Before talking about the game itself, I’d like to say that, unlike with UK plc, the words “We’re all in this together” have some relevance when applied to Cardiff City’s 2011/12 campaign – there has been a sense of connection between team and fans and manager and fans which has added to the general feelgood factor of what, in the main, has been a very enjoyable season. However, I think it needs to be said that this connection probably went too far yesterday when the team decided to down tools for the last fifteen minutes of our 3-1 defeat to Blackpool in support of us fans who had been subjected to a disgraceful assault on our eardrums a quarter of an hour earlier. I’m talking here about the dreadful goal music that was inflicted on us when Joe Mason put us ahead of course – that Amerianised crap was responsible for turning my mood from one of joy into anger in a matter of seconds.
Whoever was responsible for this outrage should be named and shamed – it was a colossal own goal by the club and, if you have not done so already, I urge you to vote in the polls on the two main City messageboards on this matter here and here or, better still, make the club aware of your views here , here or here.
Anyway, on to the game I’m afraid and, actually, the downing tools analogy could just as easily be applied to all but the third quarter of the match. Apart from twenty minutes or so at the start of the second half, prompted by the introduction of Joe Mason for the unfortunate Joe Ralls (whose first half performance was better than his two colleagues alongside him in central midfield in my opinion), City never got out of the starting blocks yesterday. Some have said that, if we had been able to hold on to our 1-0 lead until the end, then the win and performance would have been similar to a few of other matches this year (e.g. both games against Forest), but I disagree with that – at least in those, and similar, type games, there was effort, spirit and the odd moment of quality. Yesterday, the team seemed flat and listless – of course, you have to give credit to Blackpool for their deserved win, but were they really any good? We were so poor, that it was hard to tell.
I’m trying not to be too harsh on the team here because, after all, they’ve shown over getting on for forty matches this season that they are a lot better than that and, hopefully, normal service will be resumed at Leicester next Saturday, but, that often voiced (on here anyway!) suspicion that the way we play may see some of our squad running out of steam towards the end of the campaign only becomes that much louder with performances like yesterday’s lifeless showing. I’ve already alluded to two of our central midfield men, well, after the Southampton match, I read something posted by a supporter suggesting that Peter Whittingham and Aron Gunnarsson were showing signs of flagging under the strain of the heavy workload they’ve had over the past six months – although there were a few good things from them as they’re both fine players at this level, you have to say that he might have had a point having watched how they played yesterday.
It would be wrong to concentrate solely on those two though, it was hard to find many decent, let alone good, performers in a City shirt – Ralls may have been unfortunate, but Mason livened things up for a while and, for me, was our best player, Kevin McNaughton and Don Cowie didn’t do too badly, but the former was wasteful with his final ball when attacking and had one or two awkward early moments against Matt Phillips, while the latter was never in the game as much as normal because we were struggling to establish any sort of control inside him. David Marshall was playing well until his poor punch led to Blackpool’s equaliser – yes, Gunnarsson could have done better with his attempted clearance, but it was Marshall’s error that created the problem.
Our first choice goalkeeper is still well in credit over the course of the season in my book, but it’s a concern that errors by him in our last two home league matches have cost us goals. However, as Malky Mackay pointed out after the game, we weren’t good enough defensively as a whole. After keeping four successive clean sheets in all competitions at Cardiff City Stadium a few months ago, our last four league matches have seen us concede nine times at home – people have talked about our ground being turned into a fortress recently (and it has to be said that home results have generally been very good this season), but you can’t build one on such shaky foundations. Although Blackpool’s third goal could be excused as we chased an equaliser, the defending for their first two was not up to scratch, but if one incident summed up the way we struggled at the back, it was the way we were sliced apart early in the second half by a simple long ball over the top (a tactic Blackpool had already used a lot in the first half) which left Matt Phillips (at least I thought it was him, but I see the press are reporting it as Nouha Dicko) with a clear run in on goal before firing. wastefully, wide.
Phillips was to have the last laugh in the final ten minutes though and, his overall performance showed why we had been interested in him during the January transfer window. He always looked dangerous when he ran at us, but, up until his first goal, there had been a lack of a final product from him. His excellent finish to put his team ahead though was that of talented player high on confidence after a very good recent goalscoring run. It could be claimed sometimes that when two volleys fly into the net like Blackpool’s first two goals did, there is an element of luck involved in them, but the younger Phillips took his goal like a natural and when you saw the ball dropping towards Kevin Phillips for the first one, it wasn’t hard to predict what was coming. Ben Turner had described the older Phillips as the best finisher in the Championship before the game and I’ll not argue with him on that – he’s been scoring goals like yesterday’s for nearly two decades and I’m sure he would have won more England caps if he had played for more fashionable clubs.
So, for the seventh consecutive match, we score first against Blackpool and yet we have not gone onto win in six of them (including the last five). Ian Holloway’s side certainly look to have had the Indian sign on us in recent years, but, as mentioned earlier, it was hard to gauge how good Blackpool were yesterday because that was the worst City performance I’ve seen by some way this season – with this manager and group of players, I’d be very surprised if taking their eye off the ball as they looked forward to Wembley on the 26th of this month was responsible, but, in a way, it would be good if that was the case because the most likely alternative will have serious repercussions for our league campaign if it proves to be the reason for our poor showing.
Photos courtesy of Wales online.