Still more questions than answers after another ordinary performance.

CoymayI really would like to be able to do a wholly positive review of a City league game this season, I’d get much more pleasure in writing about a good display which carried considerable promise for the coming weeks than I do from being critical all the time, but I’m afraid it was more of the same yesterday at Craven Cottage where, given the balance of play, we did well in the end to get a 1-1 draw against a Fulham side that had not gained a single point from their first four Championship matches this season.

Before going any further, I should say that Fulham looked anything but a bottom of the table team yesterday. In the first half especially, they looked as good as any team I’ve seen us play so far as Scott Parker, surprisingly being used in an advanced midfield position, gave a reminder of what a fine player he still is – Fulham will soon start climbing the table if they keep on playing like they did yesterday.

That said, I think the question needs to be asked as to whether Fulham are really as good as they looked at times yesterday or was it a case of us making them look good, because we are tending to make every league opponent we play look good so far this season!

If Fulham deserve praise for the way they played in the first forty five minutes (and I think they do), then it also needs to be said that we were woeful in that time – Ole said it was the worst we’ve played so far and I’m certainly not going to argue with him on that score.

After a fairly even first twenty minutes when we had quite a bit of the ball without really threatening a goal, we slipped into the sort of desperate stuff we saw in the second half at Blackburn and the first half at Wolves whereby we were hanging on desperately to stay in the game as our opponents swarmed all over us. To be frank, we have spent more time looking like relegation candidates this season than we have done looking like a team which has this squad which we are constantly told is amongst our strongest ever – a squad that the bookies keep telling us is among the favourites to win the league.

Maybe that’s the problem, if you keep on being told your team has such a strong squad, you start to take it as a matter of fact, so expectation levels rise accordingly and you start judging them more harshly when performances resolutely fail to match the hype?

I think the word “performances” is important there. A few weeks ago, plenty of people were talking about what a tough start to the campaign we’d been handed and I feel we should not lose sight of this. If we still accept that the fixture computer has given us a very testing reintroduction to the Championship, then eight points from five matches (as well as a couple of wins in the League Cup) is a perfectly acceptable start- especially when you consider five of those seven matches have been away from home.

It’s when you equate those results with performances though that things become more problematic because, given the way we have played most of the time, eight points is the very most we deserve and I just cannot see us being able to keep on picking up points at the same rate over the course of a season if we keep on playing like we are.

Of course, it needs to be said that a squad of players with as many newcomers as ours has needs time to gel, but this is nullified somewhat by the fact that so many of the teams we play are in much the same position. For example, Fulham fans, obviously, will not be happy with their position and results at the moment, but at least they have the consolation of seeing that their team gave them a hint of what might be when they had us chasing shadows at times yesterday.

What have we seen from  City so far that suggests there is better to come? Well, for me, there’s been a good opening period at Blackburn, a few flashes against Huddersfield and a strong start to the second half against Wigan when we suggested that our billing as promotion favourites might be deserved and that’s about it.

Hardly surprisingly, people are beginning to question the manager, but I thought Ole had quite a good day yesterday. After all, he picked the defence that most of us wanted to see at Wolves and, overall, I must say I felt quite positive about the team he selected. I suppose some can question Ole’s role in a preparation that saw us outplayed so much in the first half, but, judging by his post match comments, it sounded to me as if he correctly identified where it was going wrong for us and, if he did read the riot act to his team at half time (I certainly would have in his position!), then it had the desired effect.

I say that while recognising that, although we were definitely better after the break, we still weren’t that good, but I think at half time we were heading for a hiding and yet we were able to see out the last quarter of the game pretty comfortably – I’m prepared to give our manager some credit for that improvement.

Even during the fairly good opening twenty minutes, we moved the ball too ponderously and too many seemingly simple passes went adrift, but what was truly alarming was that how, from about the twenty minute mark, heads seemed to drop so quickly as Fulham upped the tempo and got in amongst us.

I'd say that, like plenty of his team mates, Anthony Pilkington only gave a five out of ten performance yesterday, but his switching of flanks with Mats Dæhli for the second half did coincide with a big drop in the effectiveness of Fulham's chris David who was, arguably, the best player on the pitch in the first forty five minutes,*

I’d say that, like plenty of his team mates, Anthony Pilkington only gave a five out of ten performance yesterday, but his switching of flanks with Mats Dæhli for the second half did coincide with a big drop in the effectiveness of Fulham’s Chris David who was, arguably, the best player on the pitch in the first forty five minutes,*

The character of the Championship hasn’t changed in the year we’ve been away – it is still a league where virtually every team you play works as hard as they can for ninety minutes and you have to hope that some of your match winners (almost every team has three or four of them) can come up with something special that gives you an edge. At our worst, we do not compete or work as hard as the teams we are up against – it seems that some of our players believe that our, alleged, superior talent is all we need to claim the three points, but, as at every level of football, you’ve got to earn the right to be able to show that talent.

No one epitomised that attitude more than Kenwyne Jones who was back to his attitude of last season during the first half – he was awful and I don’t think he could have complained if he had been taken off during the interval. Instead of that though, the opening seconds of the second half saw him chasing back about twenty yards to put a Fulham player under pressure and you thought “that’s better”. Rather like  his team, Jones wasn’t great in the second forty five minutes, but he was able to impose himself on the game, while also giving the impression that he cared about what was going on.

The striker was able to see out the ninety minutes for the first time this season and was still closing down opponents in the final stages and, as well as that of course, he got the goal which gave us a point as he, first, won a header, and then moved on to a neat Mats Dæhli pass (the youngster and Matt Connolly were our best players on the day in my opinion) to score comfortably.

Jones and most of his ream mates had a much better attitude after the break (our passing was still poor much of the time though)  - something must have brought about this change and it seems to me that the most likely reason for it was what was said to them at half time. As the person who is responsible for what happens in our dressing room during the interval, I’m prepared to give Ole the credit for this, but, unless performances that offer some justification of our promotion favourites tag start appearing soon, then I fear he was only papering over the cracks yesterday.

I don’t believe five league games is enough to conclude for certain that a team or squad isn’t as good as everyone seems to think they are, but, if we get to, say, eight matches and we are still only seeing fleeting glimpses of quality, then I think it begins to become reasonable to ask whether this squad really is as good as it’s built up to be and whether it has the quality to maintain an eight points from five games rate over the course of nine months?

If it turns out that such questions are justified then, although he was reasonably successful in fighting a fire yesterday, Ole is, I’m sure, going to be held responsible – he has said himself that this is his squad now and I hope for his sake that his players start living up to their billing soon.

* picture courtesy of http://www.walesonline.co.uk/

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9 Responses to Still more questions than answers after another ordinary performance.

  1. ARNOLD PEABODY says:

    I AFRAID THAT OLE THE TINKERMAN WILL NEVER MAKE ANY SENSE TO ME WITH THE SIDES HE PICKS, TUESDAYS S TEAM AT PORT VALE WOULD HAVE OFFERED MORE PASSION PURPOSE AND TEAMWORK, THE MESSING ABOUT OF PLAYERS LIKE RALLS AND JOHN ARE CLASSIC EXAMPLES TIME TO GIVE TONY PULIS A GO, SO HE CAN GET RID OF ALL THESE NON PERFORMING 4/5 OUT OF 10 PLAYERS, WHO TURN UP ONLY FOR THE MONEY !!!

  2. Rod groves says:

    We are getting murded in midfield they are all over the place just can not get enough of the ball witch means we can not get the ball to the forwards they are a poor side and playing like it it will not change till we get a grip on the middle of the park

  3. The other Bob Wilson says:

    Thanks for both of your replies. Rod, I agree with you completely, midfield is an area for concern and, if we are going to bring another player in before the window closes, I’d prefer it to be someone to play there – I can se eOle having to look for a loan signing if we don’t get someone by tomorrow. Arnold, I agree that we looked flat for much of the first half, I may be wrong, but I think Ole will be given plenty of time to get things right – I really want him to succeed and so want to be convinced by him, but it’s not happening at the moment I’m afraid.

  4. Dai Woosnam says:

    Thanks for a fine report Paul.
    First, let me say that Arnold Peabody is spot-on re Mr Pulis. Incidentally, have evidence that I was calling for ex City fan Tony Pulis to be made Cardiff manager when he was with Gillingham and falling out with Mr Scully …and that was in the last Millennium !! Imagine where City would be now…?
    Now to my depressed state today…
    I’m close to giving up reading all reports in Walesonline. I really only read yours now.
    Why?
    Well – and here I have to choose my words carefully as some of these writers are your fellow writers in the South Wales Echo, and I do not want to bite the hand(yours)that metaphorically feeds me here by giving me space to air my thoughts – I have to say that I just don’t think any of them can really cut the mustard.
    They are certainly giving the manager far too easy a ride, just like they gave Malky one, for far too long. I think that deep down they are afraid of being barred from his press conferences. (They don’t want a return to the Dave Jones frostiness.)
    What I would like to ask Ole is this: how come one can look at the Swans and see clear evidence of work being done on the training field?
    Yet our Cardiff players often remind me of players who have just been introduced to one another an hour before the game?
    And yet we have far better training facilities than them.
    People like Terry Phillips and Steve Tucker who attend his press conferences, should be asking these questions. Why isn’t Pilkington staying on that touchline and getting chalk on his boots like the thrilling Dyer and Routledge?
    Instead of which, we get them making eyebrow raising statements. TP said the other day that Ole cannot be a mug because he won the Norwegian league two years in a row. Eh?!!
    This led me to adopt my Facebook persona and post a reply that reminded TP that in Nicaragua there are two playwrights, and the greater of the two they call the Nicaraguan Shakespeare!
    Get real! Norwegian league football is sub Scottish Premier.
    Then you get TP asking if there has ever been a better City scoring debut than Federico Macheda’s at Port Vale?
    Pinch me: I must be dreaming this. I am convinced that when we die we will actually wake up and realise that this life has been a bizarre dream!
    How else can you explain ST conscientiously toeing the Party Line at Thomson House and thus marring an otherwise excellent report yesterday with his observation that all the City fans were wearing blue and there was not a red shirt in sight? Gee…words fail me here: this is surely the kind of observation that George Orwell warned us about. Highly tendentious reasoning designed to advance a cause.
    As Homer Simpson might say “D’oh! stupid: you don’t really expect a travelling fan to wear red do you, and face ostracism from his fellow supporters?”
    It strikes me that we South Walians have the herd mentality more than most: thus a fan wearing red would be seen as a footballing equivalent of a “blackleg miner”.
    I fear that Mr Vincent Tan has probably made a very big mistake appointing Ole, if it is promotion he is after. But an even bigger mistake is not pulling the plug on the whole thing and decamping to Malaysia. Were I he, I would have upped sticks a long time ago.
    “We’ll Keep a Welcome in the Hillsides”?
    Like heck we will …
    But only if that stranger conforms to our blinkered thinking.

    Ah well Paul, these things are better out than in. Thanks for allowing me to get these things off my chest. You may well have saved me having a stroke.
    And for that I sincerely thank you, for I know that my views run counter to yours.
    Kindest, as ever,
    Dai.

  5. The other Bob Wilson says:

    They certainly do Dai!

    What I don’t like about Wales Online lately is their need to turn so many of their articles into lists – “Five things we learned about…….”, “Ten things to look out for in……..” etc, etc. It’s as if they think they can’t present things in a way which I recognise as a report because we are all morons with an attention span of about ten seconds who give up reading anything that is longer than two paragraphs.

    My main concern for us in terms of coaching during the summer was that we had no one who could organise our defence, but, fair play, we weren’t too bad in that department again yesterday and we are averaging less than a goal a game conceded at the moment. Now my concern on the coaching front is similar to yours – after eight months of Ole as manager, I’m still none the wiser really as to how he wants us to play.

    It might not have been everyone’s cup of tea, but it was easy to identify how Malky Mackay was trying to get us to play and I’d say much the same applied to Dave Jones, but I just don’t get the Ole philosophy when it comes to playing football. There’s plenty of talk about us playing an attacking, passing game under him, but we don’t pass it quickly enough and and end up going from side to side or back to Marshall who then has to boot it up the pitch to Jones.

    By passing the ball so slowly, you would expect us to at least be able to keep possession of it, but, as so often this season, we misplaced so many simple passes yesterday, hence why a side that so often seems to go for the “safe” pass, rather than something more ambitious with a greater likelihood of reward ends up with the 23rd best possession stats in the Championship!

  6. Graham says:

    Oh dear, Mr.Woosnam is off again .. better to try to accept and get used to the fact that our present manager will be with us probably for the rest of this season at least .. Mr Tan has made his mind up and won’t change it – like red or blue : we will stay red this season but I totally support regular reminders to Mr.Tan that ‘we’ll always be blue’ – and mention of yesterday’s supporters – what terrific work they did encouraging our team, and yes they were mainly in blue [although there were a small number of brave souls in red] .. what was a shame was that the moron element launched late in the 2nd half into their anti-Jacks song .. I prefer not to use the S word at all and after yesterday’s performances by the two South Wales teams [us and no, not Newport, the other one] I’d have thought that the less attention drawn to that other team further along the coast the better ..
    .. but to the game : living in London but a Ninian Stand season-ticket holder means that a game in London is anticipated with a sigh of relief and delight since it means I can set off from home at lunchtime rather than 7 a.m. .. yesterday, there were moments when I wished I hadn’t bothered – time and again we regressed to that negative, frightened, unimaginative passing across and back and across again – possesion just for the sake of it rather than looking for creative, going forward, open spaces possibilities .. so what a delight to have Daehli in the side, and if our midfielders, and especially Whittingham, were as keen to go forward as our full-backs are, then perhaps whoever of our half dozen forwards we have on the pitch might have a chance to show us their striking skills .. so if our manager can get them doing that ..

  7. Adrian Green says:

    Good observations, I agree we need a strong midfield General, without a Mutch or Medal, we need to get Kim
    or Gunnarson to perform this role, Whittingham can’t perform this role because he can’t tackle well enough. None of the new signings seem up to it either. We also need to play with greater pace and tempo but I agree we are simply not creating enough.

  8. The other Bob Wilson says:

    Hello Graham and thanks to you and Adrian for your comments. I’m with you about keeping the pressure on Vincent Tan with regular “we’ll always be blue” choruses, but I’d also like to hear more positive support of the team (I’m thinking more in terms of home matches there) – I also agree about references to the jacks. As for possession, we don’t get much of it at the moment and, as you remark, much of what we do get is in our half and does not cause our opponents any problems at all. I’m not sure we have the personnel to play a basic 4-4-2 successfully because we don’t have a central midfield pairing that is able to carry out all of the large workload such a system entails well enough. That workload increases if our full backs are also going to get forward and I think at least one of the central two has to sit in front of the two centrebacks to offer them some protection. The player most suited to this role in the squad would appear to be Dikagcoi, but, for whatever reason, Whittingham is no longer as attacking a player as he was and, if he is to continue to appear every week, then we seem to have two sitting midfielders which is something that may work in away matches, but seems a bit defensive for home games.
    This takes me on to Adrian’s comments and I reckon Medel and Mutch’s absence is showing us how important they were to the team. Maybe Adeyemi will provide the “legs” that Mutch gave us, but all of the signs are that his natural game is a defensive rather than attacking one. The more I think about it, the more I believe that, unless we get someone who is a proper all round central midfielder in (I suppose it will have to be on loan now), we need to have three in central midfield not two – maybe the signing of Bruno offers a clue that Ole is considering 3-5-2 because, the alternatives (4-5-1 or a narrow 4-3-3) tend to have us playing with just the one out and out striker and I’m pretty sure it was always the plan to use two this year.

  9. Dai Woosnam says:

    Thanks Graham for your kind acknowledgement, just spotted after returning home two hours ago from a week away at a little place west of Paris (called Clacton-on-Sea).
    I will defend to the death anyone’s right to say what they think – even when I come out of it with a slightly bloodied nose – but all I ask for is a level of consistency.
    Tell it like it is about OTHER people too!
    It is admirable that you spotted something Steve Tucker could not at Craven Cottage: Cardiff fans in red shirts.
    But spell it out Graham! Do not patronisingly call them “brave”, when you really want to call them “totally misguided”.
    Kindest,
    Dai.

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