Yesterday morning I posted on a City messageboard that our title win combined with recent Cup and Play Off Final appearances meant that City had lost my nomination as the biggest under achievers in all four divisions and I chose Tottenham Hotspur as the new owners of that unwanted award. Now it needs to be said that I applied particular criteria, which I won’t go into here, to my analysis and that those who argued the case of Newcastle United not Spurs gave me plenty of food for thought, but I stuck with my original choice.
The point in mentioning this is that, based on yesterday’s 1-0 win for Spurs at Cardiff City Stadium, they stand a chance of losing my nomination, justified or not, come May because they could have won a first league title since the one they won at a time when we were last in the old First Division (that’s all you need to know about how long ago it was!). Spurs were very impressive – certainly the best team we have met so far. However, I still believe that Michael Dawson can be got at and that their full backs are nowhere near as impressive if you can get them heading in the opposite direction to the one they normally go in – as City, and seven other sides, have found this season though getting in a position to exploit these possible weaknesses is far easier said than done.
That’s enough about Spurs though, there’s a plethora of online stuff out there if you want to read about yesterday’s game from their point of view – I’m here to try to redress the balance a little. So, how did our cruel defeat look from this Cardiff fan’s perspective? Well, it certainly was a cruel defeat, but the use of the word “cruel” is only justified really by the timing of the winning goal. If Paulinho had scored the decisive goal in, say, the fifty sixth minute, I don’t believe anyone would be applying that adjective to our defeat.
Actually, that’s not true, whenever the goal was scored, it was cruel on David Marshall that he should finish on the losing side. After being put under some pressure by Joe Lewis’ display at Hull last week, the recalled goalkeeper responded with a string of fine saves. There were too many of them to list here and the measure of how good our keeper was is that I’ve heard and read a few few comments from supporters in the last twelve hours or so saying that Marshall’s display was the finest they had seen from a Cardiff City goalkeeper – I’m certainly struggling to think of a better one that I’ve watched in the last fifty years.
The timing of the goal was certainly tough on Marshall’s team mates who, once again in a home game, had put in a tremendous shift, both individually and collectively, over the previous ninety three minutes. I find it hard to be critical of any of them because they are all giving so much to the cause, but in this most unforgiving of leagues, there are a few amongst our ranks who are finding the adjustment from the Championship a tough one (in some aspects of the game at least). There are one or two other examples of what I mean, but I’m thinking in particular here about the art of finishing.
The game against Everton three weeks ago was quite similar to yesterday’s, we spent most of the time under the cosh and yet on the limited occasions when we attacked we created some great chances – one for Craig Bellamy in particular springs to mind. while last week at Hull we hardly peppered their goal, but Gary Medel’ s poor first touch robbed him of a great chance presented by Peter Whittingham’s fine pass.
There were two other real chances at Hull and they both fell to the players who were culpable yesterday. Ridiculous as it may seem when you look at the balance of play, I thought we might well have had the two best scoring opportunities of yesterday’s game. At Hull, Fraizer Campbell was another one to show a poor first touch after Whittingham had picked him out in a dangerous position and, although Hugo Lloris may or may not have handled the ball outside the penalty area yesterday when Campbell was put clean through on six minutes by Kyle Naughton’s poor back pass, I thought Malky Mackay was right to say that say that whether the keeper should have seen red or not was immaterial in a way – his player should have just put what was a pretty simple chance for a Premier League striker away.
Aron Gunnarsson’s habit of arriving in the penalty area late can be an important attacking plus point for us this season. However, after netting with the easiest of the three chances this trait has earned for him so far against Man City, his wayward header when unmarked at the K.C. Stadium and yesterday’s wild blaze over the bar when in glorious isolation in a central position ten yards out as the match went into it’s final ten minutes emphasises the need for more incisive finishing than we are seeing at the moment.
When a team is playing as defensively as we have been doing in home games so far, you just cannot afford to be so profligate with the few chances you create. Actually, for a side that spends so much time inside it’s own half and is criticised for lacking pace, we have shown an ability to break quickly and incisively when given the opportunity, but a total of ten efforts on target in five games tells it’s own story (especially when you consider that six of them came in one game).
So, do those figures tell you that we are using the wrong tactics, at home especially, by sitting back and allow sides on to us. I don’t think they do – a total of forty one efforts at goal in our league matches so far, is not brilliant, but it’s not too bad at all really, the problem is getting enough of them on target. The aftermath of the Manchester City win was notable for the number of people (myself included) who praised Malky for getting his tactics right. Since then we’ve played two more home games and have, essentially, played in the same way by sitting deep, allowing the opposition on to us and then trying to get support up to our lone striker, but it’s only taken one defeat for people to start saying we should be “having a go” at these teams.
I reckon that would be committing footballing suicide, but I will say that it will be interesting how we go about things in our next home match. Newcastle have the talent to pin us back for long periods like the three sides who we’ve faced at home have done so far (all of whom finished in the top six last season and find themselves in the same situation this time around), but they also give you a chance and I’d say that this is our first home match where we could, conceivably, “have a go” at our opponents. I’m not expecting us start piling men forward from the start, but I’d like to think that we will be showing the Geordies a bit less respect than we, rightly, showed Man City, Everton and Spurs.
Finally, although Marshall was an obvious man of the match, there were quite a few good individual performances within the team. Both centrebacks did well, Kimbo frightened Spurs every time he got the chance to run at them, Gary Medel showed himself to be an organiser (despite his very limited English) as well as fine defensive midfield player, Peter Odemwingie livened us up when he came on for his City debut and I liked the look of Kevin Theophile-Catherine at right back. He started off with a good run which was reminiscent of the one where he laid on that chance for Gunnarsson at Hull, but he had few opportunities after that to get forward and it was more through his solid and unfussy defensive work that he impressed – especially in the second half when I thought both of our full backs didn’t get the level of support they should have had from the midfield players in front of them.
* pictures courtesy of http://www.walesonline.co.uk/