More than one way to skin a cat.

Thankfully, the rain that fell for about ninety per cent of yesterday’s 2-0 home win for Cardiff City over Brentford had stopped by the time I made my quarter of an hour or so post game walk to my car and for nearly all of that time, the phrase “more than one way to skin a cat” kept springing into my mind – as a side issue, if, like me, you were interested in the derivation of that term, you might want to read this.

A few weeks ago, Neil Warnock came up with a nice line about a time when he was interviewed about taking over the manager’s job at Norwich. The Carrow Road club are one of the sides that have tended to have a reputation for playing football “the right way” down the years and so, with a widespread belief throughout the game that his sides do not play in that manner, he was asked about what he thought the reaction would be among their supporters to a team playing the “Warnock way” – our manager’s reply was that, for him, the Warnock way meant winning games.

Whoever the person was who asked the question had a point however. If you are used to your team playing in a certain way because there is almost a tradition that it has to not only win, but do so in what is seen as an attractive manner, then you are in for something of a culture shock if Neil Warnock is appointed manager of your side!

In my time supporting the club, Cardiff City have never been a side with this notion that the game has to be played in a certain manner in that way that club’s like, say, Spurs, West Ham, Everton, Man United and, latterly, Arsenal have – there have been times when some of those teams have played in a more direct manner, but, for example, Sam Allardyce’s relationship with the West Ham fans was always a bit of an uneasy one because the criticism that his side were not playing in the “West Ham way” was never far from the surface.

No, as our manager has often said, he thought that a marriage between himself and Cardiff City could work, because the experiences he had gained in decades worth of visits to this city as an opposing manager had persuaded him that his footballing values and those of the City support as a whole were broadly similar.

I’ve always said that I would prefer us to play in a more possession based manner than we have done since Russell Slade’s time, but, unlike under the management of the man whose Grimsby side have failed to score in six of their last eight matches, I enjoyed the football we played under Warnock last season – I liked the Warnock way in 16/17.

However, I’ve always been something of a football snob and I’ll admit that I’ve been finding it harder to come to terms with the Warnock Way in recent weeks.

Trying to explain why this should be isn’t easy, because, essentially, we are still playing in the same manner as we were last season – that is, getting the ball forward quickly, playing with a couple of fast and direct wingers, basically being powerful and strong, while also showing snatches of invention and slickness in the final third.

I think it might be because last season was, in essence, a relegation scrap and it was great to see us end up escaping the drop pretty comfortably and, at times, doing so with some style.

By contrast, this time around, we have been at or around the top of the table right from the start – with more than a third of the season played, we have to be seriously considered as automatic promotion candidates.

I suppose, to put it bluntly, I’m going to games lately expecting us to play how I believe a top three side should be playing.

This would explain why I was so disappointed when I learned what our team would be yesterday. Bruno Manga at right back has always struck me as a first step down the Pulis route of playing a back four made up entirely of centre halves and, in the absence of Warnock favourite Lee Peltier through suspension, three centrebacks with Callum Paterson and the returning Joe Bennett as proper wing backs seemed to me to be the best way to go.

However, Warnock likes his wingers and, so, with Nathaniel Mendez-Laing missing because of the early injury he sustained at Ashton Gate a fortnight ago, it was a straight swap with Liam Feeney coming in for his first Cardiff start despite him having done little to justify such faith being shown in him since his assist for Danny Ward’s equaliser at Fulham on his debut.

With Aron Gunnarsson only considered to be fit enough to take a place on the bench (he came on for the last twenty five minutes) and the Joe Ralls/Craig Bryson partnership having been overrun in some matches in Gunners’ absence, the return of Loic Damour made sense. However, it did mean that, once again, there was no place for Lee Tomlin, so the theory that he would feature more prominently as soon as his court case was out of the way seems to have been a wrong one.

As our manager said more than once in the build up to the game, Brentford came here as the Championship’s most in form team – they were unbeaten in nine matches and had scored ten times in taking ten points from their previous four away matches.

They are also one of the Championship’s most interesting teams. Instinctively, I’m against the idea of any club disbanding it’s Academy like Brentford did a couple of years ago, but, given what I’ll charitably call the mixed record of the whole Academy experiment over the past fifteen years or so, it’s understandable that clubs will come to doubt it’s effectiveness and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see others follow their lead in the future.

Brentford also don’t compete in the Under 23/Development league any more, preferring to run a “B side” made up of players signed from other clubs on the basis that they will come into the first team when ready. This side play regular games against the Development teams of top clubs in this country while this season also facing sides from teams such as Legia Warsaw, Hertha Berlin, Glasgow Rangers, Atalanta, AC Milan and Inter Milan (both of the Milan sides were beaten, as were Man City, as the Bees second string have won a lot more than they’ve lost so far).

There’s also the widely reported stats based approach to their player recruitment which I would say has to be deemed a success now that it has been operating long enough for such judgments to be made – three successive top half finishes since promotion, with a Play Off place in the first of them, has to be seen as justification for their way of doing things when you consider the size and history of the club.

This season has also seen an endorsement of their B team approach as a sale of three first team stalwarts to Birmingham on transfer deadline day, which looked positively suicidal at the time as Brentford were only kept off the bottom of the table by goal difference, has seen replacements from the second string brought into the squad and the results show that the Bees have been a better side since then.

Based on what I saw of them yesterday, I would enjoy watching Brentford play. While they were a definite build from the back team with keeper Daniel Bentley throwing short balls or kicking medium range passes, rather than downfield boots, to team mates, they also played with a directness which saw them trying to get the ball forward at all times – there was a contrast of styles between the two teams, but not as big a one as might have been expected.

Maybe the most impressive thing about Brentford was that the possession stats showed them dominating by 70/30, despite them not playing as much of the backwards and sideways football you would expect from a team enjoying so much of the ball.

There were two spells in the game that occurred between around the ten to twenty five minute mark of the first half and about the first fifteen minutes of the second half where the match essentially consisted of Neil Etheridge kicking long balls forward which were won by the Brentford defence to allow them to sweep forward for yet another attack. While there was a lot to admire in the visitor’s build up play, it also has to be said that City played almost no meaningful football where one of their outfield players could claim to have the ball fully under control during these periods.

There have been times in some recent home matches (Sheffield Wednesday in particular springs to mind) where City have had similar such spells and, as I mentioned before, they have looked nothing like what I would expect a top three team to look and yet…………

Maybe I, and others who think like me, need to reappraise matters somewhat by stopping looking for things from this manager and group of players which suit our preconceptions of how a side in our position should be playing and taking on board more the departments of the game, and there are quite a few of them, that we are good at.

For example, I’ve seen it said by a lot of messageboard contributors overnight that we defended poorly yesterday – I beg to differ. As it usually is, our last ditch defending was superb, but, more than that, against a side which didn’t play to our centrebacks’ strengths by fielding a big target man, Sean Morrison and Sol Bamba generally coped well against the sort of attacker that I would have thought they least enjoy coming up against.

At full back, Bennett doesn’t get as many opportunities to show what he can do going forward because our manager always wants to play with someone who is specifically in the team to attack down the flanks on either side, but his defending, as exemplified by his clearance off the line from Canos in the second half, has come on a lot in recent months. On the right, I’d still prefer to see Manga used in his “proper” position, but he was good defensively yesterday and, although his crossing left a bit to be desired in the second half, he was able to make a decisive contribution going forward as his driving run and unselfish pass provided Danny Ward with a tap in second goal ten minutes before half time.

It’s always a risk to start praising a goalkeeper too much because it’s the nature of the job that the next absolute howler is not too far away, but, after a spell when it looked like he could struggle with the step up from League One to the Championship. Neil Etheridge has been very consistent in the last couple of months and his handling yesterday in awkward conditions for keepers was exemplary.

Ahead of the back five, that 70/30 possession figure stands against the midfield trio, but they all made their contributions in different ways and I’d nominate Joe Ralls just in front of Etheridge as our man of the match. Ralls’ crisply hit early volley to put us one up after Brentford had failed to deal with a Morrison long throw was the highlight of his afternoon, but, after a few matches lately where his passing slipped from it’s usual levels, he barely wasted a ball yesterday with one fifty yarder down the left hand touchline in the second half being a beauty.

The way Junior Hoilett instantly controlled a high ball in the opening minutes suggested it was going to be one of those days when he is really “on it” and, if his subsequent display, wasn’t up there with some of the ones from earlier in the season, he still showed that there aren’t too many better in his position in the division, while Feeney on the other wing justified his selection to the extent that I’d rate his display as a seven out of ten one.

Ward, as he often does against Brentford apparently, got his goal and turned in another selfless performance of the type which ensures he’ll always have the City fans on his side, while it was good to see his replacement when he went off with ten minutes left, Fred Gounongbe, make a first team return after an absence of nearly a year out with injury and what Neil Warnock described as family problems.

So, despite coming a distant second in the possession stakes, despite having to spend much of the game defending against good opponents, I don’t think there was a weak performance in the City side yesterday and, maybe that takes us to the essence of “the Warnock way” – over the past nine weeks, nine Championship sides of varying abilities had a go at beating Brentford and none of them did, whereas we found a way to do so.

Maybe, “finding a way” is what defines Neil Warnock’s management career? I wonder how many times during those seven promotions of his supporters have said we don’t look like a top of the table team in the same way I’m too inclined to?

Warnock may not always achieve results in the way that the purists might want him to and yesterday’s win offered yet more proof of that, but it’s worth remembering exactly what we did yesterday – we beat the division’s in form team with possibly as many as five members of what our manager would consider his strongest starting eleven missing, not to mention a few more unavailable through reasons of injury and suspension.

Of course, there needs to be be a recognition that the outcome yesterday almost certainly hinged on what happened in a ninety second spell in the first half which began when Etheridge and Morrison showed to someone like me exactly why we don’t try to play out from the back too often as they combined to present Brentford with what should have been a simple equaliser and ended with us going 2-0 up.

I’m sure nearly everyone who has been able to make it this far in my ramblings will have seen Neal Maupay’s amazing miss (it’s about forty five seconds into these highlights for those who haven’t) and I’m still trying to work out what possessed him to put his shot where he did when the opposite half of the goal was completely unguarded – it’s always hard to say these type of things when I’ve seen so many horrendous misses down the years, but I honestly don’t think I’ve seen a worse miss “live” than that.

However, I wonder how many players who have found themselves in a similar position as Sol Bamba did there would have reacted in the same way as he did by sprinting back to cover, despite it looking like being an absolute shoe in that his side were going to concede a goal? My guess is that most would have given it up and then got caught up in all of the finger pointing and recriminations which would have followed such an avoidable goal – was Bamba’s reaction another example of “the Warnock way”, was it more proof that our manager has spent nearly forty years in the job proving that there is more than one way to skin a cat?

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13 Responses to More than one way to skin a cat.

  1. David Howells says:

    Very thoughtful and interesting. Thanks.

    Just one minor thing – “It’s always a risk “ and “because it’s the nature….” are correct because it’s = it is.

    “From it’s usual level” and “disbanding it’s academy” are not because the possessive is “its”


  2. Russell says:

    Thank you Paul great review good to here you made it back to the car in a no rain moment .

    I basically think we did a job and that is currently the Cardiff way,Brenford were tidy in possession bug perhaps lacked a killer touch in front of goal.

    My MOM would go to the keeper in such difficult circumstance weather wise.

    I think Ward is not lightweight for the Zohore role and woukd love to seen Fred on for a good 30 minutes, rather then 10 ,typically a no risk substitute .

    We will be in the hunt come the year ,the question is will Brentford?

  3. Jeff Blight says:

    Another enjoyable write up Paul. I was fearing the worst having seen our lineup and having watched the highlights of Brentford dismantling Leeds in their last outing. I’ve given up second guessing our manager’s team selections but yet again he came up trumps especially with Manga and Damour.

    Our strength in depth is proving invaluable this season although the sooner Laing and Zohore are fit the better, as they give us a cutting edge.

    Would be interested to hear your views on the Wales Manager vacancy.

  4. bja says:

    Good morning Paul – Such a thoughtful article as ever and there is not much I would disagree with except for the rating of Feeney who, in my opinion, would have rated no more than 5/10. I did not think his crossing was particularly clever and his silly challenge that brought a yellow was so unnecessary. He does not have the control of the ball when first received, and this often causes him to lose possession.
    When I first learned the team selected, I had hoped that Paterson would have taken Mendez-Laing place as he is clearly a better defender, and no mug as an attacker. But as I have stated previously in responses to your reviews, what do I know about the mind set of NW.
    Brentford, I believe, were the best visitors to the CCS this season. They kept their shape well with mid-fielders prepared, as you state, to pass the ball forward. I suspect on their journey back to West London they will be in dis-belief that they lost the match, but was that back to their own profligacy, or stout defending? The extraordinary miss of Maupay was the former, but all others the absolute latter. And that is now seven clean sheets in seventeen matches, quite impressive.
    Accepting that our defending is very much one of the plus features of our season, a negative must be the number of fouls we concede. Up to yesterday, we were giving away an average of 13,75 a game, superceded by only ‘Boro and Preston. But against that statistic, we have had more fouls against us then any other team and at a higher average. So when we learn that opponents anticipate a physical game against us, statistics seem to bear that out. I mention this information as it seemed to me that we gave away too many free kicks very close to our penalty area. I am not sure how often we can continue with this practice without being punished.
    I took my wife to the match yesterday for the first time since the opening game of last season which we lost ( QPR I think ). In view of the way yesterday’s events turned out, I regarded her attendance as a very lucky omen, so I may have to take her again. Perhaps a small price to pay!!!
    And now a tough week. Just hope that our injury list is receding and that we will be able to field more of our recognised first eleven, just as we did at the beginning of the season.

  5. The other Bob Wilson says:

    Although the message below appears under my name, it is in fact from regular contributor Anthony O’Brien who, like one or two others, has a problem with getting his messages to appear on here -I don’t think the problem is with him or the others who share the problem, but it’s to do with the WordPress software I use to manage the blog.

    “More than one way to skin a cat” is a perfect way of describing the way in which Cardiff City play. It’s not always pleasant to see, but it’s effective.

    Like Paul, I’m interested in finding out how the phrase originated. Various gruesome suggestions were made in the references he flagged up, but it suddenly struck me that the origin of the phrase could be somewhat different.

    I accept that human beings can be obscenely cruel to other living creatures, including fellow human beings. Just a couple of centuries ago it was common practice to blind birds with a red-hot needle in the belief that this would make them sing more sweetly! Other examples are manifold. As a friend of mine would say, it was PART of the course.

    My point is that “To skin a cat” sounds suspiciously like “to swing a cat” which itself derived from the traditional method of punishment on the limited space of the old fashioned sailing ships. The “cat” was actually the “CAT o’ Nine Tails”. It is PAR for the course that misheard phrases come into our language. For example, we all (including myself) might say that Hoilett runs “hell for leather” when the original phrase was or is the letter “L” for leather. And so on.

    Cardiff’s performance yesterday was also par for the course. The team has a certain way of playing, and perhaps we are asking too much when we long for the cherry on the cake when the “cake” itself is sufficient. It was par for the course that our goalkeeper and a defender would, on one occasion, experience a mix-up, but we should also be delighted to see that keeper and defence performed so heroically and effectively. Midfield and attackers also “worked their socks off”. I hope that Danny Ward’s goal might also become “par for the course” — it was a real “poacher’s goal”, something we have tended to lack for too long. Nevertheless, I feel that Danny Ward would benefit if, on occasions, Cardiff would play him alongside a traditional old-fashioned centre forward. I have often mentioned here and to cynical fellow fans of Cardiff City that we have a good approximation of such a player in Frederic Gounongbe.

    A week ago I recalled the exploits of the very epitome of old fashioned brave and powerful centre forwards. This was Nat Lofthouse. Imagine therefore how pleased I was to discover that Neil Warnock had recently mentioned that very man and suggested that Gounongbe could be like him. This may be somewhat “over the top” but Gounongbe in his brief appearance did show flashes of huge potential yesterday, even though he also seemed at times to be somewhat “off the pace”. This, incidentally, does not refer to his running ability. What I hadn’t realised that he has the long stride and smooth locomotion found in top middle distance runners. If he is not quite “the Lion of Vienna”, as the press called Nat Lofthouse, he has what it takes to be an effective Bluebird. Like a lion, he has the right physical attributes.

    Talking of lions reminds me of what a friend of mine told me many years ago. He and some other teenage boys from Newport went on a visit to Bristol Zoo. In those days, I suppose, you could get closer to the animals than would now be the case. At any rate, they congregated close to the lion’s cage, where the “King of the Beasts” was stretched out in relaxation close to the bars. His testicles were actually on show just inside the cage. One of the boys then leaned over the barrier and sparked up his cigarette lighter just under the creature’s bollocks. The subsequent roar, I suppose, could be heard back in Newport. Was it cruel of me, I wonder, to laugh when I heard this story?

  6. HarryKirtley'sGhost says:

    So then…
    Now it is official.
    Arsenal’s distinguished ex goalkeeper, Bob Wilson, was not one of twins…but one of triplets…!!
    Who would have guessed that our dear AMO was brother number three…?!

    I always think that wonderful though Paul’s fantastic industry is (in giving us the kind of report that other football writers can only DREAM about), AMO’s contribution is invariably the salt and vinegar on Paul’s substantial portion of F&C.

    So I was enthralled by his meanderings down etymological lanes. And particularly struck by his final anecdote. Oh Marriott Edgar…thou shouldst be living at this hour…!!

    Surprised though that AMO did not pounce on Paul’s wonderful “shoe in” (sic) …what a glorious image that presents of a Jimmy Scoular type, getting his boot three laceholes up an opponent’s fundament…!!

    I am too tired to google* it, but I think that “shoo in” comes from horse racing. There is a word that has possibly got into Paul’s subconscious here as he wrote his charming “shoe in”…and that is the word used of thugs wearing Doc Martens, who give some poor victim a “good kicking”…and that is often referred to as a good SHOEING.

    But don’t worry Paul. You are Einstein compared to Chris Wathan…he is still trying to spell the term “a cappella”. He clearly cannot get Fabio Capello out of his head.
    * deliberate lower case…like “hoovering the carpet”.

  7. Barry Cole says:

    Well put Paul and a great option should we wish to skinn that cat. What happened yesterday I would take to the end of the season. Brentford are going to take a lot of points from our adversaries as we head towards may. Make no mistake they are a good team and had that silly mistake by Morrison and the lad put the ball inn the net instead of missing then I think we may have been discussing this in a different light.
    I love making commoarisons with what slade achieved with the players and it’s clear that the effort Fromm this team would never be met by a slade team.
    In regard to the warnock way I can only say that week in week out those players are giving their all and you can’t ask anymore. I will watch very closely over the next few games but I have noticed a few glaring mistakes by our central defenders over the last few weeks and although most have been rectified by good defending it does show that the centre backs are susceptible to a glaring mistake a game.
    Can’t make my mind out about feeney. I just see him as a stop gap and we won’t see anymore of him much passed the 1st Jan.
    One thing about yesterday’s team is that I would never have picked that team to beat Brentford and that’s why NW is manager. Having said that the bench looked very very strong and no matter which way the game would go we had the players on the bench to change the game. I say this on the benefit of hindsight when the open goal was missed it could have been the time to take the midfield
    I love the idea that teams are saying they are worried about playing us because they will know they have been in a game. But …… every so often we turn in an adject performance and these are the ones we have to reduce. Out three losses to teams we should beat on the basis that we have beaten a lot better teams than those.
    Still it’s good to be able to look at a few negatives when we are winning and against a really good football team that maybe will end up in the top six. If that happens then they will have helped us along the way by taking points off some good teams.
    I look forward to tuesdays trip to Barnsley one of my favourite grounds and supporters as this is near a home game for me and I am looking for another positive result with perhaps a slightly different team that should include tomlin, I will wait and see.
    Onwards and upwards

  8. Barry Cole says:

    I curse that iPad it’s still got a mind of its own
    I’ve managed to get ris of the no one problem but new ones appear and it’s difficult to go back in the little box supplied

  9. Clive Rymon says:

    Hi Paul,for me I looked at Brentford and saw a team that wanted to take us on and not “park the bus”unlike Derby and Millwall games where we struggled to score,consequently the game was more open especially when we took the lead.The fact we had quite a few players out also had a baring what I particularly noticed that when they were attacking we never stopped trying to stop the cross or shot,let’s be honest with the amount of possession they had that takes a lot of energy and they were still doing it till the final minutes.

    I thought Ralls had his best game for us,I was surprised that Patterson did not start especially with Laing out but hey Warnock knows best,because I am sure he could of played in the Feeney position as I think he gives more in an attacking sense,as I always say just my opinion and that’s what the game gives us opinions.

    On now to this weeks games two tricky ones on paper but hopefully a good return to set us up for Norwich and let’s hope Jerome does not get his customery goal against us

  10. MIKE HOPE says:

    Like most of our fans I was not enthused when I saw our starting line-up. In fact in a seven a side game I thought our bench could beat the pick of our starting eleven.
    It was hard to believe that we went in at half time leading 2-0.I thought how frustrating it must be to be a Brentford supporter watching your team move the ball skilfully and fluently through the field only to be so in incompetent in both penalty boxes.
    I thought we deserved the win because we were good in those vital areas where Brentford were weak.
    The mix-up between our goalkeeper and centre half (which will make this game famous for its miss of the century candidate ) would surely have made Dai’s ghost rush back to his grave so that he could turn in it!

  11. Stephen Fairhurst says:

    I think the Maupay miss and the save on the line come under ‘Tales of the Unexpected’. As each event unfolded I resigned myself to what I thought would be goals to overturn our well taken lead but they didn’t happen, in fact, the faces in our section were looking so gobsmacked with a look that could only be matched by the Rugby match day being moved to accommodate us! I felt in the second half there was an element of just getting rid of, like youngsters do which of course like for them it just keeps coming back. Perhaps not defending like that is akin to your thought of what you think a top three team should play like and the comment was raised in our area that a better side would have punished us. But as I too walked back to the car in the dry that a win always gives a warmer feeling inside on a cold night than a loss and when you look in the records the score all that’s recorded not how it was achieved. Following on from my left back comment last time we got in a full back but a right back. Is Neil trying to give competition to the person giving competition to the person in the team!

  12. The other Bob Wilson says:

    As always, thanks for the replies. Just a very quick response from me today because I should have started the various jobs I’ve got on this morning already – unfortunately, it appears Ive mislaid my shoos and so Im running late!
    Just to say, a particular thank you to bja for some interesting stats and to Anthony for his lion story! Also, to answer Jeff’s question about the Wales manager job, I’d go for Osian Roberts, while hoping that we don’t try to get Ryan Giggs or Tony Pulis – I see the latter has just been sacked by West Brom and I think he’s at an age where management of an international team might appeal to him, but, for me, the current Wales squad are totally unsuited to his style of football and I’ve never seen any evidence that he would change his approach to accommodate a squad he has inherited.

  13. HarryKirtley'sGhost says:

    Oh dear, just remembered re my contribution above, that the Other Bob Wilson does not refer to the retired Arsenal keeper, but to the retired BLUEBIRDS keeper, who doubtless never forgot that epic semi-final night against SV Hamburg.

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