What on earth does he say to them at half time?

CoymayThere’s something about Reading at home in the Championship in November when it comes to Russell Slade’s Cardiff City because on both of the occasions this match has taken place it has signalled significant changes in our season.

To be fair, it may be that last season’s miserable game in which we turned a 2-0 interval lead against opponents who had been reduced to ten men for the whole of the second period into a 2-1 win which had us hanging on desperately at the end may have just been a personal Epiphany because it was the night I decided that I wouldn’t be renewing my season ticket for 15/16 if we were still playing in red.

However, on balance, I would say that it was a night when attitudes began to change towards our new manager. I had been defending Russell Slade wholeheartedly up until then after a start under him in which we played some decent, if hardly spectacular, football but, despite the result, we were so poor in that game that I don’t believe I was the only City fan who started to wonder about the decision the club had made in appointing him

That Reading game was the precursor to what was almost a year’s worth of games at home where we gradually improved our results, but the matches, whatever the outcome, tended to be boring with little or no entertainment on offer.

Then, Reading turned up again on November 7 and something, which took me for one completely by surprise, happened – we started scoring goals at a much increased rate and became an interesting side to watch as I started going home from games thinking that, if nothing else, I’d been entertained.

Of course, as we are talking about Russell Slade’s Cardiff City here, what you think would be a positive that signified a big stride forward, came with other factors which meant that, overall, we were actually in exactly the same place we were when we started or maybe even a bit further back!

This fine photo shows how well placed Ollie Burke's shot was for Forest's goal - City presented their opponents with the ball, but it was still a fine finish by the youngster.*

This fine photo shows how well placed Ollie Burke’s shot was for Forest’s goal – City presented their opponents with the ball, but it was still a fine finish by the youngster.*

I’ve produced some fun statistics (a geek like me finds them interesting anyway!) which show what I mean about one step forward and at least one back, but I’ll come to them later because, for now, I want to talk about last nights’ 1-1 draw with Nottingham Forest as a game rather than where it fits into the pattern of our season post Reading on November 7.

The first thing I’d like to do is address what sort of opposition we were up against last night. After the match there were those on City messageboards who described Forest as the worst team we have faced so far this season. Unusually for him, our manager was critical of our opponents as well as he accused them of “parking the bus” and said they would have needed snorkels if they had dropped any deeper.

Now, I think a few things need to be said here regarding Forest’s, entertaining, televised 1-1 draw with Leeds on Sunday. The first is the obvious one that it took place a day later than our game at MK Dons, so Forest were playing for the second time in just over forty eight hours.

This leads me on to a second point. Although Forest kept the same keeper and back four from Sunday, manager Dougie Freedman’s concern about having to play twice within such a short space of time was reflected in him completely changing the front six which started the Leeds match – of the half a dozen that featured against Leeds, only David Vaughan was missing from the Forest bench last night, so, at most, only one of them may have been injured.

Obviously, Freedman was indulging in some squad rotation and, although it would be simplistic and wrong to say that the six who came into the side were all second string players, it was still some way short of what most people would recognise as Forest’s best side which took the field last night – certainly, I shifted my pre match prediction of a draw to a home win when I heard their line up.

The third point is that, even though they were playing at home on Sunday, Forest looked to play on the counter attack against Leeds, so, if Russell Slade was taken by surprise by Forest putting so many men behind the ball, he shouldn’t really have been because, based on Sunday’s evidence, they set up exactly as expected.

It would be fair to say that trying to break down a side whose main concern was presenting two banks of four (sometimes the eight outfield players had a reinforcement or two as well) can be difficult, but City found it pretty easy to make significant inroads in the game’s opening stages – I suppose some of the reason for this was that the new look Forest side were struggling to get used to each other, but I believe they would have had trouble containing us with the likes of Lansbury, Oliveira, Vaughan etc. in their team at this stage.

Forest’s goal came as early as the ninth minute, but, even so, that was still enough time for a few important events to come to light. First, Antony Pilkington was able to make it a hat trick of good headed chances missed in our last three home games, second Craig Noone (recalled to the starting eleven for Sammy Ameobi) established a dominance over visiting left back Michael Mancienne and, thirdly, I was able to sarcastically remark that Kenwyne Jones looked well up for the game – nothing that happened in the fifty five minutes or so that followed before his withdrawal for Ameobi suggested my early deduction was wrong.

When City fell behind, as Forest exploited a misplaced Joe Ralls pass, it was well against the run of play and, to be frank, it was one way traffic towards the visitor’s goal for the next twenty minutes or so. With Noone playing as well as I’ve seen him this season during this spell (I didn’t understand why he switched to the other wing given the way he had started on the right mind) and Pilkington also shining, there was a steady supply of crosses into the box from threatening areas.

However, apart from Aron Gunnarsson’s rather fortunate equaliser courtesy of a big deflection which left DeVries in the visiting goal helpless, City were, just as on Saturday, unable to take advantage of their pressure. More chances should have resulted from our supremacy, but, as it was, Tony Watt (much less influential and impressive than in his other games for us so far) and Jones joined Pilkington in missing opportunities they should have made more of.

The direction of play remained resolutely towards the Forest goal throughout the first half, but the writing was on the wall in the ten to fifteen minutes leading up to the break because much of the earlier attacking pace and zip was disappearing from City’s play.

Still, based on the evidence of the first forty five minutes, there were definite grounds for optimism for the second half, but what followed was a return to the days I had hoped had gone forever as Cardiff toiled at a pedestrian pace to create even half chances. The decline in Noone’s level of performance was a barometer of what we were seeing – it was the boring, boring Cardiff of so much of 2015 all over again as they plodded away playing simple sideways and backwards passes seemingly as slowly as they could before one would get misplaced.

Forest had chances to exploit this carelessness, but, largely, seemed happy with the point they had and it was only in the closing stages when they created, and missed, the two or three best chances of the second half that they gave the impression they were chasing a win that I feel they could have snatched had they been a bit more ambitious.

As for City, all they had to offer throughout the second period was a Gunnarsson header which went some way over the bar, another deflected shot which looked like it may be beating DeVries until it flashed narrowly wide and a fine cross from Ameobi in added time that was scrambled clear with difficulty by the visitor’s defence – apologies if I’ve forgotten anything there, but I’m pretty sure I haven’t.

Five minutes after the restart, I was being sarcastic again (I often say that the old chestnut about sarcasm being the lowest form of wit is a true one, but it’s hard not be at times where your football team is concerned!) as I remarked that Slade had really fired them up at half time hadn’t he.

The title I’ve given this piece poses a question which hints at a reason for our recent second half problems, but I believe that, on balance, there is a more reasonable, and plausible, explanation for them.

To be frank, some City players looked knackered during the second half (in fact, there were one or two who were struggling well before that). I suppose that the holiday programme taking a toll can, possibly, partially explain this, but the truth is that, if we include the game at Birmingham as a holiday fixture, we will end up playing Saturday, Saturday, Tuesday, Saturday over the Christmas/New Year period – isn’t that exactly the sort of programme we face in, say, November and February?

Surely, our players cannot be struggling for fitness can they? After all, much of the talk during pre season training and in the weeks after the proper stuff started was about how much fitter the squad was when compared with the previous season – indeed, I can remember Russell Slade saying two or three months ago that, whereas we were ranked twenty fourth out of twenty four when it came to levels of fitness when he took over, we were now the eighth fittest side in the Championship.

Leaving aside a slight doubt I have as to how “fitness” can be measured in the way our manager claims, I should state the obvious here and say that, both in terms of specialist knowledge and experience of having seen the squad train, I’m not in a position to comment about how fit or unfit the squad are at the moment.

However, it seems to me that a team that was deemed “fit” in October might not be in December if the approach to this aspect of the game is relaxed in the intervening period – certainly, those stats I mentioned earlier appear to strongly suggest that something has changed in the way the team are reacting as matches progress.

If we look at home games played before Reading’s visit, the breakdown as to when goals were scored and conceded supports the suggestion that City were a relatively fit team.

We scored just one first half goal in these matches, but only one was concerned. After the interval, it was completely different, with us scoring seven and letting in three. To me, those figures suggest that, with more goals scored and conceded in the second half, fitness levels, naturally, start to flag, but the big difference between goals scored and conceded during this period make for a persuasive argument that we were fitter than most of opponents.

Another excellent picture conveys how large a part the deflection (apparently off Tony Watt) played in City's equaliser - Gunnarsson's shot was well struck, but it looked like Dorus DeVries had it covered and would have, almost certainly, have saved it it quite easily. *

Another excellent picture conveys how large a part the deflection (apparently off Tony Watt) played in City’s equaliser – Gunnarsson’s shot was well struck, but it looked like Dorus DeVries had it covered and would have, almost certainly, have saved it quite easily. *

Contrast that with the post Reading match stats which, if the conclusion I draw from the earlier games is correct, then the evidence is certainly damning and suggests the complete opposite applies.

Seven first half goals is a huge contrast with what happened before and undoubtedly reflects the more positive attitude of the team. One goal conceded in the opening half is good by any standards, but, we’ve only scored three times after the break in these matches, while six have been conceded – that has to be very suggestive that we are not lasting the pace as well as our opponents now.

I find the huge contrast between when and how the goals come in our home matches staggering. Away matches are not as revealing, but, if I had to draw a conclusion from them, it would be that, generally, we are not as fit as the teams we  face – before Reading we scored seven times with three in the second half, after Reading we’ve scored one  first half goal and three second half ones, while two and five have been conceded respectively.

With Ipswich extending the gap between us and sixth to six points after their win at Brighton, there are dangerous signs that this season is beginning to go the same way as the previous one did. There was little faith in our manager and team before our last three matches at a time when we were throwing away two goal leads, but one point from nine since then against teams we have generally dominated tells its own story.

I’ve spent the first half of the season saying that a couple of good signings can turn us into a Play Off team, but recent events have made me revise that opinion – we probably need double that number in January and I wouldn’t be too displeased to see two or three who were involved last night moving on as well.

One last thing about last night, the scorer of Forest’s fine goal, Ollie Burke, (who also impressed when he came on against Leeds) is eighteen years old, but that can’t be right can it? Aren’t the current rules that any teenagers on the books of a Championship club cannot be selected for first team football and must be sent out on one of the five or six loan deals they have to go on before they are deemed ready for senior football at this level at the age of around twenty five? Sorry, I’m indulging in that lowest form of wit again there!

Finally, can I wish all readers of this blog a Happy New Year.   

*photos courtesy of https://www.flickr.com/photos/joncandy/

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11 Responses to What on earth does he say to them at half time?

  1. In a belated contribution to the 27th December comments I, like you Paul, made a semi-serious reference to Mr Slade’s half-time tactical or pep talk as a factor in Cardiff’s poor second half displays. More seriously, though, after seeing last night’s game, I have grave and continued doubts about the players’ level of skill. They all are deficient in “touch” – which means that under pressure (or not even under pressure on many occasions) lacked the skill to bring the ball under immediate control or to pass it with precision and speed. It was not the weather or the pitch to blame for this, since Johnnie Williams – as one example – displayed exemplary touch during his time on the field. I am bound to ask – is it “nature or nurture”? In other words, are Cardiff players inherently poor at controlling the ball, or are they not being trained to do so? No guesses for what I think.

    And while I’m on the subject, how does Kenwyne Jones continue to (not) lead the line? Are Cardiff so deficient in forward planning that they have – throughout this season and previously – failed to find someone capable of replacing him? In all senses of the term it is “forward non-planning”.

    Grumpiness over. Happy New Year to everyone – and roll on next Saturday.

  2. Colin Phillips says:

    Excellent and accurate report, Paul.

    The second-half performances are going from bad to badder.

    I would love to be a fly on the wall in the City dressing-room at half-time, should be good for a laugh.

    Must mention Manga from last night, after a bit of a rusty start he played imperiously.

    How the hell is he playing for us???

    Col

  3. Barry cole says:

    Enough said Paul so I hope that we are given the pleasure of a new manager for the new year. Tan may have his excuse now in getting slade to look for another job rather than sack him and lose face.
    He must see through all his bluster that he is totally out of his depth, hasn’t the gumption to change when opponents are seen to alter tactics and still continues to play ameobi even when we all know it’s at lost cause.

  4. Geoff Lewis says:

    Thanks Paul,
    Due to where I live, I did not risk travelling in my car to the game last night. Thank God, I made the right decision. I did say in my last reply that some players lacked skill, and that was apparent last night.
    It is time I think for Mr Slade and his support staff and some of last night’s players to depart our beloved club and politely go away.
    Paul you are correct we do need another 6 players in January and in those six, bring back some of our youngsters who are out on loan (probably do a better job than the ones we got)
    Lastly one of our better players towards the end of last season a Mr Kennedy does not get a look in.
    I will try and make the game against Blackburn on Saturday.
    Happy New Year to everyone
    Best Regards
    Geoff

  5. Adrian Lloyd Pickrell says:

    An oustanding report Paul. Many thanks.
    I have just flown home from the Forest game and, as I am so rarely “live” at a game I enjoy the experience very much when I am there. You mention sarcasm and there were some very amusing comments from my neighbours in the CCS last night (all in that wonderful dry Cardiff accent) concerning Kanwyne and his boundless enthusiasm. As for the second half, well my German wife tagged along last night (she enjoys occasional football game but cannot fathom my other two great sporting loves of rugby and cricket) but she did make the following comment late in the second half. She remarked…
    “Cardiff are a very sociable and friendly team. When City attack, they halt at the opponents penalty area and pass the ball from left to right whilst waiting for the players in red to all get back and defend. This is very sporting of them and very fair. Are they supposed to do this ?”

    However, despite a lot of time wasting by Forest and them seeming to be happy with the draw, they missed an absolute sitter in the last seconds and considering how many late goals we have conceded in the last few games we can all be grateful that they blew it. Another goal conceded so late and I will really start to believe that supernatural powers are at work.

    I agree with Barry, Manga performed well last night, after a shaky start he he got his act together really well.

    I too wish you all a very, happy and healthy new year.

    Best
    Adrian

  6. Dai Woosnam says:

    Oh dear…I hope Tony Watt is not already thinking that he has done enough to ensure his name is on a Cardiff City contract?

    Nice droll joke from Adrian’s German wife.
    And yet, from all the above contributions, it was Adrian who succeeded in shocking me to the core.
    I rubbed my eyes in disbelief.
    Our dear Barry PRAISING somebody?
    Surely not?
    For are not all Barry’s waking minutes FILLED with thoughts of only one thing: how to remove what he sees as the grossly incompetent manager?
    I quickly scrolled back up this webpage to witness with my own eyes this Damascene conversion to becoming a boringly balanced soul like me.
    (Ha! That will make Graham and some of you others laugh!)
    And guess what?
    It turned out to be Colin who was praising the man who the game before could not “imperiously” head the ball into touch, not Barry…!!
    Never mind. Let us see what 2016 brings.
    And I leave you with this thought…
    “If Russell Slade had the passion of Barry Cole, he would be a much better manager.
    For one thing, he would have read the riot act to Kenwyne ages ago, and made him train with the kids”.

    Kindest, to you all,
    Dai.

  7. Adrian’s wife has made absolutely “die besten Kommentar” on Cardiff’s shortcomings. Incidentally, although the name “Kanwyne” may be a typo, all it needs is a missing “t” to be perfectly accurate.

  8. Richard Holt says:

    As ever Paul your write-ups are the next best thing to being there – or maybe somewhat better on too many occasions in recent seasons. Thanks for all of them and have a great new year. Incidentally my own geeky stat brain has worked out that we’ve now gone 133 league games since we last scored more than three in a league game (Blackburn away in December 2012) – the longest such run in the club’s history.

  9. MIKE HOPE says:

    Paul,the headline of your excellent report combined with your reference to sarcasm[not thinking of me I hope] is fascinating. I recall that when Mr Slade first joined us, his previous Chairman, Barry Hearn, [no shrinking violet himself] referred to his motivational team talks as ‘legendary’.At the time I assumed that this was meant as a compliment.He wasn’t being sarcastic was he?
    Tuesday was yet another frustrating night at the CCS .Apart from the goal we conceded[I hope that Dai Woosnam stayed at home in Cleethorpes and no-one tells him about the cross field pass in our own half that set it up]our football through most of the first half was excellent and we could and should have scored at least two more goals.From my point of view the main reason why we did not and also why we ran out of ideas in the second half was that the spearhead of our attack was blunt.I am talking of course about Kenwyne and Tony Watt.Kenwyne was Kenwyne, and Tony, for whatever reason did not look fit.Right from the start he did not seem as sharp as usual and apart from a brief flurry early in the second half I had to keep checking that he was still on the pitch.He is obviously a talented lad and I hope it was a case of too many games and knocks in a short time after his spell out of the game rather than a stamina problem.
    As far as Kenwne is concerned I am surprised that we seem to be keen to negotiate a new contract.He will always provide a few good moments and the occasional good game but I don’t think he is what we need.He is an expensive and unaffordable luxury-a bit like the Trident nuclear weapon!
    . On the subject of the fitness of the team in general, if the manager is right in saying that we have risen to 8th in the rankings, perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that we can’t get into the top 6 play off position.
    I may be wrong but I think fitness is measured by the metres covered by the players per game.I still see these figures being published for premier league games but not for the Championship.If Slade has access to these figures it would be interesting to see them-both to compare them with other teams and to compare our own players.
    By the way is there any truth in the rumour that when it was suggested that Mr Slade was a candidate for the Luton job Mr Tan immediately offered his private jet and limo to bring the Luton chairman to the CCS and Barry Cole agreed to pay for an eat what you like lunch at the nearby Subway?

  10. Dai Woosnam says:

    Neat joke from Mike there, re yours truly.
    I can take it, butty.
    I’m impervious to any insult more subtle than GBH.
    Ha!
    Seriously though…I have just watched all 94 minutes of the Sunderland-Liverpool game: time I will never get back. Dreadful.
    Yes, Sunderland did a Forest and parked their bus. And Liverpool like Cardiff played square passes in the vain hope that they could draw defenders out.
    God help us if that is modern football, that is all I can say.
    And to think I thought this chap Klopp had attacking flair!
    Adelante! The call of the great Real Madrid side 1955-60. Now that should be the call of footballers worldwide.
    But it ain’t.
    I think I shall give up watching football.
    Or rather, it is a case of football (as I knew it) giving up on me.
    Oh by the way Mike: I note you suggest I am an adopted Meggie* these days, but I am actually very much living in Grimbarian territory!

    * the word “Meggie” is explained in this rather jaundiced – but stimulating – piece:

    http://www.ilivehere.co.uk/grimsby-cleethorpes.html

    Happy New Year to Paul and all his crew,

    Kindest,
    Dai.

  11. The other Bob Wilson says:

    As usual, an incisive and thought provoking set of replies. I have to say that I firmly believe that the blog has gone up a notch during 2015 and it’s all been due to the increased quantity and continued high quality of the responses my scribblings receive – thank you all for your contributions throughout the year.
    As has become the norm lately, this reply would be about three times the size of one of my match pieces it I replied fully to each individual point you all have made, so I’ll stick to a few comments on things that took my eye;-
    1. AMO, if City are doing less work with the football in training than other clubs, it does seem as if it is not because there is more work being done on fitness levels!
    2. Colin, you are right, I should have mentioned Manga. If he was, understandably, rusty at MK Dons, there were few signs of it on Tuesday (I can remember him being caught out by Blackstock in front of me in the first half, but he recovered and used a strength that isn’t always apparent in his game to dump the Forest player on his backside and come away with the ball) – he was still playing well long after some of those who had started so impressively had faded into anonymity.
    3. Barry, not a great night for our manager. I’m not as anti him as you are, but I see no signs whatsoever of his managerial skills developing as he gets more used to working at a higher level than he has been used to – the best he seems to be able to offer at Championship level is “okay”, but we need much more than that.
    4. Geoff, maybe Kennedy is injured (I believe he’s been missing from recent Under 21 games)? If that’s not the case, then I can only think that his almost complete absence from the first team squad this season is for non footballing reasons – given how he did last season, it makes no sense otherwise.
    5. Adrian, sorry the second half was such poor viewing, but we did play well in the first half I thought – you saw a microcosm of our season, as far from just providing performance levels which vary wildly from match to match, we find it hard to maintain them from one minute to the next! Tell your wife she is very perceptive – it took her about eighty minutes to forgive out what Russell Slade hasn’t in nearly fifteen months!
    6. Dai, similar thoughts to yours about Tony Watt crossed my mind – I’ll be watching how he fares against Blackburn on Saturday with interest. One poor game out of seven is a perfectly acceptable ratio as far as I’m concerned, but I can’t help thinking about some of the Charlton fans’ comments I’ve read about him.
    7. Richard, there was a time when the game was about a quarter completed and Forest just couldn’t lift the siege on their goal when I thought “we’re going to win this 4-1″, but, then I remembered who I was watching and quickly changed my mind to thinking “if we do win, it will be by 2-1″. It’s not all this manager’s fault by any means that we have become a team that seems to think their attacking task is completed once they’ve scored twice, but there are a couple of things which have happened under Russell Slade’s management which I find pertinent in this respect. The first is that match with Reading last season. In other dressing rooms you could imagine the manager’s instructions at half time being something like “don’t be stupid, but, with a bit of patience and some nous, we can get four or five here and do our goal difference a power of good” – judging by the way we played in the second half though, I think “we’ve won the game already, keep things tight – 2-0 is enough”, or something similar, was far more likely to be have been said.
    The other thing that springs to mind is the way we took the ball to the corners in added time in the match with Huddersfield this season. Notwithstanding our recent problems with 2-0 leads, Huddersfield had given up on the game and were just waiting for the final whistle, yet we still played as if we were fearful of them escaping with a point – rather than chase a third goal, we were happy to sit on what we had. Since then I’ve watched how other sides approach situations like that and, invariably, the team who are couple of goals clear look to add to their lead rather than preserve it.
    I often say that Russell Slade seems to have a safety first mentality which is down to him not being fully convinced himself that he has it in him to succeed at this level, but, on the other hand, it could be just as likely, if not more so, that he’d get stick off City fans for being reckless in chasing more goals!
    8. Mike, you’ve mentioned something there that I was going to include in my piece until I realised that I’d be heading off into 3,000 word plus territory if I had done so. Russell Slade’s Wikipedia entry;-
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russell_Slade
    mentions those “legendary team talks”. Being fair, if our manager is going to criticised for what he says or doesn’t say at half time, then shouldn’t he be given some credit for the way we have started home games recently (especially on Tuesday)?
    Thanks for the possible explanation as to how “fitness” is measured.

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