Well, I didn’t see that coming!

CoymayIf I’d have been asked to make a score prediction for Cardiff City’s visit to Rotherham last night, I’d have gone for a 0-0 draw with the rider that either side may just have enough about them to manage the single goal that would sneak them a win, but there was no way that those attending the New York Stadium would see two or more goals. I’m sure there were more optimistic City fans who were quietly confident  of a victory and there may even have been a few who said we’d win 3-1, but, surely there weren’t any who said we’d win by that score and all of our goals would come in an eleven minute spell which would see us 3-0 up after thirty five minutes!

Football is a weird, weird game. Cardiff City’s  seven matches since the FA Cup defeat by Reading had produced a grand total of eight goals with only three of them being scored by Russell Slade’s team and yet here they were banging in the goals (and having another disallowed before half time), where previously they had mustered up the grand total of nineteen on target goal attempts in the 630 minutes of football they played after they exited the FA Cup.

There was nothing in the opening twenty minutes last night to suggest what was coming. In fact, shortly before our opening goal, I was thinking how similar it all was to the first match between the sides this season where Rotherham swarmed all over us to establish a dominance that they never really lost in one of the more one sided 0-0s I’ve seen us involved in.

However, then we get our first corner and one of our centrebacks nods it in. Ah, typical Cardiff City 2014/15 then – no doubt the other two goals were in a similar vein, but, no, both of those came from open play with the first coming via a sumptuous volley and the other following an incisive infield run by a winger (albeit aided by the odd lucky bounce)  with the player on the opposing flank finishing it off after he had burst into the penalty area as well.

A City goal of the season candidate - Federico Macheda's superb volley puts us 2-0 up. There aren't many, if any, other players at the club who could have scored that goal, but only four Championship goals all season shows is a poor return for someone with the talent to do much better.*

A City goal of the season candidate – Federico Macheda’s superb volley puts us 2-0 up. There aren’t many, if any, other players at the club who could have scored that goal, but only four Championship goals all season is a very poor return for someone with the natural talent to do much better.*

Now might be the time to mention that Rotherham have conceded twenty seven goals in the twelve matches they’ve played in all competitions so far this year and, of course, that has to be a factor in why City were suddenly able to find goalscoring so easy, but we’ve played sides with dodgy defensive records before now (e.g. Blackpool, Millwall, Fulham and Huddersfield) and barely looked capable of scoring – there must have been more to the goal rush (by our standards anyway) last night than just poor defending.

Well, it doesn’t take any brilliant analytical skills to notice that our side last night was significantly different from the one that Russell Slade normally picks. Now, on the face of it, Revell and Macheda strikes me as being a less threatening strikeforce than, say, Jones and Doyle, but when you think that Kenwyne isn’t really built for the relentless Saturday, Tuesday programme of recent weeks and that Eoin Doyle is showing ominous signs of going down the plenty of industry, but far too few goals route that Adam LeFondre was on, maybe it was time for a change up front.

However, for me, it was in midfield that the significant changes occurred. Peter Whittingham’s suspension and the decision to rest Craig Noone meant that we started with a very young looking midfield four with twenty five year old Aron Gunnarsson  as the “old head”, accompanied by Joe Ralls, Conor McAleny and Matt Kennedy with a combined age of sixty three.

I suppose there were risks involved in the selection, but, with Kennedy the youngest of the three at twenty, it’s hardly as if we were pitching a trio of raw teenagers into the action. All three players are at the sort of age where they should be breaking into the first team if they were good enough, but, as the one I’ve seen by far the most of, it’s Ralls who I want to talk about for now.

The first thing to say is that even when I was watching him as a sixteen year old in the Academy team, Ralls struck me as an “old head on young shoulders” type of player. Not only that, he has always had something of the Steve McPhail about him in that he always looking to be in possession of the ball. Now, that may sound a bit stupid – surely every player good enough to make it as a pro wants to have the ball? My answer to that is, yes, they want the ball when they and the team are playing well, but it’s far from true to say that they all show for the ball when they are struggling and if they do get it, they make sure they get rid of it pretty quick.

Ralls makes himself available no matter how the game is going and I don’t feel he has any obvious weaknesses to his game. When he first broke into the team at seventeen, I thought we had a superb prospect on our hands, but, perhaps, in a way, our promotion two years ago didn’t help his development at Cardiff. As a big supporter of his, I’ll admit that he hasn’t really put in the performances when he has been given a chance this season that have demanded that he retain his place for the next match, but I’ll also add that he has been the victim of what seems to be an unwritten law among football managers and coaches which states that when there is a choice to be made about who to leave out, it’s always the youngster, rather than the experienced under performer, who gets the chop.

Ralls’ inclusion last night surprised me. It’s only just over a month ago that I was thinking he had little future at the club following the signing of Stuart O’Keefe, now we have a situation whereby O’Keefe played a few matches before disappearing from trace to the extent that he has been an unused sub in our last five games and it’s a player who has been at the club all along who comes in when the Whittingham/Gunnarsson axis has to be broken up.

If Ralls is considered a better bet than O’Keefe, then why sign O’Keefe in the first place? The only answer I can think of that may apply is that Slade uses a management by numbers approach which says there must always be a grafter/athelete and a footballer as his central midfield two. This may explain why Ralls and not O’Keefe, or Tom Adeyemi, started last night – if it has been Gunnarsson, not Whittingham, who was missing, then the decision would have been a different one.

Conor McAleny turns in the third goal - the on loan Evertonian showed up well, as did  former Goodison Park man Matt Kennedy on the other wing.*

Conor McAleny turns in the third goal – the on loan Evertonian showed up well, as did former Goodison Park man Matt Kennedy on the other wing.*

That to me feels like lower division thinking though. The best midfield players at this level are all rounders who can provide the graft and the craft and Ralls is, in my opinion, the player at the club who is best equipped to stand a chance of being able to do that – I feel he should be given a run of games to see if he can start to look a real first eleven performer, but I suspect that it will be Whittingham and Gunnarsson in central midfield again on Saturday against an in form Charlton side.

The way modern football is, there are probably very few times when a degree of experimentation that sees a manager selecting youngsters not yet established in the team can be attempted, but, surely, City are very close to that sort of position now with two months of the season still left?

I can remember Danny Baker’s Sunday lunchtime programme of about twenty years ago having a feature where listeners were asked to nominate a team that defined “mid table mediocrity” and the winners were deemed to be a Shrewsbury Town side that were twelfth or thirteenth in their division having won, drawn and lost the same number of matches with a goal difference of nought,

Now, we are not quite in the Shrewsbury class, but thirteenth position, sixteen points off a Play Off place, and thirteen points clear of the relegation zone is a fair attempt at matching it. If things go as they should do over the next few weeks, it would be good to see some of our young players being given a chance in the first team – otherwise, what is the point of having an Academy if all we are going to do is bring, often mediocre, players in from other clubs whenever a vacancy arises in  the first team?

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

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10 Responses to Well, I didn’t see that coming!

  1. Russell says:

    Totally agree with your view on Ralls only to add I think Slade more than the two past managers OGS/MM has given some youth players a chance, such as Ralls & Harris, if MM had kept Rall’s in and around the squad even in the Premiership his development would be further on by now , as would have Harris and Mason.

  2. Sean says:

    Hello Paul

    Most of the comments here are so thoughtful and well informed I think I need to lower the tone a little. Firstly I have to say that if someone told me they were taking me to the New York Stadium and I ended up in Rotherham, I might be a bit disappointed. As you know I’m not a deep thinker about the game though.

    City have now won 2 out their last 5 games, drawn 2 (only one was a stinker) and you say they didn’t deserve to lose against Wolves. So is it safe yet for me to come and watch a game?

  3. steve c says:

    Great read as always thanks!

  4. The other Bob Wilson says:

    Thanks for the replies. Russell, you make a fair point about Kadeem Harris, but I’m not so sure about Joe Ralls. Russell Slade singled Ralls out as someone who had impressed him in his first few days at the club, but he’s made very little use of someone with quite a lot of Championship experience playing in the area where most critics say we’ve been weakest this year – although Ralls is still thought of as a kid, he’ll be 22 later this year and so, he shouldn’t really be being “held back” because of his age.
    Sean, good to hear from you on here, the last two home games have been a big improvement from dreadful to so, so – it would be great to see you, Catherine and the kids again, I suppose the match with Birmingham a fortnight on Saturday might be too short notice, but, maybe Bolton on Easter Monday if you’ve not got anything arranged for the Bank Holiday?

  5. Viv Rees says:

    As speed and conditioning coach to Conor Macalaney under David Moyes era I can only tell you Cardiff fans how lucky you are to have such a talented lad pulling on a bluebirds jersey, also Matt Kennedy, another talent of the Everton academy, credit has to go to Russell Slade for not allowing things to remain stale at Cardiff, I think recent results are proof enough he has things under control and within time could get you into play off spot but this might just be too big an ask for this season, but as Jimmy Greaves would say you never know, Football ” its a funny old game” I know the Everton lads are loving Wales and happy at the Warm Welcome shown by some of the most loyal and passionate fans in the country, keep it going Blues
    Good Luck for the future
    Viv Rees

  6. Viv Rees says:

    I do hope Russell Slade will keep faith with the team that won on the road, youth in midfield is what you need, the pace and energy to break teams, with maybe couple of the old guard on the bench just as a back up plan, should we once again go 2 or 3 up in first half.
    I am interested to see how the youngsters rise to the task against a decent Charlton side, 3-1 Cardiff would be a lovely result, fingers crossed !!!

  7. The other Bob Wilson says:

    Thank you Steve – your comments are appreciated.

  8. The other Bob Wilson says:

    Very good to hear from you Viv and thanks for that bit of “inside info” on McAleny and Kennedy. McAleny scored twice against us for Brentford in a pre-season friendly while he was with them. so I was aware of him and was expecting him to be the one who would be playing the more first team football for us, but he’s had a slight injury which caused him to miss a game or two and this has helped Kennedy establish himself. He’s started in our last five matches after making a very good start to his City career in the game with Blackburn – he was quiet on Saturday against Wolves, but played a prominent part in win at Rotherham – I must admit that I thought he’d fall into the “one for the future” category for us after reading he struggled to nail down a starting place while with Hibs, but he’s in the side on merit at the moment.

    I hope you are right about the Charlton match, we’ve had some poor results at home lately, so a win is overdue.

  9. Anthony O'Brien says:

    What a ringing endorsement – and good to see – for Russell Slade from Viv Rees, who obviously has a genuine football background. Almost inevitably Mr Slade will stick to the same lineup on Saturday, including Macheda – though I must admit, and judging ONLY from the wireless commentary, it didn’t seem he did much else apart from scoring a wonder goal. I still think that Doyle and Revell could – and should – work well together, and I’m still mystified by the continued absence of Adeyemi.

    And I’d still like to hear the stadium loudspeaker and our more musical fans singing along with Doris Day’s rendering of “Blue Skies”:

    Bluebirds, singing a song,
    Nothing but bluebirds all day long.

    Even I would join in – despite the fact that a teacher almost sixty years ago told me my voice was not even good for gargling.

  10. Dai Woosnam says:

    Thanks, as ever, Paul.
    Nice line from AMO there on gargling..
    And I too share his passion for Doris, since – to borrow the famous quote – i too knew DD before she was a virgin.
    But when it comes to the choice of song, i fear AMO is letting his love for Doris sway his thinking.
    True, choosing his reworking of the lyrics WOULD mean that it conforms to the first rule of successful club song, i.e. that it is unique to them. (That said, we need to check that the other team known as “The Bluebirds” – the mighty Barrow FC – have not already adopted it!)
    But it fails in one vital element: with the team 3-2 down and five minutes to go and a heroic effort called for, we do not need some “away with the fairies” song about blue skies!
    We want a song that will make players stetch those aching, knackered bodies for one last heroic assault on the opponent’s goal !!
    That is why the genius who stole the Sir Harry Lauder classic “Keep Right On To The End of the Road” for Birmingham City should have a statue erected to him at St. Andrews.
    The best song of the lot.
    Imagine you are playing in such a game as I outlined, and you hear the crowd singing those inspring words “when you’re tired and weary still journey on”…well, you too would want to run through walls too, wouldn’t you?
    Am typing this flat on my back on to my iPad in my Aberdeen apartment just 400 yards from the scene of Alex Ferguson’s first miracle. So apols for the myriad probable typos.
    Wanted to add a word about the great Dave Mackay and the greatest game I ever saw at Ninian, but that must wait till I get home in 3 days.
    Will close now before my eyes do.
    Check the time of this posting!

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