Blues v Cardiff preview

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December 31, 2012 by Made In Brum

I’m writing this preview with an almost overwhelming feeling of apathy, after the team pressed the self-destruct button on Saturday. I don’t like to say it but I hold out very little hope for this game, because we’ve got just 1 striker available and Cardiff are 5pts clear at the top of the table; they’ve won their last 3. It’s my undying faith in my club, much more so than reason and logic that gives me any sort of belief that we can get a result from this match. We do seem to have a habit of doing better against the top teams, so we live in hope. Whatever happens, I’d like to wish everybody connected with Birmingham City a very happy 2013.

Looking back…

It was just typical Blues. Listening to it on the radio, when Zigic nodded us in front 10 minutes in from Burke’s cross, I felt a tiny bit guilty for not finding the time and money to get to the game. The goal moved us up to 14th in the table, just 7pts off the play-offs, which could plausibly change in 4 or 5 games if we could hold onto our first back-to-back win of the season, and start to put a run together. How many times have we said that this season, though? It’s happened so often that we do something quite good to get ourselves excited, and then we totally fall apart at the back.

Unfortunately, it was the same old story and I have to say, Caldwell’s immobile defending confirmed my suspicions about his lack of competence this season. For some reason, I decided to put myself through the excruciating process of watching the Football League Show until about 1 o’clock last night, and Lee Chung-Yong ran past Caldwell as if he wasn’t there for Bolton second. Caldwell also conceded his second penalty in 4 days which put the game beyond us with 10 minutes to go. He essentially cost us the match.

What Zigic did in the closing moments was absolutely horrendous. To pick up two silly bookings, when he’s only our second striker and the match practically a foregone conclusion, was just stupid. As far as I know, it’s only a 1 match ban for second yellow sending offs so hopefully the damage isn’t enormous. With so many injuries in this congested winter period though, the last thing we needed was to have another player, a key player, unavailable.

A look at the squad

Having a ‘mare- Caldwell

I must say that I’m starting to strongly question Clark’s persistence with Steven Caldwell. He’s been almost an ever-present for us this season – there have been just 2 league matches in which Caldwell hasn’t played – but is that on merit? In every game I’ve seen him play this season, he’s looked sluggish on the ball and consistently easily beaten for speed. I can’t quite understand why Clark sticks with him. The only ways in which I could defend those decisions are that as fans, we don’t see what Clark sees day in, day out on the training field and also that he perhaps had limited alternative options. Pablo Ibanez has looked shaky at the back whenever I’ve seen him play, though if it were my decision I’d have opted to entrust Pablo with a run in the side to see whether he can help better our defensive record. Caldwell’s lack of pace seems to me to be one of the key factors behind our poor displays at the back. It needs changing.Another decision I’d like to see Clark consider making, if Butland does indeed get a transfer away, is to give Colin Doyle some match practice. The reality is that the club are going to need to sell Butland to have any chance of getting short-term money in, whether it would go into Carson’s pocket I don’t know, but either way the young keeper will be sold. If the boards’ intentions are to grab themselves some money, they’ll probably sell Butland. If the boards’ intentions are to take the club out of debt and keep it running, they’ll probably sell Butland. It seems an inevitability. That being the case, I’d have perhaps liked to have seen some forward planning from Clark by giving Doyle a chance. Then again, we don’t know what conversations have taken place behind the scenes at the club, whether Butland wants to go, or whether it is within Pannu’s or Clark’s plans to let him leave.

In midfield, I’m starting to wonder if there is some potential behind the partnership of Reilly and Mullins- Reilly doing the running and Mullins holding shape in front of the defence. Mullins, for all his critics (myself included), hasn’t in fact played too badly in the last couple of games I’ve seen him. When a player is hitting a poor run of form and being slated to some extent by the fans, it’s easy to spot the mistakes he makes, it’s not so easy to see what he’s actually doing for the team. Playing defensive midfield can be a thankless task, because you are loved by fans for being able to beat a man and score a great goal, but as an anchor man it’s about your positional sense and ability to spot danger- skills much less noticeable. Conversely, when you make a mistake as a defensive midfielder by giving the ball away, everyone sees it. I hope the fans will be able to analyse more what Mullins is doing for this team in terms of snuffing out attacks, before jumping on the bandwagon of slagging him off. It’s easy to support players when everything’s going swimmingly, but we need to keep a sense of perspective. If Mullins was making the mistakes he has been and we were near the top, no-one would have a go at him.

Having said that, the prospect of youngster Jake Jervis playing on his own up front doesn’t fill me with too much confidence. It’s true that I’ve never seen him play, but his recall from Portsmouth seems like very much a temporary measure to give us another striking option, rather than a reflection on his abilities. Then again, in his 3 loan spells at League one clubs so far this season, he’s scored 5 goals in 12 games, which is a pretty good record. Whether he can do it in the Championship though, remains to be seen.

Lee Clark has confirmed that Ravel Morrison and Will Packwood should both be available for selection but Emmit Delfouneso, who was il-line for his debut, will miss out with a groin injury. The curse of the defenders continues.

A bit about Cardiff

Cardiff have certainly got an intriguing history. With Swansea now thriving as the first Welsh club to play in the Premiership, their fans will probably be keen to remind them that they remain to be the best supported club in Wales. They enjoyed their most successful period in the mid-1920s, finishing as runners-up in the top-flight in 1924 and winning the FA Cup in 1927. However two years later, they were relegated to the second tier, despite conceding the lowest number of goals in the entire division that season. This was to be merely a sign of things to come, as the Bluebirds were relegated again to the third tier a few seasons afterwards and a great fire caught the centre stand of Ninian Park, but fans managed to regroup and build the ground up again.

After the war, the club bounced back by winning the third tier in 1947 and by merit of winning the Welsh Cup, yet still being in the second division in the 60s, European football was to be played at Ninian Park for the first time. They beat Danish side Esjberg fB 1-0 on aggregate in their first ever European matches, and two years later they excelled to reach the Cup Winners Cup semi-finals- the best performance in that competition of any non-top-flight team as it was at the time.

The 80s saw the club go into a bit of a decline. They were relegated to the fourth division in 1986, the lowest point in the club’s history. The rebuilding process from then on was unquestionably slow, but ultimately successful. A yo-yo period ensued with the club often moving between the third and fourth division, and a yo-yo period of a different sort was to continue into the mid-90s, this time between divisions two and three, with a remarkable 8 manager changes over the span of 5 years.

In 2000, the club now in the third tier, it was bought by a businessman called Sam Hammam who’s plan was to get everyone in Wales to support Cardiff by renaming them ‘the Cardiff Celts’. This plan was greatly disapproved of by fans and senior players, and so Hammam resolved to simply alter the club’s crest. In 2003, some stability finally came to that club. They were promoted to the second tier via victory in the play-offs over QPR in a tight affair taken to extra time. The Bluebirds have stayed in the second tier (now the Championship) ever since.

In the past few years, Cardiff have become the sort of club Blues were about 10 or 15 years ago, the ‘nearly men’. In three successive seasons now, they’ve reached the play-offs, only to consistently fall at the last hurdle. In 2010, they lost 3-2 in the play-off final to Ian Holloway’s Blackpool under Dave Jones, having taken the lead twice in that match. In 2011, they lost in the semis in a painful 3-0 home defeat to Reading in the second leg, and lost 5-0 on aggregate to West Ham in 2012.

To say the last few seasons for Cardiff have consisted of nothing but heartache and anguish would be misguided though. In 2009, they moved to, perhaps a more favourable ground to Ninian Park in the Cardiff City stadium, and the team have certainly had their moments in the domestic cups. They nearly won the FA Cup against Portsmouth in 2008 and lost narrowly to Liverpool in the Carling Cup Final last season, which suggests that the Premier League is where that club truly belongs.

Cardiff’s recent form

It’s my reckoning that they will finally break free from this era of misfortune and achieve promotion to the top flight. They’re 5pts clear at the top of the table and we’re certainly unlikely to catch them on a hangover after losing at home to bottom club Peterborough a few weeks ago, because they’ve won their last 3 matches since that defeat, proving it to be merely a one-off result. I think when a team unexpectedly loses a match like that in the Championship, it can be quite a signal of their mental strength and resolve to win the match after it and not get stuck into a cycle of defeats, for me Cardiff have displayed their promotion credentials by bouncing back from that loss with aplomb.

From what I read about and saw on the highlights of their match on Saturday, it might have been a narrow win over Millwall but it was a fairly comfortable, efficient one. Their good defensive positioning grinded Millwall down, limiting them to wasteful long shots. In some ways I’m more worried about Cardiff because they’ve put in that type of performance. If they’d completely taken Millwall apart then there’s a chance that they’d be feeling lethargic and perhaps complacent going into this one, whereas them developing a habit getting the job done may put them in the right frame of mind. I would wonder whether our inexperienced heads will be able to find a way through the Bluebirds’ formidable defence, which has conceded just 1 goal in its last 3 games.

The dangerman

A threat- Whittingham

A threat- Whittingham

Cardiff’s goalscoring threat definitely isn’t limited to just 1 player- they’ve got 8 players who have scored 4 or more goals this season, but Heidar Helguson is their top scorer. The veteran Icelandic has got 8 goals to his name from 23 matches, which averages just over 1 in 3. He was rested on Saturday, perhaps in preparation for this game, but Rudy Gestede’s goal in Helguson’s place is an example of the great range of attacking options Malky Mackay has at his disposal.With Bellamy notoriously fast, I would also be worried about him playing against Steven Caldwell, who, at the risk of being rather disparaging towards, could barely race an overweight tortoise. Peter Whittingham, a product of Aston Villa’s youth system, is another to be a little concerned about. He’s a versatile player who can operate in the centre, out wide or as a second striker and has contributed a respectable 7 goals from midfield this season.

Let’s just say that there are a lot of Cardiff players more than capable of doing some damage on Tuesday, and for us to stand any chance of getting anything out of the game, our defence needs to be considerable more competent than it has been for the most part this season.

Previous meeting

Blues played Cardiff on the 17th January 2009, after a 3 week break due to match postponements over the winter period. They had taken 51pts from 26 games up until this point and were inside the promotion places, but the Cardiff dragons’ breath was hot on our heels in the upper-playoff vicinity. The Bluebirds’ fans were very vocal on the day, and probably deserved to see their team pick up 3pts, but were denied at the death. Cardiff controlled the game from the first minute until the last, and into the second half, they took a lead they were well worthy of- a beautiful volley from Joe Ledley.

However, in the final moments, Blues put bodies forward. In injury time, Cameron Jerome had a goal disallowed for offside, before Blues got a leveller. Lee Bowyer on his debut, arrived late in the box and struck a powerful volley past prolific Birmingham City goalscoring hero, Peter Enckleman in goal. The game epitomized why both teams were where they were. Cardiff had made a habit of controlling games and keeping possession, but not having the steel and nerve to see games out, whereas Blues never played mouthwatering football, but under McLeish they at least had the ability to grind out results.

At the end of the season, Blues returned to the Premiership at the first time of asking on the last game of the season. Cardiff however, having had automatic promotion ambitions towards the end of their campaign, failed to even hold onto a play-off place, which ensured that they would be playing Championship football at their new stadium the next season.

My prediction

I’m afraid I don’t think I can see past a comfortable Cardiff win. Our squad problems seem to be getting worse by the minute and I can’t imagine our teenage team will get past what has become a very tough Cardiff defence of late. Contrastly, our own defence has been little short of shambolic this season and Cardiff have several quality players who have the class to really hurt us. I wouldn’t necessarily be too disappointed with the team if we kept it down to 0-2. Well, happy New Year then.

By Gabriel Sutton @_thescore


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