So cruel on improved City.

CoymayI was not confident beforehand that Cardiff City would find themselves ahead in the closing minutes of yesterday’s home game with Burnley, but, if they were, then I knew that would certainly not mean that the three points were guaranteed.

I say that because, perhaps, more than any side in the Championship in the past few seasons, Burnley under Sean Dyche do not know when they are beaten – in their 13/14 promotion season especially, they mastered the knack of turning defeats into draws and draws into victories late on in matches.

Therefore, it shouldn’t have come as a total surprise to those City fans who braved the elements to watch yesterday’s match that a Burnley side unbeaten in their last eight games were able to consolidate their position as one of the five teams who have broken clear of the rest of the Championship by coming back from 2-0 down with five minutes left to gain a point.

So, it would be wrong to say that it was something of a fluke that Burnley found a way back into a match in which they were second best for long periods.

All of this means Sean Dyche was right to point out that there was more than just good fortune involved when it came to his team’s fightback, but I’d love to know how he would have described the equalising goal if it had been scored against his team three minutes into added time to rob them of two points!

The truth is that no matter how much he talks about his team having earned their point, it still took an outrageous slice of good fortune for a ball that was going at least a yard wide to rebound off a helpless defender and roll apologetically over the goal line.

I suppose it all is just more evidence of something that anyone who has followed the game for any sustained period of time probably has to acknowledge as a truth – the old cliche about luck evening itself out over the course of a season is rubbish, the top sides have more than enough of it, while the also rans have to cope with more than their “fair share” of kicks in the teeth.

So it is, that Matt Connolly, a realistic contender for City’s player of the season so far and one of their best performers yesterday, has now seen the ball hit him and trickle into his own net (in fact, on both occasions, the ball travelled so slowly that it didn’t even have the strength to hit the back of the net!) deep into added time at the end of the game twice and his team have lost three points as a result.

Without Connolly’s inadvertent and unfortunate intervention yesterday and the one at Rotherham in September, City would now be occupying the one Play Off place the nineteen clubs outside the top five appear to be fighting for this season. Yes, that’s more than we deserve on the general level of our performance so far, but I daresay that, if they are being honest, supporters of the other clubs in the fight to finish sixth would say much the same thing about their team.

Given how the game finished, it’s easy to forget what happened in the first eighty five minutes (and for most of the time after Burnley’s first goal as well) and be negative about a team that even Its own manager admitted in his pre match press conference was high on functionality and low on flair.

As usual, the messageboards went in search of scapegoats (they do even when we win!) and, of course, our manager was featured prominently in any list of people to blame – I’ll get to my opinion on Russell Slade’s part in yesterday’s proceedings presently, but, for now, I’d like to talk about the positive aspects of City’s performance.

Aron Gunnarsson (who has played well in out last two home games) beats Tom Heaton to put us 1-0 ahead. As against Reading, both of our goals came from set pieces and it's now an embarrassing eight matches since we last scored in open play and, even if we manage one at Bolton next week, it will be more than two months since the last one we got at Brighton. Trying to stay optimistic, I suppose we came close to a goal in open play on a few occasions yesterday - there have been plenty of games recently where it never looked remotely like happening.*

Aron Gunnarsson (who has played well in out last two home games) beats Tom Heaton to put us 1-0 ahead.
As against Reading, both of our goals came from set pieces and it’s now an embarrassing eight matches since we last scored in open play. Even if we manage one at Bolton next week, it will be more than two months since the last one we got at Brighton. Trying to stay optimistic, I suppose we came close to a goal in open play on a few occasions yesterday – there have been plenty of games recently where it never looked remotely like happening.*

I mentioned earlier that we haven’t looked like a potential top six team too often this season, but I’m encouraged that there were times in our previous home game (against Reading) when we did and that there were long spells yesterday when we did.

It’s going to be tough to put the way the match ended behind us, but there were plenty of reasons for optimism yesterday.

I’ve constantly cited the lack of entertainment on offer during Russell Slade’s time in charge as being a big reason for the decline in attendances and loss of atmosphere at home games – to repeat something I’ve often mentioned before, I’ve yet to come out of a home match that Russell Slade has been in charge of thinking “I really enjoyed that”.

Well, that’s still the case, but, that late own goal is the only reason I feel that way. Yesterday’s was definitely the best performance I’ve seen from a Russell Slade side at Cardiff City Stadium – a disappointing outcome of course, but at least I went home feeling I had been entertained.

What any analysis of the game has to acknowledge is that it was played in absolutely awful conditions. For most of the time, there was torrential rain, but, worse than that, there was a wind, gusting to gale force, that made it very tough to play controlled football.

Speaking for myself, it was only when I got out from the Ninian Stand and began the walk to my car that I realised just how strong the wind had become as the match went on. I believe that, with the new ground not being as open to the elements as Ninian Park was, we have been lucky that strong winds have not been as much of a factor at City home matches in recent years, but it seemed to me that, more than in any other match I’ve attended at Cardiff City Stadium, it was yesterday.

Therefore, the option of the long pass from the back looking for Kenwyne Jones’ head was not as popular as it usually is with City for the simple reason that the wind would send the ball away from its intended target.

No, this was a day for keeping the ball on the deck as much as possible and trying to work yourself into a promising position and it says much for the way City passed it in the first half in particular that they were able to do this pretty often.

Of course, when that promising position was out by the touchline then, invariably, this meant a cross where the ball was put into the air and so, given the conditions, it would be wrong to be too critical of the quality of some of the crossing when nothing came of these opportunities.

Even so, the returning Tom Heaton (when was the last time City played in a match where both goalkeepers were captains?) was a busy man as he was forced into a string of saves, with the best of them for me being his tip over of a Craig Noone effort which appeared to take a slight deflection.

Noone was lively on the right flank as City put in their most threatening half of football of the season, while Peter Whittingham on the left may not have been as dangerous, he, as you would expect, benefitted from a less direct approach from the side.

However, it was in the centre of midfield where Joe Ralls and Aron Gunnarsson confirmed the  impression given for most of the time they have been paired as a central two, that their relative youth gives them an attacking vibrancy and movement not seen in the other combinations we may select.

The two combined for the opening goal when, somewhat surprisingly, Whittingham stepped aside to allow Ralls to deliver a free kick which was guided in nicely by the Iceland’s captain’s head.

That’s three assists now for Ralls in our last two home matches and those are figures which suggest he won’t be coming off dead ball duties any time soon.

City’s youngest player was also given corner taking duties from City’s left, but Whittingham was still taking them from the right.and, shortly after one of his deliveries into the six yard box was nodded not too far over by Jones, Sean Morrison beat Heaton to another one to double City’s lead.

It was a testimony to the quality that both of the left footers possess when it comes to dead ball delivery that were able to knock in high balls with such precision in the prevailing conditions.

By contrast, Burnley’s problems in harnessing the wind advantage they had in the second half as a succession of crosses and passes from open and dead ball play, drifted a long way past their targets and out of play or through to David Marshall emphasised how well City had done to make as many opportunities as they did when they were playing with the wind.

The goal scored by by Rouwen Hennings with five minutes left with a shot that Russell Slade said Marshall felt he should have done better with, was a rare example of Burnley creating something in open play.

However, apart from a free kick which brought a good, sprawling save from Marshall, there was little from their dead ball deliveries to worry City until Heaton made his most significant contribution of the day by sending in a free kick from just inside the City half that fell into a dangerous area around the penalty spot – the ball was half cleared to Dean Marney who did well to put in a cross from which Michael Keane’s header should have flashed harmlessly wide to leave City within seconds of what I would have rated as their best win of the season so far – it didn’t though and so Russell Slade’s army of critics have another stick to beat him with.

Now, I’m a fully paid up member of that army, but I didn’t think our manager got a great deal wrong yesterday. The substitution of Jones by Federico Macheda seemed an odd one to me because, although Kenwyne had little left to give, he certainly would have been handy in trying to cope with the aerial assault that led to the equaliser (for me, Whittingham or Noone off and Manga on would have made more sense).

That apart, the substitution of Gunnarsson by O’Keefe made no sense whatsoever if it was tactical, so I presume it was because Gunnar didn’t have ninety minutes in him after his recent injury and bringing on the man who is still some way clear of the rest as our top scorer after a promising, if not spectacular, debut by Tony Watt seemed a sensible decision.

Also, although it was a week late, Slade at least accepted the error of his ways in going with Whittingham in central midfield rather than Ralls at Derby – overall though, I thought our manager produced a team which played in a manner that offered hope that the top six finish he says is the target for the season is not quite as outlandish as it has seemed throughout most of the Autumn.

The pair under the umbrella are quite close to the pitch, but they would have needed it if they had been sat where I was at the back of the Ninian Stand when the second half started - the building of Tan's Folly has ensured that it's now possible to get drenched there when the weather is as bad as it was yesterday!*

The pair under the umbrella are quite close to the pitch, but they would have needed it if they had been sat where I was at the back of the Ninian Stand when the second half started – the building of Tan’s Folly has ensured that it’s now possible to get drenched there when the weather is as bad as it was yesterday!*

Finally, a bit of a whinge. One of the few good things about the smaller crowds we are getting is that you can move from your season ticket seat at the front of the Ninian Stand where you would get soaked to one right at the back where you can stay dry. That was the plan at least when the rain became so heavy yesterday, but we were still getting drenched when sat in our new seats because we were below the part where the original stand roof had been removed to accommodate Tan’s Folly – shouldn’t those with season tickets in this area have had a slight decrease in the amount they pay for this deterioration in conditions?

*picture courtesy of

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8 Responses to So cruel on improved City.

  1. Barry cole says:

    First of all a much improved performance and this is reflected in another great write up.
    This game was for the taking and having not scored early on I was beginning to fear the worst. Two goals again from set pieces should have put us out of sight, it didn’t.
    I am not slades favourite and I am still not after this game.
    The second goal for Burnley came after the substitution of Jones who to me would have been ideal to help the defence in that type of situation. By bringing on macheda he made a really big mistake. Jones should have been left on brought back into the defence and mason left up front. If Jones was injured then a swop with manga was the next logical step.
    These poor decisions continue from slade and if there is any one to blame for the second goal it has to be the manager.
    I believe that his lack of standing in the football fraternity lost us the other striker we need and having gone through so many strikers his management and choosing of players also leave a lot to be desired.
    We are just not going to make it because he is really out of his depth and nothing he does changes my view on this.
    That said watt had a good debut and if he continues at that level he could be a good loan move.
    The midfield looked more balanced as we all said it would with rolls in a central position.
    Most people say the defence is sound but I have my doubts about Morrison and Malone who had another nightmare against their right back.
    I have vowed not to renew my season ticket until slade goes but I pick and choose my matches covering a lot away from home.
    But at least when I get to the macron next week I will feel a bit more positive, my only worry is that we don’t seem to play well twice in succession so I hope we are turning the corner.
    After the Preston match I vowed not to travel again following such a poor performance by both sides but hey can’t keep away. Just need the change of manager who can motivate the players more and not make the glaring mistakes that slade seems to be good at. I can see us into the top 6 as I have no doubt that we have the majority of players in place but lacking direction and a good system.

  2. Apart from the result. I was genuinely pleased with much of Cardiff’s play yesterday. However, The Myth of the Competent Strikers has plagued our performance throughout the season. Our traditional combination of apparently undroppable strikers has inhibited (or even prohibited) the possibility of incisive and rapid through-balls to the front men. Yesterday, we saw what might have been. Take your bow, Tony Watt, for a somewhat electrifying sixty minutes – metaphorically, he lit up the game (100 watt in the old lightbulb terminology). I could see him and Saadi as brilliant partners – provided they received the right service of incisive and rapid passing (if Cardiff have the players to provide it).
    Passing is something I’d like to mention further. I have been somewhat critical of Craig Noone’s running from the right into “traffic”, but on many occasions this has been due to the passes he receives. (By the way, his courage and commitment yesterday deserves absolutely the highest praise.)
    So to my thoughts on passing. As a good winger should, Noone frequently stood as wide as possible on the right touchline, waiting for the ball from the centre of the field. Unfortunately, it tended to go round two sides of a triangle before it reached him.
    Diagrams are anathema to me – I break out into a cold sweat when confronted by , say, flat-pack furniture and a diagram of how to put it together. Nevertheless, I hope the following diagram clarifies what I’m trying to say:



    NOONE facing B and on
    right-hand touchline.

    [D] Space down the wing

    The ball would usually go from player A to player B, and then to Noone.
    1. But Noone would have to be static and facing B to receive the ball.
    2. In the meantime defenders would be able to get close to Noone.
    3. Because Noone was static and facing player B he would have to turn with the ball despite the presence of defender(s).
    4. As he stood right on the touchline the only direction he could turn would be to his right – with consequences mentioned above which I would say were not his own fault.

    A “rapid and incisive pass” would be from player A directly to Noone or, preferably, in front of him so that he is already turned in the right direction and already on the move into area D before the ball gets to him.
    Thus is rarely, very rarely, the case.

    Something else which struck me towards the end of yesterday’s game was that Whittingham was effectively playing as a kind of emergency left back. I didn’t know why this happened (and I still don’t) but he was playing as a left back mostly without cover or support from his colleagues, and despite his most valiant efforts his limitations in that position were exposed. Surely another defender should have been brought on to help the situation, instead of replacing Jones by Macheda. (Jones, incidentally, is only of defensive quality in dead-ball situations when he can dominate the near post. Leaving Mason up front also meant that, when Cardiff cleared the ball, it would inevitably come straight back.)

    Despite my comments, worthy no doubt of a grumpy old man, I was happy with Cardiff’s overall display, even to such an extent that I felt totally deflated by our failure to hold out to the end. But that’s football, and something from which all parties can learn (I hope).

  3. So much for my diagram Like many wonderful plans, it didn’t work. I’ll try again;



    If at first you don’t succeed, try it once more and then give up in embarassment

  4. Player A is in field
    Player B is behind him and closer to the touchline
    Noone is right on the touchline

    My limitations have been revealed even more than Whittingham’s at left back.

  5. terry brecke says:

    burnley fan here, a great and fair report . like many football fans i keep and eye out how different fans are treated by their clubs, and you guys are up there with the best when everything should be rosie ,the club manage to upset you all and take steps that appear backwards my question relates to the seating area in your modern purpose built stadium ,what on earth is Tans Folly ? ps good luck for the rest of the season play offs ?

  6. Blue Bayou says:

    Before the game I would have taken a draw, as Burnley were on a great run of 5 wins and 3 draws in their last 8 games, and have the Championships top scorer in Andre Gray. Due to the atrocious weather I thought we’d play lots of long balls down the channels, hoping for defensive slips, but we actually played the ball around on the floor in the middle very well. Ralls and the Gun were dominant in central midfield and Andre Gray was anonymous for them. Although I was disappointed that we conceded a very late equaliser in the manner we did, it reminded me of our own fortunate own goal at home to Middlesbrough, where their defender was in the way of a ball going wide, and deflected it over his own line. Swings and roundabouts, although I came away feeling I’d seen one of City’s best performances of the season! And to answer Terry, I assume Tan’s Folly is the extra tier added to the stadium on top of the Ninian Stand (the side opposite the players tunnel), which was added to cope with the sellout crowds we used to get when we were in the Premier League (@ 27,000). Adding the extra tier meant raising the height of the roof though, which means more rain is able to sweep into the stands on wet days like this. Due to the fall in our crowd numbers, the new tier isn’t open for Cardiff games this season, and so is currently only opened for Wales games!

  7. The other Bob Wilson says:

    Thank you for the replies (especially from Terry the Burnley fan who, from a distance of more than 200 miles has correctly diagnosed much that is wrong at City).
    Barry, Anthony touches on the subject of Malone when he talks about Whittingham playing like a left back in the closing minutes. It was something that took my eye at the game as well as I asked “where’s Malone gone?” about a minute before the equaliser. All I can think was that City wanted as many bodies as possible in the middle because they were expecting balls to be launched at them from deep at that stage of the game rather than from the flanks – got to say I’d have preferred our full backs in the full back position, Marney did well with the cross for Burnley’s second goal, but he wasn’t put under much pressure at all.
    AMO, I know what you mean about the time it took to get the ball to Noone. There was once in the first half where Sean Morrison tried to cut out the middle man so to speak and pass direct to Noone, but there was a groan from the crowd as it got intercepted – must admit I thought “well done for trying” to myself at the time, but the reaction the pass got probably meant the Morrison, and others probably, were put off from playing more ambitious passes.
    Terry, Blue Bayou has described “Tan’s Folly” perfectly. I don’t know if you are interested, but here’s a piece I did on the new stand extension last spring.
    Also, you ask about us making the Play Offs. If we played like we did on Saturday most weeks, I’d say we could do it, but that display was far from our norm this season – if we play like we have done most weeks so far, then I’d say our current position of tenth would flatter us a little.
    Blue Bayou, I agree with your summing up. Interestingly, it seems Paul Trollope was absent from Saturday’s match (think he may have been ill), so it would appear that Russell Slade was solely responsible for the way we played – fair play to him if this was the case, because I probably got more enjoyment out of the way we played in that game than I have in other home match since he was appointed.

  8. Dai Woosnam says:

    Thanks as ever.
    Sorry I will not join the chorus of voices calling for the removal of Mr. Slade.
    Not because I plead his case strenuously – I am no particular supporter of his – but I just get depressed when your excellent blog starts to descend into the area of abuse that stopped me reading the comments section of WalesOnline.
    There, you will see one chap whose particular shtick is to keep calling our manager “Coco”…in the hope that others will follow.
    And one or two others have.
    Hey, I will defend FREEDOM OF SPEECH till my dying day, but I do not HAVE to read such comments…so now I don’t…and indeed, rarely bother with their columnists either (basically because, despite their relative merits, their coverage is superficial, compared to your far more comprehensive approach).
    And only one step down from the Nazi technique of comparing someone to a clown (and hoping it sticks), is the cleverly insidious trick of thinking our manager is not a human being enough to warrant his surname having a capital letter.
    Well, call me old-fashioned, but nobody humiliates the manager of my club like that. Not without me – at least – filing a protest.
    Is Mr Slade overrated?
    No doubt he is.
    But there many people in leading roles in football FAR MORE overrated.
    Take Steven Caulker…that superbly athletic-looking chap with no positional sense whatsoever…and who often cannot tackle a …fish supper.
    Gets into the Soton team last night, and what happens? Simply, they go all to pot in defence.
    Don’t want to say “I told you so”.
    But, whilst Mr Caulker may be unworthy of a capital SALARY, he sure as heck – as a fellow human being – deserves his capital …LETTER.
    Kindest, as ever,

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