Make no mistake about it, that was a terrific result yesterday. To go the ground of a side that had lost just one game in eighteen (they had a player sent off in the game they were beaten in as well) and win 2-0 is a great achievement – there might not have been much champagne football on view at the KC Stadium, but, for the second time in four days, Cardiff City got a result which will have had our rivals at the top of the table thinking that we aren’t going to go away as the business end of the campaign comes into sight.
For a few weeks now, I have been banging on (and probably boring people rigid!) about what a tough run of games we have been in since Boxing Day – with just two exceptions (Bristol City and Scunthorpe) we have been playing sides who were either or both of two things, genuine promotion contenders or in their best run of results of the season. With Ipswich’s recent fine form having now stalled on the back of two consecutive defeats, it looks to me now as if our horror run of matches is over and we have come out of it with a record reading;
P 13 W 7 D 3 L 3 f 20 a 16 Pts 24
I make no apologies for stating that, given the teams we were up against and the form we were in before Christmas, this is an absolutely outstanding record. It means that over the course of that run of matches we picked up 1.84 points per game – if this was spread over the course of a forty six match season it would get 85 points which has been enough to ensure a top two finish in two out of the last three seasons. So, it could be said that over a run of games the like of which I cannot remember before as a City fan (a run of games that has been much tougher than any other side at the top has had to cope with recently), we have shown automatic promotion form.
If our dreadful results in November and December threatened to take us out of top two contention, then what has happened since Boxing Day has put us right back in it. I still don’t think it is really appreciated how well we have done since Boxing Day (or, more accurately, from the miserable New Year’s Day defeat at Bristol City) onwards - other sides may have had better records than us over that time, but none of them have had to face the quality of opposition game in, game out that we have.
So, what are we left with over the last two months of the season? Well, like most of our rivals, we have twelve matches left, but, unlike most of our rivals, we have the vast majority of our remaining matches against sides in the lower half of the table – I feel the current top twelve are all realistic candidates for a top six place so how many top half of the table sides (or fellow promotion candidates) will the top dozen be playing in their remaining fixtures?
Here is a list of the number of top half sides that the promotion candidates have left to face;
QPR six out of twelve
Swansea five out of twelve
Cardiff three out of twelve
Norwich five out of twelve (they also face a local derby at Ipswich)
Forest seven out of thirteen
Leeds six out of twelve
Leicester six out of twelve
Burnley seven out of fourteen
Hull seven out of twelve
Reading three out of twelve
Millwall seven out of twelve
Watford seven out of thirteen.
So, apart from Reading (who are, surely, too far behind us to be an automatic promotion threat now) we have a run in which I can only assume most of our rivals would love to swap with us. Here are a few more things to consider;
1. We have already played all of the current top seven, and nine of the current top ten, away from home.
2. QPR apart, the highest placed side we have left to play at home is thirteenth placed Portsmouth.
3. Half of our remaining matches are against sides currently in the bottom seven.
Now, when I mentioned our run in to a mate of mine last night, I got the response “yeah, but we’re crap against the bottom sides aren’t we”. To a degree, that’s a fair point (three draws and a win in home matches against the current bottom four is hardly inspiring), but my view is that if we miss out on a top two (or top six) place because we couldn’t beat sides from the lower half of the table when it really counted, then we don’t deserve to go up – we have proved over the course of thirty four matches that we are better than all but one of our remaining opponents, now we have to do it once again out on the pitch.
Over the course of the last two months, we have put the foundations in place for a top two finish, we now have a great opportunity to finish the job off if the big name attacking players we have come up with the goods. On that score, it is encouraging to see Michael Chopra find the net for the third successive game yesterday with a neat header after he was left unattended six yards out by the home defenders. If Chopra can go through one of his hot streaks over the next few weeks, it will make life that little bit easier for us – his displays in the Play Off games last season showed he is a big occasion player and I am hopeful we will see more evidence of that over the coming weeks.
Jay Emmanuel-Thomas’ amazing first goal for the club, courtesy of some dodgy keeping and his fine technique, cemented the win in added time and may have taken his mind off the stroke his grandfather had suffered (here’s hoping for a full recovery there). People still seem to want to concentrate on the things our loanee from Arsenal isn’t, but I would rather centre on what he can offer us – I believe he can play a big part in the rest of our season, but, like a few of our players, he looks like he would be more effective in a 4-5-1 formation than a 4-4-2 one.
Being Cardiff City of course, there has to be some bad news to set against all my positivity this morning and it comes mainly in the form of Aaron Ramsey going back to Arsenal after the completion of his one month loan spell – Dave Jones remains hopeful that the loan can be extended with a twenty four hour recall by Arsenal clause included in the deal, but all of the signs are that Arsene Wenger is not going to play ball and, given how Aaron has performed for us, you can’t really blame him can you. Arsenal fans keep on saying that Rambo still has a long way to go before he reaches the level he was at before his injury, but all I know is that he has played ninety minutes six times for us and has looked the best midfield player on the park in four of the five games I have seen him play – not only that, he has been prepared to work really hard in the team’s cause and, although I knew this would never happen, he certainly hasn’t had the sort of big time Charlie attitude that some loan signings from the Premiership show when they slum it in the Championship.
If Aaron Ramsey has played his last game for us, then it’s been both a pleasure and a privilege to watch him in a City shirt again over the past few weeks. Maybe, those Arsenal fans are right and he still has a lot of work to do to get back to where he was, but, for me, he has shown that he has the attitude and psyche to not let what happened to him at Stoke stand in his way as he goes on to fulfill his obvious potential. If he was with us for the rest of the season I would be expecting rather than hoping for automatic promotion – thanks Rambo and best of luck over the next few months.
The other fly in the ointment is the all too predictable departure of Adam Matthews who it was announced a couple of days ago had signed a pre-contract agreement with Celtic. I am not going to go into great detail now about what I think of the loss of a player who was performing so well for us at the age of just 17 for such a derisory compensation figure (I’ve done that already on City messageboards!) – suffice it to say that the whole episode has been far from Dave Jones’ finest hour in his time as City manager.
Finally, after turning us down earlier in the week, it’s looking increasingly like Wigan’s Chris Kirkland will be joining us on loan for the rest of the season. With David Marshall needing an operation on a troublesome elbow and Tom Heaton nursing a groin injury, we need cover in the goalkeeping department (although the irony of having Kirkland, whose once very promising career has been decimated by injuries, here as that cover does make me smile!). I can only hope that this will not be the last of our loan signings for this season – being really greedy, it would be nice to see one more defender come in, but, being more realistic, I do believe that, with Ramsey gone and Seyi Olofinjana injured, we will need another player in midfield. We have benefited from a switch to 4-5-1 in our last two matches and I think the addition of a box to box central midfielder would ensure that we would still have that option open to us in the closing weeks of the season.