We always used to lose at Norwich when I was a kid and then in April 1971, when we were chasing promotion to the old First Division, we went there and won 2-1. I can remember reading and seeing comments from those in the adult world, which I kidded myself I was part of at fifteen, along the lines of “if we can win at Carrow Road, we are bound to go up”, but we didn’t and there were plenty more fruitless trips to Norfolk down the years before we finally managed another win in 2007 which meant that, to some extent, the spell had been broken.
Similarly, Ashton Gate and Bloomfield Road (where we enjoyed some success in the 60’s) became real bogey grounds for us during the last three decades of the last century – we used to get the very occasional draw at these grounds, but they were almost lost amongst the catalogue of defeats we suffered at Bristol City and Blackpool during our regular visits to these clubs during those years. However, more than one victory on our visits since getting back to this level ten years ago has give us the upper hand in recent meetings with the wurzels and the side who beat us in the Play Off Final and with victories becoming quite common at Crystal Palace, as well as first victories in ages at Ewood Park and St Andrews (two grounds we having visited too often in the last thirty years or so), we don’t have too many bogey grounds these days – in fact, apart from Bolton (another club we haven’t played away much lately), I’m struggling to think of one except for London f*cking Road, Peterborough!
A look at the record books will tell you that we did win there once – by 2-1 on 1 October 1986, but, speaking as someone who tends to be good at recalling obscure Cardiff City matches from the dim and distant past, I would argue black was white that we haven’t done so – as I said on here last season;-
“Nigel Vaughan and Paul Wheeler were, allegedly, our goalscorers that day in a match which, apparently attracted a crowd of 2,600. I use the words “allegedly” and “apparently” there because I must say that I am not 100% convinced that this game ever took place – maybe City didn’t fancy (or couldn’t afford) a journey across country and so agreed with Peterborough that the game could be decided on the outcome of a Subbuteo match between a Peterborough supporter and a City fan who lived in that area?”
I honestly cannot remember that game what was a pretty nondescript City team played during what was a pretty nondescript season, but I can recall the the 4-3’s, 2-0’s, 2-1’s and 3-0’s that have been commonplace down the years. What is it about that ground, which always strikes me as something of a quaint throwback, that has turned good Cardiff sides (by the standards of the division they are in at least) to jelly? If you had told me at the start of the season that we would lose a match 2-1 thanks to us conceding two penalties in the last twenty minutes, then I would have been willing to bet that it would happen at bloody Peterborough! We’ve scored nine goals in our last four visits to London Road, led at half time in three of them and yet the only time we’ve avoided defeat is when we blew a 4-0 half time lead – nothing personal to any Posh fans who get to read this, you deserve to stay up for the way you played at Cardiff City Stadium if nothing else, but if we don’t go up, I really hope you get relegated!
Right, having got all of that off my chest, I’ll say that, apart from seeing the goals on Sky Sports News last night (thought both penalties looked debatable on that one viewing, but it seems Peterborough might have had a couple of reasonable shouts for one in the first half according to people who were there), I know little about what happened because I was out yesterday afternoon, so I’ll just make a couple of observations which are probably linked in a way as, to me, they both appear to relate to how Malky Mackay wants us to play in this crucial stage of the season.
The first, shorter, point is that I see our first change was to bring Rudy Gestede on to replace Fraizer Campell (I presume Campbell wasn’t injured?) after fifty eight minutes. Now, I’ve said on here recently that, although I’d prefer us to play a passing game, I’m not too bothered how we play for the rest of the season as long as we get promoted, but it seems to me that going with a front two of Helguson and Gestede reduces our attacking options because it limits the way we can play – surely, that’s playing into the hands of our opponents?
The other matter concerns our creativity (or to be more accurate, lack of creativity). For virtually two seasons, we have been almost entirely reliant on Peter Whittingham to create things. To be fair, we didn’t really have many others who could change games last season and, in the choice between favouring graft or flair (or perspiration or inspiration as I tend to call it) that all managers face, Malky Mackay didn’t have much choice but to go down the perspiration route and we became less effective as players such as Gunnarsson and Cowie suffered from playing so intensely, so often.
This time around it’s different. For a start, we have Craig Bellamy (who, hopefully, can have a similar impact this time around as he did in our last few matches during the regular season in 10/11), but with Whittingham shifted out to the left and his, unprecedented under this manager, substitution for what were, I assume, tactical reasons it would appear that Malky’s complete faith in someone who has become a shadow of the player he can be in recent weeks is disappearing. So who do we fall back on to provide that creativity that Whitts is no longer serving up? Unlike last season, it’s hardly as if there aren’t candidates.
Apparently, Craig Noone was absent yesterday because of a dead leg and he hardly covered himself in glory when given a chance against Leicester recently, but the sort of winger he is means that Noone will always be a bit up and down in his level of performance, surely Malky Mackay must have known what to expect from him when he signed him and yet he appears to have lost faith in him because he has been playing like a typically mercurial winger (Noone was very good when he came on against Derby). Something similar applies to Kim Bo-Kyung who, despite being willing to put in his fair share of tackles, could be considered a bit frail for the very physical Championship, but can deliver an above average skill level and does not give the ball away often – once again it appears that our manager is losing faith in a player whose level of performance has not been bad at all when he’s been given one of his, increasingly rare, first team chances.
Certainly on his performances in early season, Jordon Mutch can bring qualities to our central midfield that we don’t have in our other players in that area (e.g. the ability to go past opponents in the centre of the pitch), while Joe Mason, who was, far and away, our most effective striker at this time last year is now used almost as an afterthought. Malky doesn’t strike me as the type of manager who would be critical of his players in public in the way that Dave Jones was about Adam Matthews for example – in fact, I’d say he’s over protective at times and he’s never had anything but good things to say about the four players I’ve mentioned, but the reluctance he has shown in using them lately looks like a loss of faith, for the moment at least, in them to me.
Malky Mackay is paid to make tough choices and I’m sure he has his reasons for taking the decisions he does regarding Noone, Kimbo, Mutch and Mason, but, with no Bellamy yesterday and Whititngham’s influence seemingly fading as he’s marginalised in terms of his importance to how we play and the position he’s filling in the team, we seemed very similar to the knackered side which laboured across the line in sixth last season. We have become increasingly reliant on dead ball situations for our attacking threat and, with Whittingham less effective than he was in this department and opponents becoming better acquainted with what’s coming, it doesn’t appear enough – a move towards a bit more inspiration at the expense of some of that perspiration seems called for to me.
* pictures courtesy of http://www.walesonline.co.uk/