Cardiff City gave what I had rated as their worst performance of the season so far in drawing 1-1 at home to a struggling and out of form Watford side last month in the game before the last international break. At the time, some supporters tried to put a display that was a long way short of the standards the team have set for themselves over the last three months down to tiredness.
While it was true that the fixtures had come thick and fast during the period between the first and second international breaks, it had been the same for every Championship club and Watford had been through the same programme, yet looked much more lively and switched on than us – I wasn’t buying the tiredness excuse.
Our final match before the first international break was the 3-2 loss at Ipswich, but that result doesn’t look too bad now and, although the circumstances of the defeat were very disappointing, I thought luck was against us that day.
So, I wouldn’t want to make an issue out of how we fare in the final matches before a break and I’m certainly not going to start talking about tiredness when we have only played five matches in twenty two days of this portion of the season. However, I have to say that, in my opinion, we played worse than we did against Watford in losing 3-2 at home today to a Norwich team that had lost their last four matches and had someone who was uniformly considered to be a dead man walking in charge of them.
Erol Bulut sounded as frustrated and annoyed as I’ve heard him so far after the game. In some respects, I could sympathise with him, but I can’t agree with a lot of what he said.
For example, he thought we dominated a first half which ended with us 2-1 ahead, but all I saw was Callum Robinson have a ten minute period when he showed exactly what an influential performer he can be at this level, Josh Bowler generally having the beating of his full back and Karlan Grant becoming more of a factor as the half went on.
That apart, I thought we weren’t tired, but we were dozy and lethargic (Bulut used the word complacent, but that was more in the context of the second half and I wouldn’t disagree there). Yes, we had a lead after forty five minutes and we did get better as the half went on, but our two goals were only partly down to our good play, they also had quite a bit to do with Norwich showing why they had the worst goals against record in the division before today.
Much of our manager’s ire was directed at the substitutes he brought on and I’d agree that none of the four covered themselves in glory – Rubin Colwill wasn’t terrible, but he was far less involved than he has been lately and Ollie Tanner was nowhere near his best when it came to the defensive side of the game and had little attacking impact, Ryan Wintle scored an own goal and was unable to turn things around in the middle of the park where we were second best throughout with Manolis Sipios having maybe his worst game for us so far, while Kion Etete, who should have replaced the blunt instrument that was Yakou Meite long before the eightieth minute, looked the almost diffident tyro of a year ago on the limited occasions the ball came his way.
However, it was hardly as if we were playing well before the subs were introduced – Colwill, Wintle and Tanner were introduced in the seventy first minute and we’d been on the back foot all through the second half even before the changes.
With Grant’s influence waning (he missed our only real chance of the second half in a one on one with Norwich keeper George Long that I had little confidence in him winning), Robinson and Bowler seemed to be our best hopes of creating something out of nothing to give us the two goal lead that I don’t believe Norwich would have come back from, yet it seems they always have to come off when changes are made.
I have to raise the subject of managers singling out young players for criticism again here as well. Three of todays substitutes are twenty one years old and they’ve all been able to seriously influence at least one game off the bench this season in that they’ve scored goals in City wins, but I would argue that all three of them have been an improvement on the players they’ve replaced on many occasions as well – we were playing poorly before any of them got on the pitch today and we kept on playing poorly when they came on, so why single them out?
City were second best in the first half an hour of the game and, after Jack Alnwick had turned Gabriel Sara’s shot away, a corner was conceded from which the visitors took the lead as Sara’s near post dead ball delivery was flicked on by Kenny McLean and Christian Fassnacht was about two yards out when he scored as it appeared that Mark McGuinness had lost him.
City roused themselves out of their torpor and were denied a penalty (I’ll have more to say on this shortly), but were level not too long after when Norwich were completely caught out by a quick throw in which enabled Robinson to work the room to cross to the far post where Bowler had an easy finish from six yards.
Four minutes later, City were in front when, for some reason, Grant and Jamilu Collins found themselves in stacks of room down the left and the former fed the latter who provided a good cross to the far post which was nodded in from inside the six yard box by Robinson. I can remember thinking well at least we don’t concede goals like that at the time, but those words would come back to haunt me around an hour later!
Were City “complacent” in the second half? I’d say they were to the extent that they played as if they thought they’d already done enough to secure the win. To be fair to them, I suppose they had defended well enough in recent games to perhaps make them think that way, but, certainly in the previous three games where we’d not conceded a single goal, Joe Ralls and Siopis were playing well enough to provide protection to the back four, here they weren’t.
If McGuinness was partly to blame for Norwich’s first goal, he atoned with a goal saving block to deny Fassnacht a second, but with Alnwick frequently being called on to make saves, it was impossible to deny that this was looking like a game where City needed to do more than attempt to see things out to claim the points. First, we weren’t defending well enough to do that and, second, there were, surely, more goals to be had against what was a patched up visiting defence.
As the game entered its last ten minutes, you began to think that, despite everything, City might just come out with the win, but then they left Fassnacht free on the far post again at a corner to fire in a low cross that Wintle turned over the line in attempting to clear.
Two minutes later, a similar gap appeared on City’s right flank as the one which had been there for Norwich for Robinson’s goal. In saying that, at least Mahlon Romeo (deputising for the seemingly injured Perry Ng) was in position, but he got no help from Tanner or a covering midfielder as two opponents worked the space for Jonathan Rowe to come up with the winning goal, except Norwich’s top scorer saw his shot parried by Alnwick but only into the path of sub Adam Idah who couldn’t miss from six yards out.
Some felt our keeper should have made a better job of saving Rowe’s shot and there were also appeals for offside, but, frankly, City, and Norwich, had got what they deserved.
Finally on today’s game, I really wanted to say the woman referee did a fine job, but I’m afraid she didn’t. Rebecca Welch was I’m sure the first female to take charge of a City first team game and she got off to a bad start by yellow carding Ralls in what I think was the first foul committed in the match (a video of the incident showed that City’s captain didn’t touch the man he was supposed to have fouled as well).
I should add here that, having looked at the messageboards about the above, it would seem it was Grant who was booked for kicking the ball away, not Ralls for his foul. However, even if that first decision was the correct one under this season’s instructions to referees, there were other poor decisions with yellow cards being shown for innocuous fouls, while more serious ones were deemed to only merit a free kick. However, worst of all from a City perspective was when Bowler was brought down by Norwich left back Platcheta for what seemed a clear penalty only for the ref to wave play on. Rebecca Welch wasn’t the reason City lost this game though – for the second successive last game before an international break, too many of the side had an off day.
The first team’s loss came at a time when the age group and ladies City sides are doing well. Today the under 18s won their fifth straight game by 6-1 at Colchester – unfortunately, there are no details of goal scorers on the Academy Twitter site at present.