Disappointing as yesterday’s 2-1 defeat at Nottingham Forest was, I think supporters need to look at a bigger picture in terms of the run of fixtures we are involved in. Frankly, I have never known such a long and demanding run of games as the one we are currently in the midst of and so I make no apologies for making this piece more stats orientated than usual on here as I try to show just how well we have done since Boxing Day in maintaining our position close to an automatic promotion spot.
Firstly though, just a few words about yesterday’s game. I must admit that I was concerned when I heard our team because, not only were we going to be missing our best midfield player, we were also without our best finisher. More than that though, the side had an “open” look to it which made it appear ill equipped to deal with Forest’s speed on the break because it lacked players who would, naturally, sit in front of the back four – I would have gone for two such players for this game and played 4-5-1. However, in a typically brave Dave Jones style start to the game, our manager’s tactics would have been proved to be right but for some fine saves from Lee Camp and some slightly substandard finishing from us as we shook Forest with our positive approach early on – we could easily have been 2-0 up in twenty minutes.
After that though, Forest always looked the more likely team to me and, perhaps, just about deserved their win (it certainly wasn’t as clear cut as their manager claimed it was though) in a game where all three goals had an element of doubt to them for me. I say element of doubt there, but in reality, I was in no doubt whatsoever that we should not have been given a penalty – it was just a routine challenge by McKenna and I am sure that Seyi Olofinjana must have been surprised by Mr Moss’ decision (it was the only thing the ref – who I have thought has tended to favour us when he has done games in Cardiff in the past – gave us all day mind!). As for Forest’s first goal, Dave Jones said that Wes Morgan had a ladder on Mark Hudson’s back when he scored and it is very unusual to see Hudson beaten so conclusively in the air like that, but I thought Morgan used his superior strength to get into the position to score while with Earnie’s match winner, I thought it looked pretty close to being offside (I wasn’t watching the live pictures at the time of the goal mind and so it might be that a television shot which showed it to be onside was shown then).
Anyway, the main aim of this piece is to be draw attention to how unbelievably testing a series of fixtures we are in – here is a list of our last eleven league opponents which shows their league position when we played them and also, where appropriate, has some comments about the form they were in at the time;
Coventry – 5th position, had lost one game in five.
Watford – 11th, unbeaten in four and had inflicted QPR’s first defeat of the season on them in their last game by thrashing them 3-1 at Loftus Road
Bristol City – 19th
Leeds – 4th, unbeaten in twelve
Norwich – 4th, one defeat in twelve.
Watford – 6th, six straight league wins (seven in all competitions).
Reading – 8th, one defeat in twelve.
Swansea – 3rd, one defeat in six.
Scunthorpe – 23rd.
Burnley – 8th, one defeat in six.
Forest – 4th, one defeat in eleven and unbeaten in 34 home matches.
So, in that group of games we had two which had an “easy” look to them on paper (Bristol City and Scunthorpe), but in the other nine we faced teams that had between them lost six matches out of a total of seventy four at the time when we played them. Under the circumstances, I think we have done really well to come out of these matches with a record which reads;
P 9 W 4 D 3 L 2 f 15 a 13 Pts 15
Things show no sign of getting easier either because, as of now, the records of our next three opponents look like this;
Leicester – 7th, seven wins and a draw in their last eight matches.
Hull – 10th, one defeat in seventeen and unbeaten in their last eight.
Ipswich – 13th, unbeaten in six.
Hull have to travel to Derby before they play us next Saturday, while Ipswich have to go to QPR and then entertain Portsmouth before they come to Cardiff City Stadium on 5 March, so, if those games go to form, I would say that Hull will not have lost their unbeaten record when we face them, while Ipswich will come here on the back of one defeat in eight (I can’t see them getting anything at Loftus Road). This would mean that by the time we have played Ipswich, we will have completed a run of fourteen matches which included twelve against opponents who had, collectively lost eight matches out of one hundred and ten when we faced them!
If we can manage something like four points from those three matches, then it would mean that we will have come through a large group of fixtures the like of which I have not seen in nearly fifty years of supporting the club with a minimum of twenty two points. Now, in terms of any two points a game target, that doesn’t look great, but in the context of the severity of the fixtures, I would say it would be a terrific return. Yes, it would leave us with a bit of ground to make up on the top two, but with only QPR, Burnley and, possibly, Millwall left to face who could be called promotion rivals, it would leave us ideally placed to kick on in our last eleven matches……….on paper anyway.
I added that qualification because I’m afraid that it might well not turn out to be that straightforward. Firstly, I would say that yesterday’s match offered further evidence of a brittleness which has often appeared in the really big games under Dave Jones – when it really counts it is so often Cardiff that takes the step back in a battle where determination and character become so important. In that respect a bit less standing (or sitting) around with their arms outstretched waiting for a referee’s whistle that is never going to come would come in handy (I’m not just talking about Jay Bothroyd here either – I can think of at least three others in our much vaunted forward line who are often guilty of doing the same thing).
Also, the trouble we had breaking down a limited Scunthorpe side shows the danger of taking a lot of the lower half of the table sides we face in our closing fixtures for granted. Iv’e talked about how tough our current run of games is, but, on the other hand, in our run of poor results starting with the Swansea defeat that ended on New Year’s Day, we faced four sides currently in the bottom six and we got just four points from these matches – a decent return from our next three games will give cause for optimism, but there are still recurring weaknesses that will need to be addressed if we are to take advantage of the opportunity that our closing fixtures give us.