Dead ball strength sees City back on winning trail

Last updated : 15 February 2012 By Paul Evans

Malky Mackay and Darren Ferguson could have been talking about different matches in this BBC report on last night’s 3-1 win for Cardiff City over Peterborough United. My first reaction on reading the Posh manager’s take on the game was that he was showing all of the grace and magnanimity in defeat that you have come to expect from his father, but, in a league where virtually every match your side is involved in is a tight one which might have gone a different way, there are often two stories to be told and, I have to admit that, if I were a Peterborough fan, I would probably be in agreement with much of what he said.

While “in complete control” is stretching it a bit in my opinion, Peterborough were the better side in the first thirty minutes – Peter Whittingham cheaply conceding possession in a dangerous area in the first couple of minutes set the scene for an opening period in which City laboured to rediscover the knack of getting goal attempts on target (something that had become a bit of a lost art at first team and development side levels in recent matches). The visitors looked a lot sharper and quicker at this stage and one or two of those around me put this down to the benefit of them having a free weekend after the postponement of their match with West Ham last Saturday. I was one of those though who mentioned that it could be that we were possibly seeing more evidence of that old chestnut – we are knackered by the effects of all that high tempo football over the past six months.

Actually, looking at it now, I don’t think either of those two options applied particularly. Peterborough would have been grateful for the chance to play again after a break of ten days, but I reckon they were helped, to an extent, by a slightly nervy home side desperate to end a run of three games without a win – having a newcomer who was making a minimal impact as he struggled to adopt to his new surroundings wasn’t helping either. City were at least looking capable of troubling the Posh defence, but David Marshall had been called on to make a couple of decent saves before visiting keeper Joe Lewis was finally called into action as he made a routine save from an Aron Gunnarsson effort. At least it was a shot on target though and, having finally remembered how to get their goal attempts between the two white sticks, City then proceeded to make up for lost time with three goals in seven minutes.

While the first had an element of luck to it as Whittingham’s corner was misjudged by the highly rated Lewis (who seemed to be blocked off as much by his own defenders as any City player) and ended up in the back of the net, I think now would be a good time to mention how well we’ve utilised attacking dead ball situations this season. Time was when it seemed we could only really hope for any end product from Whittingham free kicks – although it wasn’t entirely true, it was often claimed that we never scored from corners and, when we tried a long throw, nothing ever seemed to come from. Now, like most others I suspect, I would prefer it if my team scored goals from well constructed passing movements, but they don’t come along too often and most sides have to come to rely on dead ball routines for a significant number of their goals.

Off the top of my head, I make it that twenty of our fifty league goals have come after an attacking free kick, corner or Gunnarsson long throw (a couple of our penalties have also followed a dead ball situation as well) – forty per cent strikes me a being a higher figure from set piece goals than we managed last season and is a testimony to the quality of delivery from Whittingham (which gets taken for granted nowadays) and the ability of our players to get on the end of those dead ball deliveries. A few minutes later, Don Cowie proved that Whittingham doesn’t have a monopoly on dead ball excellence, as his inswinging corner from the left was nodded in from six yards out by Rudy Gestede who had been given a starting place at the expense of Craig Conway. Within what seemed like seconds, it was a Gunnarsson long throw causing havoc in the visitor’s defence as Ben Turner and Gestede won headers to provide Haris Vuckic with a close range chance that he took with aplomb.

I would guess that the scorers of our second and third goals would have taken a lot of confidence from getting on the scoresheet. As usual, I wanted a starting place to be found for Joe Mason, but Gestede, who has come in for a bit of messageboard criticism recently, justified his selection in a performance which featured the strengths and weaknesses of his game – he caused Peterborough plenty of aerial problems, again showed decent quality on the deck, as well as a bit more speed than you might expect. The French target man also took his goal well, hit the bar with another header and fired in a superb long range shot which drew a great save from the keeper. However, there were also cumbersome moments with both head and feet and a lack of poise in his finishing at times which added weight to the opinion that he will never be a prolific scorer. I still say that Gestede is a developing player though who may not be as pleasing on the eye as others in the squad, but he does offer qualities that we wouldn’t otherwise have and I think that, no matter what some fans say, Malky Mackay has a lot of faith in him.

Harris Vuckic is congratulated by Aron Gunnarsson after his assured finish had completed a golden spell for City which saw them score three times in seven first half minutes.

As for Haris Vuckic, I have to admit that I wasn’t impressed in that first half an hour – it wasn’t that he was making mistakes when in possession, but that he just wasn’t getting the ball and didn’t seem to be too bothered about trying to get it for himself. However, there was a change of attitude before his goal as he began to work harder at closing opponents down and with that came little flashes of what he was capable of with the ball at his feet. Vuckic’s goal looked simple, but it has to be said that he never looked like missing it and this, along with the way his Ayatollah was received by the crowd when it finally came, all probably helped him feel more at home at Cardiff – it was far from a complete performance by Vuckic, but by the time he went off to be replaced by Mason, there had been a few clues as to why he is so highly regarded at Newcastle.

City, could have added further first half goals when Gestede was put through by Vuckic,  but took the ball too wide and had to opt for teeing up Kenny Miller whose shot was cleared off the line and when Gunnarsson hit the woodwork from the sort of chance that Kevin Phillips had put away in our last home game. For the fourth time in a home match this season, we went in at half time having scored three times, but apart from a couple of goals after the break against Barnsley, City had not built on their big leads in the second half and it was the same again last night. To be fair, the lack of further goals was not for the want of trying – Lewis restored his reputation with some fine saves, the Peterborough woodwork was hit again, there was a clearance off the line and there were numerous efforts that flew just wide, but there was also a lack of quality in some of the finishing which recalled how chances were wasted when we were on top in recent home matches with Palace and Portsmouth.

Peterborough’s late goal was annoying, but I would also say it was deserved given that it was one of sixteen goal attempts they had. However, with twenty five of their own, there couldn’t really be too much doubting City’s right to the victory in a game which had become very open by the end. Based on the last hour, Malky Mackay’s post match comments were pretty accurate, but what had gone before means that not all of the questions raised by the defeats against Blackpool and Leicester had been answered – at least City will travel to in form Ipswich in a far more confident frame of mind though.