Spurs 1 - 0 Cardiff. Comment

Last updated : 14 October 2018 By Michael Morris


I could have stayed in and watched Cardiff City’s 1-0 defeat at Wembley against Spurs yesterday afternoon on one of the numerous feeds that were showing the game, but preferred to watch some live football in the flesh and so traveled the three or four miles down the road to watch Ton Pentre take on Port Talbot Town at Ynys Park.

More on that game later, but, starting with the City’s eighth match of their Premier League campaign, I’ve not yet seen any of the action from Wembley, so I’m not in a position to analyse it in any great depth. Therefore, apart from one or two general remarks which spring to mind, I feel I should deal with more general matters about our season so far.

On the face of it, a repeat of the 1-0 scoreline by which we lost both of our matches with Spurs back in 2013/14 represents a decent outcome from a City perspective if you view it from the outcome I daresay many City fans feared when we conceded in the first ten minutes. This applies even more so when you consider we had to play the last half an hour with ten men following the straight red card shown to Joe Ralls that, barring a successful appeal against ref Mike Dean’s decision, will see him miss three games.

To hear that the goal by Eric Dier which decided the game came from a rebound following a corner that City responded to slower than their opponents is galling. It would seem to offer further evidence to justify the theory I have which goes that, while, of course, the superior quality of opposition is a factor, the truth is that so many of the goals we are letting in is down to the fact that our defending, both individually and collectively, is not of the same standard as it was last season. If we defended last year like we have been doing this, there’s no way we would have ended up with the joint best goals against record in the Championship.

The main topic of post match discussion seems to be reaction  to the Ralls red card, with City manager Neil Warnock expressing his annoyance at the part Harry Kane played in getting his player sent off (the England striker pushed Ralls after his tackle on Lucas Moura). Warnock asked why Kane was not dismissed as well and claimed Dean was going to show his player a yellow card at first, but appeared to be swayed by the pressure put on him by the home players to make it a red one – an opinion repeated by City midfielder Harry Arter after the match.

Mention of Arter, who after his booking yesterday is one yellow card away from a suspension himself, takes me back to a tackle he put in against Newcastle on his debut for us. Apparently, Ralls’ tackle was quite high, but has almost universally been described as “cynical”, while, at the same time, it has been argued that it didn’t merit the “violent conduct” description usually required for a red card to be shown in areas of the pitch where the tacklers team’s goal is not under threat.

That to me sounds very like Arter’s tackle against Newcastle – my view of that was that he got lucky that referee Craig Pawson deemed a yellow card to be sufficient punishment, it looked like a sending off offence to me. Therefore, if the Ralls tackle really was similar to Arter’s it seems to me that any appeal would stand little chance of succeeding.

With Huddersfield proving what a poor, and unlucky, result it was for City last week as they showed Burnley’s limitations this season (I’m not sure we’ll see a worse visiting team than them in a league game at Cardiff City Stadium this season) with a 1-1 draw at Turf Moor, City dropped to the bottom of the table. They are now level on two points only with Newcastle who lost an extraordinary game at Old Trafford by 3-2, having led 2-0 while looking much the better team for the first seventy minutes of the match.

So much of what has been said and written about City in the national media over the past few months has been of the opinion that we now find ourselves in our rightful place and there will be plenty around this morning who will be believing that we will not be moving out of twentieth position from now on.

Are such people correct? Are there any grounds for thinking they will be proved wrong and, more importantly, can City improve to the extent that they can reach seventeenth position, not nineteenth?

It’s impossible to answers those questions with any degree of certainty, but I think it’s worth pointing out that, after we have played Liverpool at the end of this month, we will have come up against six out of last season’s top seven sides in our first ten matches of this season. Also, Liverpool are the only one out of the current top six that we have not faced in our first eight matches – Bournemouth’s early season form means that what always looked like a very tough first couple of months of the campaign anyway has, if anything, turned out to be even tougher.

That said, two of our games have been against the other clubs currently occupying the relegation places and last week’s home defeat to limited opponents had the definite feel of the sort of result relegation teams get.

On Radio Wales’ Call Rob phone in last night one media pundit who watches games very much from a City perspective, Nathan Blake, repeated a claim he first made on the day we got promoted (I referred to it in a piece I did shortly that game against Reading which secured second place for us).

According to Blakey, Neil Warnock needed help from an experienced coach/manager,  particularly on the tactical side, in May and he still believes that to be the case.

Five months ago, Blake believed that we needed to be cuter and less one dimensional in our play – I had some sympathy with that view and still do, but would say that it’s coming from a perception that we are playing like a “typical Warnock team” whereas I’m not so sure that this is always the case.

For me, one thing the arrival of four of our six summer signings has done is given us more of a chance to move away, in attacking terms anyway, from the pretty one dimensional stuff we played last season. Bobby Decordova-Reid, Josh Murphy, Victor Camarasa and Harry Arter have all helped to give us something different in an attacking sense from the “blood and thunder” stuff which typified our approach in the second half of last season in particular.

With just four goals scored in eight matches, it cannot be claimed that this has translated into tangible rewards on the pitch yet, but the evidence is there that we do not have to rely solely on power based, set piece orientated stuff in attacking areas these days.

So, it seems pretty obvious to me that our manager was aware that we had to, firstly, have better quality in our offensive game and, secondly, that we needed more ways of causing opponents defensive concerns.

However, Warnock’s first managerial job was at Gainsborough Trinity in 1981 and it’s a very rare (in fact, almost unique!) human being who would completely change their working methods in any profession they have been involved in for the past thirty seven years.

Therefore, anyone expecting us to come into the Premier League and play in a dramatically different manner (i.e. play football the “right” way) was being very naive for two reasons. First, they do not know our manager (Assistant Manager Kevin Blackwell’s side tended to play in much the same manner as Warnock’s do as well when he was the man in charge at Leeds and Sheffield United among others). Second, they are ignoring the fact that it would require an overhaul far more drastic than we saw during the summer to produce a Cardiff squad which had a reasonable chance of staying up by playing the sort of considered passing game provided by, for example, Wolves and Fulham. For me, the squad that got us promoted was incapable of playing that way or, more accurately, we would have finished nearer the bottom than the top of the Championship if we had tried to be a passing team.

It should also be said that by bringing in those four players I’ve mentioned, our manager was, to a large degree, saying that he did not agree with the argument, which I feel may have had some merit, that we should have become even more of the sort of side we were in gaining promotion. After all, Stoke earned promotion to the Premier League with a team which, if anything, were even more physical, direct and set piece orientated than us and certainly didn’t veer off that course when they got there – by and large teams in the top flight are not used to facing sides which play that way, particularly these days.

Up to now, it seems to me we have gone at things this season with a more footballing approach than the one seen from Stoke about a decade ago and from us last season –  more of a Burnley/Leicester approach I’d say. However, if I have a criticism of this, I think it would be to say that we’ve been a little muddled in the way we’ve implemented it.

I’ll use two games to try to explain what I mean. Against Arsenal, we took on a footballing side by adopting an approach which was, by our terms anyway, a footballing one. By contrast, on the day when we had the eyes of the Premier League on us (in their wisdom, Sky decided that Cardiff v Burnley should be the only footballing distraction to their coverage of the climax of the Ryder Cup!), we resorted to a long throw dominated set piece type game against one of the sides in this division best equipped to deal with it.

Things like that make me believe Nathan Blake has a point – we could do with more clarity of thinking on the tactical side and perhaps we need to bring someone in from outside the current Warnock/Blackwell/Jepson axis to provide it.

However, Jason Perry, who was also on last night’s Rob Phillips show, made, essentially, the same point I did back in May when considering Blakey’s suggestion – it’s not going to happen under this manager, or at least there is nothing to indicate in his managerial career so far to suggest it’s going to happen.

I’d like to be proved wrong because I’m not fan of what is generally recognised as the Warnock Way and, as mentioned above, I think we have lacked a little on the tactical side this season (I also wonder how our whole approach compares with the science and data based attitudes seen at many modern Premier League sides), but it seems to me that the only way we’ll see the sort of things Blakey wants implemented is if Neil Warnock leaves the club.

Anyway on to my visit to Ton Pentre. After coming bottom of the Welsh League Division One with just one win all season in 17/18, the Bulldogs were spared the relegation that should have followed, but their hopes of avoiding a repeat finish have not been helped by the fact that they had not played a home game before yesterday.

August and September saw them play five away games with a couple of heavy defeats among the three they suffered, but they’d also managed to get a win and a draw which offered hope that better times were ahead for them.

The reason why there had been no home games until yesterday was down to ground improvements apparently. Around the time of my house move, I mentioned on here that, apart from the removal of a roof over part of the terracing that ran the length of the pitch on one side, Ynys Park had barely changed since my only other visit there back in 1971 I believe it was. Now though they have covered seating running along about a third of the length of the pitch on the opposite side making the ground a good setting for this level with some great valley views to add to the enjoyment.

There has also been a new pitch laid, but, based on yesterday’s game, I hesitate to say it can be termed an improvement. The match was, to use the cliche, one of few chances – a 0-0 draw which rarely looked like it had a goal in it and, overall, the standard of play wasn’t great. Still, with Ton’s only win from last season also having come in an away match, a point at home is not to be sniffed at when you have gone at least eighteen months without a win on your own ground.

The game did get better as it went on. Ton Pentre had some neat footballers in their ranks (one of whom was Aiden Chappell-Smith who I remembered as a goalscoring winger with City’s Academy team from about four years ago), but their cause wasn’t helped by a surface where the ball would often bobble disconcertingly to the extent that I would never have felt that I had it completely under control if I had been playing on it. Hopefully, it will settle down eventually, because it played a definite part in making yesterday’s mark not the spectacle it might have been.

Ton Pentre have only scored three times in their six matches now, so they can hardly blame the pitch entirely for their lack of attacking punch against Port Talbot. The visitors currently occupy thirteenth position in the sixteen team league, one place above their hosts, but both sides have games in hand on nearly everyone else so there is the potential for those placings to improve.

Based on yesterday’s evidence, the two teams will finish up pretty close to each other come the end of the season. Port Talbot carried the greater attacking threat early on and there were a couple of near things for the home team before they began to get on top.

I would say Ton dominated from around the half an hour mark until about a quarter of an hour from the end as they put Port Talbot under a fair bit of pressure. However, their lack of a real goal threat was best illustrated by the fact that, apart from a good save to deny Chappell-Smith in the first half, the Port Talbot keeper’s most anxious moment came when he had to leap high to his right to keep out a wayward header from one of his team mates.

Perhaps because Ton’s substitutions didn’t really have much of an effect or maybe it was down to tiredness, but the visitors looked the more likely to come up with a winner in the closing stages and by the end, a point apiece was probably right after a hard fought ninety minutes.

As I’ve become a member at Ton Pentre and own a share in the club, which is registered as a Community Benefit Society, I hope to get to some other matches this season, along with further Blaenrhondda FC games – I’m not giving up on them, despite a played two, lost two record in games which I’ve seen them in which suggests that other supporters of theirs must be wishing I would!

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