Before I start, I should emphasise that I have not seen anything of yesterday’s 3-2 defeat at Norwich, I listened to the whole match on Radio Wales, but have not even seen the goals on the Football League show.
Therefore, to a degree at least, I’m wholly reliant on what I heard from Messrs Hardy and Ratcliffe on the radio for any conclusions I may reach about another away defeat. However, with more than half a season gone and having watched this wretched (i.e. cheerless and forlorn) team perform for five months now, I fully believe the images of what was happening I had in my mind’s eye in the first half were accurate ones,
You don’t have to be there watching to know that we are losing the battle for possession again (it was 60/40 yesterday – good/bad enough to keep us firmly rooted to the bottom of the Championship’s possession table I’d guess) and that the little possession we have is so ponderous in nature that we are not counter attacking in the normal meaning of the term (effective counter attacking is done at pace, a commodity we generally lack). You don’t need to be watching to know that Adam LeFondre will be working hard and diligently, but providing virtually nothing in terms of an end product, that Craig Noone may be providing the odd neat trick or two, but also giving away possession at an alarming rate, that our opponents will be finding it too easy to play through our midfield, that the midfield will be doing virtually nothing in the way of pressing and that they will be letting opponents run past them while barely ever making a run beyond our strikers themselves.
The lack of midfield runners, either forwards or backwards, reduced Kevin Ratcliffe to incredulity at times and, to put it mildly, he was not impressed by Aron Gunnarsson’s efforts as a holding midfield man.
Now, I’m sorry to go on about this once again, but I’m afraid so many of our problems stem from the fact that we just have not got the midfield axis of our side right all season. In fairness, it should be acknowledged that a fit Kagisho Dikgacoi might have given us the midfield tenacity, drive and mobility that we have been lacking – it would be asking an awful lot for one man to compensate totally for the failings of others though,
In Dikgacoi’s absence, all four of the people charged with selecting Cardiff City teams this season have come to the same conclusions as to who the first choice central midfield pairing should be. There is just one player who has featured in all of our league matches this season and only two that have missed one match – John Brayford was, bizarrely, left out at Wolves and the other virtual ever present is the aforementioned Gunnarsson, as for the one individual with a 100% appearance record, it’s the man who provokes as much discussion among City fans as any player on the staff.
Peter Whittingham has been there week in, week out in our central midfield and, apart from at Fulham, Gunnarsson has been there alongside him for all of that time. Yet, you read any media/online analysis on our season up to now and it’s almost certain that our misfiring central midfield will be prominently featured, so are all of those critics wrong and Messrs Solskjær, Young, Gabbidon and Slade seeing things that us mug punters cannot?
Trying to look at it from Ole’s point of view, the fact that he was in charge for the early games of the season, when there has to be an element of guesswork involved in selection, is a partial explanation for his faith in Whitts and Gunnar and I’d say Young/Gabbidon’s selection policy may have been influenced by the almost certain knowledge that they would not be given the opportunity to build a team – their’s had to be a “steady as she goes” approach I suppose.
However, when it comes to our current manager, I find his continuing faith in Whittingham/Gunnarsson baffling. When he was appointed, Russell Slade talked of the need to build partnerships after months of Ole’s constant mind boggling changes. That all sounded very sensible to me at the time and yet, three months later, there’s only one of those partnerships that survives from his original selections – the one in the area where the team has been coming second all season long!
What our manager has done recently is give our struggling pair a bit of help in the shape of Tom Adeyemi. In doing so, he has admitted that 4-4-2 with the regular two in central midfield wasn’t working and proved to people like me who have advocated playing three central midfielders that just putting another body in there is not enough, there has to be the right blend as well. Unfortunately, there’s been little evidence of that in the matches in which Adeyemi has featured. Adeyemi has qualities that we almost completely lack when the first choice pair are left to fend by themselves and I believe he should be persevered with, so I see little alternative now to leaving out one of or both Whittingham and Gunnarsson.
To my mind, our tired (emotionally and physically it seems to me) central midfield pairing epitomises a team that lacks legs, pace, creativity and belief, if opposing sides are able to defend our set pieces well enough, we have very little that will hurt them.
However, after a first twelve minutes or so of the second period that threatened to offer more of the same after a very one sided opening forty five, the introduction of Kadeem Harris’ pace and youthful exuberance helped to change the game significantly. Suddenly, City had a commodity that could really hurt the Norwich defence and this allied to new signing Alex Revell’s ability to not give central defenders a moment’s peace, saw a three goal Norwich lead reduced to just one within seven minutes.
Speaking for myself, Harris would be in the team every week. Not only that, I’d think seriously about having him on one wing and Declan John on the other with the third substitute from yesterday, Joe Ralls, brought into the midfield.
Bringing in three youngsters would be a risk I know and there’s often a tendency for such things to happen when a season is effectively over. Furthermore, I’m sure Harris in particular would exasperate supporters at times with his wrong choices and occasional tendency to run up blind alleys. Much the same could probably be said of John as well, while I’ll admit Ralls hasn’t really kicked on like I hoped he would after his very good displays in his breakthrough season three years ago.
However, give Harris and John the freedom to express themselves and they would make us much more of an attacking threat in away games in particular. As for Ralls, including him for, say, Whittingham would see us losing a few goals and a fair few assists, but the youngster is more mobile, has a good technique, is not afraid of taking on responsibility and the fact he has already captained the team tells you he has a maturity beyond his years.
Like most managers, Russell Slade has a “same old, same old” philosophy that will always tend to favour the seasoned pro over the precocious youth, but where is such an approach getting us? We shipped three goals in the first half for the third time in six matches yesterday and sides are running us off our feet. I’ve mentioned before that this season has a relegation feel to it in many ways and, although I still don’t see things getting that bad, we have looked like a team with very serious problems over the last two months – too many of our experienced players appear to let their heads drop as soon as things start going wrong.
It seems obvious that we are trying to make the changes that are required. A day seldom goes by without us being linked to some new player or another, but are we missing a trick by, largely, ignoring younger players who aren’t on the list of those we hope to get rid of this month? I think we are.
* picture courtesy of http://www.walesonline.co.uk/