Not great, but grounds for optimism in City’s opening day draw.

CoymayI’m pretty certain I’ve mused about how your perception of results and games is affected by where your team is playing before on here. If City’s season opening game with Fulham had taken place at Craven Cottage, then a 1-1 draw gained through a superb goal in the last five minutes would have been greeted in a positive manner, but because it happened at Cardiff City Stadium it’s perceived as two points dropped and I know I felt somewhat downbeat as I left the ground.
Further reflection though has me believing that, this time at least, that’s not a fair reaction. Yes, there were areas for concern and I was particularly disappointed by the way we just seemed to run out of steam after our goal, but overall, we played a whole lot better in drawing against Fulham yesterday than we did in beating the same opposition in the back to blue match in January.
Back then we were in the middle of that awful period where we were making the most notorious long ball teams from twenty and thirty years ago look sophisticated and, to be frank, we wouldn’t have needed to have played too well to beat the set piece orientated stuff that made it impossible for many, including myself, to enjoy even our victories at that time.
So, really, me saying we were better than when we beat Fulham last time we played them is just to damn the team with faint praise – on yesterday’s showing, City deserve better than that, so let’s also say that, in terms of trying to play a pleasing brand of football, I’ve not seen too many more enjoyable showings from the team in the two years since we beat Manchester City.
It was almost a very good performance from City and but for a blunder by the unfortunate Simon Moore, I believe they would have got the win that I think they probably deserved. Moore had not been convincing in the first half as giant visiting striker Matt Smith nodded against a post, but his luck didn’t hold two minutes after the break when he spilled a Ben Pringle cross and Smith put away a simple chance.
It must be said therefore that goalkeeper is one area of the pitch where there has to be concern while David Marshall’s situation at Cardiff remains so uncertain (there have been recent suggestions that West Brom’s interest in him may have cooled somewhat).
In the middle of the park, the comment Peter Whittingham could have done more is one that has been heard and read plenty of times in the last few years – with his passing unusually going awry at times, Whittingham was the least effective of a City midfield quartet which, as a unit, was more convincing than it was through much of last season.
Out on the right, Anthony Pilkington played as well as he has ever done in a City shirt in the first half in particular and was unlucky when some fine control a matter of seconds before Fulham’s goal earned himself a shooting chance that saw his effort deflected on to the crossbar. Joe Ralls continues to look at home at this level and, after an early incident where he looked slow and lacking fitness as an opponent burst past him, Kagisho Dikgacoi brought solidity and a surprising eye for a pass (his early ball inside the Fulham left back was the best of the game from a City player for me) to proceedings.

Goalkeeper Andy Lonergan was  arguably Fulham's man of the match, but he is no more than a spectator here as Anthony Pilkington's deflected shot hits the crossbar - within no time the visitors had gone up the pitch and taken the lead.*

Goalkeeper Andy Lonergan was arguably Fulham’s man of the match, but he is no more than a spectator here as Anthony Pilkington’s deflected shot hits the crossbar – within no time, the visitors had gone up the pitch and taken the lead.*

After being embarrassingly bad when it came to possession stats last year, it was heartening to see City have 54 per cent possession when Whittingham was not a major influence and also to see them have the patience at the back to work the ball clear rather than just launch it.
This brings me on to the third area where I believe City need to improve – the Mason/Revell partnership up front never really looked convincing. The latter worked as hard as ever, but was never a significant influence on proceedings, while much of the former’s work outside the box was sloppier than normal, but, encouragingly, he looked sharp and lively inside it as he got away three on target efforts.
Unfortunately, whereas City’s goalkeeper had a game he will not remember with any affection, Andy Lonergan in the Fulham goal put in a performance at the other end of the spectrum as he denied Mason each time, but I’m trying to be optimistic here and so at least it was good to see an opposing goalkeeper having to earn his corn after a year of watching them with the proverbial cigar in their mouth and slippers on their feet at Cardiff City Stadium.
City were flagging somewhat though by the time Craig Noone replaced Dikgacoi for the last quarter of an hour and, with the visitors showing an ability to counter attack quickly, they had become the more likely scorers of the game’s second goal.
The winger had been the cause of much frustration during an injury hit 14/15 season. His habit of trying multiple shots per game from anything up to thirty five yards out that endangered the corner flags and people sat in Row Z rather than the opposition goal caused at least one City fan I know to expect the worst as he cut in from the right wing to let fly from around twenty five yards.
Noone had a success rate of 0% from such efforts last year, but his first attempt in 15/16 left Lonergan helpless as it curled into the top corner. So, one City player has already equalled his number of Championship goals scored from last season and a Craig Noone with his shooting boots rediscovered will certainly be a boost to our chances over the next nine months.
One other thing about Noone’s goal worth noting was that it came after the eightieth minute. The very low number of goals we scored late on in matches last season tended to justify claims about the low fitness levels of the squad for 14/15 and scoring when we did on what turned out to be a very hot afternoon, offers some backing to those that maintain we are a much fitter squad this season.
Unfortunately, those yet to be convinced about such claims, can point to what happened after our equaliser as they say they want to see more evidence yet before agreeing that Russell Slade and his fitness staff have transformed the squad in this regard.
I’ve already mentioned my disappointment at what happened after Noone’s goal – with ten minutes to still to go, City spent most of it hanging on to their point as Fulham finished much the stronger. True, with Whittingham and Ralls in central midfield and attacking subs brought on as Russell Slade chased an equaliser, City didn’t have the defensive numbers they possessed when Dikagcoi was there to help shore things up, but they also seemed to have little left in the tank as Fulham, to their credit, went for a winner which they really should have got it when, perhaps with the aid of a foul, their effective sub Dembele broke free of the defence to set up a clear chance which Ross McCormack surprisingly botched.
Moore redeemed himself a little with some good handling at times and Matt Connolly in particular got some vital blocks in as Fulham showed enough to suggest that there won’t be a repeat of last season’s relegation struggle  for them, but, to be honest, I’m not convinced that I saw a couple of sides that will be battling it out at the top of the table over the coming months yesterday – for me, the visitor’s centrebacks looked distinctly dodgy at times.
Of course, there are still more than three weeks to go before the transfer window closes and so both teams have the opportunity to strengthen in the areas where they need to. Fulham’s failed big money bid for Brighton’s Lewis Dunk suggests they have the funds to do this, whereas it looks to me like City need to sell Marshall or get rid of more high earners before they can recruit players good enough to make a difference to their squad.

This fine photo shows how easy it should have been to for Simon Moore to deal with the cross which led to Fulham's goal - overall, I don't think Moore has done too badly in his first team games for the club, but that was a bad error yesterday and his indecisiveness could have cost us a goal in the first half as well.*

This fine photo shows how easy it should have been to for Simon Moore to deal with the cross which led to Fulham’s goal – overall, I don’t think Moore has done too badly in his first team games for the club, but that was a bad error yesterday and his indecisiveness could have cost us a goal in the first half as well.*

I’m sure some will look at my fairly downbeat assessment of our chances of making it back to the Premier League this season and the mostly optimistic nature of this piece (my opinion of yesterday’s match is certainly at odds with many contributors on the messageboard I use) and believe that I’m guilty of contradicting myself somewhat – I’d explain myself as follows.
We are going into the new season with virtually the same manager and squad that made 14/15 one of the most miserable of the fifty plus seasons I’ve experienced. Yes, we may be more fit this time around and there may be a better spirit in the camp, but it’s asking an awful lot for this manager and group of players to improve so drastically that non City fans will genuinely start tipping us to go up.
Therefore, I’d say my expectation levels for this season are as low as they have been for any of the campaigns we’ve had in this league since 2003/04 with the exception of Dave Jones’ first season (05/06) – with low expectation comes the knowledge that we don’t have to be too great for me to start being more complimentary about the team.
During the last week, contributors to that messageboard I mentioned were asked to come up with their three wishes for City’s 15/16 campaign – mine were pretty modest;-
1. Being able to come out of a City home game and think to myself “I really enjoyed that” – it didn’t happen once last season.
2. The club continue to make what I think are genuine efforts to rebuild bridges with supporters – it would be nice to see this lead to an improvement in the atmosphere at Cardiff City Stadium.
3. A Welsh youngster breaks into the first team and does well enough to become a regular starter – that would knock my growing suspicion that this manager is not interested in youth development in the slightest on the head.
Well, after one game, number three is, hardly surprisingly, as far away as ever. As for number two, the club’s decision to dispense with stadium announcer Ali Yassine on the day before the season started and replace him, hopefully on a temporary basis, with the worthy, but hardly charismatic Richard Shepherd (the club’s very good historian) suggests that the cock up capacity at Cardiff City is as strong as it ever was, but, while the place was hardly rocking throughout the ninety minutes, it was at least good to see the supporters sticking with the team even when it looked like we would be making a losing start to the campaign.
Finally, with regard to the first of my wishes, City didn’t quite reach the criteria I set them, but they came pretty close and the way they kept on trying to play a brand of football that was the complete opposite of what we saw for too much of last season offered the hope that they will be able to do so on a few occasions over the coming months.

*Pictures courtesy of

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11 Responses to Not great, but grounds for optimism in City’s opening day draw.

  1. Jon Sandy says:

    Tan is not interested in city anymore I think he finally has got the message british citizens don’t react kindly
    To dictatorial rule ( u must obey worship me) or I will let your club deteriorate to oblivion

  2. Dai Woosnam says:

    Thanks as ever for a thoughtful and all-encompassing account of the game. As usual I will leave comments on the City to others, though I hope they can be positive and not a negative carbon copy of the xenophobic “Tan Out” fare that finally drove me and others I know from the portals of WalesOnline. (That said xenophobes have the right to express themselves, I guess. It is for the likes of you and me to use REASONED argument to bring them into a less hostile position.)
    Preamble over.
    So now, if you will allow me, can I do my usual slightly “left field” thing of latching on to something you said unrelated to the actual game itself yesterday?
    Before I do though, I will say this on the game…
    Simon Moore’s error suddenly made me realise that City must desperately try to hang on to David Marshall.
    Yes, I well know…even the greatest goalkeepers have had their share of calamitous moments. But somehow, I am suddenly plagued with doubts about this guy.
    (And to think that when he pulled off that superb – hard down to his left -save against Southend last season, I took that as proof-positive of his excellence! Silly me.)
    Quite why my faith in him has so TOTALLY wobbled over two incidents yesterday (the other was, like you say, the unconvincing way he came out to deal with Matt Smith when that headed effort hit our woodwork), I know not.
    My hunch is though, that there is a connection in my subconscious to the departure of Malky’s wunderkind Ben Nugent…a player he claimed would be a future City captain.
    Yes it is amazing that this boy who was loaned to Brentford for vital first team experience, has seen his career go on a damaging spiral to rival Mackay’s!
    But in my mind’s eye, I see that loan to Brentford being exactly synchronous with Moore coming to Cardiff. Am I right Paul? Or have I conflated the dates somewhat?
    Whatever …
    Somehow now I have it in my head that Simon is another Ben.
    No doubt.
    But peculiar irrational thoughts are the lot of ALL football fans, and I am no exception.

    Now to the more interesting (to me, that is) subject of the dismissal of the stadium announcer.

    Now you go every game, and thus you are qualified to opine on the matter: I am not.

    But I thought I would give you this link that was sent me by a reader of my Daigressing about 2 months ago. I did not include it in my next Daigressing as it was a bit too specialised for my audience …as my mailing goes to 2000 people in 28 countries. (Note I say “mailing”: I am not so daft as to say “readers”. Only a tiny minority are regular readers: a good percentage stick it straight in the trash bin. But that is THEIR loss, not mine.)

    But it occurred to me that the time is a topical one to read this touching piece…

    To think that the guy missed – as an announcer – the play off final and that glorious year in the EPL.

    At least Ali (Yassine) can take solace from the fact that if he does not get his job back, he did know the glory of being behind the mike in the one magical year in The Promised Land of the EPL.

  3. alun woodruff says:

    The team performance was good- I actually enjoyed the game- haven’t said that for a long time.
    If marshy was in goals, we would have got 3 points.Therein lies the rub.
    Mid table again, sorry

  4. Anthony O'Brien says:

    In reply to Jon Sandys and his distasteful assertion – no, a response is not needed since his words speak for themselves for any right-minded person!

    Far better to refer to the game AND the crowd yesterday, both of which showed encouraging signs.

    Within minutes of the start I was remarking that the Cardiff defence couldn’t handle Matt Smith in the air. His display shows the value of a genuine target man leading the attack. Indeed, it was his own dominating and accurate header which set up the move leading to the cross fumbled by the keeper which led to Matt Smith’s goal.

    I think Revell, as Cardiff attack leader put in a good shift, as well – always willing to go for the high ball, strong enough to hold off defenders on his back or to put them under pressure with his unselfish harrying, and providing an element of mobility across the pitch at the top end which created space for others. At this level he deserves a run in the team. (Incidentally, as yesterday and the pre-season games clearly showed, Ameobi is not a target man though he could surely play off the centre forward in what pundits now like to call “the number ten” position).

    Cardiff also showed signs of better distribution yesterday, though – perhaps needless to say – the passing went sadly awry at times. There are two elements in high-standard passing. 1. The man passing the ball has to have “vision” and the ability to hit an accurate pass. 2. The player receiving it has to have the football intelligence and physical ability to anticipate and be in a position to benefit from it. Dikgacoi provided the best example of the first element, and Anthony Pilkington – as I’ve always claimed – was outstandingly good at the second.

  5. Dai Woosnam says:

    Goalkeepers can be made to look good by a rock-solid defence.
    Gary Sprake often looked a world beater for Revie, but was a poor eventual long-term successor to the great Jack Kelsey for Wales.
    David Marshall proved his worth in the EPL behind a hopeless City defence not even remotely marshalled (excuse the accidental clumsy pun!) by the often out-of-position Steven Caulker.
    Looking at those two errors on Saturday, can it be that Simon Moore will only look good behind a Revie-era Leeds defence?
    Suddenly, it seems imperative that one needs to keep Marshy.
    I always thought it a scandal that he did not get selected in the EPL team of the season, in Cardiff’s year at the top.
    And who got chosen?
    Why…Petr Cech, of course. A Gary Sprake if ever there was one.
    He has long owed everything to a Chelsea defence organised by the best centre half of modern times.
    John Terry.
    Had JT been in the boots of Laurent Koscielny yesterday, he would have blocked that second goal…and not let a very ordinary goalkeeper be exposed.
    I am taking my leave of football for a while…
    Yes, I know…one swallow does not make a summer, etc. …but
    I fancy that the loved-by-the-media scoundrel Slaven Bilic looks like he is going to turn this West Ham team into serious contenders for a Top 6 place!
    So, realising the footballing gods are against me, perhaps it is time for me to get up from the table and cash-in my chips.
    Best of luck for the season Russell…I hope you can finish in the top ten, but fancy you will end up about 16th to 18th.
    And great thanks to Mr Vincent Tan, a credit to Malaysia (a country that, when I visited it, I swore never EVER to return to…but VT has done the impossible, and made me think more positively on his country).

  6. The other Bob Wilson says:

    Thanks everyone for your replies.
    While I wouldn’t have put things in the same way as Jon Sandy did, I can agree with him when he says Vincent Tan has lost interest in the club. I’m sure many, if not most, who earn their living from the game view the football opinions of us punters with contempt, but they, and mega rich club owners, are heading for trouble if they extend those views into more traditional matters like club name, kit, location etc. Vincent Tan’s rebrand was built on the premise that he knew better than hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people who, with varying degrees, have City’s interests at heart – more blue merchandise sold on the weekend of the new kit being released than red stuff sold in the two and a half years we played in that colour is all the proof you need of that.
    Although I’ve always believed results are the biggest driver of attendances at Cardiff, the malaise which has seen a drop in standards on the pitch and a decline in attendances of around 30% since Vincent Tan became associated with the club has it’s roots in him “acting like a dictator” when it came to the colour we played in.
    I agree with you Alun – we would have won that match with Marshall in goals. Anthony, I concur about Dikgacoi, Pilkington and Ameobi, but must say that I believe Revell, wholehearted trier that he is, is of limited value at this level – I was impressed by him when he played for Rotherham down here last year, but I’m afraid that his regular inclusion in our starting line up would be a tacit admission as to how much playing standards have dropped at the club in the past two years or so.
    Dai, I’m pretty sure you are right about Ben Nugent and Simon Moore – Nugent went to Brentford in the summer after we got promoted and Moore is starting his third season with us.
    Mention of Nugent got me thinking about something which has become something of a pet subject of mine recently. During the decade or so I’ve been watching our Academy side play, I’ve seen all of the youngsters who have broken into the first team play. You only needed to see a few minutes of Aaron Ramsey in action to know he was going to be a first team player, but others such as Gunter, Blake, Matthews, Ralls and John (although not as much as the rest in his case) also stood out along with the likes of Jacobson, Wildig, O’Sullivan, James and Oshilaja who either had to go elsewhere to play first team football or are still with the club.
    However, despite probably seeing him play around twenty times at that level, Nugent made little or no impression on me and I was surprised, firstly, when he was given a pro deal and, secondly, when Malky Mackay started naming him in first team squads. To be fair to him, Nugent did fine when he first broke into the team at a time when we had a lot injuries – his performances tailed off as the promotion season went on and he was not as impressive when he came back into the side in March at a time when we weren’t playing that well. It’s while he was away though that Nugent’s career really went into decline as he lost his place in the Yeovil side that finished at the bottom of League One last season and I’d say Crewe (where he had a good debut on Saturday apparently) is about his level now.
    My point though is that if a teenager like Nugent can come into a team at the top of the Championship and, for a while at least, prosper at that level, is the jump from youth to first team football as big as our manager, with his refusal to offer even the slightest glimmer of hope to young home grown players, seems to think it is?

  7. Anthony O'Brien says:

    An entertaining and perceptive series of comments as usual, but I feel bound to speak up on behalf of Alex Revell. This may seem (will almost certainly seem)controversial, but I think he would be more appreciated if he had someone faster and more robust at dealing with “no-nonsense” defenders playing off him. At the moment he has to do too much harrying and closing down on his own. The space he then creates further forward is not being utilised as it could be.

  8. Clive Harry says:

    Morning Paul & Everyone,
    This is my first post on here so it’s going to be fairly brief! I’m basically echoing Paul’s concern over the lack of opportunity given to young players at the Club. Being rather ancient (I saw my first game in 1957), I have had the pleasure of seeing many local youngsters come through to become established first teamers over the years. Sadly, the concept of producing our own players now seems to be virtually ignored with even young pros from other clubs being brought into the Development Squads rather than giving a chance to our own youngsters. It’s all very well the manager saying the academy isn’t producing players but the impression I get is that he’s simply not interested – possibly because of short termism in relation to his own job security. More specifically, I’ve thought that Oshilaja has looked a decent prospect (although perhaps as a full back rather than as a centre back) and last season I was very impressed by David Tutonda who looked a strong lad with a good left foot and decent control. However, I fear for their futures here when they become too old for the Development squad when the practice seems to be simply to release them. Another case in point is Rhys Healey who looked a deadly finisher but now seems to be fading into the background and stagnating through lack of encouragement/opportunity. Unfortunately, I think our current manager’s lack of vision is not confined simply to the field of play.
    Sorry, did I say I would keep it brief!

  9. The other Bob Wilson says:

    Welcome on board Clive – by my standards, and those of one or two who post on here (no names, no packdrill!!!), you were brief!
    This will be a brief reply though because there’s not much that can be added to something I completely agree with – especially the “short termism in relation to his own job security” bit.
    It will be interesting to see the make up of the team for tonight’s match. On the surface you would have thought it would be an ideal opportunity to give a few young players a chance, but I notice that Tommy O’Sullivan and Rhys Healey (two of the most obvious candidates to play against AFC Wimbledon in my book) played for a very young Under 21 team at Coventry yesterday – hopefully, Tom James’ absence from yesterday’s side means he’ll be involved in some way tonight and I expect the two youngsters brought in during the summer to be in the squad as well.

  10. Dai Woosnam says:

    Re your response to Clive’s brief note of ten short sentences…
    Thanks for the kind offer of anonymity Paul, but I do not need it.
    Nor do I seek it.
    The beauty of your reports is that they are the total antithesis of the short reports one sees in newspapers. The internet is the one place where one does not have to be in training to write haiku.
    That said, although I give my all, and have put every ounce of effort into my contributions to your excellent site in recent years, I really wasn’t vaccinated by a gramophone needle as a kid.
    Words for the sake of words do not interest me.
    I always try to make every one of my words pay its rent in my sentences.
    But alas, we live in the age of Twitter…and I am tempted to say…twits. (No, unworthy of you, Dai. Breathe that word back in!)
    So I will.
    And I must be prepared to move with the times.
    But fortunately Paul, whilst you have a superbly articulate blog like this, we can still beat the Twitter tide back from our door.
    And now that I am taking a well-earned break from contributing, I know that the likes of our friend ‘AMO’ O’Brien will keep the torch burning for people who believe in the right to write well-considered letters rather than TELEGRAMS.
    The Welsh of all people, should not regard words as enemies. Rather, they should embrace them. As a boy in the Rhondda, we all used to try words on for size, and roll the new ones around in our mouths to get the feel of them.
    Not sure that this reverence for language could necessarily be found in all other working class communities in the UK.
    Signing out now. Hope that AMO will fight my corner for me…even though he knows we disagree on the merit of some players, like say, Gary Medel.
    Kindest, as ever,

  11. russell says:

    I thought he had given youngsters a chance more than the last two feckless managers. and lets not mention Dave Jones dislike of younger talent.

    Slade has given chances too:, Barnum Bob, Mason,Rall’s , Harris, John and a few others .

    Mason, Ralls, and Harris under OGS and Malky were treated with disdain in my view.

    Dave Jones treatment of Ramsey and Gunter still defies logic.

    I feel people love to have a pop at Slade, as its fashionable and an easy target , they have quickly forgotten the failures of previous managers.

    I read his appointment as a long term one with a view to clear the overpaid crap out, survive last season, then deliver a top to bottom building exercise for the club , so half way their ??

    He had fix last year and survive , know its first team squad building this year , then he should move onto the younger squads , sounds a sensible approach ??? this cant be done over night

    Hey, were unbeaten this year , I know its early doors but it should bring confidence for everyone, give him a season.Surely the appointment of a big ego “flash” manager and pricey signings will knock us back again .

    Lets get the first team in a decent winning position, then introduce the younger talent , we don’t want to expose them to a struggling team ,aka last, year as their confidence/development can easily be knocked back ?

    If we get to January and its not worked, them hey make a decision.

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