Three wins in eight days, second in the table and still damned with faint praise.

Every now and then, the Football League fixture computer, bizarrely, deems it that both Nottingham clubs are at home on the same weekend. It happened back in August and, on that occasion, County agreed to switch their scheduled game to the following day. So, when it happened again this weekend, Forest reciprocated by moving their match against us back twenty two hours to a Sunday lunchtime one o clock kick off.

When you are challenging at the top or fighting at the bottom, such fixture changes can go either way – the later kick off can become an opportunity if results the day before go badly for your rivals,  whereas wins for them only serve to ratchet up the pressure on you. However, it goes with the territory of being involved at the top end of a league that your direct competitors are sides that are used to winning, so logic dictates that, more often than not, it is a disadvantage to be the ones kicking off later, because of the likelihood that many of your opponents will have already picked up points.

That was the position City found themselves in yesterday. Frankly, the three o clock Saturday kick offs couldn’t have gone much worse for us as Wolves, Villa, Bristol City and Derby all won. The fact that the last named did so, very impressively, at Middlesbrough, who had previously occupied the last of the Play Off positions, was a small consolation and things looked slightly more encouraging after Sheffield United were only able to make it one point from their two home matches this week when they were held 1-1 by a Birmingham side with the worst away record in the division in the Saturday evening televised match.

All of this only makes the fact that Cardiff were able to go to the City Ground and win as comfortably as the 2-0 scoreline suggests all the more impressive. Sad nerds who draw great comfort from  statistical quirks like the one we had going when visiting Nottingham since our relegation, might have a smidgen of disappointment that the home side did not score late on to extend the sequence of consecutive games we have won at the ground by 2-1 (all with a scoring sequence which saw us go two nil up before Forest got a late consolation) to four, but this one will cope somehow!

The win capped a great week for City who went into it two points adrift of second placed Sheffield United and end it with a buffer of three points in the second of the automatic promotion places over the Yorkshire club – also, very tellingly, there is now a gap of eleven points between us and seventh placed Middlesbrough.

All of this has been achieved without significant first team players. Kenneth Zohore had an operation to remove scar tissue around his heal in the week and after yesterday’s match Neil Warnock was talking in terms of him possibly being back for the last game before Christmas at Bolton – as it is, we have been without a player who was regarded as essential to any promotion challenge for six weeks. Nathaniel Mendez-Laing (who Warnock sounded more optimistic about) has been absent for all but seven minutes of this month, while last season’s Player of the Year Aron Gunnarsson is still suffering from the effects of an injury he suffered at Sunderland on 23 September – Gunnar was missing from the squad yesterday and our manager seemed uncertain about him being available for the game with Norwich on Friday night.

Mention of last season offers a reminder that Kadeem Harris, who was an important factor in an improvement which saw us move from the bottom two when Warnock took over into the top half by the end of 16/17, has yet to kick a ball in anger this season, while Omar Bogle played no part in our three latest wins and Lee Peltier was absent against Brentford after picking up suspensions – we’ve also not seen anything yet of Lee Camp who was thought by most to have been bought here to be our first choice goalkeeper this season.

For a team which has been assembled on a small transfer budget compared to so many others in this league and is now operating on a more realistic wage budget (it was revealed in a dialogue between the club and the Cardiff City Supporters’ Trust last week that we had the third biggest wage budget in the division during the 15/16 season) to be second in the table going into December is some achievement. While it would be wrong to suggest that we are “flying below the radar” when it comes to the recognition we are getting for this, there does seem to be very little positive coverage of what we’ve achieved so far, more a general sniffiness about how we go about our business.

Neil Warnock got it right after yesterday’s match when he said that some of the negative coverage we get is entirely down to the fact he is in charge of us. I’ve mentioned a few times before on here that there have been times in the past when I would have been joining in with the criticism of Neil Warnock and his methods – after all, he wouldn’t have the reputation he now enjoys (I reckon “enjoys” is probably the right word to use as far as his own perspective goes!) if he had never ever done anything to justify it, but, as happens quite often in life, I think there is an element of hypocrisy involved with some of the criticism he attracts, especially from other members of his profession.

Yes, of course, any supporter is going to become more sympathetic towards a controversial manager when he becomes the man in charge of his/her team, but, as we enter the Christmas season, the term “pantomine villain” springs to mind when it comes to some of the treatment Neil Warnock, and his current team, gets.

The first sign of this came in our fourth match of the season against Wolves where their manager, members of their coaching and playing staff and many of their supporters got themselves in a right lather about our “thuggery” and gamesmanship and it’s been bubbling away under the surface ever since.

It must be admitted that it’s unusual for a side that is second in any table as a season gets towards its halfway point to habitually enjoy as little possession as we do. Even if, as remarked on here previously, possession of the ball is not seen as being as important as it was not too long ago, we had 30 and 31 per cent possession against Brentford and Forest respectively and, while it made little difference to the outcome on those two occasions, can you really expect to get promoted on figures as low as that? It wouldn’t be surprising at all if Neil Warnock’s attitude was what does it matter as long as we get three points, but I wonder if he would start getting concerned if our possession figure week in, week out was around the thirty per cent mark, as opposed to the forty per cent that it tends to be now?

However, in other respects, much of the comment we have attracted from those associated with teams we have beaten comes across as sour grapes – this has been especially the case in the last week.

Brentford manager Dean Smith got a few digs in about what a game with Cardiff entails after his side had been beaten at Cardiff City Stadium and Barnsley’s Paul Heckingbottom bemoaned weak refereeing which allowed us to get away with various dubious tactics in our 1-0 win at Oakwell on Tuesday, but the reaction of Forest manager Mark Warburton to his team’s defeat took things on to a different level.

Now I think Warburton is a good manager and I’ve said before that I wouldn’t mind him being in charge down here at all, but he came across as a very frustrated and bitter man with his post match remarks yesterday, some aspects of which were, frankly, ludicrous.

To be fair Warburton made it clear that it would be too easy to resort to the “Cardiff bullied us” line that you read so much of on opposing team messageboards, but his comments on time wasting, and in particular, about the amount of time Craig Bryson  took to leave the field when he was being substituted are like so much you read and hear from managers (including Neil Warnock at times).

The simple rule of thumb I often apply to any manager complaining about something an opposition manager, opposition team or match official have done to his side is would you be saying the same thing if the boot was on the other foot? The answer is almost always no and that’s why I refuse to believe that Warburton would have been on the touchline telling his team to speed things up if they were away from home with a lead to defend or telling a player who was being substituted to get a move on as he left the pitch if his side were 2-0 up in the eighty second minute like City were yesterday when Bryson went off.

Mind you, Warburton’s reaction  was pretty mild when compared to Paul Taylor, the reporter of the Nottingham Post who really went to town on us in his post match reports. In this one where home captain Michael Mancienne claims his side are the Championship’s “cream”, rather than the improved, but still wildly inconsistent, team that a record of played nineteen, won nine, lost ten surely indicates, there’s the obligatory reference to our “anti football”. However, it’s in this story where Mr Taylor really puts the boot in!

Having read it a second time, it’s not quite as bad as I first thought it was. There is a recognition that we deserved to win and there are some compliments aimed at us, but they are back handed ones and, as with the Forest manager, there is the somewhat patronising recognition that “Cardiff are very good at what they do”.

Now, I must admit to a perverse satisfaction in reading the bleating from other teams after we’ve beaten them – times when City put together a string of results like the ones we’ve had this season are rare enough, so they should be enjoyed to the full, but it’s in the nature of being a supporter that your hackles are raised by what you see as someone having a go at your team.

Yes, if I’m being honest, I know that City under Warnock will do the things that Messrs Taylor, Warburton, Heckingbottom, Smith and others accuse them of doing once they’ve got a lead to defend. I also know that, although I think we can play some dynamic and effective attacking football especially when we’ve got our best forwards fit and available, that we are not as aesthetically pleasing as some other teams in our league, but, even so, I do get a little pissed off with the attitude which, I believe, is implicit in the damning with faint praise we receive from those who are also accusing us of being some slight on the game.

It seems to me that for all of that stuff about us being good at what we do, there is a certain snobbishness involved in much of the discussion about us this season – as someone who owned up to being something of a football snob in my piece on the Barnsley game, I feel I should know a snob when I see one!

What I mean is that there seems to be a feeling among the management and supporters of so many of the teams in the Championship that we play a kind of lowest common denominator football which they could adopt if they wanted to, but, to borrow from another sport, it’s not cricket to play like that and so they pursue a more noble way of playing football.

For all of Forest’s talk of what we are and how we play, what doesn’t alter is that they were quite comprehensively beaten by Cardiff City yesterday. There was a simple way for them, and the others who have been critical after defeat, to have changed the way their games against us panned out – all they had to was impose themselves on us and score the first goal. We would then have played the game at the sort of tempo our opponents said they wanted it played at and our substitutions would have taken nowhere near as long if that had happened and, of course, they would have remained as eager to get on with things if they were leading wouldn’t they!

If the win at Barnsley was a grind and the one against Brentford needed a fair share of luck on our part, yesterday was more like some of our early season wins – not so much in terms of the quality of the football we played, but more that it was all pretty comfortable – certainly more comfortable than most games in the Championship are.

The one moment of stand out quality came about a quarter of an hour after Junior Hoilett had nodded us in front from close range when Danny Ward received Callum Paterson’s headed flick on and powered in a shot from twenty yards which flew high into the net past keeper Jordan Smith. So, just like against Brentford, we found ourselves 2-0 up with less than forty minutes played and we were able to see things out for a ninth of the targeted fifteen clean sheets with less than half of the season played.

City now have forty points, some four points behind leaders Wolves (who, I suppose, have earned the right to be condescending about the way we play because they are proving themselves to be better than us currently – but they’re the only ones to have that right!) and I’ll finish by making another comparison with two seasons I’ve mentioned quite often on here in recent months.

First, in our “flattered to deceive” season of 06/07 we had eleven wins and four draws in our first nineteen games to give us thirty seven points, but with only two wins in the previous seven games, the wheels were in the process of coming off. In the 12/13 Championship winning campaign, we ‘d won twelve and drawn two of our first nineteen matches making a total of thirty eight points and were just coming off a draw at Derby following three successive victories.

That Derby game saw Joe Ralls featuring at left back and Ben Nugent making what I’m pretty sure was his first Championship start for us as injuries and suspensions took their toll, so, in many ways, that situation was much like the one we are in now where squad depth is being sorely tested. I still feel the outcome will be different from five years ago in terms of automatic promotion, but the way we are coping without so many top players is really impressive and it is does make you think how things will look once Neil Warnock has more members of his preferred starting eleven available.

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7 Responses to Three wins in eight days, second in the table and still damned with faint praise.

  1. Russell says:

    Thanks Paul lovely write, you have summed up my thunder and annoyance perfectly.

    These bleating child like comments managers make after defeat its toe curling, my message to them all is “man up ,move on ” back in the days of Jimmy Scoular that’s what you did, you didn’t look for media crying /blaming soundbite.

    Adversely I wish we were a bit more brutal than we are as it seems these tippy toey modern passing sides “”don’t like it up em “”as Corporal Jones would say.

    What all these managers fail to realise in this league ,you have to have a passing game yes however within that a directness, and talent and pace up front , no fuss defenders , gritty midfield, and finally passion /team spirit ,City have all that in abundance . Oh whilst I’m on my rant I was always coached to win second balls ,and close down the oppostion, it’s been part of football and continued on, even to this day (just watch Jose sides),my message to all those ,deafted moaners, read the bloody script .

    Wolves are a financially manufactured side, and those managers should be challenging them as the real problem, if what they have done is fair play, well we might as well wrip up all the FFP rulebooks , capitalist football at its worse. And if others take up the option of purchasing the title we will see the Championship destroyed and turned into a two tiered league , of have and have note ,as is the Premiership.

    It’s interesting though as Wolves do annoy me they are beating sides that could challenge us so hey ho ,like you J just watch the 7th placed side .

    I will, watch now with interest what happens now with the blades,as they have stuttered.

    Villa are the one who will hunt us down now I suspect, fortunately they are prone to a slip up and they have to play Wolves and Derby and
    Brizzies who still continue to shock me with thier guile.

    What a cracker Ward’s goal was ,really pleased for the lad.

  2. Peter says:

    I seriously wouldn’t worry about flying under the radar. I’ve never appreciated the Welsh “poor us” syndrome. Personally I’m just enjoying the moment. Let’s not forget, it’s not pretty by any means and it was only a couple of weeks ago we were complaining too that the Irish were roughing us up.
    It’s just another way of playing (The proven Warnock formula) and we’re doing it well.

    I can now see clearly why Warnock never hangs around long in the Premier league as it wouldn’t work at that level but we’ll cross that bridge when we get there!

  3. Geoff Lewis says:

    Paul,
    Excellent summation. I agree it is sour grapes from these clubs, since the wolves game, when they they through their toys out of the pram.
    What is happening now, is what we have had to put up for many seasons, when the away clubs were in the lead/drawing with us, they would close the shutters, players taking their time to go off when they were substituted etc.
    We are second at the moment and perhaps the blades are falling back a bit.
    We also do not receive much praise from the media, it is all about Wolves , Aston Villa, Derby.
    You answered one of my questions why were we playing at one ‘ o’clock on a Sunday.
    Take care
    Geoff

  4. Clive Rymon says:

    Hi Paul,I had the pleasure of being at Forest and can I say that it was the complete away performance you are ever likely to get.The team to a man would not let settle pushing them back so David Vaughan et al did all his passing generally in his half and then to sucker punch with two goals fantastic.

    Regarding the allegations of time wasting do me a favour,it seems to becoming a ruining issue with us at the moment from opposition teams a stick to beat us with,well get over it I say take the defeat and move on and stop bleating,I think they think that having more possessions they shoul be wiping the floor with us but it’s goals that win matches not possession stats.

    One more thing good crowd there who gave excellent support throughout ,and to our Manager and players who to a man came over after the game to acknowledge the fans and to giving a shirt to a young lad in the front row ,Well done all.

  5. BJA says:

    Good afternoon Paul and others – thanks as ever for your comprehensive review of events, goodness knows what we would all do without such reviews.
    I did not catch up with how the game was progressing until just after half time, and could hardly contain my excitement to learn that we were two ahead. Now the problem was to learn how the game would proceed in real time, and quite fortuitously tuned in to Talk Sport where an actual commentary was taking place. Not sure who the main commentator was, but believed the summarizer was Ray Houghton. Both were fulsome in their praise of the City performance with plaudits going particularly to the Captain, Joe Ralls and Loic Damour. That these three were singled out demonstrates the commitment to the cause and regardless on how much possession Forest had, and they had a high percentage, their harrying prevented the men in red from having many shots on target, just two I believe. We also had two attempts which were clearly better!!
    The Footstats website to which I am now a regular visitor (sad man that I am) shows that so far this season, only Brentford with 98 have had more shots on target than the City who have had 94. Nottm. Forest have had 86. And as far as shots against, only the Blades with 52, Derby with 54 have had less shots on target than the 55 that we have experienced. The Forest have had 89 and have conceded 29 goals against our 13.
    What all this means, I believe, is that our Manager has created a team that knows how to defend, and certainly knows how to counter attack, being happy to let opponents produce pass at will until they approach potential shooting areas. Whilst that system may occasionally produce an edginess amongst supporters, the current personnel seem to know how to cope.
    So now it is Norwich to come to the CCS. They are blowing hot and cold this season, averaging less than a goal a game. I shall be happy if that state of affairs continues.

  6. Barry Cole says:

    Russell hits it spot on by the comparison to scholar. We are grinding the results and as long as we continue to do that then we should keep everyone at a distance.
    Scholar was a hard man and we have Warnock in the same mould
    I see the sore losers are blaming that we win dirty at all costs the Warnock way!!!
    Yet we have the opposition tippy tappy football passing the ball sideways and back which in realistic terms is just as bad in the timekeeping as we are, totally boring football where you spend time passing a ball and five minutes later lose it before you reach the area.
    I saw this shambles with Slade and I laugh at those teams who do it now .
    We have learnt that by playing that kind of football just bores the socks off supporters, especially when a well drilled team takes them to the cleaners like we did to forest.
    On Friday we could be just one point behind wolves and the pressure returns to them. They don’t bleat about how they have won games even though they have had some awkward games. That said the next batch of games for wolves are not easy and are a lot harder than ours on paper. But under pressure teams sometimes start misplacing passes and fail to hit the target and soon the confidence starts being affected. NW is right the team who finishes above wolves will win the league. That on present form is likely to be us .
    I await Tomlins introduction and this is not likely as the players seem to be giving their all for the team.
    Finally On Friday I am looking for just one thing and that’s to ensure that Jerome doesn’t score.

  7. The other Bob Wilson says:

    Morning everyone and sorry for the delay in getting back to you. Unfortunately, time is tight (great record that!) for me this morning, so I’ll just say that I see a new whinger against City’s style has emerged in Kenny Burns, who was a talented, but thuggish, player for Forest, Birmingham and Scotland in the seventies and eighties

    http://www.nottinghampost.com/sport/sport-opinion/neil-warnock-looks-like-ken-839496

    what is clear from that piece is that, just as I suspect it is with many who have had a go this season, it’s personal with Burns against Neil Warnock – I’m fairly sure that another team coming to the City Ground and winning in exactly the same manner as we did would not have received as much stick from him as we did.

    Just a couple of other things – BJA, keep the stats coming because, most of the time at least, they tell it as it really is, not as bitter, beaten opponents want us to believe it is. Peter, welcome if, as I suspect it might be, that was your first contribution on here – I agree that we’d need to add more to our game if we wanted to survive in the Premier League.

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