Every now and then though, a match comes along in which it is very hard to make judgements on what is happening (or, indeed, to have much idea of what is happening!) because you are being given little or no information to form opinions with – for me, yesterday’s 0-0 draw at the Keepmoat Stadium was such an occasion.
Often, Radio Wales’ radio commentaries get criticised, rightly in my opinion, for not concentrating enough on what is happening in front of them - we get scores from other games, but, instead of just keeping us informed of them, they are often followed by a discussion about the clubs involved in the game that has just had a goal, rather than the one they are paid to be telling us about. We get tales from the summariser’s footballing career, plenty of Premiership discussion (not involving Swansea) and even the odd conversation about rugby – it’s no wonder that quite a few City fans I know never bother listening to their commentaries. Yesterday though, I found myself becoming increasingly sympathetic with the commentary team as they went off on tangents to discuss anything but the “action” occurring before their eyes because it was fairly obvious that there was little or nothing happening worth talking about.
This has become even clearer upon reading reports of the match and the views of supporters who were there to watch what was a pretty miserable affair played in very cold conditions on a bobbly pitch hardened by the worst frosts of what has been a very mild winter so far. Everyone seems agreed that City were poor and, if Doncaster didn’t quite “batter” us as manager Dean Saunders claimed, it looks pretty clear that the home team were the ones who came closer to claiming all three points. Predictably, there were knee jerkers out straight after the game with their scatter gun approach criticising anything and everything to do with the club, but I won’t be joining them because I don’t think yesterday’s draw was too bad an outcome, all things considered.
Every game has to be looked at in context. City were coming off a midweek Semi Final, while Donny had not played for a week, the home team had won their last three home league matches (a run that included a win over Southampton), while we went into a game on the back of successive defeats for the first time this season. Furthermore, with two defeats for the first team, three for the Under 18′s and a loss for the Under 16′s yesterday, the week that began with last Saturday’s Academy thrashing by Reading has been easily the worst in terms of results this season for a club that has become used to success (certainly at senior and development team level anyway) over the past five months. Of course, what is happening with the youth teams shouldn’t have much of an effect on the first team, but a losing culture can take a hold unless a run of defeats is nipped in the bud and, even though there was little to get excited about at Doncaster, at least the team managed to do that as well as, once again, demonstrate how hard they are to beat.
A common cliche used to bring down players or teams who are turning it on with the sun on their backs in front of their own fans is “ah, but what will they be like at (insert any team representing a fairly small northern team) on a wet Tuesday night in January?”. Well, change that slightly to read at Doncaster on a bitterly cold Saturday afternoon in January and you get an idea of the sort of challenge City were always going to face yesterday – from what I can gather, Donny are no longer the silky passing outfit that Sean O’Driscoll presided over, they offer something a bit more basic under Dean Saunders.
So, just as with all of our away draws this season, with the possible exception of the one at Coventry (who will in a terrible run when we played them), a point away from home can be seen as an acceptable outcome, but, going back to that word “context” again, it’s when you put those isolated matches into a sequence of similar such matches that things become a bit more problematical. I’ve banged on often enough on here about us drawing too many away games in the past, but the truth is that I won’t be proved right or wrong until we get to see what the table looks like at the end of the season. It could be that our ability not to be beaten on our travels (which can be ignored by those of us more concerned with the two points lost than the one gained), will be what gets us that top two, or even, top six finish, but I must say that a return of seven points from the run just finished of five consecutive away matches all at clubs in the bottom third of the table, seems one or two short of what a contender for automatic promotion should be aiming for.
As I say, we will have to wait a few months yet to see if all of these away draws are harming us as much as I suspect they might, but I must admit that, as we embark on the last four months of the season, any reference to tired looking City teams (as there was yesterday) gets me feeling a little twitchy because I can’t help wondering if this is early evidence of the sort of loss of intensity which has hit Malky Mackay sides in the past from this time of the season onwards. Being honest, I wouldn’t be surprised if yesterday’s tiredness was as a result of the effort that was put in on Tuesday night when nine of yesterday’s starting eleven played from the start of what must have been a gruelling match in both physical and mental terms. On that score, it’s good to see that we only have two more matches to play before the very important trip to Southampton on the last day of the month and that, unusually for us, we will be going into that game having not played for a week while the Saints will have played an FA Cup match three days earlier.
Finally, Malky Mackay did not attend the post match press conference yesterday because he was on his way to Malaysia. The word is that he was joining Steve Borley and Alan Whitely in discussing the 1 Malaysia Grassroots project with TG, but, surely, the subject of transfer targets during this months’s window will come up in their talks? I know the same sort of thing is said every year with City, but I really do believe that two or three signings of the quality that Malky Mackay has made so far would see us become very strong candidates for a top two place. Unlike last year, very little money has been wasted in the transfer market so far this time around and, although I appreciate that the Malaysian investors have their own way of doing things which has worked pretty well up to now, you would like to think that Malky Mackay has earned the right to have the sort of funding which would enable him to put in realistic bids for the players he wants.