On the day after we beat Reading I was reading the section on the Championship on the BBC’s website where Steve Claridge answers questions from supporters. The first question asked for his opinion on which sides would be able to challenge the three relegated clubs for the automatic promotion spots. Claridge’s answer was a long one and I looked forward to reading how he rated us. Teams such as Preston, Bristol City, Watford and Leicester had a paragraph or more dedicated to them in his reply whereas all we got was “Cardiff are too unpredictable”! I was annoyed at him writing us off like that at the time, but after watching that yesterday, how can you argue with Claridge?
I entitled my review of the Bristol City game “Right up there with the best”, yesterday’s non performance fully deserves the title I have given this piece – we were as poor yesterday as we were good against the wurzels and you have to ask how can it be that a team can produce two such widely contrasting performances within less than a month of each other? One thing that is clear though is that the difference in performance level from one to the other shows an inconsistency (or, to use Claridge’s word an unpredictability) that makes talk of automatic promotion look absolutely ridiculous.
Eight games in and it looks like we are in for another season of the feast or famine stuff that has become the norm under Dave Jones. The early signs are that, just as in the past four seasons, our games will turn almost entirely on who scores the first goal and, although our outstanding record when we score first cannot be ignored, it has to be said as well that we are nowhere near good enough at turning the game around when we concede first – on the day that a previously winless Peterborough showed the character and belief to turn around a 2-0 half time deficit to defeat Reading, our response to going behind was depressingly predictable.
We were awful throughout the whole team yesterday but I want to pick out some of the players for individual comment. Firstly, I felt sorry for Solomon Taiwo who had to make his debut in a team where the experienced players around him did absolutely nothing to help him out – I thought he played pretty well for a half an hour or so, but, by the time he was taken off he was really struggling. Alongside him, Joe Ledley’s performance was simply unacceptable. I am a big fan of Joe’s and have defended him against those who have turned against him because of the situation regarding his contract, but, playing like he did yesterday, he only makes it so much easier for his critics to have a go. Displays like yesterdays make all the arguments about how much his release clause should be look redundant, but, if there has to be one, then the way things are going, both parties can knock two noughts off the £4 and £6 million valuations they are haggling over!
In a partial defence of Ledley and the seven other players that formed our defence and midfield, it has to be said that they got virtually no help from our front two. In his after match interview Dave Jones said that, apart from the willing runner that was Josh Magennis, all of our players deserved criticism, but you only had to listen to him for a little while to realise where he thought the main blame lie. The “performances” yesterday of Michael Chopra and Jay Bothroyd especially stank of a complacency born from knowing that, with Etuhu and McCormack being long term casualties, their places were guaranteed whatever happened – the biggest single difference between the Bristol City and Queens Park Rangers games was in the amount of work our front two were willing to put in and the sort of attitude shown yesterday by our strikers probably explains why they are both seen as failed Premiership players at the moment.
Therefore, in my view Dave Jones was exactly right in saying what he did about Chopra and Bothroyd, but he cannot just pass the buck for yesterday’s calamitous performance on to the players. It’s not very often I say this, but some of our manager’s decisions absolutely mystified me – for example, Gavin Rae was a lot of people’s man of the match in the game which saw a performance that was right up there with our best of recent years and yet two games later, he finds himself out of the team. On top of that, I was glad to see Magennis come on because I assumed that we were going to go with three up top and try something different, but, of course, that would have meant a departure from our manager’s beloved 4-4- f*cking 2, so we had the ridiculous sight of the division’s top scorer being shunted out on to the left wing when we were 2-0 down – okay, Chopra had a stinker yesterday, but you ask the QPR defenders whether they preferred to have him playing left midfield or striker against them!
After spending the whole of the summer banging on about it, I have made a concious effort to keep references to those last four games down to a minimum, but the capitulation cannot be just swept under the carpet and ignored entirely. To my mind, our manager and the players who were here at the time are on a kind of suspended sentence whereby they have to be given the opportunity to prove that they learned from what happened, but they can only really do that by going that one step better than they did last season.
However, displays like yesterdays raise all the old question marks against so many of our squad. When you have a situation where Ledley, Chopra and Bothroyd, who could be considered to be our three biggest players, are, arguably our three worst players and none of the summer signings apart from the keeper (who was beaten on his near post for the second goal) have been wholly convincing then you have to say that a top six finish (which, let’s not forget, our Chairman was telling us we had a right to expect less than a fortnight ago) looks like a pipe dream.