Ominous lack of a cutting edge keeps Cardiff among the also rans.

CoymayI went to yesterday’s match with MK Dons at a rain swept Cardiff City Stadium determined to be positive. After all, City had been winning their recent away games, scoring goals aplenty in the process, and, by general consent, could be said to have had a good transfer window.

My thinking was based on a feeling that I had been overly negative at times in my assessment of matches on here. After all, it seemed that the Joe Mason transfer was proof of the conditions Russell Slade was having to do his job under – he has made it clear that he wanted the player to stay, but, not for the first time, he has seen the rug taken away from under his feet as his efforts to build the team he wants have been frustrated on the altar of “financial reasons”.

Despite this, Slade’s team had won successive away matches by playing a pleasing brand of passing football that had displayed a surprising speed on the counter attack and, if they were being honest with themselves, regular attenders of home matches would have to admit that the entertainment level provided by the team had risen, albeit from a very low starting position, in recent months.

So, City, and their manager, were not really as bad as I had sometimes made them out to be on here – I do believe that, and yet……….

Truth be told, I couldn’t get this nagging feeling that all of this optimism was a little too forced and had an almost manic edge to it – were the foundations for all of this new found positivity built on sand in reality because, although I had an acceptance that I had been overly critical at times, I couldn’t deny in my heart of hearts my true feelings about the 2015/16 Cardiff side and it’s manager?

Of course, the true test of my new outlook would come when the pre match chat ended and the football started. On this score, there would also have to be an acknowledgement that torrential rain throughout the Saturday morning had led to a pitch inspection at 1.15 that was passed, albeit with the warning that further heavy rain could still lead to a postponement.

As luck would have it, the rain eased in the hour and a half before kick off and, when I took my seat in the ground about five minutes before the match started, my immediate reaction was to wonder what all of the fuss had been about because the new pitch, that had played well in the previous match with Rotherham, looked fine to me.

The presence of one of those Super Sopper machines (maybe borrowed from the SWALEC stadium?) should have alerted me to the true situation, but it was only when it discharged all of the water it had picked up off the pitch on to an area outside the touchline that I realised how waterlogged the playing surface really was.

So, here was another factor to be borne in mind when it came to a more sympathetic appraisal of my team and, of course, virtually as soon as the game kicked off,  the heavens opened again!

I make it that this is City's seventh season in which they have played at their current ground and not once in the previous six have I had to move from the seat I've had throughout that time because I was getting soaked by the rain - yesterday was the fourth time I've had to do it it this season. Weather wise, this really is the most miserable winter of my life - I hate this mild, but wet weather. Somebody said on Friday that there has been rain in Cardiff on eight seven of the last ninety days, well if that's true, it's up to eighty nine out of ninety two now.*

I make it that this is City’s seventh season in which they have played at their current ground and not once in the previous six have I had to move from the seat I’ve had throughout that time because I was getting soaked by the rain – yesterday was the fourth time I’ve had to do it it this season.
Weather wise, this really is the most miserable winter of my life – I hate this mild, but wet weather.
Somebody said on Friday that there has been rain in Cardiff on eighty seven of the last ninety days, well if that’s true, it’s up to eighty nine out of ninety two now.*

Somewhat surprisingly, the condition of the pitch did not appear to be too much of a factor early on and the only clue that things weren’t really as they should be came more from  players (particularly City forwards in semi promising positions!) would slip over for no obvious reason, rather how the ball was behaving.

Therefore, I had plenty of reasons as to why I should not start getting annoyed with the team as the minutes passed by, but, the truth (or what I see as the truth) cannot be denied. So it was, that around the quarter of an hour mark questions like “why do we always start home matches so soporifically?”, “are we ever going to score a goal in the early stages of a home match this season?” and “why does Sammy Ameobi, who looked so incisive and switched on at times against Huddersfield seven days earlier, look so indecisive and frail today?” began to form in my mind despite my best efforts to stop them.

To be fair to Ameobi, he wasn’t the only City player who was struggling. While we looked reasonably secure at the back, there was virtually nothing to take solace from when we tried to do something other than defend – new loan signing Tom Lawrence was looking lightweight as he struggled to get into the game while playing in a central position behind Anthony Pilkington and Peter Whittingham’s attempts to take the pitch out of the game by hitting long passes into spaces for our more mobile strikers to exploit were frustrated because his radar was not operating as well as normal.

Six days earlier in their FA Cup tie on their own pitch against a team which played in all blue, MK Dons had conceded two goals by the forty minute mark, but, in truth, it could well have been ten as Chelsea tore them to shreds. Now, of course, the team in all blue they faced yesterday are no Chelsea, but a lot of the Dons’ problems last week were caused by their own poor and, at times, naive defending.

Furthermore, there were one or two clues offered by the visitors that the scars from last week’s 5-1 mauling had not fully healed. Therefore, my determination to be positive and the awkward conditions notwithstanding, surely City should have had it in them to cause a defence that looked all over the shop last week the occasional moment of alarm in the opening forty minutes of yesterday’s match shouldn’t they?

The honest answer to that question is no they couldn’t – when their opponents blundered occasionally at the back, City didn’t have the nous or ability to capitalise on it and a visiting side which began to get on top in the middle of the park were able to create a little more than us without really suggesting that they had a goal in them.

At least the five minutes before the half time interval offered the prospect of a City goal as a scuffed Ameobi shot was deflected not too far wide with the wrong footed visiting keeper David Martin giving the impression that he wouldn’t have been able to stop it if it had been on target. Seconds later, a lovely Whittingham cross was headed on to an upright from close range by Lawrence, shortly afterwards, Stuart O’Keefe’s header’s was palmed away by Martin and then Whitts put a decent chance over the bar as he tried a side footer when it seemed to me that he should have put his foot through the ball.

Ironically, as the rain cascaded down and the water began to stand on the pitch in places, City had finally found some rhythm to their ground passing and so I spent half time with my optimism restored - the early signs were that we had carried on our improvement into the second half as well.

MK Dons manager Karl Robinson said after the game that he rated his keeper’s performance as his best of the season so far and you could see what he meant as Marin denied O’Keefe (who again showed up well as he put in what I’d call a proper box to box display) a second time and then Scott Malone at the end of what was probably City’s best attack of the game.

With a more influential Lawrence doing a good impression of Tony Watt as he slalomed past three defenders only to shoot narrowly wide from the edge of the penalty area and then just failing to get his head to a very tempting cross, it felt like a goal was coming.

Unfortunately, Lawrence was left clutching his head after that second incident and so, when Ameobi did well to rob Johnny Williams out near the corner flag and cut in on goal menacingly, referee Kevin Johnson, who I thought generally favoured MK Dons (he penalised City for fouls twice as often as he did our visitors) without really influencing the match too much, had a big decision to make.

With Ameobi going on to hit the ball into the net, the ref felt the wrath of the City crowd for his decision to stop the game, but, given that it looked like Lawrence had a head injury, it appeared to me as if Mr Johnson was right to stop the game when he did. It’s also worth noting that Martin, definitely, and Ameobi, probably, reacted as if they knew the whistle had gone, so there’s no guarantee that the outcome would have been the same if the ref had decided to play on.

Karl Robinson was honest enough to admit that his side had ridden their luck at times, but it was good defending that denied Pilkington when his well struck close range shot was deflected for a corner and the makeshift striker was out of luck again when he showed great technique to get away an acrobatic volley that Martin was able to save without too many difficulties.

The truth as I saw it though was that, if MK Dons did have a City storm to weather, it had, just like the rain, largely disappeared during the game’s last quarter because, although the chances still came, the players now wanted to take an extra touch too often as they tried to get the ball fully under control on a pitch where it was not running truly any more. I know Joe Mason had his critics and he wasn’t playing very well in his last few months with us, but I couldn’t help thinking that the outcome of the game could well have been different if he was still here to be on the end of a few of the chances we created which went begging.

As it was, MK Dons were probably at their most dangerous in the last half an hour of the game. Unlike Jay Emmanuel-Thomas when he came on, Nicky Maynard was given a generous reception by the home fans on his return to Cardiff and he showed some of the ability which made him  such a good striker at Crewe and Bristol City by beating Matt Connolly all ends up, only to blaze over the top just when you thought a goal was inevitable.

There were also dangerous breaks by the visitors which saw them denied by a combination of good defending, the pitch and a lack of confidence which offered a clue as to why they are the Championship’s lowest scorers.

The closest we came to a goal as the game neared it’s conclusion  was when David Marshall had to make his first serious save of the match to deny Jake Forster-Caskey and so it ended up goalless, with the visitors far more pleased with their point than Cardiff were.

David Marshall goes full length to save from Jake Forster-Caskey to ensure that we held on to what was a pretty rare clean sheet in recent weeks, but, just as so often in recent home matches, it was a case of two points dropped rather than one gained for City.*

David Marshall goes full length to save from Jake Forster-Caskey to ensure that we held on to what is a pretty rare clean sheet these days, but, just as so often in recent home matches, it was a case of two points dropped, rather than one gained for City.*

When the opposing manager admits that his side were lucky, then you can safely deduce that City were unfortunate not to win. Furthermore, I believe you can say that about so many recent home matches where we have had the better of things only to end up with just a draw – I’d say Burnley, Forest Rotherham and, maybe Sheffield Wednesday all fall into that category,

The trouble is, you can try to put all of the positive spin on things that you want, but that’s five home draws in seven for us now. People can look at just one home defeat this season and talk about how strong we are at Cardiff City Stadium, but we’ve taken just eleven points there from a possible twenty one since beating Reading in early November.

Truth is that in our last two home matches we’ve faced sides who, between them, had lost  fourteen of their last seventeen league away matches when they played us and we couldn’t beat either of them.

Yet again it seems that, just as a Russell Slade side is getting one thing right (away results in this case), it loses it’s way in an area where it had been doing well. It’s all very well saying that two wins and two draws from our last four games is a good return,  but one of those draws came against a side that has been beaten heavily at home twice and then lost at Bolton in their three matches either side of them having drawn here.

After the Rotherham match Russell Slade talked of us being at a stage of the season where there weren’t going to be many more of the sort of opportunities we had missed in that game  - well, we missed another one yesterday on a day where, not, for the first time, so many results went in our favour and we were unable to take full advantage.

Trying to remain optimistic, Tom Lawrence showed that he can bring skill, creativity and guile to the team and Kenneth Zohore didn’t have enough time on the pitch to fully judge him. However, I’m afraid Lawrence also showed at times why his goalscoring record isn’t as good as most expected it to be when he was being described as one of the bright young things of Welsh football during his time at Manchester United, while it has to also be said that there was absolutely nothing from Zohore to offer hope that the verdict will be a positive one on him when he has played enough to give an informed judgment on the target man.

So, yes, let’s give the new men more time and point to us still only being four points off sixth place, but the brutal truth is that all yesterday did for me was add more evidence to a conviction I’ve had for months now that this team and manager are heading for a final position which will be about three or four places below what they, and our CEO, have told us is the target for this season.

*photos courtesy of https://www.flickr.com/photos/joncandy/

 

 

 

 

 

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11 Responses to Ominous lack of a cutting edge keeps Cardiff among the also rans.

  1. Colin Phillips says:

    Thanks for that report, Paul.

    You saw the game much as I did, total frustration yet again.

    I thought expectations were too high, if understandable, for a convincing win – we are Cardiff after all.

    Quite pleased with Lawrence’s debut, have grave doubts about Zohore (big and useless comes to mind) and very surprised to see that, on one forum I visit, that people voted for Ameobi as man of the match.

    One other thing that struck me from yesterday’s game that our two fastest players are the full-backs.

  2. Colin Phillips says:

    Oh!….and by the way Leicester City are forcing my words back down my throat – they show absolutely no sign of falling away!

  3. IF CARLSBERG DID FOOTBALL (on a waterlogged pitch in driving rain, then they’d swing the ball into the goalmouth at every opportunity instead of shilly-shallying and they would have a right-footed player taking inswinging corners from the left).
    A day for balls in the air, crying out for a six-foot plus striker – but I agree that in the short time he had, Zahore didn’t provide much for optimism: I think he even ducked out of one high ball (a la Mason) when he could easily have challenged for it!.

    Lawrence showed some nice touches but he needs support. As Colin rightly points out, SPEED is still manifestly missing from the team – as it has been for much too long!

  4. Richard Holt says:

    Thanks for the excellent write-up Paul. A combination of my dodgy eye, the prospect of dreadful driving conditions and the doubts over whether the match would actually be played persuaded me not to travel up yesterday and it seems I didn’t miss too much. I have to say that the result didn’t surprise me one jot and was quite predictable in the kind of season we are having. I notice our next two games are against Charlton (bottom) and Brighton (3rd). I know which one I’m feeling more optimistic about !

  5. Geoff Lewis says:

    Hi Paul,
    Excellent report of yesterday’s game. Despite the heavy rain, I thought I would make the round trip of 130 miles by car to watch this game. When I was approaching the outskirts of Cardiff, just after the Llantrisant junction, it was announced if there was a further heavy downpour, the game would be called off( On reflection this may have been a better decision)
    We had a number of good chances to bury MK Dons, but alas I suppose with the conditions it was not to be. I thought Lawrence improved his play in the second half and to me O’keefe was the best player for us, I enjoyed watching Johnny Williams a very clever player. Maynard must have thought he was playing for Cardiff, when he blasted his chance wide!
    Listening to the radio on the way home, usual comments “Slade out”, but at the end of the day it is up to those players on the pitch to deliver the goods.
    He does not read the game that well or make the right substitutions, we all agree on that one.
    I firmly believe that he needs one or even two of his assistants to watch the game from either the Ninian or Grandstand to see the game overall, rather than at ground level.
    I have watched Cardiff for many years in different parts of the ground, including Ninian Park, the Bob Bank, behind the goals, but to me , the best view if you can afford it, is to look down and see all of the play.
    I note that Bristol City beat Charlton 1-0 away from home_ Can we do the same thing next Saturday?
    Best Regards
    Geoff

  6. RUSSELL= says:

    Like you I felt Lawrence In the first half was lightweight ,how he got the fans MOM vote baffled me must be a Welsh thing vote . The kindest fan vote would have been nyl pw?? for any of them .

    The conditions underfoot were slippery and a number of players ,suffered from slips,which is the only reason I can afford the performance .

    Looking at the highlight after the game in the infamous crowded ? Eddie May bar it did show we had enough chances in front of goal to have won easily.

  7. MIKE HOPE says:

    One of football’s clichés is ‘it’s about narrow margins’. If Saturday’s game had ended with a 4-1 win it would not have been an unfair reflection of the game but unfortunately the cutting edge was missing.
    We started very poorly yet somehow we had three great goal scoring opportunities just before half time.
    Slade must have been in legendary mode with his interval team talk because we started the second half playing our best football but with no end product it ultimately became another disappointing and frustrating afternoon.
    After a slow start I thought Lawrence had a very promising debut. He grew into the game both when playing up-front [we seemed to vary from 4-4-2 to 4-4-1-1 ] and when he replaced Ameobi wide right.
    As for our other debutant, Zohore , oh dear! He looked as if he had wandered onto the field by mistake and found a game of football going on around him! But as it was his first game in this country we must cut him some slack and give him the chance to adapt to Championship football.
    Incidentally,Paul, I can’t compete with your football reporting but I am not sure about your meteorological analysis.If you thought the heavy drizzle we had during the game was like the heavens opening you would have been into Yellow Pages looking for ark builders if you had been with me when I took my dog for a walk on Saturday morning!

  8. Dai Woosnam says:

    Some very interesting contributions from your fans Paul. And of course a solid piece from you…but that last is a “given”, I guess, and if I ever forget to say it, then trust me, it will be an oversight on my part…not a cooling-off of my appreciation of your work.
    Here are some observations…in no particular order of importance.
    First, Joe Mason.
    Do I detect that you are already thinking a mistake has been made here? Look, Paul…you may as well get used to Mason scoring a decent number of scrambled goals in the decade ahead. That’s what he does. He has no speed, cannot jump, and thus is no good with the outside of his head. And even the inside of his head needs working on: he is caught offside too often for my liking.
    But in an attacking side like Wolves at home, he will score scrambled efforts like his 3rd minute goal on home debut.
    Second point…the weather. When Grimbarians ask me what I miss of Wales, they expect me to say taxi ranks sign-posted “tacsi”* or the fact that South Walians seem to be unique in Britain as people not possessing watches (incredible that once you come into Wales over the Severn Bridge, you suddenly see all the motorway matrix boards telling you the time! What is that all about?).
    But in truth, I miss the rain.
    The last time I looked, of the 63 UK weather stations on the Met Office website, Cleethorpes just 3 miles from me, had thevsecond lowest rainfall in the country…and well under half that of Cardiff.
    To add to Mike’s amusing flight of fancy, there are no occasions in N.E. Lincs where I want to round up two of every animal species I can find….!!
    Third point…my eyes fell on this from you:
    ‘…
    referee Kevin Johnson, who I thought generally favoured MK Dons (he penalised City for fouls twice as often as he did our visitors)
    …’

    You may be right, Paul. But does that REALLY show that the ref favoured the MK Thieves…sorry…”non-Wimble-DONS” ?
    I ask because I reflect on a conversation I had in a bar here in Malta just this afternoon, where I had gone to see the Wales game from Dublin.
    I was talking to a social worker from Manchester who said that it was a crying shame that Britain had the biggest prison population of Western Europe. She said it was “twice that per capita of some of our nearest neighbours”. She added that many of those incarcerated, need not be there.
    I expressed a healthy scepticism re her comments, and suggested that maybe we have twice the imprisoned criminals, because, we are ..
    (Wait for it…)


    …twice as …
    WICKED.

    Kindest, as ever,
    Dai.
    *the fact that “taxi” along with “stop” are two words that are used the world over…irrespective of alphabet. Even in Russia with its Cyrillic, you will see “taxi” in its 4 letter glory, on top of the Ladas.

  9. The other Bob Wilson says:

    Colin, I too was surprised to see Ameobi being described as our beat player on Saturday – he wasn’t the worst, but, at a conservative estimate, about half of the team were better than him. Regarding Leicester, I’ve always thought Spurs might be the team to possibly overhaul them and that’s why I believed their recent win at White Hart Lane was such a huge result. Despite the recent outbreak of Leicester can win it pronunciations in the media, I’m still not convinced that those saying it actually mean it and so, in a weird way, the pressure is still off Leicester – they can lose at Arsenal next weekend and still be in the box seat.
    Richard. I’m confident that we will win one of our next two matches, but consecutive victories seem to be beyond us – I said to someone yesterday that a team which goes almost six months without recording back to back wins are not going to make the Play Offs, it seems to be a mental thing with this group of players.
    Geoff, I found the reluctance to bring Immers on surprising because. although I don’t normally like seeing the ball launched forward, the conditions on Saturday should have dictated that the ball should be kept off the floor more than normal. Zohore might not have looked too clever, but I’d still like to have seen him given an extra quarter of an hour say on top of the five minutes or so he was given – I’m also baffled by the continued selection of Gunnarsson and Dikgacoi as substitutes, have one of them on the bench by all means, but wouldn’t it be better to have, say, a winger there instead of one of them?
    Russell, I would have given the man of the match award to O’Keefe I think, Lawrence would have been in my top three or four, but he was anonymous in the first forty minutes.
    Mike, looked at in isolation, you can say we should have won all of the matches we drawn at home recently quite convincingly, but City haven’t done winning convincingly for ages (I make it nearly three years since we won a competitive match by a margin of three goals or more) and, when you keep on hearing that a side is unlucky, you start to wonder if there is more to it than that – for me, City are always a side that offers our opponents hope – be that through, for example, failing to convert chances (as on Saturday or against Forest) or a failure to hold on to leads.
    Dai, I’d gladly swap the weather they get in Cleethorpes for what we’ve been having in South Wales. I’m heartily sick of wading through the paddy field that was my lawn and slipping and sliding in the mud the mud as I make my way to my shed every morning to get the food for the birds, I’m also pissed off with working hard to keep the floors clean in the house and then seeing all of that work go to waste within minutes or hours when the dog comes in after going out the back for a pee. At the moment, I’m looking out on to my front lawn and dreading the job I’ll have when (or should that be if?) it is dry enough to mow it, because the grass has not stopped growing through this thoroughly miserable mild, wet winter – the only good thing I can say about it is that I saved a few quid I suppose by not needing to switch the radiators on for days on end in December and January.
    As for Joe Mason, a goal only counts for one no matter how it is scored – one of his tap ins or “scrambled efforts” would have made all of the difference on Saturday and I maintain that there is a knack/talent to being able to score such goals – certainly, no one else at City appears to have it, because, if he didn’t do it, we struggled to score such goals while he was here and I don’t see that situation changing now he’s gone.

  10. Barry cole says:

    Another good one Paul, didn’t go to game as I had a feeling what would happen and it did.
    With tan flying in I have reason to believe he is at last realising that slade will not get passed the winning post now and his money is in jeopardy. He should have dispensed with his services at the end of last season, he had another chance at Christmas but it is now getting too late for any change to be effective.
    I haven’t been a fan of slade from day one not because he was picked by tan but his record showed he was out of his class with Cardiff and continually has proved that in how he has managed games.
    Sometimes I feel sorry for him in as much as he is working under duress but the opposite of that is he took the job and knew what was going to happen.
    So I hope that tan values his money a lot more than he values cause if he continues we will continue to stutter into mid table with a squad that should be in the top two of this league

  11. The other Bob Wilson says:

    I’ve never shared your high opinion of our squad Barry – top six possibly, but not top two. That said, I compare the Birmingham (especially now Gray has gone) and Ipswich squads to ours and think we should be above them both in the table. When I try to work out why this isn’t the case, I come back to the question as to whether those two clubs have better managers than ours – I think they have. McCarthy is a proven performer at this level and, if I’m surprised about anything regarding his time at Ipswich. it’s that it took him a little longer than I thought it would to get them challenging at the top end of the league. As for Rowett, Birmingham improved almost as soon as he took over and he’s proved that there was no beginner’s luck involved in that because they’re doing better again this season. Regarding us, I’ll be surprised if Vincent Tan’s trip to this country involves him dismissing our manager – if I had to guess, I’d say Russell Slade will still be our manager when our fixtures for this season end, but not when the new one starts.

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