Why is Mackay Ignoring Earnshaw?

Before the home game against Blackpool in the first week of February, the Bluebirds had lost just four Championship matches all season, but that tally has almost doubled this month after three defeats in the last four games.

The side’s poor recent performances are clearly a worry, but for me a far greater concern is Malky Mackay’s apparent reluctance to use all of his available resources. The manager is operating with a relatively small squad by Championship standards and I believe he has done remarkably well to get his team into a position whereby it is challenging for promotion, but in my opinion Mackay has been doing himself no favours lately by continuing to field players who are obviously out of form while ignoring the other options that are available to him.

Defender Andrew Taylor is a case in point. The former England under-21 international is having a decent first season with the club and fully deserves his position as the manager’s first-choice left-back, but in recent matches he has suffered a marked dip in form. His crossing has been poor, his tackling weak and his positional play suspect.

Mackay has an obvious alternative to Taylor in the shape of Lee Naylor. The 31 year-old ex-Wolves and Celtic man often struggled last season and seemed likely to leave Cardiff in the summer, but he remained with the club and has performed with credit whenever called upon during the current campaign. Naylor has made just two league starts in 2011/12 and the side kept a clean sheet in both of them. He played the full 90 minutes in the 0-0 draw with Leicester in late-September and the 1-0 victory over Birmingham in early-December, when he successfully managed to keep former-Bluebirds winger Chris Burke under control.

If I was picking the City team, a fit and in-form Taylor would always be selected ahead of Naylor, but Taylor is currently off form and seemingly low on confidence. The defence is not performing well as a unit, yet Mackay appears reluctant to change things and I’m struggling to understand that. Unless Naylor is injured, I can’t work out why the manager is persisting with Taylor when he is playing so poorly. 

A number of key players appear to be out of form at present, with none more so than striker Kenny Miller. The Scottish international is a high-class performer by Championship standards and is having an impressive first season at Cardiff, but in recent weeks he has appeared distinctly jaded. His movement hasn’t been as clever as usual, his decision-making has often been poor, he’s been caught offside on numerous occasions and his finishing has been woeful. Miller’s work rate is as high as ever, but things just haven’t been happening for him in and around the penalty area and he looks in need of a break.

Robert Earnshaw has made ten starts in all competitions for the Bluebirds this season and has scored four goals. The last time he was selected to start a league game was back in mid-October, when he played 65 minutes of the 4-3 defeat at Peterborough, while his last appearance in any competition came in the first week of January, when he played the full 90 minutes of the 4-2 FA Cup third round defeat at West Bromwich Albion. On that occasion, Earnie scored one goal and set up the other for Joe Mason. It was his only first team appearance of any kind in the last four months.

Yesterday, Earnie was on the back on the bench for the Championship clash with Ipswich Town at Portman Road due to an injury suffered by Rudy Gestede. After dominating play for lengthy periods during the first half, the Bluebirds fell 2-0 behind after 48 minutes and were in desperate need of a goal from somewhere, but Mackay elected to stick with the ineffective Miller. Even after Ipswich had killed the game off by scoring a third on 73 minutes, the manager refused to give Earnshaw a chance. Instead, he used two of his three substitutes, Earnie was left on the bench, the weary Miller played the full 90 minutes and the team failed to score.

Personally, I have found Mackay’s treatment of Earnshaw in recent months baffling. There are suggestions that the deal to bring the Welsh international back to Cardiff was agreed before the Scotsman was installed as manager and for all I know that may be true. However, it doesn’t explain why Earnie has effectively been ignored since October.

In my opinion, Miller is easily the better of the two players at this stage of their careers. As a rule, his movement is more intelligent, he is more adept at holding the ball up and bringing others into play and his scoring record is comparable to Earnshaw’s. Miller is also far more suited to playing the lone striker role and I can fully understand why Mackay has made him his number one forward this season. That said, I cannot work out why the manager continually refuses to give Earnie any sort of an opportunity, especially while Miller is clearly struggling. It must be a soul-destroying experience for a lad who is often said to be a model professional.

Make no mistake about it, Earnshaw is certainly not the player he once was and I’m not claiming otherwise. He has lost a yard or two of pace and consequently does not pose the same sort of threat to defences that he once did. Nevertheless, he is still capable of creating opportunities and scoring goals, as he demonstrated at the Hawthorns in January. Some fans have suggested that Earnie is little more than an impact player these days and there may be some truth in that, but one thing is certain – he can’t make any sort of an impact if he’s sitting on the bench or in the stands.

No doubt Malky Mackay will select what he believes to be his strongest line-up at Wembley next weekend regardless of current form, and I’ll have no arguments with that. The Carling Cup final is a one-off event and there is every chance that quality footballers like Andrew Taylor and Kenny Miller will rise to the occasion. Miller, in particular, has a reputation of being a big-game player and will no doubt relish the chance to take on Liverpool’s Premier League defenders. However, when the distraction of the Carling Cup is out of the way and the Bluebirds return to league action, I sincerely hope Mackay will start to give more consideration to squad members such as Lee Naylor and Robert Earnshaw whenever his first-choice players are out of form. The previous manager was often guilty of selecting his favourite players regardless of what kind of form they were in. I’ll be very disappointed if the current manager continues along a similar path.
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