy time where the tasks we had to became a lot more target orientated that they normally were because a lot of work had to be done in a short amount of time. Thankfully we always hit the target we had been set, but I know in my case that, having worked hard to achieve something important, my work tended to become more slapdash when things returned to “normal” – I started making mistakes that I didn’t make when the pressure was on. Therefore, with us now being virtually safe from going down, I can fully understand a loss of some of the intensity which was there in the first two months of 2017. I think it’s human nature for some of us at least to experience a falling away from normal standards when a target has been attained and, to that extent, I can sympathise with the side, but I agree that ten games to go is too early to be thinking about the beach and will hope to see an improvement in attitude from some on Saturday.

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