John McCormick writes: I’ve been unwilling to criticise Ellis Short in the past. I’ve held back where others haven’t. But now I am firmly of the opinion that the sooner he divests himself of our club the better it will be be.
I came to that conclusion before I read Pete Sixsmith’s match report. Having read it, I see no reason to change my mind
So, here we are. Third off bottom, no home win since Santa was sitting in his grotto dishing out the presents, the stadium half full, rampant apathy from those who still go, an owner who has lost interest and a manager who is in serious danger of losing his job before the trees have shed their leaves.
And the world worries about Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un……….
Our season is now one of, at best, mid table obscurity and at worst, an ignominious slide into Division One. To achieve mid table obscurity, a team has to defend effectively, score goals and win home games. Ignominious slide it is then.
We managed to achieve one out of those three on Saturday, although that was a penalty awarded when Lyndon Gooch took on a Cardiff defender and was brought down. The young American, one of a number of changes, got up and converted it himself with some confidence and aplomb, giving the support a ray of optimism that the wretched home record would be improved upon.
Normally when a team scores, they go straight at the opposition in an attempt to kill them off. Get them rocking on the back foot and they will struggle and we can pinch another goal is the theory. We allowed Cardiff to pick the pace of the game up and put us on the back foot. Something wrong there, I think.
The better teams in the Championship, and I include Cardiff in that group, know how to play the league. They know that it is a blood and guts league where you have to be mobile, organised and a little bit streetwise. City had all of those attributes, we had none.
|Our midfield is painfully slow and does not break with any pace or conviction. Once Cattermole and Ndong get the ball, the move stops and the ball goes sideways or back, leaving opposition defenders to easily pick up the (very) limited attacking options that we have. Hence three home goals all season; two from the spot and one that didn’t matter.|
The defence gives away a ridiculous goal every home game. Today it was two. A long punt from the keeper in the direction of the impressive Kenneth Zahore was flicked on by the Dane, the ball was allowed to bounce and Nathaniel Mendez-Laing played in Craig Bryson who volleyed it home. No challenge for the header, neither of the other two players picked up and six minutes in we are chasing the game.
The second came when Kone, a shadow of the player he was last season let alone the one before, pulled and tugged at Sean Morrison and the referee had no hesitation in pointing at the spot. And that was that.
Cardiff were able to see out the rest of the game as we huffed and puffed, threw on a couple of youngsters who were easily contained by the experienced opposition as we surrendered meekly to the fourth home defeat of a season that could well see the club as we know it wither and die.
The sparse crowd did not turn on the players. There was no sustained booing as there was three weeks ago. The manager came in for some heavy and partially justified criticism on the post-match radio phone for his tactics and team selection.
He must have spent time this week on structuring a back three with two wing backs only to change it after twenty minutes when it clearly wasn’t working. It meant that Tyias Browning was pushed into an unfamiliar right back role and Bryan Oviedo switched to midfield. Neither looked comfortable.
Of yesterday’s squad, only Adam Matthews and James Vaughan have experience at this level and it was no coincidence that they were two of our better players. Matthews looks a good Championship full back, who would be in the team of any of the opponents who have pitched up at the Stadium. Vaughan worked so hard up front without ever getting a chance to test the keeper. He won a number of balls in the air but there was nobody alongside him to take advantage of it.
Cardiff were organised, had a manager experienced in the Championship and all its (minor) dark arts and they play to a pattern that suits the abilities of their players. They targeted Vaughan from the start, first of all with Richards until he was booked, then Morrison took over. Gunnarsson gave a master class in recovering from “serious” injuries and caused problems with his long throws and in Zahore they have a centre forward who may not score too many goals but is a great target to hit. And hit him they do.
Where we go from here is a matter of conjecture and debate. Lose the next two games at Ipswich and Preston and the clamour for the sacking of the manager will become, well, clamorous. He has to settle on a system that the players feel comfortable with and he has to address the chronic lack of pace and drive in midfield. The Cattermole – Ndong partnership is not working; there must be someone in the club who can pick up the ball and drive us forward rather than sideways and backwards. Could it be Gibson? Rodwell? Ethan Robson?
For me this is the heart of our problem. We do not seize control of a game and rely on lots of scampering about. Will McGeady and McManaman make any difference to that? Will they take opponents on? Without Grabban we are totally reliant on Vaughan; unfortunately willingness and quality do not go together.
It’s a mess on the field and I dare say it’s an even bigger one behind the scenes. The owner will struggle to sell the business if it is playing at the third level and, at the moment, that looks likely. There are many, many games to go and a revival could start at Portman Road on Tuesday and continue at Deepdale on Saturday. But then we are back at the Stadium, once a fortress, now a soft touch for any visiting team.
And then there is the apathy. The support is hemorrhaging and loyal red and whites are deserting what appears to be a sinking ship. There was little anger yesterday more an attitude of resignation from my generation and we are the ones who find it hardest to give up going; youngsters can easily find better things to do with their Saturday afternoons.
Things Can Only Get Better? Maybe not this time………..
All graphics by Jake