The best month in Cardiff City’s recent history by a mile.

I suppose perfection would have been beating Burton on Tuesday to make it seven wins out of seven in the month, but six victories is enough to make August 2017 easily Cardiff City’s best month since the 2012/13 promotion season and I would argue that the unexpectedness of it all means it’s been better than any month during our title win as well – our bigger spending than all of our rivals and huge lead built up in the first two thirds of the campaign meant that there was a sense of inevitability about 12/13 and there was also the rebrand issue clouding things as well.

Yesterday City extended their winning run at the start of the season with an ultimately well deserved 2-1 home victory over Queens Park Rangers and will return to action after the first international break of the campaign looking to double the length of the previous best start to a League season record to six consecutive wins from three. Our opponents in thirteen days time will be Fulham who did us a big favour yesterday in ending Ipswich’s one hundred per cent winning record by beating them 2-0 at Portman Road. However, it also was a sign that the Championship’s most attractive team last season, in my view at least, are finding their feet again after a hesistant start to their 17/18 which had seen them without a league win until yesterday.

We’ve  got a decent record at Craven Cottage down the years, but I can see our winning run ending at Fulham at the start of what looks to be a very testing run of matches through September and October. Then again, I thought we’d draw our first game at Burton, thought Sheffield United could be a banana skin and had us down to lose at Wolves – this City team has a very pleasant habit of surprising me and they may well do so again in their next game.

Just as I was against Villa, I was pretty confident of a win yesterday, but City had to show qualities that hadn’t been needed in their first four Championship matches to beat a QPR side that have made a good start to the season themselves and came here with members of their squad talking about how they were going to continue with their tactic of pressing sides all over the park.

Certainly, that approach proved to be a successful one in the early stages yesterday as the visitors settled much the quicker and were worth the lead they earned in the fifteenth minute as City fell behind for the first time this season in a league game.

This gave us a chance to show some of those previously unseen qualities that I mentioned earlier. If memory serves me correctly, we had the best record in the Championship from the time of Neil Warnock’s appointment for gaining points from losing positions, so you would have hoped that the 17/18 side would respond well to falling behind, but, all the same, this was the first time that line of thinking could be tested.

Not only that, we were playing dreadfully when the visitors took the lead and so there was also the challenge of having to raise our performance level as a team and, I would say that, in all but one case, also as individuals.

QPR were as “in your face” as they said they’d be in the game’s first quarter as they also won the battle for second balls and passed it better than us. Mind you, even if we are never going to be a team that goes out with the intention of passing the opposition into submission under this manager, QPR would only have needed to pass the ball in a mediocre fashion to have been better in that facet of the game than we were in those opening exchanges,

There is an argument as to whether it was good play by our opponents or our own awfulness which led to the first twenty odd minutes turning out as it did, and, although I’m not saying that QPR weren’t doing exactly what their manager and coaching staff wanted them to, I’d edge more towards the latter than the former.

There are times for virtually any team when they make what is an immaculate playing surface look like a ploughed field with their first touches that make you question if they  have legs made of concrete and you wonder at their inability to string even the most basic of passes together. For such sides. two touch football entails the first one being a failed attempt to bring the ball under control and the second one sees the bouncing ball being hooked vaguely forward in a manner which either sends it out of play or straight back to the opposing team.

That was City to a tee for twenty two minutes yesterday and, while, as I mentioned earlier, any team can fall into playing in that way, it is somewhat unusual for sides at the top of the table and having not dropped a point yet to fall into such a rut.

I’ll come to the one outfield player who was unaffected by City’s general torpor shortly, but Neil Etheridge had also not done much wrong until he elected to take charge of a situation caused by a high ball from Luke Freeman which I’d say was a useful one that asked questions of our defence, but shouldn’t have ended up with the ball in the back of our net.

By the way he reacted, it would seem that Sol Bamba got a shout from Etheridge that he was coming out to claim the ball, but, from where I was sat, that looked an over optimistic decision by the keeper because the quality of the pass meant that the towering Matt Smith would have fancied his chances of getting his head on the ball as well.

In the event, while Bamba stood waiting for his keeper, Smith was able to get his head on the ball well before Etheridge arrived and it sailed gently into the net.

I was mildly critical of Etheridge for his part in the conceding of our league goal of the campaign last week, but, also wondered if I was being a little harsh in doing so – here though, it just looked like a goalkeeper error pure and simple.

Last weekend, City had been so good in the opening twenty minutes and the contrast between what happened then and the opening stages of yesterday’s match was staggering. For a while after falling behind, it looked like there would be no escape for City from their nightmare start, but it was now that the one player who was suggesting he may be able to do something about the situation took a hand – with a little help from one of his friends.

Up until the twenty second minute when he closed Steven Caulker down and the former City captain was forced to play the ball back to co centreback Nedum Onuoha, Kenneth Zohore had been doing a convincing impersonation of the player by the same name who was at City between February and November in 2016, but his chasing of what looked to be a lost cause paid off as Junior Hoilett got involved.

I’ve mentioned before that you can usually tell pretty quickly if Hoilett is on form because, while other players seem to take a bit of time to play themselves in so to speak, the Canadian can look on his game as soon as he touches the ball for the first time. Yesterday was not one of those occasions, but only because City were having such problems getting the ball to him – on the rare occasions he was in possession, Hoilett had shown signs that he offered the best chance of us starting to play something like our best.

Alex Smithies’ clearance rebounds off Junior Hoillet (for me, our best and most consistent player so far this season)  for City’s equaliser. The keeper was slaughtered by Wales Online for what was seen as something of a howler and he has to accept some responsibility for the goal, but. for me, the real damage had already been done from a QPR point of view by then.*

Here though, all Hoillet did was, just like Zohore before him, chase the ball down with an intensity which surprised and discomforted our previously serene opponents – Onnoha played a back pass to keeper Alex Smithies that did not have enough pace on it and so the resultant attempted clearance smacked against Hoillet’s right foot and rolled into the net.

Lucky? Yes of course, but by the way the two City player’s reacted to the situation when they could quite easily have just kept their heads down and felt sorry for themselves in a manner that had been seen too often beforehand, meant that it could be claimed that they had earned that luck.

Of course, QPR will have felt differently about the whole thing. After all, they were comfortably in possession inside the City half one moment and then the ball was being diverted into their net from about ten yards out by Hoillet the next, with that the only touch by a Cardiff player in the episode.

Hardly surprising then, that Ian Holloway (who called us the best Cardiff team he has faced in his managerial career) saw the goal as the game’s turning point.

Apart from a carefully placed Jamie Mackie effort from twenty odd yards following Sean Morrison’s weak headed clearance in the dying stages of the first half that thumped back off an upright and a frantic scramble in time added on at the end of the match which saw Etheridge eventually work the ball out for a corner, Holloway’s side were more concerned in keeping their goal intact in the face of City pressure than trying to score a second one themselves.

The effect the equaliser had on City was all that their fans hoped it would be and, by the end, there was general agreement that they were worth their win – in fact, for me, QPR ended up a little fortunate not to be on the end of a 4-1 or 5-1 beating.

One of the reasons this didn’t happen was referee Simon Hooper. The official was praised by Neil Warnock in his post match press conference for his general handling of the game, but taken to task for the way that he disallowed two home goals for reasons which are still unclear to me.

For the first one a few minutes after we had equalised, the “foul” was assumed to have been committed by Morrison, but, if anything, it looks on the video as if he was being fouled – perhaps Aron Gunnarsson was penalised for backing into an opponent? Whatever the reason, Zohore was denied a goal and it was Hoillet who was unlucky early in the second period when his close range finish from a lovely Nathaniel Mendez- Laing cross was ruled out for pushing.

Again its hard to see an offence by the Cardiff player on the video and yet earlier in the move, an obvious shirt pull by Caulker on Zohore was ignored by referee and linesman.

Despite these unfair looking setbacks, City were now playing in a way that was much more typical of their general level of play this season and they were building up a head of steam which saw them in front by the end of the first period.

Sol Bamba really should have scored at Molineux last week when he headed against the crossbar from no more than two yards out, but what was astonishing about it was that he looked to have jumped as high as the bar to reach the ball. here, he is not as far off the ground, but it’s still an impressive leap as he scores the goal which gave us the three points.

Shortly after Mackie’s effort against the post, the impressive Smithies was forced into action as he turned aside a Mendez-Laing daisy cutter from the corner of the penalty area, but he was helpless from the resultant corner, taken by Hoillet, as Sol Bamba celebrated his new three year contract with a far post header that turned out to be the match winner. Again, Holloway found his team’s defending wanting as he questioned how it was that Caulker had been left to try to cope with both of City centrebacks (Morrison was just behind Bamba and would have had a good chance himself if Sol hadn’t got to the cross first).

Just as they did against Sheffield United in their last home league match, City had something of a purple patch at the start of the second half as shots rained down on the QPR goal. Besides, Hoillet’s wrongly disallowed goal, there was a shot by the same player turned over by Smithies shortly after Mendez-Laing had seen a shot from a very acute angle come off the crossbar.

With City enjoying more and more success down the flanks, they were close to putting the game to bed on numerous occasions, but most notably when, following  Mendez-Laing crosses, Zohore was denied by a great save and visiting left back Jake Bidwell performed wonders to stop sub Danny Ward from scoring.

I’ve heard some people talking about how it’s good to win scrappy games like this one, but, although I never thought I’d be saying this after the way we played early in the match, I’m not sure “scrappy” is the right word to describe it – certainly from a City point of view, we played in what has become our normal powerful, quick, enterprising, effective and, often skillful style for three quarters if the game.

Finally on yesterday’s match, whatever you may think of him as a player, Steven Caulker had been having a pretty desperate time of it as a person in recent years. I daresay a lot of you will have read this piece from the summer already, but I’d say anyone who hasn’t done so should take the time to have a look at it. Caulker played his first match in ten months on Tuesday when he turned out for QPR against Brentford in the League Cup and, in truth, just like others before him, he found Zohore a struggle yesterday as he often seemed to resort to fouls against our centre forward. Caulker also was involved in the defensive calamity that was our first goal and was outjumped by Bamba for our winner (he had a thankless task there mind given the lack of support he had from his team maters). He was also subbed with a little under twenty minutes left as the visitors chased an equaliser, but the applause from the home crowd for him before the game and then when he went off were a sign that there are many at his former club who are glad to see him playing again and hopeful he is over the worst – I’m one of them.

To finish, I thought I’d give a mention to some of our Academy sides who have had a pretty good last few days. The Under 18s are still without a win after three matches, but they got a second creditable away draw of the campaign as they finished up at 3-3 at Nottingham Forest yesterday. Sion Spence, Isaak Davies and Keiron Evans got the goals, while there was also a draw for the Under 16s as they finished level at 2-2 after Forest had been a couple of goals up at half time. Particular credit has to go to the Under 12,13 and 14 teams though for their victories by 3-0, 3-2 and 5-1 respectively over Stoke on Thursday.

 

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10 Responses to The best month in Cardiff City’s recent history by a mile.

  1. Graham says:

    Thank you, as always, for an insightful review Paul – I agree 5-1 would not have been an unfair final score, and the way in which we got over the opening 15 minutes nightmare made the nightmare of getting to Cardiff from London, as a season-ticket holder in exile, when trains weren’t working as they should, well worthwhile – it’s seasons since we have shown such commitment to working together – and by together I mean those on the pitch and those in the stands .. even we in the Ninian are now following the superb lead of comrades in the Canton!
    Two questions which you might be able to answer :
    If Neil Warnock really is looking for another midfielder ‘just in case’ why doesn’t he sign Joe Ledley, a free agent with very strong Cardiff links?
    Why have we stopped selling ‘Brains’ – the Cardiff beer – in the bars?

  2. Barry Cole says:

    Paul you have again fully covered a game which you are right when you say we should have won 4-1 because the two goals disallowed were definitely good goals.
    The last few minutes were a bit hairy but in the past Cardiff would have conceded and either lost or drawn games they should have won.
    I remember when we discussed the appointment of warnock I had no hesitation in that being the best news for our team, not only about pulling ourselves out of the relegation pack but I knew he would be the man to bring the team , management and fans together. That he has done with aplomb and my only concern was the relationship with tan. That partnership seems to be made in heaven and although there will be times when we lose I don’t think it will be enough to stop us getting into the top two.
    I remember turning my season ticket in after the lack of entertainment in the slade era. The football was disgusting and the entertainment non existent. How on earth he was ever allowed to manage our football team I cant imagine, he was so out of his depth.
    That mistake tan has more than made up for with warnock.
    I renewed by season ticket as soon as slades tenure was terminated and although the standard wasn’t much different it soon became apparent that on warnock appointment that something had started that had been missing for a few seasons even as far back as Dave jones. Entertainment.
    Now my season ticket is worth far more as the games are real entertainment and the players are playing for Cardiff city.
    So we have a break, which isn’t a bad thing, but unlike you I believe our winning run will continue at Fulham. They are a very good football team but they tend to work the ball and try walk it into the net. The other thing that will help us is that they will not close us down the way QPR did. So I am going to say a 3-1 win for us to keep our run going.
    The glass is still half full and likely to continue. With Patterson still to come and the fight for the number one jersey there are a lot of positives.
    I still believe we need another hard working midfielder and I do feel we may get that person before the transfer window ends.
    I do hope the powers that be really do close the transfer window at the start of next season, this system just doesn’t work. I am sure Zohore won’t go, I won’t be surprised if warnock says he’s injured lol

  3. Anthony O'Brien says:

    Sitting a short distance behind me in the Canton stand (and it is becoming very much of a stand as so many people insist on standing without a thought for those sitting behind them) a few mature gentlemen insist on shouting obscenities at the linesman and referee. That is those gentlemen’s privilege — I feel any word should be used if it exists. What I find irritating however, is that these gentlemen constantly call upon Cardiff to chop down opposition players, abuse those players as fake if they go down injured, refute every skillful action if it is carried out by the opposition while loudly denying that any Cardiff player does anything wrong even when it is manifestly a foul and so on. So, for me it is always a relief to read Paul’s fair-minded and judicious comments the day after a Cardiff game. Almost invariably, it is an approach mirrored in the words of everyone who contributes to the MAYA site, and I applaud it.

    As for yesterday’s game itself, it would be superfluous for me to try and add anything to what has already been written by the contributors above — apart from going out on a limb once more and saying, that for various reasons I was not greatly impressed by Zohore’s all round contribution as the spearhead of the attack (centre-forward in the old terminology). He could have scored more than once, I admit, but he does not “lead the line” in the way that, for example, someone like Akins did for Burton last Tuesday or Matt Smith can do as a rule, though he was well marshalled most of the time by our central defenders yesterday. I have just read that Brighton are now offering twelve million pounds for Zohore. I won’t dare to suggest what Cardiff should do!

    a.

  4. Graham says:

    When I referred to the “superb lead of comrades in the Canton stand” I was absolutely NOT referring to the “few mature gentlemen” Anthony correctly castigates – their abuse doesn’t reach where I sit in the Ninian and I assume that he would agree with me that such loutish behaviour should be reason for intervention by the stewards.

  5. Russell says:

    Thanks Paul for your review its most welcome as I’m on holiday and had little to follow the match other than BBC Live text , it’s good to hear we manage to overcome a poor period as that’s a good sign of side that has something about it and has installed the basic Warnock principals in its make up ,which will be a huge positive come the end of the year if we are in and around the play offs.

    Great news on the development sides as they do need to get some positives into thier game .

  6. b jones says:

    I have to ask….we’re sitting top of the league and only 18000 turn up to watch! What has happened, City fans?
    I am a lifelong Bluebird fan, but have lived in Portsmouth for the past 40 years. In the old 4th division last year we were averaging 16000+ home attendance. This year we have had 18000 for both home games.
    Are tickets expensive at the new stadium? I would expect gates nearer to 25,000 in the current situation
    Disappointing

  7. Colin Phillips says:

    Thanks again, Paul, though I didn’t think we were that bad early on, the fact that we couldn’t get on the ball and when we did we gave it away was true but I didn’t think we were having a drubbing and their goal came as a surprise to me. Perhaps it’s about different expectations I’m of the thinking that we can’t keep on winning and I wouldn’t have been at all surprised if we had dropped points yesterday and in those last couple of minutes it could so easily have happened. If it had we could have only blamed ourselves the game should have been all wrapped and put to bed early in the second-half. Totally mystified by the officials ruling out Hoilett’s goal, the other one could have been given either way with all the crap that goes on in the penalty area these days.

    Applause to the fitness coaches, the whole team seem to have leather lungs this season, they just keep on running. With one exception I thought the discipline was excellent with both wingers tracking back late on to close down. The one worry from the discipline angle is Damour, he seems to have a low boiling-point and in future I can see opposition sides making deliberate attempts to wind him up, there were at least two occasions when he came close to raising is hands to an opponent, you won’t get away with that forever.

    On the whole I find it difficult to find fault with any of the team, OK Etheridge could have done better for the goal but everyone’s allowed a mistake or two, shirley?! Man of the match, that’s a tricky one but Ralls, Bamba and Mendez-Laing are all strong candidates for me. Calls has come into his own in the absence of Whitts and he appears more confident and seems to have a lot more time on the ball, Bamba’s performance yesterday was reminiscent of that first game against Brissle, he was a monster and what more can you ask from Mendez-Laing, every time he gets on the ball I am expecting something good to happen and he was still chasing the ball down the touchline in added-on time.

    We’ve just reached the end of the August games and people are talking about top two finishes, obviously it is much too early but we are playing some very exciting football and creating so many scoring opportunities, it would be nice if we could convert a bigger percentage of them. In all three home games we should have scored a hatful.

    This is all so very different from the beginning of last season – Oh! Happy Days!!!!

  8. BJA says:

    Paul – thanks once more for an excellent summary of yesterday’s action at the CCS. After a somewhat uncertain opening twenty minutes, I think we were well on top and had either of the two dis-allowed ‘goals’ been given ( and having seen the brief highlights of the game, I think we were a little unlucky for either not to have counted ) then the increased margin of victory would not have flattered us.
    I am enthusiastic about the energy that Messrs Ralls and Damour are showing in midfield. Such energy is allowing our two wide men to have the ball more often and create scoring opportunities ( eight on target ). I understand the worry that Colin has about the Frenchman and his occasional lively reactions to situations, but this is where NW needs to have a few words to bring a little more composure to his performance. But his energy is wonderful and such a change to the rather listless play of Whitts these past couple of years. Incidentally, he was an unused sub in Blackburn’s comprehensive victory yesterday – so what does that tell us.
    Pleased to see Bennett back at full back and now am eagerly waiting for Paterson to be announced as fully fit and available for selection on the other flank.
    And so to the last four days of the transfer window. I fully understand NW’s desire for one more capable mid-fielder/defender but hope it will not be at the expense of a shed load of cash for Kennneth. He is a handful for any defence in our league.

  9. Clive Rymon says:

    Hi Paul,covered all bases with your report again,what I would say is that teams are looking at us as a scalp now,so the first 20 minutes of the game we did not seem to have the same intensity as QPR,consequently we were on the back foot a little,and when they scored I think mabey a few of us thought that this was the day our run came to and end.But we came through that patch and once we scored to me it seemed too me that the outcome would turn in our favour.

    My man of the match was Ralls who I have thought was playing within himself but on Saturday gave a first class performance of breaking up play and finding team mates with astute passes.All in all a very good performance against a committed Olly inspired side who has over the years been our nemesis in a few games.

    Now on to Fulham who will present another test for our team,let’s hope the international break does not disrupt our momentum.

  10. The other Bob Wilson says:

    Thanks to all of you for your comments, a few quick thoughts on some of the matters raised;-
    1. Good to hear from you Graham, I think the answer to be of your questions is probably “finance” – I still think there’s a chance Joe Ledley will sign for us, but it won’t happen until we’ve shifted a few players out, probably on loan, and Brains beer is no longer served because someone has undercut them over the summer.
    2. Completely agree with you Barry about the transfer window closing earlier – they could open it as soon as a season finishes if they want to keep it as long as it is now.
    3. Anthony, I’m not sure how serious those reports of Brighton making a £12 million bid for Zohore were, but even if they were true, City’s manager, Chairman and CEO have talked themselves into a position where the club accepting a bid of that size would be seen as a case of “same old Cardiff” – based on what’s been said, the only way City would accept an offer like that would be if Brighton also included one or two first team regulars from last season in the deal.
    4. Russell, as I mention in the piece, our record for recovering from going a goal down was good last season and it’s worth remembering that we also went 1-0 down in the League Cup win over Portsmouth a few weeks ago.
    5. Hello Byron and welcome. I was expecting 20,000 on Saturday, but then there was talk on social media about the club expecting a crowd of about 16,000 and so I ended up being happy that it was 18,500. However, I agree that it’s not very good is it. There are people who just stopped going to games as soon as we started playing in red, but I don’t think they number that many and, anyway, we were able to sell out the stadium when it had a capacity of about 28.000 a few times when we were in the Premier League – I think it’s more likely that people were put off by the boring football we played for the coupel of seasons after we got relegated and they need more persuading yet that things have changed now.
    6. While I agree we weren’t being stuffed by them, I thought QPR’s goal had been coming Colin. Maybe part of my problem with the start we made was that we were so good for the whole ninety minutes at Wolves, so I was expecting better from the team – just to be clear though, once we had got our lucky equaliser, I thought there was really only one team in it and it wasn’t QPR!

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