Even in the unlikely event of Cardiff City turning in five good first half performances in their remaining matches, one of the big stories of this poor season has been our dreadful record in the first forty five minutes of matches.
I make it that City have been up at half time in only six of their forty one games so far and down in twenty two of them – a truly dismal stat.
Although there are plenty of candidates for this nomination, they can seldom have played as poorly in the first period as they did today at Hull. In typical style, they were better after the break, but this time, they could not perform one of their away day comebacks and ended up losing by 2-1.
Last season, City travelled up to Yorkshire over Easter and began that game as if they had ridden the couple of hundred miles by bike, they conceded early goals against a Sheffield Wednesday side destined to finish bottom of the league and they eventually took pity on us after they were 5-0 up around the hour mark.
It certainly looked like we were on for something similar when the home side found the net twice within ten minutes today with the first goal being gift wrapped by our defence and the second one not being much better in that regard.
Steve Morrison was, rightly, praised for the way we changed formation at Reading and played in a style which, frankly, I thought this squad of players were incapable of, but, it seems that a desire to match Hull’s formation today persuaded him to revert back to normal with, what I’d say, were pretty predictable results.
Last week’s four at the back central two of Perry Ng and Curtis Nelson made way for Mark McGuinness and Aden Flint who were joined by Ollie Denham making his league debut to make it a return for the back three set up which has been the norm for more than a year now – just as at Liverpool in his first City start, I thought Denham was the best of our centrebacks.
Cody Drameh and Joel Bagan were the wing backs as Will Vaulks joined Ryan Wintle in a two man central midfield leaving Isaak Davies and Mark Harris to support Uche Ikpeazu who was also making his first start for the club.
Right from the kick off, City gave an indication of what was to come as the ball was passed back to the centrebacks and then passed from side to side to no effect before being rolled back to Dillon Phillips. It was hard to believe this was the plan for the opening few seconds, more likely a combination of a lack of movement in front of them and a shortfall in the ability required to pick a successful pass from the men at the back (common traits in recent Cardiff sides) led to the safety first ball back to the keeper and the consequent loss of possession from his clearance.
Before we really began to shoot ourselves in the foot though, we missed a good chance in the first two minutes when one of the Hull back three carelessly gave the ball away and Harris slid Ikpeazu, in, but, ignoring the better placed Davies, the striker took the wrong option and shot, enabling Matt Ingram to save easily as the opportunity was lost.
Hull soon caused us problems down our right, a common occurrence in the first quarter of the match, but the ball was scraped clear on that occasion. City weren’t so fortunate the next time it happened though as McGuinness let the ball bounce over his head and never looked comfortable as he then tried to find Phillips with a back pass which fell well short of the onrushing keeper and the home side’s Iranian striker Sayyadmanesh, reacting quicker than his marker Flint, easily side stepped the keeper and tapped in his first goal for Hull.
Two minutes later, Keane Lewis-Potter went by Vaulks on our right hand touchline as if he wasn’t there and crossed low only for the ball to hit McGuinness and then Drameh, rebound to Regan Slater who then set up Lewis Coyle to score with a left footed shot from twelve yards.
An incident packed opening period ended with Ikpeazu showing fine technique with a well struck overhead kick that drew a good save from Ingram, but, after that, the action fizzled out.
The best passing sides make the whole process of moving the ball from one to another look so easy that you wonder why everyone else can’t do it. People who think that should watch City trying to pass the ball on a bad day – the combination of poor first touches and bad passing techniques mean that the ball always seems to be that little bit further away from the passer/receiverthan it should be and, as such, is never totally under control.
The home fans didn’t have much in the way of chances to increase their side’s lead during the rest of the half, but they were kept entertained by a rattled City back five and keeper’s attempts to keep the ball on the occasions when they weren’t whacking it upfield.
As usual with City when they play poorly, I don’t think it’s down to a lack of effort and, as more proof of that, frustration in the team grew with Ikpeazu, one of two players withdrawn at half time, yellow carded quite early on and it was probably a case of taking him off before he was sent off
The other player withdrawn was McGuinness who I’d say had as poor a half as he’s had in a City shirt. However, it needs to be said that when we were really struggling during the first half of the season, he was, as the youngest regular starter in the team, one of our best players – he’s played more senior games this season than he’s ever done before and I feel this has caught up with him.
A City side lacking Tommy Doyle, Rubin Colwill and Joe Ralls is one that lacks the creativity levels required for the Championship in my view and so it was a surprise that, with the last named injured, the other two were only on the bench today.
City became so much more like the side that impressed at Reading last week with the introduction of Doyle and Colwill, but without the likes of Ng, Ralls and Jordan Hugill there was never really the element of control you got last week as they tried to work themselves back into the game.
Before City could look like they might be able to pull something out of the fire, they were grateful to Phillips for a fine save to deny Lewis-Potter as the home side prospered down the wings again – this time down our left.
After that though, it was City all of the way as far as goalmouth action went. Harris drew a decent save from Ingram and he then combined with Doyle to set up a chance which the Man City loanee scuffed wide when he should have done better.
Ten minutes from time, City got one back as Flint powerfully headed in Doyle’s corner, but Harris missed the one big chance they had after that as he raced onto a long ball and, with Ingram doing nothing more than making Harris’ target a bigger one by rushing off his line, the striker got his lob all wrong and it bounced well wide and into the side netting..
So, after last week’s hopeful sign, this was a reminder of the size of the task facing Steve Morison this summer – for now, I just hope today convinced him that we need at least one of the small number of creative footballers we have in the squad at the moment in the team from the start for each of our remaining games.