Much better from City, and Whittingham in particular, as Slade influence shows.

CoymayRussell Slade mentioned more than once in the build up to his first game as Cardiff City manager that, maybe even more than a win, what he wanted from the match with Nottingham Forest was for the unbeaten Midlanders to come off the pitch at the end saying that they had just played the best side they had faced this season so far.

Well, as I write this, I’ve not seen what Stuart Pearce and his players thought of their 2-1 defeat at Cardiff City Stadium yesterday lunchtime, but I suspect they will have been more concerned about their own showing than that of the side they were up against, so I doubt if City’s new boss got his wish.

No matter though, I think Russell Slade, who had never won any of his first matches in charge for the clubs he had managed previously, will be happy enough to savour a great start at Cardiff. I would have thought he will also take heart from the fact that, while we probably weren’t the best side Forest have faced so far, there was a togetherness, purpose and drive in a Cardiff City team which has been missing too often so far this season.

Speaking for myself, it was so good to see a side which gave the impression that they were clear in their minds as to what the plan was and they were prepared to work their hardest to try to ensure that it came to fruition.

It probably helped that, after the often baffling selections and formations of the Solskjaer months, Russell Slade looked to keep things pretty simple. Having revealed himself to be someone who likes to play with two strikers, it wasn’t much of a surprise to see that Slade had opted for a basic 4-4-2 which saw Joe Ralls drafted in at left back to replace Fabio who was suffering with an illness which forced him to drop out during the pre match warm up.

I'm someone who isn't too bothered about what a City manager gets up to on the touch line during games as long as the team respond to him, but I know there are many who disagree with me and they will be pleased to see a more animated presence in the dug out  compared to ouyr previous manager.*

I’m someone who isn’t too bothered about what a City manager gets up to on the touch line during games as long as the team respond to him, but I know there are many who disagree with me and they will be pleased to see a more animated presence in the dug out compared to ouyr previous manager.*

In essence, I believe Russell Slade delivered a side that did what he said it would. There was a clarity of purpose which suggested that the players knew what was expected of them individually and how they fitted into the overall scheme of things.

In saying that, I have to admit that I was concerned how a central midfield of Whittingham and Gunnarsson would fare given our troubles in that area over the first eleven league games of the campaign.

It seems to me that an increasing number of City fans (myself included) are coming to the conclusion that Peter Whittingham cannot be used in central midfield unless you give him two partners in there rather than just one. Therefore I had reservations about how him and Gunnarsson would cope, but, on this occasion at least, my doubts weren’t justified.

That said, I think the way Forest set themselves up played into Whittingham’s hands in the first half in particular. Like City, the visitors used a 4-4-2 system and, like City, they employed two wingers who tended to hug the touch lines as Antonio and the returning Chris Burke for Forest and Noone and Pilkington for us ensured that there was more congestion on the touch lines than normal.

All of this resulted in more space than normal in central areas of the pitch. There was also the time to sometimes take an extra touch for the central midfielders – when that happens, someone like Peter Whittingham comes to the fore.

For me, Whittingham gave what was easily his best performance of the season so far. Whilst not as influential after the break, Whitts was so important to us during our dominant second quarter of the match which began with us scoring the two goals that decided the game.

All of this came after an opening twenty minutes which started pretty evenly, only for the visitors to become the more likely looking scorers thanks mainly to Burke’s ability to turn City defenders inside out on the right hand side of the pitch.

Strangely, it wasn’t makeshift left back Ralls who was struggling against the former City man’s dribbling ability as the two of them weren’t in direction opposition too often, but Whittingham and Pilkington had their embarrassing moments against Burke and they were both skinned by the Scot who then saw his shot cleared off the line as Craig Noone showed the anticipation of a full back to get back and make the block.

Less than a minute later, Forest were picking the ball out of their own net – Whittingham found Gunnarsson who made a lot of ground against a retreating defence, but the attack seemed to have lost momentum when the Iceland captain’s pass was a little behind Adam LeFondre who would have been in on goal otherwise. However, Federico Macheda ran on to the pass and stepped past a couple of defenders before placing the ball expertly past Darlow (who may have been disappointed not to keep the shot out having got a hand to it) for his first league goal for City.

Less than five minutes later, the lead was doubled. Noone enjoyed some luck, but also a lot of persistence in retaining possession out on the right touchline before the ball reached Whittingham who fired low from about twenty two yards past the keeper.

Once again, I wondered about Darlow’s role in all of this as he was beaten on his near post, but, watching the television coverage later, they hinted that Whitts might have fooled the goalkeeper into thinking he was trying for a curler high into the opposite corner of the net, thereby creating the room to hit his daisy cutter into the space Darlow’s step to his right had created –with other players I would have laughed at the suggestion that they could have done this from such a distance, but Whitts definitely has it in his locker to do such things.

This two goal salvo set up a pretty comfortable next hour for City because an off key Forest side never recaptured the attacking threat they were showing in that Burke inspired ten minutes or so.

For about half of that hour, City could justifiably claim that it was their good play that was causing the visitors to be so ineffective and if there was going to be a third goal it looked more likely to come from them (notably when Darlow made a very good save to deny Sean Morrison from point blank range), but a strange thing happened when Macheda made way for Kenwyne Jones because it seemed to me that, his fine goal apart, the Italian had not been that involved in the game and was a natural candidate to be replaced.

However, Macheda must have been doing something because his going off saw City lose their grip on proceedings to some extent as Forest enjoyed more and more possession. I say “enjoyed” there, but that’s not really true because their careless passing and lack of a cutting edge despite their greater share of possession only tended to increase their frustration levels.

Even so, although there still wasn’t much prospect of their lead being reduced, City had definitely lost something compared to what they had provided in the middle third of the match. It would be easy to blame Jones for this because the striker did look more like the virtual passenger he was last season than the pretty effective performer he has been this time around, but I think any criticism of the target man should be tempered by the fact that he played three times in the space of five days for Trinidad and Tobago while away on International duty.

Also, City’s cause was not helped by injuries. Aron Gunnarsson seemed to be carrying a slight knock when he went off to be replaced by Tom Adeyemi and the former Birmingham player enjoyed rotten luck when he picked up what looked like a hamstring strain in making a good tackle seconds after coming on.

Federico Macheda, who, seemingly, impressed Russell Slade in training over the past fortnight, celebrates a classy first Championship goal for Cardiff City.*

Federico Macheda, who, seemingly, impressed Russell Slade in training over the past fortnight, celebrates a classy first Championship goal for Cardiff City.*

Having impressed defensively earlier on, Craig Noone was now asked to fill the problem left back role as Ralls was switched into his more natural central midfield position, but the momentum of the game had changed, in terms of possession and territorial advantage at least, and both players were part of what was now an almost exclusively defensive effort by City.

Like Ralls before him, Noone seemed an obvious target for Forest to attack, but the winger coped well until the eighty eighth minute when the previously anonymous Michail Antonio burst past him and Mats Dæhli (who had come on for Adeyemi) to deliver a goal on a plate for Britt Assombalonga.

Besides making it just one clean sheet in eighteen matches for us, the goal fired up Antonio in particular who delivered a couple of testing crosses and forced the previously under employed David Marshall into a diving save as City endured an uncomfortable four minutes of added time before Forest’s first Championship defeat of the season was confirmed.

It wasn’t perfect by any means, I still have questions about our central midfield in particular when it comes up against teams who play more narrow than Forest did and employ an extra man in the middle of the park. It cannot be denied either that, once again, we looked tired in the closing fifteen to twenty minutes of a game, but the pleasing thing this time was that at least the effort had been put in to justify that tiredness!

So, the best week of 2014 so far for me, in footballing terms at least, comes to an end. There were a couple of great nights for the national team in fantastic atmospheres at Cardiff City Stadium and then City did their bit as well. The first team followed up wins by the Under 18’s (who also drew 0-0 away to a Sheffield Wednesday side who have not conceded a goal in seven games yesterday) and the Under 21’s (5-1 winners over their Forest counterparts at the Vale on Monday afternoon) with a much improved display – a shame that the team’s efforts could not be matched by the singers in the crowd who could only show much enthusiasm when churning out yet another “Scabby Nottingham” chorus, but I suppose you can’t have everything.

* pictures courtesy of

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8 Responses to Much better from City, and Whittingham in particular, as Slade influence shows.

  1. Graham says:

    Yes – what a huge relief to watch a game where all our players looked as if they really wanted to be there .. they worked hard and for each other, and kept going even though obviously tiring in the second half .. for me the greatest pleasure was in seeing Whittingham playing upfield and creatively and making good passes forward and shooting himself .. and I was impressed by the utterly involved touch-line performance by our new manager – throughout he showed he cared and the hugely improved performance by the team must to some extent be due to what he asked for from them. And his enthusiasm spread to the crowd – we didn’t quite match the superb support Wales received last week, but we were miles better than we’ve been lately, because our team gave us something yesterday that we simply had to cheer .. and yes, of course, in South Wales the “UDM” is remembered – nor should we forget ..

  2. Geoff Lewis says:

    Hi Paul,
    Best footballing in a long time from a Cardiff City side, especially in the first half.
    There was more of a shape and commitment and the players seemed to cover each other if mistakes were made.
    Whittingham was back to his old playing style, which made a big difference when we were going forward and attacking their midfield.
    Burke caused us quite a few headaches and unlucky not to score in the first half, thanks to Noone saving on the line. Not to sure why we sold Burke to Birmingham, I always felt he was one to “keep”.
    Early days yet , but hopefully Slade, Scott and his young coaches can turn us around. Ole’s support staff seemed a bit on the old side and did not have that desire that is required in this day of fitness and attitude needed in the game.

  3. The other Bob Wilson says:

    Thank you both for your replies. Graham, I’m not sure what happened with Chris Burke when his contract ran out – did he say he wasn’t interested in signing a new one or did we say we didn’t want to keep him? I suspect it was the former. That was the best he has played so far in his visits back to Cardiff (all of which have seen his side beaten), but he wasn’t in the game too much after we scored. As for the staff Ole bought with him, it was pretty certain they were going to leave if he did – Ole will get all of the stick for what happened in his time as manager, but I wouldn’t say whoever was supposed to be doing the defensive or tactical coaching and fitness training covered themselves in glory either.

    Graham it was better as far as atmosphere goes yesterday, but it was still a long way short of what we saw for the Wales v Bosnia match. I agree that what the Nottinghamshire miners and others did thirty years ago shouldn’t be forgotten. The strike was arguably the defining event in South Wales history in the latter years of the last century so, by all means, remind those supporting Forest of that, but it seemed to me that we only really got the improved atmosphere you talk of when there were songs about the scabs – there have been times this season when the team has not deserved the backing of the crowd, but they did yesterday and I don’t believe they got what they merited.

  4. Dai Woosnam says:

    I saw the game in the delightfully named The Bow Legged With Brass pub in the centre of Halifax. After 30 minutes, I was the only one watching the game from Cardiff…a hundred other pairs of eyes were on the game from The Etihad.
    But like you Paul, I liked what I saw.
    Fitness is still a problem though: they ran out of steam in the last 20 minutes. And I am sure it WAS lack of fitness rather than a lack of concentration.
    And as you say, Antonio who had been outshone by Chris Burke yesterday, suddenly came alive with a vengeance! One could see what an amazing player he is and that last few minutes explained why he seemed to be DJ’s first name on the teamsheet at Hillsborough.
    Re The Owls BTW: you have been proved right Paul in thinking that I was being overly optimistic in thinking they might make the top six! Since I made that suggestion, they have lost most of their games.
    Re Chris Burke: I lamented City not offering him a contract to match Birmingham’s: for he is a fabulous player.
    When I think of the stupidity of the last year or two and money poured down the sink …and yet we could not match Alex McLeish’s Birmingham’s offer.. Burke was big Alex’x first signing following relegation from the EPL.
    Alex had brought him through at Glasgow Rangers and had seen him really show his talent in Old Firm games.
    Talking of the past: I still have not got over City’s unnecessary relegation. I waited HALF A CENTURY the last time I saw them go down from the top flight: I fancy I may have to wait as long again. But fear not Methuselah, I am not going to take your record…even if I am coming up fast on the rails.
    But if only they had not played silly buggers with John Brayford and frozen him out! And I realise that Hudson and Connolly were injured several times during last season, but between them there would usually have been ONE fit to partner Turner. The repeatedly drawn-out-of-position Caulker need never have been bought.
    And just with those changes alone, Cardiff would have stayed up …albeit by a whisker.
    BTW, I see that Steven Caulker is proving to the world that at QPR that he will never make a central defender. But his physique, engine and passing ability will one day make him a fine defensive midfield performer.
    Thanks again for your report, Paul.

  5. Rod Groves says:

    Good Morning all Cardiff City fans ,I have been on holiday with my wife to Spain for 11 days nice hotel nice food great weather but there is always something that goes wrong on holiday ,in this case it was my visit to the sports bar in the hotel were I sat down with cold beers to watch the Blackpool game live on SKY holiday ruined .On wards and upwards we were very good on Saturday in the first half and did ok in the second ,the players showed much more desire to win a football match ,even Whittingham started to put a foot in witch was great to see he is a good player and always will be and deserved his MOM award . Well done to the new manager Russell Slade he got a great win and took Nottingham,Forests unbeaten record off them ,now win at home on Tuesday and get something at Millwall and Cardiff season will be up and running and we as fans can start the healing process after the worst manager in the clubs history mr OLIE GUNNER SOLSKJAER.

  6. The other Bob Wilson says:

    I’m not sure what happened with Burke Dai, I think you are probably right about us not offering him a new contract, but I also seem to remember that the club saying that neither player had shown any interest in negotiating new deals when they confirmed they would be letting them both go.

    What success Antonio enjoyed on Saturday only when he switched away from John Brayford’s side of the pitch, I’ve not seen anything yet which tells me Brayford would have been worse than the right backs we used in the Premier League – I’m still not convinced he was left out last year for footballing reasons. As for Steven Caulker, I’ve seen quite a bit of QPR this season and, to be honest, they look a worse team than we did at that level most of the time, but he’s been far and away their best central defender on what I’ve seen (Dunne and Ferdinand are on their last legs).

    I think you are kidding yourself if you think we would have stayed up with two out of Hudson, Turner and Connolly playing centreback – under Ole in particular we had problems all over the pitch and he and his coaching staff were pretty clueless in terms of defensive coaching. Ben Turner’s game went backwards under Ole, Hudson struggled when he got a chance and, although I like Connolly, his career so far shows him to be someone who doesn’t quite have what it takes to succeed in the Premier League.

    Rod, welcome back and I hope you enjoyed your holiday. I wouldn’t be quite so critical of Ole, but I suppose when you take into account the resources, both playing and financial, he had to work with, maybe you have got a point – I wouldn’t be surprised at all if history judges Ole to be one of our worst ever managers.

  7. Dai Woosnam says:

    Dear Rod, I share your opinion of Ole’s staggering incompetence, but think I know of a Cardiff City manager who was even worse.
    I refer to Mr. Alan Durban.
    What made his failure so surprising was his clear intelligence and ability to express himself before the media. I would have put my house on him being a winner.
    And like Ole, he had one vital ingredient that one might have thought would bring him success: I refer to both men having played under the best manager of their day.
    Alas Cloughie and Fergie’s know-how did not rub off on either.

  8. The other Bob Wilson says:

    I fire off the name Alan Durban as soon as I’m asked about the worst City manager I’ve seen Dai, but I suppose that when you consider the financial resources Ole had to work with (only Malky Mackay had a bigger budget than him even if you factor in the players who left during the summer), then maybe Rod has a point – I see Adam LeFondre is accusing Ole of over complicating things this morning

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