With the people I was visiting last night insisting on having the Arsenal match on and me only getting the odd scoreflash from the City game when they switched over to Sky Sports News during a break in play, I can only go on what I have read this morning in forming an opinion on last night’s, damaging but almost predictable, 1-0 defeat at Crystal Palace. So, instead of the usual 30,000 word analysis (cheers break out in the background!), I’ll try, and probably fail, to keep this fairly short with three general observations;
1. Almost all players at this level have weaknesses to their games, but they also have many strengths. Peter Whittingham and Steve McPhail are good Championship players in my opinion, but the problem I see when they play in central midfield together, especially in a 4-4-2, is that their strengths and weaknesses are much too similar. Neither of them are really suited to the physical, hurly-burly of Championship central midfield play and, therefore, there is no real blending between them – having Seyi Olofinjana back will help matters in that respect, but even a central two of Olly and Aaron Ramsey were struggling against good opponents who play 4-5-1 (e.g. Burnley and Leicester). Therefore, if this is the reason why Dave Jones has used a different formation at times from 4-4-2 in our last four matches, I am going to go against the opinion of most supporters and say that I can see why he did it.
2. It seems generally agreed by supporters and media alike that our first half performance lacked urgency and intensity – sorry, but that’s disgraceful if true. With things so tight at the top, it’s inevitable that you won’t always get good quality football, but the least you should expect is that everyone is giving their all.
3. Leading on from that, as poor performance follows poor performance from some of our “superstars”, it’s hard to avoid the suspicion that there are some who are in a comfort zone. Apparently, it was the young kid from Arsenal who, for the second successive game, represented our biggest attacking threat and yet, despite the under achievers around him, he is the first one to be subbed.
Strangely, there are still those around who believe that we should be miles clear at the top of the table because we are so much better than all of our rivals, but, surely, with just ten matches left, we have to accept that this isn’t the case. What we have got is a squad which includes four of five players who should be serious candidates for any best of the Championship XI selection, but, with the possible exception of the currently under performing Jay Bothroyd, none of them have shown enough consistency to merit inclusion in such a team. Furthermore, these players have hardly ever been in good form at the same time and with our manager still, seemingly, incapable of finding a formation or style that gets the best out of our big names while using them in their favoured positions, it seems to me that fourth place may, if anything, be flattering us based on the quality of football we have seen over the past seven months.
The thing is though that a top two place is still there to be grabbed by someone and Cardiff have as good a chance as anyone if those big players (who I believe should now be showing exactly why they earned their reputations) start performing. The trouble is though that with last night’s loss coming on top of the bad luck we had against Ipswich, we are in danger of lurching into one of those “famine” spells which have become too common under our manager.
Who would have thought that we would have gone on a run of one defeat in eleven after those heavy defeats at Watford and Bristol City over the Christmas holiday period? That was an example of a Dave Jones “feast” where a bad run is transformed into a good one for no obvious reason.
By the same token though, November and December saw a typical Dave Jones famine where a good run was transformed into a barren one that seems to have no obvious escape route (Dave Jones certainly struggles to find it when we are in one of them). Phrases like “massive match” and “must win game” are so over used in modern day football, but, for me, these terms apply to Sunday’s game with Barnsley now because a failure to win would see us entering “famine” territory at the worst possible time.
I’ll finish by going back to Arsenal, I wonder if there is any chance of that nice Mr Wenger agreeing if we knocked on his door and asked if we could have our Rambo back please? I’ve seen it reported that we would be going back to Arsenal to ask that question if they got knocked out of the Champions League last night – it’s probably the longest of long shots, but if it did happen then we would have at least one non typical Championship footballer available for us because he does not have the sort of weaknesses that I was talking about earlier.