Solskjær era starts with a great win…………

CoymayForget all of the stuff about the FA Cup being an irrelevance in the modern Premier League obsessed game and the talk about it being best if we lost at Newcastle yesterday so we could fully concentrate on staying up, Cardiff City were a team in need of a win. Everyone knows that the ideal situation would have been to get three points for that win when it came along, but a victory in any competition, particularly one away from home against another Premier League team is the next best thing.

By winning 2-1 after conceding the first goal with less than half an hour remaining, City booked a place in the Fourth Round of the FA Cup for the first time since the 09/10 competition and, on a personal level, after six consecutive ties where we came out of the hat second, I hope today’s draw sees us actually getting a home tie in a domestic cup tournament for the first time since we faced Blackburn on the way to the League Cup Final two years ago – apart from the replay after we drew at Stoke in 10/11  it would be our first game in the FA Cup at the Cardiff City Stadium since beating Leicester 4-2 four years ago.

To win at the ground of a club which was, arguably, the form team in the Premier League throughout October, November and much of December would be a notable achievement at any time, but, inevitably, the story was that we did it in our new manager’s first game in charge. The appointment of Ole Gunnar Solskjær had been all but confirmed when I wrote my reaction piece to the Arsenal defeat and he was introduced to the media in an impressive forty minute press conference held at Cardiff City Stadium the following day.

New manager Ole Gunnar Solskjær celebrates his teams win in his first match in charge.*

New manager Ole Gunnar Solskjær celebrates his teams win in his first match in charge.*


That was an opportunity to learn more about Solskjær because, although he was part of the strongest Premier League club of the modern era and played a leading role in finally securing the Champions League trophy for Sir Alex Ferguson in 1999, he was never the most high profile of players off the pitch and it was only in the few days leading up to his appointment at Cardiff that I actually realised how little I knew about him. If you would like to find out  a bit more about Ole Gunnar Solskjær and you’ve got an hour or so to spare this Sunday morning, then this documentary made in 2011 is well worth a watch.

So what can we expect from an Ole Gunnar Solskjær Cardiff City team? All of the indications are that we will be a more attacking side than we were, but merely telling a group of players to go out and attack more is no guarantee that they will be able to do – the opposition, particularly in a league like the one we are in now, will have a say in that. Without going into too much detail here about Malky Mackay, I don’t think there were too many matches this season where he sent out the side with instructions to camp in their own penalty area most of the time and try and snatch something from a set piece – such tactics would be doomed to failure and we’d be a lot worse off than we are now if we had played like that.

In fact, many of our worst performances this season under Mackay came when he fielded midfield fives which included more attacking players like Kimbo, Mutch and Odemwingie – the selections for the first game against Newcastle and the ones at Norwich and Palace along with his final match in charge against Southampton saw a more attacking philosophy, but also saw us being comfortably second best to opponents who were either around the same place in the league as us or in indifferent form going into the match.

Based on what we have seen so far, there have to be questions asked as to whether our more attacking midfield players are good enough to make a more attacking approach work? Actually, it’s probably more accurate to replace the word “good” with the word “consistent” there – Odemwingie has certainly been good enough in his time, but questions have to be asked as to whether he will be in the future, Kimbo has been erratic, Mutch has been good (in fact I’d rate him as a candidate for our best outfield player this season, but, within that, there have been the inconsistencies you’d probably expect from someone so young and his decision making has betrayed his inexperience at times). The other player to add here is Craig Noone whose performances have surprised me so far in that they have been less hit or miss than I expected – there has been a consistency to his game so far, but he hasn’t been able to turn in ninety minute performances yet.

Hopefully, what will change under Solskjær is that these players will be handled more sympathetically than they have been in the past. For example, I said Kimbo has been erratic and it’s true to say that, invariably, he was the man to make way when we struggling in matches like Newcastle, Norwich and Palace. However, knowing that, in all likelihood, you are only going to get forty five minutes or maybe an hour if things aren’t going well for the team is bound to start having an impact after a while and so, if our more attack minded midfield players are given more obvious signs that the manager has faith in them might coincide with a few of those inconsistencies disappearing.

The first goal of the Solskjær era was certainly a fine one - Craig Noone's left foot drive from twenty five yards levels things up.*

The first goal of the Solskjær era was certainly a fine one – Craig Noone’s left foot drive from twenty five yards levels things up.*

That said, for me yesterday’s game offered a snapshot of what Solskjær will need to give some serious consideration to if he is stop the downward spiral of the last six weeks or so. Ironically, the relative lack of importance of his first match in charge gave him the chance to have a strong bench and the introduction of goalscorers Noone and Campbell for the closing stages was undoubtedly a big factor in our win. The first named was the archetypal “impact sub” as he scored brilliantly from twenty five yards within seconds of coming on to equalise and his contributions so far this season lend themself to him being told that while, he is an important part of the first team squad, he is best suited to giving his all during a contribution which won’t last for ninety minutes if he is in the starting eleven – he should do what he is best at while he is on the pitch and not worry about conserving energy for the latter stages.

Noone epitomises a problem which was apparent in the two matches under David Kerslake – he, and the team, played well for the majority of both games, but tiredness took it’s toll and, in both cases,  late goals cost us dearly. Now I would argue that, certainly against Sunderland, this was because the players who came on were unable to reproduce those moments of quality that Noone had been able to provide for the first hour of both matches and so we were unable to break free of the sieges we found ourselves under – if we had players of the quality of Campbell and Noone (in his present form) to come off the bench all of the time then our opponents would have to be more wary about what we could hit them on the break with if we were “hanging on” to a win or a draw.

I’m not saying Campbell or Noone should be dropped, more that we need more creativity, pace and skill on the bench – I’ve mentioned before that Malky Mackay struggled to get the balance between craft and graft right within his team because he didn’t have enough players who could combine both of these elements in their game to the standard required in the Premier League. Now, Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s success as a coach so far appears to be based more on an ability to get the most of the players, especially young players, at Molde rather than what he has done in the transfer market.

Obviously, part of this is down to him not having that much spend on new players at his old club, but, that said, he does seem to have the knack of making some within his squad better footballers and, if he can do that, as well as show a talent for spending the money he will be given at Cardiff wisely (I’m not sure he was being entirely serious mind when he said he was looking to bring in local boys Giggs, Bale and Ramsey mind!), then that stronger bench I talked about might be available to him in time to become a serious factor in whether we stay up or not.

On that score, there are signs that Solskjaer is going to be moving in the transfer market very quickly. Herenveen’s Norwegian international midfield player Magnus Wolff Eikrem  (someone who was described as Molde’s Michael Carrick by our new manager – he also said he would have taken Eikrem to Aston Villa with him if he had accepted their job offer in 2012) was at St. James’ Park yesterday and, apparently, boarded the team bus after the game – not 100% proof that he will become a Cardiff player, but a pretty strong indication that he will.

Our first signing of the transfer window? Magnus Wolff Eikrem (centre) at St James' Park yesterday.*

Our first signing of the transfer window? Magnus Wolff Eikrem (centre) at St James’ Park yesterday.*

Before going to Holland in the summer, Eikrem followed Solskjaer to Molde from Manchester United having worked with our new manager during his time in charge of the reserve team at Old Trafford and there have been persistent rumours that Mats Møller Dæhli an 18 year old midfield player whose career has followed a similar path to Eikrem could be joining us from Molde – widely thought of as the best young prospect in Norway, Dæhli would, at first glance, appear to be one for the future (where have I heard that before!), but looking at some of the endorsements he’s had already, maybe he could be another one to improve the quality of our squad straight away if there are anything to those rumours?

Both of these players would appear to fit the bill as far as Solskjær’s preferred methods are concerned, as would other players linked in the media like Wilfred Zaha, Johnny Williams and Thomas Ince, but would any of them provide the goals that we are short of at the moment? You would have thought we would be looking for a striker as well and, although Declan John’s emergence (he played very well again yesterday seemingly) may make the need for more competition at left back less urgent, I wouldn’t be surprised if we did bring another one in over the next few weeks.

Finally, I’d like to welcome Ole Gunnar Solskjær to Cardiff – obviously, it’s very early days yet, but I think he’s made a very encouraging start in many ways. Also, having spent much of the past fortnight or more rubbishing the hierarchy at Cardiff, I think it’s only fair to congratulate them on appointing the man who always struck me as the best of the candidates we seemed to be linked with seriously over the past month or so. It goes without saying that a great deal of the credit for this should go to Chairman Mehmet Dalman because he played the most prominent part in getting Solskjær to come here, but the much maligned Vincent Tan shouldn’t be forgotten either – the last three months have been very messy and embarrassing ones for Cardiff City, but let’s hope that lessons have been learned on all sides and we can now move on.                   

pictures courtesy of

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4 Responses to Solskjær era starts with a great win…………

  1. Dai Woosnam says:

    Good thoughtful piece as usual, Paul. Much thanks for it.
    I am delighted with OGS.
    Just as Malky was a huge improvement on DJ, so OGS will be on Malky, at least on the PITCH.
    (It is fair to say that Cardiff will always owe Malky a huge debt for the fantastic work he did at grass roots level and visiting the fan base up and down the Valleys. And the fact that Malky honoured the office staff and the unsung. That side of Malky will never be beaten. But his lack of football tactical nous was his undoing.)
    In OGS one can see a dramatic contrast in football philosophy. MM was a defender who judged a game by whether his defence kept a clean sheet: OGS a virtuoso attacker who demanded goals.
    Now of course, it is a given that BOTH qualities need to be deep in the psyche of the very best managers: alas Malky had had his attacking genes amputated at birth. Norwich fans who regard Hughton as “too negative” and want MM to replace him, have no idea what awaits them. He may have been a player who won their hearts: but he will be a manager who will send them to sleep.
    So HUGE congrats to Vincent and Mehmet for recruiting the manager of my dreams. That opening press conference could not have gone better, could it? Perhaps in an ideal world, OGS would have proudly worn a red shirt, and put this tired shirt debate to bed once and for all. It is about time some Cardiff fans grew up! Behave like Leeds fans did when losing their beloved yellow/blue shirts and socks: they accepted it, and in all white became a vastly more successful team!
    Few Leeds fans would vote for a return to yellow/blue now.
    Next season I would like City’s away strip not to be commonplace blue, but a very classy and distinctive chocolate and amber quarters.
    Here the two of us are pictured in Fairwater just last July:
    A final word on Odemwingie. I recently called him “damaged goods”. That sounds very pejorative and thus DEMANDS that I should explain myself. Let me try.
    Six months ago Paul, you wrote me an email with a link to a West Brom fan’s blog. You specifically flagged-up this beautifully written piece:
    Anyone reading that can see that Peter is a top man. A real good egg. So I was casting ZERO aspersions on his CHARACTER per se.
    But what I WAS saying is that EVENTS change people. Look on YouTube at early B&W interviews with the young DJ when he was at Stockport. Clearly a nice guy. Nowhere near the surly and paranoid character that he became. I contend that the totally unjustified criminal case against him circa 2000, screwed him up, psychologically-speaking. And made him “damaged goods”.
    Likewise, the way Peter brought the opprobrium – nay, UNPRECEDENTED scorn – of the whole football establishment on him, with that ill-judged drive to Loftus Road, is something that he cannot just brush-off, like fluff on one’s jacket. I contend that it looks like it has damaged him in some way.
    Let me fervently add that I hope to be proved 100% wrong, by Peter and the greatest managerial appointment of my lifetime. (Yes, better even that Bill Jones from Worcester City who destroyed his great work by refusing to pay the truly great Danny Malloy*, £10 more a week. By refusing him that, he doomed City to relegation. Amazing to think, is it not, that had he paid him an extra tenner a week, City could have been a top tier team still, for the last HALF CENTURY !! (And that really is NOT such a stretch! If Everton could stay there for the last half century, why not Cardiff City?)
    I will leave you Paul, with that mind-boggling thought!
    Hope your health is still on the mend.
    * One of 4 Cardiff players touched with greatness in my lifetime. The others are John Charles, Ivor Allchurch and Graham Moore.

  2. The other Bob Wilson says:

    Morning Dai. I don’t see the desire for a return to blue disappearing any time soon. Agree with you about a chocolate and amber change strip for next season and the home kit could be the one we wore for the one hundred and four years after the nine we wore the quartered kit for!

    I’m not knocking Solskjær here (on the contrary, I think he’s a good appointment and it’s certainly a better one than I feared we’d see), but I need a bit more evidence of our transformation into a side where the gameplan is all out attack than a single cup match where no one wanted a replay. Most of the sides we face in the league are better than us, so, even if the desire is there to go hell for leather into attack, there are often going to be times when our opponents won’t allow us to do that – I’ve mentioned before as well that the huge sums of money at stake for sides in a relegation battle hardly encourage an attacking approach.

    I tend to agree with you on Odemwingie and I think you may well be right about Dave Jones who I’ve always tried to show a bit of sympathy towards because of what he had to go through – he does make it very hard to feel that way about him though!

    What you say about Danny Malloy and Bill Jones is before my time, so I cannot comment too much except to say that the club’s unceasing capacity to cock things up makes me very dubious of your claim that they could have spent 50 years in the top flight – a combination of Boardroom ineptitude and a fickle fan base would have resulted in at least one relegation somewhere along the line.

    Again, I’m too young to comment on the four players you mentioned as far as their performances for Cardiff City are concerned, but “touched with greatness” is an interesting term. I’d say John Charles and Ivor Allchurch definitely qualify under the way I would use that term, not so sure about Graham Moore though. The young Robbie Fowler was someone who was “touched with greatness”, but he was a waste of space, and money, by the time he came to Cardiff, while I’d say that having watched Aaron Ramsey’s performances for Wales Under 21’s against England, the football he was playing just before his injury and some of the stuff he was producing in the first four months of this season, that the description applies more to him than Graham Moore and, probably, Danny Malloy.

    Thanks for asking after my health – I’m fine now as far as my heart condition is concerned, but the diet I’ve started today is very much required!



  3. Dai Woosnam says:

    Thanks for your comments Paul.
    Loved your clever joke after agreeing on the away kit, socking it me with your choice of home kit!
    I too hope that the matter can be resolved. How good we looked GREAT in white shorts at Newcastle. I think I prefer red and white to red/black …but then, they will have to buy a whole new set of club ties if the club made THAT change!
    Apologies for my otiose parentheses (sorry, parenthesis) in my final para in my previous posting. I enter hospital tomorrow to have my parentheses, exclamation marks and block caps painlessly removed!
    Re the City players “touched with greatness”: my criterion was that it be in a City shirt. And that they showed this greatness several times over a full season of home games…and not just over 90 minutes.
    Thus Greg Farrell could not be called great, even though he produced the best 90 minutes I EVER witnessed from a man wearing a No 7 shirt in any game ANYWHERE, in that vital and amazing game against Middlesbrough in May 1966.
    This was followed of course by the worst capitulation in modern CCFC history at Deepdale: that 9-0 non-performance made the current England Ashes team seem like battle-hardened veterans!
    I could not include Alf Sherwood, who people older than me were convinced was the best left back in these islands for a full eight years from 45-53, because I never saw him play a full season.
    However I saw EVERY home game (including friendlies, Welsh Cup ties etc) Danny Malloy ever played, and I have no hesitation in saying that he was magnificent.
    I can only recall three centre forwards troubling him. Brian Clough of course was a tremendous player, and I would say that their clashes ended up in honours shared. However Danny shaded it against the dangerous Ray Pointer and also against the hugely underrated Orient striker, the late Tommy Johnston, who was such a favourite at Brisbane Road that they have named a stand after him.
    At the end of his career I saw Johnston playing for Folkstone against Barry at Jenner Park. Some player. He was twice the age of some of the players, but was still comfortably the best player on the field.
    I did think hard about Aaron Ramsey, but of course his greatness has not been in a City shirt. Likewise Fowler, who was a SENSATION as a young player in Liverpool red. The young John Toshack and the late Gerry Hitchens got very close: their performances owing so much to their striking partners Brian Clark and Trevor Ford.
    Ivor Allchurch of course, was the most stylish of players. Exquisite passing ability and ball control. Surprisingly fast over 20 yards. Great shot with either foot, and also not bad in the air.
    Any faults? Well, Mourinho would not have liked him: he did not tackle back enough.
    As for John Charles: forget the “touched with” bit. Simply the GREATEST (and not just because he once gave me two gratis grandstand tickets at Huddersfield). John was 32 when he came to City. (I still cringe at DJ saying the Fowler was the greatest signing in the club’s history! Oh how little he knew! Robbie was finished by the time he came to Cardiff: at the exact same age, John Charles was still a colossus)
    The one forgotten man in the CCFC history books is Graham Moore. Trust me, in season 1959-60 he was man of the match virtually every home game. He was a deep lying centre forward blessed with great power, fabulous aerial strength, dynamite shooting and a wonderful vision that could see a pass to a fellow striker that others could not see.
    Not for nothing did Tommy Docherty buy him for Chelsea to replace the great Jimmy Greaves.
    And then recall who bought him off the Doc !! Only a certain Matt Busby who wanted him in a forward line with Law and Charlton!
    Ah, happy days!

  4. The other Bob Wilson says:

    Some great memories there Dai.

    I was at the Farrell match, but I was only ten and my memories of it are not that strong – my main recollection is of my amazement when Middlesbrough’s centre half (Dickie Rooks) completed his hat trick.

    On the other hand, I can remember my father’s reaction when he first heard news of the 9-0 defeat at Preston three days later – it was the first of what were very, very few occasions when I heard him use the word “f**k”!

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