Outclassed City given a football lesson.

Neil Warnock probably went for the right approach as he talked about his team’s 4-2 Boxing Day defeat by an impressive Fulham side which saw the ending of City’s unbeaten home record.

Our manager almost always finds some refereeing decision or another to be critical of when his side is beaten and there was a reference to one or two advantage decisions which went against us (I can remember one of them). However, by refusing Fulham what looked to me like a certain penalty early on when Bruno Manga brought down Stefan Johansen, referee Simon Hooper more than made up for any other more minor decisions which benefited the visitors – I thought the linesman on the Ninian Stand side had a bit of a shocker in the second half, but the ref wasn’t too bad throughout. Indeed, Mr Warnock’s heart didn’t seem to be in his criticism of the officials and, in the end, he just admitted that “they were better than us”.

In fact, it seemed to me that this was Fulham back to the standard they set in the second half of last season when they were, in my view, the best team in the Championship and really should have gone up via the Play Offs.

This time around, the Londoners have been far less impressive. Until fairly recently, they had just the one home win as a series of draws at Craven Cottage held them back and they have been inconsistent on the road – obviously, they have not been playing as well as they did yesterday, because they wouldn’t find themselves eleventh and six points out of the Play Off zone if they had been.

City played Fulham at home twice in the first two months of 2017 and the second of them was my favourite game of last season. That day, Fulham showed the combination play which marked them out as being different from other “passing” sides in the league, because they were able to retain possession while moving the ball forward and you had the impression that City were at times hanging on by their fingertips to contain the visitors.

However, led by a rampant Kenneth Zohore, City had a string of early opportunities which could have brought two or three goals and they continued to cause the Fulham defence problems right to the end when Declan John (who signed for Rangers on a three and a half year contract last week) hit the post in the last minute as we chased a winner.

We might not have been as easy on the eye with our passing as Fulham were that afternoon, but our more direct game had a vibrancy and a doggedness to it which, if anything, left us as the team with perhaps the stronger claim for the the win after a pulsating ninety minutes ended 2-2.

Unfortunately, although our will and team ethic meant that we were still in with a chance of forcing a draw deep into added time, yesterday’s match was more reminiscent of the FA Cup clash between the sides some six weeks or so earlier when Fulham strolled to an untroubled 2-1 win after falling behind via a deflected Anthony Pilkington free kick early on.

City spent most of that lunchtime chasing shadows as the visitors won largely as they pleased, but at least had the excuse that it was virtually a second string side they had out – we are without important players through injury currently, but,up until quite recently at least, we were coping well enough to maintain a top two placing – the early season dynamism may have been missing, but we were doing enough to pick up a series of largely deserved victories.

Actually, there is one player, who was only injured quite recently, who, on yesterday’s evidence, is being sorely missed. Much maligned by some, captain Sean Morrison’s injury at Reading is looking increasingly like a key moment for us.

There are sections of the local media which call for Morrison’s omission on a regular basis as they refer to what the so called dream partnership of Sol Bamba and Bruno Manga could give us. This tends to concentrate on what those two can do when they are in possession of the ball as the defending part of their game is taken for granted – we would have to be better with Bamba and Manga passing the ball out from the back than Morrison hoofing it surely?

Now, it needs to be said, that Fulham do not play with an obvious targetman and attack in a way that Morrison would not feel comfortable in dealing with, so I make no claims that we would definitely not have conceded four yesterday with him in there. However,  we have now conceded six times in our last one hundred and five minutes of football and we’ve not come remotely close to a record as poor as that with Morrison (who had played every minute of the Championship season for us before he went off at Reading) in the team.

Yes, Bamba did make some trademark interceptions and tackles and Manga did come up with those classy moments he is also capable of producing, but there were plenty of times when they looked uneasy individually and as a pairing, while I saw plenty of fairly aimless centreback hoofing of the type Morrison is frequently accused of yesterday.

If we looked a lot more porous at centreback than normal, then the same could be said about our full backs.

Back in our Premier League days, we were frequently opened up by passes played inside our full backs which dragged a centreback out of position and created overlaps through the middle which were usually exploited by out opponents. Fulham were able to do that to us virtually from the word go yesterday – they’d already got into dangerous positions in that channel ten to fifteen yards from the touchline three times before they managed to do it again in the lead up to their opening goal and their second one came from a similar situation as well.

Therefore, Lee Peltier and Joe Bennett were two others who were some way from their best. Of course, these days, and especially under this manager, our two wingers are supposed to do their bit defensively. Junior Hoilett and Nathaniel Mendez-Laing also found this side of the game a struggle and as, in my opinion, they were as poor going forward as a pair as I’ve seen them this season, those who were not there in the flesh or able to watch online can begin to see that we fell well short of the standards we have set for ourselves in most areas of the pitch yesterday.

However, nowhere was the difference between the two teams more marked than in central midfield.

I thought most of the momentum Fulham had from about this time onwards last season came from their midfield where Johnasen, Kevin McDonald and Tom Cairney represented a high quality blend of different styles which combined perfectly.

This season they’ve added Oliver Norwood, another good technical player with the ability to produce something special who was an unused sub yesterday, on loan from Brighton. Now, the league table tells you that, although the influential Cairney, who was nominated by some as the best player in the Championship in 17/18, has been absent through injury for a portion of it, these players have not been playing to their potential as a unit and probably individually.

Nevertheless, I’d like to see any of that quarter in our midfield, but would Neil Warnock?

I’ve mentioned before that I’ve heard our manager often talk about Aron Gunnarsson and Joe Ralls as “bread and butter” players. I think most of us will know what our manager means when he uses the term in that way, but, just to be sure, I’ve looked up “bread and butter” in a few online dictionaries and found things like “everyday”, “ordinary”, “basic” and “reliable”, but “essential”, “important” and “key” are there as well.

So, “bread and butter” is a complimentary description, as well as the fairly mundane one that I must admit I think of first when hearing it applied to footballers. Our manager is right therefore – every side needs it’s “bread and butter” midfielders (I happen to think that Fulham might well be in the Premier League now if they’d had, say, a Gunnarsson in their squad last season), but do they need as many of them as we seem to have?

We went with three midfielders yesterday in Ralls, the fit again Craig Bryson and Loic Damour, but you can throw in the injured Gunnarsson as well and, certainly compared to Fulham, they all look much of a muchness.

On an individual basis, I thought that, apart from being caught out when Ryan Sessignon scored his obligatory goal against us to make it 3-1, Ralls played well yesterday, Bryson did better in the second half after an opening forty five minutes where, once again, there was plenty of activity with hardly any end product and Damour wasn’t poor either, but as a threesome, they were a long way short of the trio directly opposing them – there was none of the “jam” that Fulham possess.

By and large, City don’t do “jam” in midfield under Neil Warnock, they do have someone who has provided that something extra in slightly advanced areas of where Gunnarsson, Ralls etc. are most comfortable playing, but he was nowhere to be seen as City laboured for the creativity to unlock a Fulham defence which is far from impregnable.

However, leaving Lee Tomlin aside just for now, I have to say that I just don’t get why a side struggling to retrieve a two goal deficit would not use all three substitutions available rather than the two seen yesterday – with our wingers struggling, why not give Liam Feeney a try or use Pilkington to provide some support for Kenneth Zohore who spent most of his afternoon chasing those aforementioned hoofs forward (i.e. lost causes)?

The truth is though that out of the subs available to Neil Warnock, Tomlin for me was the obvious first choice to come on and try to change things – especially when we wasted quite a few promising positions in that thirty yards from the opponent’s goal areas which are his natural habitat.

Now, I’m not as much of a fan of the Lee Tomlin who is playing for us as I was of the one who played for Peterborough or Middlesbrough and I rate him very much as a disappointing signing so far. I don’t think his displays so far merit a starting place in the team every week either, but he has shown in matches like Sheffield United, Ipswich and Reading that he can give us things that other players in our squad cannot- you need a bit of the rapier when the bludgeon isn’t working.

It’s impossible not to consider Tomlin’s non use yesterday without making reference to his substitution fifteen minutes after himself coming on as a sub at Bolton on Saturday. If Tomlin had started against Fulham or had been introduced as first change on, say, the hour mark, then the reason given by Neil Warnock for what happened in the previous match (he was taken off before he was sent off) would ring true, but it’s harder to accept it now – the impression created yesterday was that our manager has, for now at least, given up on Tomlin, but, if that’s the case, why have him on the bench in the first place?

Instead of Tomlin, we saw Rhys Healey come on for his first taste of senior team action since he sustained that injury against Rotherham last February. Healey has been described as the only player we have who can make runs beyond our main striker from the number ten position – that may not have been what he produced yesterday, but his burst of acceleration, backed up by a strong run and a lovely, weighted, pass to put Zohore into space just as the game went into added time, represented just about the first example of us creating something which opened up the Fulham defence from open play in the whole game.

Zohore’s “worldy” from twenty five yards just after Fulham’s second goal owed nothing to smooth build up play  and so Healey’s run and pass and Peltier’s cross (the best one we produced all match) seconds later that enabled the other sub, Callum Paterson, to head home represented the clear high points, in terms of creativity, of a frustrating, very cold and wet afternoon.

Vincent Tan was there against Fulham watching his third game this season and, although he reiterated that the days of spending “silly money” are gone, he did confirm that there is some available to Neil Warnock next month. For his part, our manager heavily hinted that we will be looking at a couple of loan signings, one of whom is at a Premier League club and the other is with one in the Championship.

With the injuries to Danny Ward and Gunnarsson being specifically referred to by the manager, it’s widely accepted that we are talking about a striker and a midfield player coming in – in the case of the latter, I enjoy bread and butter, but do like that something extra to give it a bit more flavour now and again.


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10 Responses to Outclassed City given a football lesson.

  1. Jeff Blight says:

    Compliments of the season Paul and thanks for another enjoyable summary.

    We have performed above expectations until recently, perhaps the injuries have caught up with us, although I think teams have also identified our strengths and have nullified them to a degree. Agree with your comments about our midfield although without Gunnarsson I think we are to easily bullied and we lack skills in that area.

    I just find it strange that the players we have signed this season for reasonable fees have spent most of their time on the bench and both the loan signings have been uninspiring. Thankfully the free signings in the main have been a success.

    Like you I hope the manager has identified a quality midfield operator and for the quick return of our captain.

    Cracking goal by big Ken and although we were well beaten at least we were entertained unlike the Slade days.

  2. Colin Phillips says:

    Thanks, Paul.

    We are slip, sliding away and look much more like a relegation contender than a promotion chasing out fit.

    Can Neil change it around?

    Where has the form of the first three home games gone?

    Again I wasn’t happy with the ref, agree we got away with that penalty shout early on but there was more than a suspicion of Sessegnon controlling the ball with his hand for the third goal.

    We were always going to be in trouble in midfield if MacDonald, Cairney and Johansen turned up in the mood. Please can we find a player like the last named, a very sharp and cool operator.

    Fulham played like a team who had trained together well and knew what they were going to do with ball before they received, our side looked as if they didn’t want to have the ball in their possession and played as if they had never even met each other before.

    With the game basically lost we started to play and I was very pleased that Kenneth got a goal like that. I have the theory that Fulham are flaky at the back and it wasn’t until too late that we started asking questions of them.

    The last three games I have managed to get to were Millwall, Hull and yesterday and at the moment I am having severe doubts about sitting through another 95 minutes of similar torture on Friday evening. Can anyone come up with some hope that will convince me to go.

  3. Russell says:

    Thanks Paul for the summary , hope you and fellow contributors had a good festive period.

    The game as you have called it in your title , basically sums it up really , Fulham have been for a few years a classy passing side ,and on their day will beat anyone even the mighty Wolverlona.

    We never came near them in my view in set up ,passing ,getting on the front foot , we did win the giving the ball away percentages though .

    On a brighter note It was great to see Ken back and what a goal well worth the entry fee.

    I thought they had more pace and got behind us easily , although I do think Peltier is a decent full back as is Bennett , I may have to also concede that Morrison us being missed, however our centre backs to lack recovery pace, there good against not so pacy sides, I also think that were running on empty and in need of a refresh , I will be there on Friday however I am worried about thier pace ,my guess is It will be an anxious game with a poor crowd and we may get a draw .

    I wish I could muster up more positiveness but we may see us drop a bit more .

    Over to you Mr Tan , you have a great chance to top off our season as we need some fresh ( well skilled legs ) he must have planned this game for this very reason as the transfer window opens , I would not be shocked to see one or two leave ,ie Manga ,Tomlin , Gunnerson or Bennett , bit of a controversial thought, yes ,but its good business to sell when values are high, the clever trick is better nd different replacement to what we have now as tge squad is half finished and as you say midfield is key , we do havev a few good strikers if fit ,ie Healey, Harris Bogle and I still think Fred has something to offer .

  4. Anthony O'Brien says:

    If any aspiring sports journalist were looking for an example of outstandingly excellent reporting, he (and, I suppose, I should also add “her”) need look no further than today’s contribution from our Blogmeister. The quality of the writing is matched by the perceptiveness of his reporting. It is certainly far from being a mere “bread and butter” contribution. From the accuracy of its title to the very last comment the class shines through.

    But “class” was sadly lacking in Cardiff’s performance yesterday. Fulham were streets ahead in terms of speed of movement and of thought, skill and immediate ball-control, and (for the most part) composure under pressure. For our own fans, players, and management the game surely underscored several deficiencies. I am abroad during the New Year, but I hope that when I come back those deficiencies will have been rectified. Let’s hope the revival begins on Friday.

    In previous posts I forgot to wish everyone a happy Christmas. So, belatedly, I’d like to wish you all a Happy and Prosperous New Year.

  5. BJA says:

    Good morning Paul and others – Just hope your festive period has not been spoilt too much by yesterday’s showing. Second best everywhere, although our Ken and Ralls put in a good shift. Seeing a Fulham side with composure, skill and pace really had me wondering why they are currently a mid-table side. Many more performance like this will surely see them rise up the table somewhat rapidly, and many more of our showings like this will us us go in the opposite direction.
    Now I am not a great fan of Morrison, but as you rightly suggest, we surely would not have conceded four had he been available. Up until four games ago, our defence was the best in the league, but without him, we have looked decidedly shaky and have gone backwards. As a consequence we look fairly vulnerable to sides that are able to attack the Fulham way. And to think that an in form Preston team arrive in 48 hours or more.
    I think what bothered me most about yesterday was how we lost our shape for so many periods of the game. Both central defenders were pulled out of defence too many times, and our wingers were not alert of the need to fulfil the role of the modern winger. As a result both fullbacks struggled. Also in chasing the game, we were so slow in retreating at pace, and on one occasion I counted five, yes five City players between the Fulham goalkeeper and their last defender as one of our attacks failed. And as for the last Fulham goal, the least said the better other than I hope Etheridge had a few strong words.
    On the way to the ground I heard Mr.Tan’s interview on Radio Wales. He stated that there would be money available for NW, but the days of spending “silly money” have gone. I fully accept that, but if Gunnars is out for a couple of months, then we need some quality in that position. I have no idea who might be available, but it is a position that we must address sooner than later.
    The last two matches have been real wake up calls. No need for panic just yet, but I hope NW is able to remind our lot how they reached the summit of the division, and the need to get back to basics ( now where have I heard that before ).

  6. P O'Sullivan says:

    As a life long Fulham supporter having spent 50 years with a black and white scarf around my neck, I have to say that it is rare to see such a well written game commentary as this. The writer is correct that our engine is Tom Cairney, he is a Captain that even at his tender age, leads by example. When he plays he reads the game so well and his passing is an exercise in football engineering with precision and vision. I am old enough to have seen the Maestro Haynes play and Cairney reminds me so much of that Legends ability in changing a game with sublime passing. In fact the answer to the question of Fulhams poor position is that Cairney was injured for an extended period.

    Cardiff is a fine team with a first class Manager and I have little doubt that they will be in the shake up for promotion. Every team has a bumpy period and Fulham has had theirs and you may be having yours now. Unless you have a Manchester City sized cheque book, you will not be buying your way out, so do what we do at Fulham and build from the academy. We have produced great players over the years Dembele and now Sessingnon (his brother is also excellent) being the latest. OK, we will lose them when offered silly money by Real Madrid but the money then funds development of the next generation.

    Have a happy seaon and see you in the play offs hopefully!

  7. Matt N says:

    Hi Paul and “team I hope Christmas was enjoyable…because the fun certainly stopped at 3pm at the CCS! On the positive side 1) Zohore back and scoring is great to see – and that was a goal as soon as it left his boot. 2) you are right Paul we could have equalised instead of going 4-2 down and 3) it was heartwarming to see Healey come on.
    Although I class Cairney as one of those too good for the champ and not quite premier league class, he was pulling the strings in midfield and our 3 looked strangers, particularly woeful was Bryson who ran around like a headless and partially lame chicken. The slippery conditions didn’t help but it was the same for both teams and really I am not sure Hoillett or Mendez fancied it yesterday.
    Finally point on the standard o the officials, which you mentioned already. Stone wall penalty for Fulham was missed and then a weird set of advantage/non advantage decisions which harmed both teams in equal measure.But the linesman was a total joke. In a ten minute period I counted 5 decisions which he got totally wrong and a clear foul in front of him which he ignored. Haven’t seen a lineo that bad since we were in league 2.
    My brother (a spurs fan) vowed not to come along to another game with me, such was his distaste for the football on offer, but I think he has been spoiled and I have certainly seen worse from the city, but I do hope a mixture of players returning to form and maybe a loaner midfielder with something to prove seems an upturn in the near future.
    Roll on Preston…

  8. huw perry says:

    Thanks Paul for an excellent summary and analysis of yesterday’s performance. Agree with ANthony above in that you have missed your vocation as a sports journalist.
    Unfortunately the match lived up to my fears with memories of Boxing Days past with the driving rain adding to the sense of pervading gloom.
    I thought we might be in trouble in the first few minutes when Fulhams neat passing triangles and use of tight space proved effective against our more routine defending – and so it proved. Fulham reminded me also of why they were so impressive last year when they are on their game.
    As has already been said above, too many off-colour performances despite more effort in the second half. Without that quality in the midfield area though we will do well to stay in contention if our wide players have too many off days. I do worry that we might have been rumbled in terms of our approach but, on a positive note, have felt that a few times this season and we have always bounced back.
    Let’s hope last couple of games were just a warning shot across the bows and we find our sea legs again soon. I am sure Mr W has a plan- and hope that January sees the drafting in of some reinforcements.
    And a belated Happy Christmas and New Year to Paul and all bloggers!

  9. HarryKirtley'sGhost says:

    AMO and Huw suggest that Paul missed his vocation as a sports journalist: the truth is that the people in power missed…him. Quite often they do so deliberately: they just cannot contemplate the possibility of newcomers showing them up…!!

    That said, I often think that things are meant to happen when they do…and not before.

    And so it came to pass that thirty years ago, the Sage speaketh to Paul of Fairwater, and sayeth unto him: “Thou must wait until I have arranged an appointment – not fortunately for thee in Samarra, but in a new city planned, called Cyberspace – with a Mr Tim Berners-Lee. And he preparest the perfect playing field for thee, where thou will have oceans of space in which to express yourself. It will be called THE INTERNET. Not for thee the cramped space of a printed newspaper…thou can indulge in proper grown-up writing there, and not be constantly having thy words chopped by the grubby hands of subeditors not fit to fill thy inkwells”.

    And verily, that too came to pass.

    As it also came to pass on Boxing Day, that Mr. Joe Bennett reverted to the old hopeless norm I warned against on the day City signed him.

  10. The other Bob Wilson says:

    The normal thank yous go out to all who have replied, but they are magnified this time because of the very kind words from some of you about my writing. I think Dai (Harry Kirtley’s Ghost) has got it right though – having a blank sheet of paper, so to speak, in this site gives me the chance to indulge myself by having everything I want to say published. I know from experience when I was writing my weekly column for the Echo that print journalists have it tougher than me because there is a limit on how much they are allowed to say. It’s for others to judge how good or bad a job I did when I was writing those Echo articles, but I frequently felt I had not really conveyed entirely what I was trying to say.

    A few comments on what some of you have to say, Jeff, I agree with you about our loan signings. Neil Warnock has said that he would have gone for Joe Ledley if Craig Bryson had not become available – granted, Joe would not have provided much of the jam I talked about, but I think I’m right in saying that Derby are still unbeaten in games he’s started.

    Colin, while we have taken some right hidings at Deepdale down the years and our recent record there is poor, we’ve done well at home against them lately – I’ve not looked it up, but I think we’ve won four out of our last six games against them in Cardiff and the other two have been draws – hopefully, that will persuade you to go tomorrow!

    Like you Russell, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a high profile departure or two during January – I think you’ve got the ones I’d say are most likely to leave, but I would add Junior Hoilett as his contract runs out in the summer (I would say he’s unlikely to look for a move if Neil Warnock remains in charge, but I wouldn’t rule out a tempting cash bid for him next month).

    Anthony, I’ve had a couple of replies on the messageboard I post my reports on disputing my use of the word “outclassed” in the title I gave to my Fulham reaction article, but I agree with you about our opponents being “streets ahead” of us in certain aspects of the game where they made us look limited and cumbersome by comparison.

    BJA, I agree with virtually all that you say, but I wouldn’t be too critical of the way we conceded the fourth goal – of course, I may feel differently if we miss out on a top six spot by the same sort of margin we did to Preston in our great implosion of 2009!

    Matt, I think your Spurs supporting brother has been spoiled – even Tuesday’s game was entertaining, albeit in a one sided way, and, by and large, I come away from matches under this matches having enjoyed what I’ve seen. As I mentioned in my article, our league game with Fulham was my favourite match from last season and, despite the last minute winning goal for Barnsley last year, that match was hugely entertaining with the link between the two being that we didn’t win either of them.

    Great to hear from you on here Huw. You’re right about Boxing Days past. It’s just two wins out of our last eighteen such matches now and I’m at a loss to explain why that should be – after all, it’s hardly as if they’ve all been played with the same manager in charge, so you wouldn’t have thought it was anything to do with our preparation.

    Dai, strange that the Fulham manager was so keen on signing Bennett after the way he struggled in that FA Cup game and after Tuesday he must be thinking that he dodged a bullet when nothing came of the talks Joe had with his club!

    Finally, as always, it’s great to get the viewpoint of an opposing fan on here. Peter (I’m assuming that’s your name after reading your email address), welcome to Mauve and Yellow Army. I’m pretty certain that I only saw Johnny Haynes play once in the flesh and that was in my first ever away game when we won 5-1 at Craven Cottage in December 1968. We were in a very good run of form at the time, while you were on your way to a second successive relegation and I can remember that, after we’d gone a goal behind, the great man grew more and more frustrated with his team mates as the goals went in with John Toshack showing why you had tried to sign him around a year earlier – although he was well past his best by then, I can remember thinking that many of the Fulham players were just not on Haynes’ “wavelength”. Of course, in typical Cardiff fashion, you beat us 2-0 at Ninian Park a few months later with Brian Dear getting both of the goals!

    I agree with you entirely about building from the Academy, but, unfortunately, ours has been unfit for purpose in recent years, with even the one graduate who has established himself in the first team during this decade (Joe Ralls) hardly being someone who has come up through the ranks at Cardiff, as he was signed from Farnborough at the age of sixteen I think it was.

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