Sometimes writing about matches on here becomes a bit of a chore because, although you only have to read the messageboards to see that some people appear to get a kick from being negative about their team, that has never applied to me – far better to write about great wins and performances any day of the week as far as I’m concerned. Therefore, it’s going to be a real pleasure to write about yesterday’s 4-0 win over previously free scoring Burnley which took our record breaking winning run of consecutive home wins at the start of the season to seven and had the added bonus of returning us to the top of the table with a three point cushion following Palace’s 2-1 win at Leicester – this was our best display of the season I reckon and I don’t think we’ve played better since beating Reading 3-1 at the start of the year.
There are a couple of provisos to this though which means I’ll not be joining in with any proclamations that we are going to run away with the Championship this season yet – I’ll come back to one of them later on, but the other is to say that, on yesterday’s evidence, it’s no wonder that Burnley have conceded so many goals this season. Although keeper Lee Grant should have done better with our second goal, the marking was poor for our third goal and left back Joe Mills’ afternoon was made a misery by an inspired Craig Noone, the problem seemed to me to be more that their midfield “screen” in front of the back four was virtually non existent rather than any failings as a back five – right from the start there were gaps between their defence and midfield for City to exploit.
Burnley’s defensive woes tended to put into context the mistakes I have been moaning about recently from our backline and I have to report that yesterday Hudson and co were very impressive. On a quiet afternoon for him, David Marshall’s concentration was good enough to make a couple of fine late saves, Hudson and Turner have now conceded just one goal in the four matches they’ve played together this season and Connolly and Taylor were both defensively solid whilst also showing again that they are accomplished footballers at this level.
Burnley, and the prolific Charlie Austin in particular, did show once or twice why they are so dangerous, but they were only isolated incidents and this might have had something to do with the fact that our midfield was able to give the defence the protection our visitors never got. It wasn’t just in front of the back four though that our midfield quartet disrupted Burnley, further up the pitch they were harried into giving the ball away as we gave an object lesson in what is now commonly called the “ugly” side of football. Foremost in this department was Don Cowie and it was really good to hear the Canton Stand express their appreciation when, as usual, it was he who tracked back to cover in the right back position when Connolly got caught a long way up the pitch in the first half and Burnley launched a dangerous looking counter attack.
Although he was able to show that he is a better footballer than many are prepared to give him credit for, Cowie kept things simple when in possession by and large and it was his three colleagues who took the eye more in this department. I’ve written so much about the excellent Peter Whittingham on here in the past three and a quarter years, but all I’m going to do today is mention the pass he played through to Joe Mason when he went on to hit the post – nothing else needs to be said! On the left, Kim Bo-Kyung finally made his first start and, after keeping things risk free early on, grew into the game impressively – there was some quality technical play, a willingness to work hard for the team and a burst of acceleration, which came as a bit of a surprise to me, to admire along with a definite feeling that there is a lot more to come from him yet.
However, it was Craig Noone who took the honours. There was an article in yesterday’s Guardian which, in essence, asked where have all the wingers gone – like virtually all of that paper’s football coverage at club level, it concentrated entirely on the Premiership and Champions League, but I can tell the writer that if he deigned to leave his Ivory Tower and slum it in the Championship for a while, he would see that wing play is alive and well in Cardiff. I know and can, to a degree, understand the argument that wingers are “luxury” players who others need to carry at times, but, speaking just as a fan, apart from your side scoring, I don’t think there is a more exciting sight in football than a winger terrorising a full back with his running speed and even quicker feet. Right from the moment he cut inside and fired in that shot which hit the post, you could tell Noone was on his game yesterday. He was helped by the fact that the wretched Mills got little or no help from his team mates, but that performance was an answer to all of those supporters who, after a couple of ordinary displays were whingeing about our winger – players like Noone are frustrating, it’s in a winger’s DNA to be frustrating, but they are also great fun when they are on form and, as was shown yesterday, they can still be very effective in the modern game.
Noone’s early shot on to the woodwork allowed Joe Mason to, yet again, display his knack for finding space in penalty areas while, somehow, also knowing where the ball is going to end up. Besides that, Mason knew that he had time to take a touch and so didn’t lash at the rebound, like so many others would have done – although he tired a little after a very effective first half showing, Mason gave a timely reminder of the ability which made him the best striker at the club in the second half of last season. Alongside Mason, Heidar Helguson put in another quietly effective shift, but it is strange that all of his goals have come away from home so far and he rarely looks like scoring at Cardiff City Stadium – the way he seemed to lose his bearings when presented with what looked a great chance from a first half Whittingham cross was very bizarre!
If the eleven that started all played their part, there were also contributions from the three subs – just as on Tuesday, Aron Gunnarsson showed that his late runs into the penalty area can be very hard for tiring/depleted defences to deal with and Rudi Gestede may not always be that easy on the eye, but that’s two assists he’s got in our last three matches now. Finally, the highly rated Kerim Frei, our loan signing from Fulham, had a brief, but promising, cameo during which he showed glimpses of the ability which made him an effective performer at Premiership level in the closing weeks of last season.
Any side in this division which loses players of the calibre of Mutch, Smith, Bellamy and Maynard and is still able to put on a show like yesterday’s, while having such a strong substitutes bench, surely has no reason to fear any of their rivals. This leads me on to the second of my provisos about yesterday’s great win and performance – we are proving that we are a very tough nut for the rest of the Championship to crack at Cardiff City Stadium, , but the same cannot be said on our travels. I would guess that out of the sides we’ve played away so far, possibly only Brighton and Millwall fans would not be amazed at our lofty position in the table given what they saw from us at their ground, Bristol City, Palace and Forest have all been better than us and I would argue that, over the ninety minutes, Ipswich were as well.
I’m sure I’m not the only supporter who believes that we have been paying the opposition too much respect in away matches this season and we now have two opportunities against sides closer to the bottom of the table than the top to start putting that right. Where I might differ from others is that I don’t think everything will change for the better as soon as we play 4-4-2 rather than 4-5-1 in away games, for me it’s the mindset we have away from home that is the problem – 4-5-1 can be an attacking formation if used properly. However, when all is said and done, surely the strongest argument for any change of attitude in away matches is the simple one that the current approach is not working – thirteen of our Championship rivals have picked up more away points than us and, if that’s still the case at the end of the season, we won’t be going up.
* – pictures courtesy of http://www.walesonline.co.uk/