When City are lurching from one three goal away loss to another, the languid Peter Whitingham becomes just about the easiest player in the team for supporters to single out as someone who doesn’t “care” about what is happening. Speaking as someone who spent much of the first two and a half years of Whittingham’s time with us getting increasingly exasperated at the way someone with so much natural talent could let games pass him by so often, I can understand that point of view. In the last eighteen months or so though, I have come to accept that this is what you get with Whittingham – days when he isn’t worth his place in the starting line up (they’re rarer now than they were mind) interspersed with days when he shows he is a matchwinner at this level.
Those who predicted that Whittingham would not be able to maintain his 09/10 scoring rate have been proved right, but, even so, he is proving his worth in other ways – we’ve scored forty league goals so far and, from memory (not the most reliable of methods to use I accept!), he has scored five of them and been heavily involved in the creation of fourteen others, so virtually half of our goals have had a distinct Whittingham influence to them which isn’t bad for someone prone to take the occasional day off.
The short pass Whittingham played to Craig Bellamy for our opening goal in last night’s vitally important 2-1 win over Leeds looked quite a simple one, but I am not sure there are too many on our books who could have, firstly, spotted the pass and then, secondly, played it in a manner which meant that the recipient should have been able to concentrate fully on the shot he was going to get away rather than concern themselves about controlling the ball – as it was, Bellamy over ran the ball a little and had to stop for a second or so before shooting , but, crucially, the ball still ended up in the back of the net.
With nearly eighty minutes on the clock and City not really looking like they had a winning goal in them, Whittingham showed his long passing ability – the BBC’’s match report on the game says “Whittingham lumped a long ball forward”, I beg to differ, it wasn’t a “lump forward” it was a defence splitting pass played over a long distance which very few of the other twenty one out on the pitch could have played. That said, this time the pass left the recipient with a bit to do and Michael Chopra’s clever and well timed run gave him the chance to finish deftly for his first goal since the win at Scunthorpe nearly two months earlier.
Whittingham might not have dominated the midfield throughout, won the ball with thunderous tackles or threatened to score too often, but he was instrumental in gaining a very important three points against a promotion rival when the heat was really on while also displaying his ability to play anywhere across the midfield – in doing so, he proved, for me at least, that, fitness provided, he has to start every week in this team.
However, if you are looking for heroes from last night’s display, I would say that Bellamy, who was the main inspiration behind a dominant first half City performance probably fitted the bill better than Whittingham, whose diffidence is shown by his seeming dislike of the limelight, and I would also say that each member of a patched up starting back four did their bit in a far better defensive showing – okay one or both of Hudson and Naylor (who, fair play to him, responded well to the recent criticism he has received) really should have scored, but their first responsibility is to keep the ball out of our net and, in the end, it needed an outstanding strike for a Leeds side who are the second highest away scorers in the Championship to find the net.
When that great goal by Snodgrass flew into the net shortly after Tom Heaton’s fine save to deny Lloyd Sam, Leeds started to get a real foothold in the match for just about the first and only time in the ninety minutes and on occasions, City’s brittle confidence levels showed – given what had happened in the previous eleven matches, I don’t think I was the only City fan in the ground who thought the game was now set up for a Leeds win – the fact they ended up with nothing is a timely reminder that we have always had the individual quality in our ranks to come up with the matchwinning contributions that Whittingham and Chopra provided.
So, Dave Jones took a first step towards proving supporters like me who saw the Bristol City capitulation as one setback too many wrong – he did it in 07/08 and I certainly wouldn’t rule out him doing it again. However, I’m sure he’ll realise that last night was only a tentative first step – after all, much of the optimism that has followed last night’s win was certainly around ten days ago after a similar result and performance at Cardiff City Stadium against a Coventry side who were in a Play Off place at the time.
The Coventry win didn’t stop the slide and. having beaten one of the Championship’s form sides, we now have to face two more of them in the next two and a half weeks. Norwich away and Watford at home represent two really big challenges as to how the manager and squad react to still being many people’s favourites for an automatic promotion place – they have n’t coped well with that pressure in recent months and you can only hope that the squad will have less of a treadbare look to it when we go to Carrow Road.
Having Jon Parkin and, hopefully, Jay Bothroyd available would give us the striking alternatives we didn’t have last night, but it’s good to see that the club seem to realise that our real priority has to be new defenders – all credit to Messrs Quinn, Hudson, McNaughton, Naylor and Blake for the way they coped last night (especially when you consider that a couple of them were playing in a fairly unfamiliar position) , but they aren’t the medium to long term solution in an area of the side where we haven’t been solid all season.