Annoying Frustrating Cardiff 2 Wolves 3
Championship, October 24th 2007
Madness, madness, they call it madness...
The curse of the statisticians strikes again at (ahem) Fortress Ninian, as the wind-up half-time trivia question on when the last time Cardiff completed the double over Wolves (87/88 - I remember it well, in the good old 4th Division) turned to ashes as the powder-puff Bluebirds tossed away a half-time lead in a head-bangingly stupid, wasteful fashion. The prelude to the Southampton match made much of the preternaturally porous nature of the Saints' defence - the worst in the entire league. A clean sheet and a Southampton victory was therefore inevitable. After that game a clearly wound-up (and so he should be) Jones laid into his players and summed it all up as "Annoying. Frustrating. Annoyingly Frustrating". He might have added "Frustratingly Annoying".
The mood of the majority of Cardiff fans is rapidly changing from stoic disappointment (we have been here many times before, as if you do not need reminding) to righteous anger at a perceived application/consistency problem and a genuine tactical inertia. The natives have got restless, the poles are being sharpened and there is a manager with a target chalked on the back of his Umbro jacket. Depending upon your standpoint, Jones' position is now untenable or untouchable.
In terms of the stability of the club, his share-owning position at the heart of the management structure is clearly a good thing. But what happens when results go pear-shaped? Can he be winkled out of the comfort zone? A few more results like this and we will know. It's not good enough, and in the reflected afterglow of the stratospheric start to last season, we deserve better.
There is something rotten at the heart of the team at present, and the best efforts of tinkerman Jones are eliciting no tangible signs of rectifying it. The spine is weak and brittle as petrified balsa wood, the tentative stirrings of life evident during the Burnley game have been all but extinguished by tonight's calamitous collapsing capitulation. They cannot defend, they cannot capitalise upon territorial advantage, they cannot hold a lead and they cannot finish teams off. Without wishing to sound too negative, they cannot do bugger all!
12 games into the season and it is already spinning horribly out of control and heading towards a relegation struggle. Without investment in January (and how likely is that given the court appearance, loan notes and strangulating debt?), we are surely adrift in the tedious waters of the tepid, mediocre Championship, tossed about like so much clueless, disenfranchised flotsam - trebly frustrating given the dearth of quality opposition in this division.
So let's start at the back. Michael Oakes is better than Ross Turnbull, but hey, so what! He is clearly, graphically out of his depth, and without wishing to drone on yet again about the relative merits of the number 1 keeper in Suffolk, at this stage of last season, Neil Alexander had kept six clean sheets. How many clean sheets have CCFC kept in the league this season? ONE! Whilst not clearly at fault for any of the goals - we name the guilty men in a paragraph or two - he might have made better attempts at all three.
He is generally uncommanding in his penalty area, flapped comically at a difficult ball in the first half again, but the main problem is his distribution. Whether kicking out of hand or on the floor, there is no doubt he has power in those size 11s, but what is the point if every one of those ginormous kicks either goes into touch or hands possession back to the opposition. Modern football is about retention of the ball, and begins at the back. This is not rocket science. Roll the ball to your full backs and build from the back. An unscientific survey conducted from the back of the Bob Bank terrace indicated that 90% of these monster kicks gifted the ball to the opposition.
Full backs Capaldi and McNaughton both had decent games. Of late, Capaldi has been a weak link at the back, suspect defensively and ineffective going forward. Last night's performance was an improvement. McNaughton is a class player whose best position is right back. He is terrific going forward and combined particularly well last night during City's 15 minute purple patch with Rae and Parry to cause mayhem on the right hand side. It was criminal that this advantage was not more clinically exploited.
The big problem is at the heart of the defence. Three into two won't go, and so far every combination of Purse, Loovens and Johnson has been tried and found wanting. Again, there were signs against Burnley that this was improving, but last night it all fell apart again - badly. Despite their elevated position, Wolves are an average Championship side. Last year our defence would not have been bothered by a strike force of Bothroyd, Keogh/Eastwood (lest you forget we stuffed Wolves 4-0 at home last season).
Last night we could not cope, and the problems arose out of our own frailty, lack of confidence, slovenly distribution and consistently poor decision making. Purse is an arms aloft bristle-bonced gung ho warrior, but sometimes attitude and guts are not enough. Building from the back is impossible when central defenders give the ball away in dangerous positions - this happened far too often, and both central defenders were culpable. Dazzer does deserve an honourable mention for sprinting the length of the pitch after the game and handing his shirt to a young lad in a wheelchair in the corner.
Loovens is still off his game, and whilst it would be convenient to blame the stylish Dutchman's loss in form on a lack of confidence in his goalkeeper, that excuse won't wash. We are not talking here about occasional lapses in concentration, but a genuine wholesale defensive crisis. They need to be coached to distraction on the basics, and critically, not forget those basics when they are on the pitch.
All three goals exposed flaws in the defence, and all three were preventable. For the first, Andy Keogh took advantage of a deflected shot and tentative challenges before laying the ball off to Kightly who lashed a shot past Oakes.
The equaliser was cheaply conceded, Loovens choosing to shadow rather than challenge the bustling Kightly, allowing him to squeeze through and shoot past Oakes, who could have done more to narrow the available angle.
Goal 3 (and you're out!) was worse - a free header for Craddock whilst the men at the back gawped at the floodlights. The arguments about zonal marking continue, but however they are marking, they are not very good at it.
Roger Johnson has also had spells of defensive wooziness this year, but he at least will hurl himself at anything spherical in either box, and will (in Jones' yo-yo world, no doubt be back in the team against Scunthorpe - at the expense of Loovens, even if he recovers from the crock he received last night).
With Joe Ledley on the left, the Bluebirds currently have no rudder or engine, and were let down last night by a collective failure to dominate the central midfield. McPhail did little to restore fans' faith in him and perhaps needs an enforced rest. Rae was OK, but he certainly ain't no Riccy Scimeca. There should have been a place in the starting line-up for Sinclair if he is fit. Parry was again outstanding, tying the left back in knots, but was let down by those around him. Ledley had a quiet game, and must surely move permanently into a central role to maximise his effectiveness..
Pre and early season excitement about Hasselhoff and Fowler has now all but dribbled away, and they are increasingly looking like the luxury items you do not need on a parched Championship desert island. After last night's performance, they both should (but won't) be dropped - allowing MacLean and Thompson to flex their goalscoring muscles, with HB and Fowler available on the bench should they fail to step up. If they do not measure up, then the unpalatable truth is that we need another striker, a proven Championship goalscorer. But that's not gonna happen, is it?
After the two week international break we were assured that the team and in particular the strikers, were raring to go. This was not evident last night. Both were static and uninvolved and rarely gave the Wolves back line much to worry about. Fowler missed a glorious chance on 5 minutes, put through by a sweet dummy from HB, he flicked cutely past the keeper and inconceivably sent it wide of the post.
He made amends with the penalty, a cast iron decision after Ledley had been hacked down by Henry. Fowler will always score penalties, but he needs to do more. Cardiff's second goal was a superb effort from HB which finished off a dynamite move involving Parry and Fowler. But after that there was nothing. Both should have been subbed at half time, and there will be incredulity on the terraces if they start on Saturday.
So there you have it - weaknesses in all areas of the team, sagging confidence, tumbling down the table, soon-to-be haemmhoraging support. On top of all this we have a manager who does not know his best team (understandable given the wholesale collapse in form and performance from almost every player), and who cannot seem to influence the outcome of a match which is heading the wrong way, either by a switch of tactics or a change of personnel. Another home defeat or two and it could be ta ra la' for Dave Jones. Faced with all this, Rafa must be quaking in his rotating shoes.
*** STOP PRESS *** Hark! What's that coming over the hill? It's Kasper the friendly Schmeichel, the goalie sent to deliver us from perdition. Now it's just the rest of the team to sort out...
Paul Davies © 2007.
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