Predictable Newcastle defeat on a good day for City’s youngsters.


Back in the summer of 2014 as we were trying to come to terms with relegation from the Premier League, Wales Online ran a story which I’m sure they soon regretted when they surmised that Cardiff City had the strongest squad ever assembled by a Championship club.

This was off the back of signing the likes of Guido Burgstaller, Adam LeFondre, Federico Macheda and Javi Guerra – if you were taken in by that story at the time, it didn’t take too many viewings of our “team of all the talents” to realise that we were nothing of the sort.

Yesterday, City headed north to face a Newcastle team that topped the league and are reckoned by some to be worthy of that best Championship squad of all time label. Indeed, at his pre match press conference on Friday, Neil Warnock had said that first team coach Ronnie Jepson had given this accolade to the Geordies after watching a side that was some way from what manager Rafa Benitez would describe as his strongest, destroy Preston 6-0 in a recent League Cup tie.

In the event, Newcastle were able to stretch their winning run to eight matches in all competitions, but City could take some comfort from a loss which, at 2-1, was narrower than would have been expected when they trailed by a couple of goals at the interval – that said, City may have “won” the second half, but the general consensus was that their margin of defeat certainly flattered them.

Anyway, I’ll return to the first team’s game later, because, for now, I want to talk about the youth team matches I watched yesterday afternoon when City’s Under 16s and under 18s took on their counterparts from Watford at Treforest.

In fact, all things considered, it was probably City’s best day of the season so far at youth level because both games were won by 3-0. Now, it needs to be said that, in terms of entertainment and good football, I have seen better from both teams since August, but allowances needed to be made for the conditions both matches were played in.

On the face of it, a crisp and sunny autumn’s day would seem ideal for bringing out the best from all of those taking part, but that is to ignore the cold and strong wind which blew down the pitch from end to end throughout.

While never being strong enough to be called a gale, the wind was a factor to the extent that players could often do little more than help the ball on when, in calmer conditions, they would have wanted to get it under control and do something constructive with it. No, this was a day to play the percentages and I must say that from what I saw of both matches, City were able to master the conditions much better than their opponents.

Both City teams found themselves playing into the wind in the first half and I watched the opening forty five minutes of the Under 18s game in which I would have thought they would have been fairly happy to have got to the break at 0-0.

I say fairly happy, because City were the side forcing the issue most of the time. Chances were at a premium, but the best two fell to the home team. The first came when James Waite, unusually playing on the right rather than through the middle, neatly set Sion Spence free in the  inside right channel, but the Watford goalkeeper was quickly off his line to keep out the midfielder’s shot at the expense of one of a series of corners City earned.

All of them were taken by Jarrad Welch to a standard which tested the visitor’s defence, but it was when he tried something different that City came closest to breaking the deadlock as he worked a short corner with Waite and put over an excellent cross which was headed very narrowly wide by Ibby SoSani – it looked like the sort of opportunity which really had to be put away, but, in fairness, the gusting wind meant that probably there was no such thing as an easy headed chance in this game.

Watford had nothing to offer as an attacking force in reply, but were in better shape than their Under 16s were as they faced the wind in the second half because the younger age group found themselves  2-0 down to a City team that I believe has still only lost the one league game this season.

I saw the penalty (scored by City’s number two I think) which enabled the Under 16s to get a tangible reward for their dominant opening ten minutes, but missed the second one scored around the half hour mark.

From what I could see from fifty yards away, Watford were offering more of a goal threat than their seniors were and, when I wandered over to the other pitch to watch the third quarter of their match, they did have a trio of shots that flew not too far over. However, once again, it was City who coped with the conditions better when it came to looking likely scorers. In fact, when the number two clipped a free kick in low to the near post, City’s number six was one of three home players who reacted quicker than any of the defenders to get the decisive touch and make it 3-0.

It looked like things would get even worse for Watford not long afterwards when the ref blew for a second City penalty following another free kick, but a linesman had spotted an earlier offside and so the decision was changed.

Almost straight away though, the woodwork came to the visitor’s rescue after the ball had been presented to a City player twenty yards from goal.

Jarrad Welch - the stand out performer for City's Under 18s in a what was perhaps their best win of the season so far.

Jarrad Welch – the stand out performer for City’s Under 18s in a what was perhaps their best win of the season so far.

All of this time, the Under 18s had been taking a grip on their game thanks to Mark Harris. Fresh from scoring four times in last week’s 9-1 Welsh Youth Cup romp against Tredegar, the Swansea born striker had scored twice. Unfortunately, I missed his first one about five minutes into the second half, which was, apparently, a curling effort from outside the penalty area, but saw his second around fifteen minutes later when he fastened on to a long ball from Spence, brushed off a defender and steered the ball into the corner of the net.

Now back watching the Under 18s again, I had a good view of our third goal not long afterwards when the outstanding Welch made a fairly difficult chance look easy as he took the ball in his stride and slotted into the same corner as Harris had done.

Welch’s goal was a fitting reward for his man of the match display, but credit too to the defence for a rare clean sheet – Watford did have a shot which clipped the outside of a post at 3-0, but that is the only time I can recall them seriously troubling the City rearguard all game.

So, good wins with clean sheets in both matches, but any faint hopes of the first team being able to turn that double into a treble lasted only three minutes at St. James Park. Realistically, the chances of City ending their long run of matches without a clean sheet on this occasion must have been negligible, but, with Newcastle making a habit of scoring very early on in recent home wins, City’s game plan must surely have centred on frustrating their opponents long enough to turn the huge home support from the advantage they are proving to be this season into the disadvantage they often were last year as their team tumbled out of the Premier League.

That didn’t happen because City’s 4-1-4-1 formation, which had been used in all Neil Warnock’s matches so far, largely failed to cope with Newcastle’s speed, movement and understanding in the sort of areas Aron Gunnarsson has been patrolling so effectively lately. To be fair to the Icelandic captain, it seems he did all that he could to cope with what turned out to be a huge workload and, with the benefit of hindsight, I would suggest that this was an occasion when a 4-2-3-1 formation would have been more appropriate as it would have given Gunnar some help in defensive midfield areas.

Realistically though, Newcastle were probably too good for us whatever formation we would have played. Even so, questions will be asked about another of our manager’s decisions as he became the latest man in charge to wrestle with the dilemma of what to do about a player who, dead ball delivery apart, can make a negligible contribution one week and then come off the bench, after the other midfield players had shown that they are not capable of reaching anywhere near the levels he can at some aspects of the game, the next to remind him what his team had been missing.

Yes, two of Peter Whittingham’s three goals since Neil Warnock took over may have come from a penalty and a free kick, but he has scored two more than any other City player in our last five matches and, with Warnock again voicing his opinion that there are not enough goals in this City team after yesterday’s match, the other midfielders in the squad are making it very hard for someone with some pretty obvious weaknesses to his game these days to be left out of the side.

Neil Warnock also had a few things to say about the officiating after the match and he was not alone in being critical of referee Tony Harrington – Benitez was not impressed either.

Having not seen Mr Harrington in action (I’d never heard of him before this week), I cannot make any comment about how good or bad he was except to say that I’m generally not very impressed when a City match is reffed by a “new face” these days – yes, it’s tough for inexperienced performers (be they players or officials) to make their way up their career ladders, but, when it comes to referees, it’s a long time since one whose name was unfamiliar to me has impressed me.

Our manager’s beef with Mr Harrington was over his refusal to award City a late penalty when Sean Morrison tried to get his head to a Whittingham free kick. Certainly, Kevin Ratcliffe up in the Radio Wales commentary box was convinced that there had been a foul on the City player as he shouted “that’s a penalty”, thereby ensuring that I wasn’t the only City fan who thought for a few glorious seconds that we had been handed the means to get back on level terms, but instead, Mr Harrington decided that the offence which had been committed had come from the City man.

Benitez, for his part, was upset about the lack of protection given to his team. Essentially, his point was that one team was intent on playing football and the other was not.

Having seen our first four matches under Neil Warnock’s management, I have a small degree of sympathy with the Newcastle manager because our football has become very basic and agricultural. However, this is the way Neil Warnock feels we can best get out of the mess we are in and, having seen our feeble attempts to play a brand of football that was easier on the eye earlier in the season, it’s hard to argue that our manager is wrong in thinking the way he does.

Unlike, many of the other foreign “super managers” plying their trade in this country, Benitez has recent experiences of fighting a relegation battle and it was one which he lost.

Given the way the game is loaded in favour of the bigger clubs these days, any team that can average 50,000 plus at the gate should never get relegated from the top flight – to this outsider, Newcastle went down last season because they lacked something that Neil Warnock’s Cardiff appears to have in abundance at the moment, spirit.

Granted, the large majority of Newcastle’s spineless capitulations came before Benitez’s appointment, but his team meekly accepted their fate in some of their matches last season, so could it be that the source of his irritation was that his team had faced a side which was willing to make a fight of things despite overwhelming odds against them yesterday in a manner that he did not see from his team when they were in a scrap?

As for City, yesterday was the first in a very testing quartet of games. I had described the Newcastle fixture as a bonus match for us because everyone was assuming we would be beaten and so, in a way, the pressure was off. Having duly lost out on that bonus now, the same cannot apply when we face Huddersfield, Villa and Brighton over the coming weeks.

We need to try to get a minimum of three points from these matches, but will have to show more quality to go with that spirit if we are to manage that. It would be great for the team to prove our manager’s assessment of their goal scoring potential wrong, but I fear that this will be beyond them – we are a low scoring side which cannot keep clean sheets and, for that potentially disastrous combination to cease before January at least, it seems to me that we have to rediscover the knack of not conceding during games.

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9 Responses to Predictable Newcastle defeat on a good day for City’s youngsters.

  1. Barry Cole says:

    I detected that you have tried to balance the game from both sides Paul and a lot of what you say is so correct. My only concerns are that we should be asking questions about the team that is picked. Possibly I am on my own here but I would have gone for the same change as Warnock did, and would also have used whittingham as a sub because I think he is getting very tired late in games.
    That said I don’t believe Ralls and Richardson did their chances of being in the next team much good with their performances. I feel that no one is beginning to get his confidence back and he will get better. It’s coming together slowly but how many chances were missed at both ends. We really have to put away these and the half chances. In the first half Newcastle showed why they were at the top and had we concentrated just that bit more in the final few minutes of the half we would have been in a really good position as we had began to change the game a good 15 minutes prior to the goal.
    In the second half we should have had the ball in the net three times before we scored ( mind you Newcastle should have had two). The changes were positive but I still don’t see Harris making a claim for a position in the team.
    What I do see is a workmanlike Cardiff team putting in a lot of effort and its beginning to pay off. We have just got to take our chances better. We all know what is needed another striker and a box to box creative midfielder and that has been the case ever since my friend slade walked through the door, as an aside I see his team won their fa cup tie and gets us closer to meeting them in round 3 lol. I digress.
    To all our supporters have faith, this will come together very soon and although we are now 11 points behind a play off place I still believe it’s achievable with Warnock in charge.
    Looking forward to the Huddersfield match as I see that as the turning point and it will be nice to catch up with Hudson once more
    Onwards and upwards

  2. paul says:

    I will not talk about the football today but concentrate on the officials.
    I read prior to the game that the ref was from teeside. No thats a tad too close to the homeside for my liking and i thought immediately that we had no chance of getting decisions.
    As far as I am concerned refs, and the league, have ruined football. Win or lose all I want is an honest result, how many do we truly get.
    When we played the play off semi final the following day after Swansea won their semi, we had Mr Webb. I told my mate he was there to ensure there wasn’t 2 welsh teams in the final, he called me an idiot. The day after the game he said that I was right looking at all the decisions that went against us.
    When we did get to the so called best league in the world (load of nonsense as far as i am concerned) look at how many clear decisions went against us.
    I have instructed leadership and team building in the forces and know how morale can quickly drop. However good or bad a team is when they know they must beat a team and ref it can affect their minds from the start.
    Warnock may have got some of these decisions with his other clubs. Welcome to Cardiff City Neil, you’re not going to get so many here.
    When in the, best league in the world, (pun) I wrote to the FA about the refs. Their answer was that the game is fast and the angle of vision is different to the fans so he may miss some decisions. This was after the Villa home game when our slouth, kenwyn was manhandled throughout the first half without the ref awarding anything. He did it for the first time just before halftime and the whistle blew.
    My belief is they hate us, did want us up there, do not want 2 welsh teams in THEIR LEAGUE, and will do all they can to stop us again.
    Laugh at this next statement and criticise if you want but I agree with their Kick Racism out of Football, but they should stop with their own campaign against us,and Swansea from what i hear from the jacks .

  3. Dai Woosnam says:

    Thanks Paul (upper case) as ever for the effort and the illumination.
    And hello to Paul (lower case). Was this your debut in MAYA…or have I been remiss and missed your previous contributions?
    Certainly, if this was your debut, it was for contributors, the most striking debut imaginable. In playing terms, it was up there with Neil O’Halloran’s hat-trick against Charlton …which I witnessed as a small kid.
    Good provocative stuff.
    Just a few thoughts though…
    1. There is no love lost between Teesside* and Tyneside.
    2. If a Cardiff v Bristol game was to be reffed by a Swansea Jack, do you reckon Bristol would be wise to try get the ref switched?
    3. As I remember, Howard Webb rightly gave a penalty when our idiot Israeli hauled Matt Mills down in the penalty box.
    4. Playing devil’s advocate only slightly here…is there not a serious case to be made for always appointing a referee as local as possible? As I see it, paradoxically, that way the away team are more likely to get a fairer throw of the dice.

    * paul (lower case) that spelling catches out the best of us. As indeed does “Middlesbrough” (see last year’s Wembley misspelled play-off tickets).

  4. paul says:

    Thanks Dai.

    No this was not my debut.
    Totally agree Mr Webb rightly gave the penalty, but he did not give us one when Olifinjana was pushed when in the air about to head goalwards. As the anylysts stated on the highlight show. he had an uninterupted view so why didn’t he give it. Plus allthe other decisions against us.
    I will leave you all to ponder over that and my very very low opinion of refs. It is only an opinion but I dont feel I see many honest refs.
    Lets be honest our finest, Clattenburg. Finest, what an idiot and dishonest. Liverpool v Everton, gave everything liverpools way. They won 2-1 and it comes out after that Liverpool took him on their pre-season tour to China. He was the man in the centre for our final against liverpool. Ignored Gerrards elbow on Gunners which laid him flat. Ignored the pull on Hudson for their forst goal by perpetual puller Sktel.
    I amy be clutching at straws for yesterdays game as they outplayed us for most of the game, but i feel that if you defend well and then are in the game inthe last few minutes then you deserve the honesty from the ref. That is something that is lacking from the game. Opinion. I think he bottled it as he was terrified of having 50,000 screaming geordies claiming he had robbed them of their win. if he aint got the bottle to make the call then he should hand his money over to charity not pocket it.

  5. Lindsay Davies says:

    Once again, thanks to all MAYAns for keeping this exile up-to-date and informed; really interesting observations and opinions, including a dash of Barry’s optimism…most welcome.
    I seem to remember that, during our (recent – but, oh so long ago) Premier season, we should have had at least three penalties at Anfield – all resulting from Martin “Grappler” Skrtl’s encounters with Caulker, in their box, at our corners…but, I may be biased. (I hope I am!).

  6. Anthony O'Brien says:

    Almost fifty years ago I wrote to either the South Wales Echo or the Football Echo (“the Pink-un”) complaining that Cardiff City did not seem to have a series of moves to benefit from the enormous throw-in of Bobby Woodruffe, which was probably even longer than those of Aron Gunnarsson. I could easily make the same complaint today. I know that a long throw-in, assisted by an excellent lay-off from Gounongbe, led to Whittingham’s long range goal, but how often has that happened previously? Not often, of course.

    In contrast, Kevin Radcliffe in his wireless commentary stated that of the first three throw-ins taken by Newcastle, all three were different. Their first goal came from a quick and short throw-in taken in line with Cardiff’s goal area (habitual Gunnarsson territory). The second also came from a quick and short throw-in, whereas Cardiff tended to stick like a fly in a fly trap to their predictable and usually unsuccessful long throw.

    I’m not decrying the fact of a long throw, only calling for some variety which reflects football intelligence and effective movement. Even if the training staff cannot come up with ideas in this respect, perhaps the players themselves could express some worthwhile moves. And the same goes for the Cardiff corner-kicks. Why not try something different on occasions, even something as simple as a shorter kick to a Cardiff player moving quickly towards the touchline and either returning the ball to the corner-taker or heading it backwards into the goal area, or hanging back as Whittingham does in order to receive the ball to foot and blast it at goal?

    I meant only to write a short comment today, but as I’m here perhaps I could also mention Craig Noone? From what I’ve seen on the highlights, he popped up on the left a few times. Maybe he’s been given permission to wander a bit at last. I certainly hope so. Anyway, one goal chance which fell to Lambert who narrowly shot wide came directly from some clever play by Noone ON THE LEFT. He was also coming in from the left when he was tackled in the area and could (perhaps should) have won a penalty! But, when he came in from the right, there were two colleagues in good goal-scoring positions, even though as per usual he chose to shoot and blazed the ball over (incidentally, John Milton’s poem On His Blindness talks about “the blaze of Noon”. Prescient or what!).

    As a final comment, you will be glad to note, Hoilett on one occasion reminded me of Cliff Jones when he rose high on the left wing to win a header (which unfortunately went over the bar). Nevertheless, it was good to see, though Cliff Jones of Tottenham and Wales would probably have scored from that opportunity. Better luck next time, Cardiff.

  7. Russell says:

    Thanks Paul, and a big well done on providing a summary of the younger lads in the U18 and U16. It’s good to get a feel of how they are progressing and doing so well this weekend, I do look forward ro reading these review’s . .

    Guess we were never going to pull off a win at Newcastle as they are one tough act to beat,however the team should gather some solace from their second half effort .

    Think Lambert makes a difference to the team and it sounded like Amos continues to impress.

    What bothers me is were are we going to muster any points over the next few games, we will I fear be in the bottom three come December.

    As I commented last week we are going to drop in and out of the relegation dog fight this year,unless we sign some golden nugget from NW contact list in January.

  8. The other Bob Wilson says:

    The normal thank you goes out to those who have replied.

    Barry, I agree that Whittingham should not be guaranteed a place every week, but Neil Warnock found out on Saturday, just like Slade and Trollope before him and, possibly, Malky and Ole as well, that, if you leave Whitts out, our other midfielders are not very good at compensating for what we miss when he doesn’t play. It’s as if the philosophy at the club is “we don’t need any other midfield players with flair, creativity and an eye for a goal because we’ve got Whitts”.
    Paul, having now seen the penalty claim on the club website. I can’t believe the decision to penalise Morrison. It was a shocker, but I’d say that it falls into the category of being the sort of decision a home team would get in their favour (especially one where they had 50,000 backing them as you point out), rather than being indicative of any conspiracy against Welsh teams. I agree with Dai really and would say that, yet again a referee and his linesman(men) bottled a big decision because they were “homers” – granted, we don’t get as many such decisions as a team like Newcastle will, but we do get them sometimes.
    In saying that, I can certainly remember that Liverpool match which Lindsay refers to where Skrtel was looking for two falls or a submission with Caulker – it was ridiculous refereeing by Lee Probert – actually, as I think back at some of the decisions Probert gave against us. maybe you do have a point!
    AMO, I must admit I share some of your frustration about the sort of side we appear to be coming under Neil Warnock’s management, but I’ve got to balance that with the thought that maybe things will change after the January transfer window. As things stand, I agree with you about our attacking throw ins and corners – we are pretty one dimensional. However, did you see the mess we almost got ourselves in when Amos chose to roll the ball out to one of our players rather than kick downfield? I’m all for us mixing things up a bit rather than sticking slavishly to one of the extremes that is knocking it long or building from the back, but, if Warnock believes we should play in a certain manner because we are poor at trying to play in the way that Trollope wanted us to, that little episode on Saturday is going to do nothing to persuade him otherwise.
    Russell, having been convinced by our performances under Paul Trollope that we were going down unless changes were made, I now believe we will stay up, but, like you, I can see it be a long haul to safety as opposed to the quick fix that many, including Barry, believe it will be. I say that because, even if we were to find that “golden nugget” you talk about, he would be coming into a squad of players which must rank among the least threatening, when it comes to attacking play, in the Championship. Neil Warnock is so right when he says that their aren’t many goals in this squad – usually, I put this down to the chronic lack of creativity in our midfield, but, having watched the extended highlights on Saturday’s game now, I’d say that we did manufacture a few promising situations at Newcastle, but we were let down by a combination of poor choices and/or execution by the player in space close to the Newcastle goal.

  9. Anthony O'Brien says:

    As a source of entertainment and education I tend to read through the current MAYA contributions in mid-week. In so doing I’ve just noted that I mistakenly attributed the lay-off from which Whittingham scored to Gounongbe rather than to Chamakh. My belated but sincere apologies. On the subject of strikers, however, I do hope that, given the apparent unwillingness of Mr Warnock to provide Lambert with the support of an off-the shoulder striker, the name and performances of Idriss Saaadi would be very much on the Cardiff City radar.

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