Winless City keep unbeaten record with another last gasp goal.

CoymayI chose the somewhat ambiguous title for this piece to highlight the confusion that a run of drawn games can create. Cardiff City’s 2-2 draw against Queens Park Rangers at Loftus Road in “the Malaysian derby” between two clubs who not only have owners from that country, but also share the “distinction” of having come last in the Premier League in the previous two seasons meant it’s two draws from two games for them this time around – so are we on the edge of a crisis or putting the foundations in place for the top six challenge that Russell Slade has targeted?

How any individual answers that question can depend on their natural disposition – in City’s case, the previous two years have given plenty of reasons for fans to approach the 2015/16 campaign with a gloomy outlook which would not be improved by a failure to get off to a winning start in their first couple of matches, but, equally, there is a view which says things had got so bad that there was only one way to go and there have been definite signs so far that the slide has been arrested.

To be honest, there was enough to satisfy (not sure that’s the right word) both camps in yesterday’s match – I’ll try to set these things out in the next few paragraphs before then saying which side of the divide I fall into and why.

Looking at the pessimistic assessment first, we were sloppy and unconvincing at the back at times – this started within the first thirty seconds with a carelessly conceded corner and then when we repeated that error ten minutes before half time, some abysmal marking enabled Clint Hill to head his time in front. That was the low point of our evening on the defensive front, but another goal conceded from a corner (albeit aided by what looked like a handball by Hill and, possibly, by the scorer Charlie Austin as well) and the way we had some hair raising escapes as the home side chased the third goal which would have put the game beyond us has to be a cause for concern.

Up the other end of the pitch, City never really managed to force home goalkeeper Rob Green into saves of the quality Simon Moore, impressive yesterday after his error last Saturday, had to make and the Alex Revell/Joe Mason forward partnership once again failed to convince with the former, for the third time in as many matches, not really doing enough to answer questions about why he was selected in the first place and the latter coming second in his individual battle with the powerful and pacy QPR captain Nedum Onuoha (the home team’s best player in my opinion).

On the other hand, optimists would point at the fact that we came back from two goals down to prove that our manager has a point when he talks about an improved attitude within the camp, that the Malone/Ralls partnership on the left continues to develop, that we were able to make changes that had a big influence on proceedings as we brought Kenwyne Jones, Craig Noone and Sammy Ameobi off what was an impressive looking subs bench and that a loud and passionate away support suggested that the relationship between, team, club and fans is definitely improving (I believe this is vital if we are to enjoy any tangible success this season).

City's central defenders are left flat footed as Clint Hill puts QPR ahead very much against the run of play.*

City’s central defenders are left flat footed as Clint Hill puts QPR ahead very much against the run of play.*

Now for my take on things, the first thing to say is that there is a clue as to how my thinking is in the title – the words “another last gasp goal” identify what to me seems to be a very important difference from last season. During 14/15 there was much talk (especially from Russell Slade) about the team’s lack of fitness and I’d say this line of thinking was supported by how we performed in the last ten minutes of games – if we were drawing or losing going into this period, the stats showed that we had little or no chance of turning things around.

Through the forty six league games of last season, we managed to score just five goals after the eightieth minute and, worse still, those goals were in, most cases, meaningless. Top scorer Kenwyne Jones got three of them which only increased the margin of victory or defeat as his goal against Leeds tuned a one goal win into a two goal one, whereas his efforts in the games with Watford and Middlesbrough were only consolations in a losing cause. The other two we scored did have a bearing on the final outcome, but, even then, in one of the cases (Blackburn) Sean Morrison’s header looked to have turned a draw into a win, only for Rudy Gestede to equalise in added time to leave us with the same result as we had going into the final stages.

No, only Conor McAleny’s 90th minute equaliser at Reading in April actually gained us any points last season, so, with something like 2.2% of this season played, we have already doubled the number of result affecting goals we’ve scored in the last ten minutes this time around – that’s an impressive stat for me which says much about the fitness and attitude of the team. Okay, there was a period after Noone’s equaliser against Fulham when the visitors took charge as they chased a winner, but we kept on going right until the end yesterday and, truth be told, I thought we looked fitter and more up for the game than QPR throughout the ninety minutes.

Yesterday’s match surprised me in many ways, with the majority of them being pleasant ones, but there were one or two of the unpleasant variety. Starting with the downs, even during the darkest days of last season, City were usually good at defending set pieces with the opportunity to pick two from four good centrebacks for this league being a fundamental reason why we didn’t concede too many times from corners, free kicks or long throws. Yesterday, the absence of Kenwyne Jones (very good at this part of the game in much the same way as Jay Bothroyd used to be) for most of the match, including the two goals conceded, didn’t help matters, but, even so, we were downright poor in this area much of the time.

Not only that, it seems to me that when someone scores from a free header in these situations, it’s because a player who doesn’t specialise in “boring” things like marking has lost his man, but for QPR’s so cheap opener, it was our centrebacks who were culpable – in particular Sean Morrison. Now, judging by what I read and hear, I have a higher opinion of our captain than many other City fans, but I couldn’t begin to explain what he was doing for Hill’s goal and he was at it again a few minutes later when he lost Hill from another corner.

Sky’s guest pundit for the game, Ian Holloway, said the two goals we conceded were signs of “early season defending” – I thought this offered a useful insight as to the way training is structured during pre season. It would seem that, in the desire for optimum fitness in those weeks leading up to the start of the league season, working on set piece defending takes something of a back seat. It must be tempting, and understandable I’d say, for a manager to ease off on things his team were good at only a few weeks earlier to concentrate on what they weren’t so accomplished at during the previous season – my guess is that set piece defending training is something that wasn’t high on Russell Slade’s list of priorities when the players reported back in late June, but it might be something that he’ll be working on in the next few days!

On a similar theme, it was a surprise to see normally defensively reliable Lee Peltier make such a casual packpass to Simon Moore. Through no fault of his own, Moore was unable to prevent the corner which led to the first goal of the game – although I’d hardly say he had a poor game yesterday, Peltier has not been as good defensively as he was last season in the warm up and competitive matches the team has played so far – I can’t think of a game before yesterday where Scott Malone was the best defender in our back four and I doubt it if there will be too many more of them in the future.

Of course, the fact that Malone doesn’t look to be what you would call a natural defender is not offsetting what he is giving us going forward this season. It was amazing to see a City full back as far forward in open play so often as Malone was yesterday, but with the conscientious Joe Ralls always ready to fill in behind him, he is getting into areas of the pitch where he can be very influential more often this season. Malone’s superb late volley from about twenty two yards was the icing on the cake in a very good individual performance and, given the quality of his strike, there has to be a chance that, for the first time in ages, we may have a full back who’ll be able to chip in with three or four goals a season.

If Russell Slade really did spend much of the pre season working on things that were poor last season, that may explain the pleasant surprise which saw our midfield actually being good yesterday with all four of it’s starting members doing their bit in an area of the pitch where we were dominant. Even though it was five on to our four in midfield (something which is usually a reason for us being over run in the middle of the park), City still managed to have the edge on QPR with the BBC’s stats showing we had 62% possession, but it was not that, sometimes meaningless, figure that was most impressive for me, it was the poise and confidence on show as City probed patiently and, occasionally, stylishly.

Scott Malone's best moment in a City shirt so far as he celebrates his great last minute equaliser with  team mates. City have certainly scored some great goals so far, with three long range beauties, to go with the  header from a corner type goal which we have specialised in during recent seasons, but does the lack of  more conventional goals point to a link between midfield and attack which is not working quite right?*

Scott Malone’s best moment in a City shirt so far as he celebrates his great last minute equaliser with team mates. City have certainly scored some great goals so far, with three long range beauties, to go with the header from a corner type goal which we have specialised in during recent seasons, but does the lack of more conventional goals point to a link between midfield and attack which is not working quite right?*

When trying to work out why we seem to be contesting in midfield more than we did last year, it’s easy just to put all of it down to the man who barely featured last season, Kagisho Dikgacoi, and, as he gradually gets fitter you can begin to appreciate more the understated way he must have made Crystal Palace a more solid and competitive outfit in that area – the quality of his passing has been another of those pleasant surprises I mentioned earlier as well. However, City were helped as well yesterday by having Peter Whittingham contributing a lot more than he did against Fulham. Whereas his passing was often awry last week, he was mostly on target this time and he did his bit defensively as we chased an equaliser late in the game. If his dead ball delivery could only be described as variable, at least Whitts was able to provide the assist for Morrison’s header that got us back into the game – anyone else noticed that we are using outswinging corners a lot more this season than we normally do?

With Ralls looking an increasingly mature and disciplined performer and Pilkington providing hard work to go with that little bit of flair, there is a balance to the midfield that could well be upset by the inclusion of someone as individualistic as Craig Noone or someone who is still bedding in at the club like Sammy Ameobi – I’d still prefer a five man midfield, but, if it is to be four, then the current quartet appear to be best suited to do the job.

It was a shock of the nice kind as well to see that we were so much better than our opponents in lots of ways, but one thing that becomes more noticeable with better possession is that there is a lack of real dynamism to our play in attacking areas. In some ways, QPR reminded me of last season’s City team as they looked laboured and a little lost in midfield, but, even though they struck me as a side who may have problems this season, they showed they have that dynamism going forward that City struggle to find. Certainly having someone capable of scoring nearly twenty times in the Premier League helps in that direction (I think we would have stayed up two seasons ago with a Charlie Austin in our team) and it should also be said that City’s general dominance and desire for a goal meant that our opponents were often counter attacking against an undermanned defence, but even so, it seemed to me that, even in the event of Austin going, they will have an attacking vibrancy that we can’t match at present.

Maybe including Noone or Ameobi and switching to a midfield five could improve things, but I can’t help thinking that we need that leader and big personality from outside the club who will speed things up a little. Similarly, I’d like to see someone who would be able to knit things together up front, Kenwyne Jones could do that job, but only up to a point in my book because his lack of mobility would count against the fluency we are beginning to see from the team now and there would also be the temptation to return to the bad old days of last winter by knocking the ball long to him all of the time.

All in all though, I find myself firmly in the cautious grounds for optimism camp after two draws that for me point to more to come rather than a hiatus before the rot sets in. Indeed if the funds can be found to add the sort of players I talked of then I think we could have a squad which is easily capable of exceeding the fairly modest targets I had in mind ten days ago.

One of those was the hope that I would be able to come out of the occasional game thinking “I enjoyed that”. Well the only thing that stopped me having that wish fulfilled yesterday was the fact that I was not there watching the game, but I had been able to see a televised performance that was far better than the three I can remember watching on Sky last season.

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

 

 

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6 Responses to Winless City keep unbeaten record with another last gasp goal.

  1. Anthony O'Brien says:

    Paul,

    A typically insightful and outstanding analysis of the game (and much more) yesterday. I think you put your metaphorical finger on Cardiff’s shortcomings when you say there is a lack of real dynamism going forward. I totally agree, but from a somewhat different reason than you might. The lack of dynamism, as far as I can see, is due to a lack of strength and speed from “Jogging” Joe Mason. His position almost inevitably demands someone with speed and the strength to stay on your feet under defensive pressure. Without these qualities, sad to say, Joe – for all his intelligent running and quickness turning with the ball – will not provide the incisive goalscoring edge which Cardiff lack. Years ago a PTI told me that speed comes from upper-body strength. Perhaps if Mason had more of this he might discover a slightly increased speed off the mark and the ability to ride tackles without falling down. I know I’m like a cracked record on this, but that’s my honest opinion.

    I’d also like to comment on the use of substitutes yesterday, and to say if I were Doyle I’d be tearing my hair out (like Adeyemi last season)at not being given a chance to play. In my book he’s a the best option to link with the target-man and to keep making rapid runs on goal which in turn might turn apparent lost causes into opportunities and even (on occasions) much needed goals. If a proven goal-scorer like Doyle (admittedly at a lower level) is out of favour, the only one in the squad who might be able to play the role would seem to be Pilkington.

    You also mention Kenwyn Jones and his lack of mobility. Again I agree, but the other side of the coin is that if you have a mobile target-man, (and REVELL is certainly our best bet in that area and, significantly, won or held up the ball very well on several occasions yesterday) you need someone to play off him and go beyond him AT SPEED. QED.

  2. Clive Harry says:

    I also thought there were grounds for optimism yesterday with a few reservations.
    Slade still seems very limited tactically although we appear to have moved on from hoofball. I have concerns over the central defensive pairing although there is little choice there at the moment and hopefully things will improve with the return to fitness of Manga and Turner.
    Up front, I don’t think Revell and Mason are a pairing that will get us anywhere this season with neither being a natural goalscorer. In fact, despite all his hard work and honesty, I think Revell is too limited a player to even be in the squad. The only naturals in front of goal we have at the Club appear to be Doyle and Healey with the latter perhaps not being ready for the first team although we we will probably never find out if he is with Russell in charge. Doyle and Mason seemed to be a promising partnership last season with Jones an option off the bench.
    Finally, I find Whittingham’s seemingly guaranteed inclusion puzzling as well as the fact that he usually stays on for the full 90. I wasn’t as impressed by him as Paul was yesterday and thought he disappeared for parts of the game. His dead ball ability also appears to be on the wane. The natural solution to my mind seems to be moving Ralls inside and bringing in Noone although this would expose Malone unless Pilkington is played on the left and Noone on the right. I’m also something of a Fabio fan although I’m not sure how he would fit into a back four which already appears to have defensive frailties!
    Despite this, there were definite signs of improvement yesterday which hopefully won’t be knocked back by Wolves next weekend.

  3. Clive Harry says:

    Two things I forgot to mention. Firstly I thought the referee yesterday was appalling and may well have earned QPR a point with his non handball decisions. Secondly, the goalkeeping situation. If Marshall goes there is talk that another first choice keeper would have to be brought in which puzzles me a bit. Is this because Moore isn’t good enough or because Moore would be our only keeper? If the latter is the case, I’m intrigued as to why Joe Lewis has been ’sent to Coventry’ and not been given a game or even a squad number. He always struck me as a competent keeper with a decent reputation who doesn’t seem to have rocked the boat about being a permanent understudy since being at the Club.

  4. The other Bob Wilson says:

    Anthony, I’ve a bit more faith in Joe Mason than you. He got three shots away on goal against Fulham and I believe he will do a good job for us with the right service. I agree with you to a large degree about Doyle, but he was pretty quiet when he got a start against Wimbledon. Revell is certainly the more mobile of our two target men, but I can’t help thinking, given the way the team seem to be playing this season, is a target man really necessary? Okay, they hardly ripped defences apart and the team still looked pretty ordinary, but our best run of results last season came when Mason and Doyle were paired up front – I’d say they came closest to forming an effective partnership out of the various striking combinations we tried last season.
    Clive, as you can see, I share your opinion of the Doyle/Mason partnership. Regarding moving Ralls infield, I believe he is one of our most important players given the way we are playing this season – we are having much more of the football and I’d say that would change as soon as we started playing 4-4-2 with any combination of Noone/Ameobi/Pilkington in the wide midfield positions. I suppose the question is would having two natural wingers be enough to make up for the possession lost by removing someone who is still one of our best passers and having a central midfield two who would get much less assistance from the flanks than they do now with Ralls playing where he is? I’m not sure really, and this is at the heart of why I still believe the current squad is better suited to playing 4-5-1/4-3-3 or even 3-5-2.
    I was impressed by Wolves yesterday – I believe a win over them would be a sure sign that many City fans would be right to be more optimistic about this season than they have been up to now and I agree with you about both the ref on Saturday and Joe Lewis.

  5. Anthony O'Brien says:

    I agree two smaller men can work together in attack – but when they do so successfully the favourite adjective used by the press seems to be “nippy”.

  6. The other Bob Wilson says:

    Fair point Anthony which I’d answer by remembering two great players in Bobby Moore and Kenny Dalglish who were generally thought to be not the quickest, but more than made up for it by “covering the first few yards in their mind” as their footballing brains made up for their lack of pace. Of course, I’m not saying that Joe is anywhere near the same class as those two, but there are some similarities – I suppose the next few weeks will show if they will be enough to make up for the shortcomings you mention.

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