Saturday, November 20, 2010

Cardiff City 0 Nottingham Forest 2 - match report

CARDIFF CUT DOWN TO SIZE BY FOREST

Cardiff City lost their second successive home game in abject style – this time by 2-0 to Nottingham Forest – and in doing so, immediately surrendered their hard earned top spot in the division.

Cardiff did not play well and Forest were predictably tough, organised and uncompromising closing down City and not allowing them to play in exactly the same way as Swansea did a fortnight earlier in the last home outing.

However this time it was all about poor player performances rather than manager Dave Jones’ tactics and selections even if they could still be questioned in part. Cardiff’s passing was atrocious, Forest really won the ball, we just kept giving it to them. Forest’s goals, both well taken, were still both borne from pitiful defending.

Clear cut chances were inexplicably wasted and Cardiff were completely disjointed all afternoon as just about every player playing poorly and it is time to ask serious questions about one or two of them.

Pre-game, the mood was confident with City top of the table and deservedly so, Jay Bothroyd incredibly getting a midweek start for England and although everyone expected a tough afternoon – the sides shared two draws last season - City have still enjoyed the upper hand in recent times and Forest, despite fast improving, had only had 1 away win in 21 attempts.

However a headache came with the loss of Chris Burke who failed to recover from a thigh strain in Scunthorpe last week. Cardiff should be able to deal with it but, plainly, they weren’t and that is worrying. Without him, we lacked width, pace, energy and work-rate going forward while nobody was running at Forest’s defence and apart from Bellamy once, nobody got behind them either. City were also missing Lee Naylor to injury but few seemed too concerned about that, he has all too often looked the weakest link of Cardiff’s defence.

Dave Jones dealt with it by calling up Jason Koumas, reverting to Gyepes and Hudson in central mid, moving SuperKev from right to left back and slotting Darcy Blake into the right back role. Cardiff: Heaton; Blake-Gyepes-Hudson-McNaughton; Koumas-Olifinjana-Whittingham-Bellamy; Chopra-Bothroyd. Jones was suffering from laryngitis and so was so to stand on the touchline with arms folded having nothing to say … as usual!

Pantomime season is due to start shortly but it’s been running at Forest off the pitch all season. Manager Billy Davies has been a frequent and outspoken critic of his board with matters coming to a head as they failed to back in the summer transfer window. A so-called Transfer Policy Committee captured only one summer target and there was spats with both Cardiff and Swansea at their conduct after they appeared to be tapping up Whittingham and Pratley. Now Davies is at loggerheads with Forest’s club owner having missed a couple of matches citing family illness and accused of returning home to Scotland after weekend games and not being seen back in Nottingham until 48 hours before their next weekend match.

However Forest has been a slow burner on the pitch and are slowly but surely coming into contention. They’ve now lost fewer games than Cardiff but have been a draw specialist yet it’s 14 points in 7 outings as they’ve risen to 6th and in the play-off picture.

Pre-game, Alarm front man and rocker Mike Peters sang The Bells of Rhymney on the pitch, it was soon followed by The Balls Up of Cardiff but they started well enough. Bellamy firing over early on, Bothroyd wide and Whittingham grazing the top of the crossbar from an edge of area set piece after Olifinjana won a free-kick.

A key moment arrived however when Bellamy picked out Jay with a peach of a pass, Jay looks favourite to score, he managed to get past keeper Lee Camp but then rolled the ball into the side-netting from an angle. England, you’re ‘aving a laugh” Forest fans chanted at him.

However it was an even battle and Forest gave as good as they got before taking the lead with a super goal on 25 as their man of the moment Lewis McGugan struck home from 25 yards with a dipping volley but how and why was he given so much time to take the ball, control it and shoot unopposed? Was Tom Heaton also caught off his line as the shot only appeared to be halfway up the goal yet cleared him?

Unfortunately, City had no response to that and looked like a disorganised mess, a problem they just did not resolve.

It’s hard to know where to start when criticising players but here we go with some key lowlights;

Michael Chopra – What was wrong with his fitness? Was his trip to Dubai too enjoyable? He had no pace or movement whatsoever and was getting beaten in sprints by big and burly Forest centre-halves. Many fans have observed Chops seems to be carrying a few more pounds than usual, is it catching up with him? He was taken off at half-time and rightly so.

Craig Bellamy – Is it time to ask what exactly he’s offering to us at present? There’s a good argument that he may be getting picked by name and not on merit. Surely he’s going to come into his own and offer us more soon but he’s really been very average in recent games.

Jason Koumas – Will he ever come good? Once again anonymous and the problem is that he’s not just lost all pace – which often saw him check out and send the ball backwards when given it wide or advanced – but he also seems to have lost his passing quality too. If we’re honest, Koumas and Keogh were two key signings, both are proving to be poor captures.

Darcy Blake – Nowhere near as good this season as he was last season. Did his passes only find red shirts all afternoon? However it couldn’t have been easy with Koumas in front of him.

Olifinjana – Personally, I don’t think he’s played that well for the past 3-4 games. Today, he tried to be City’s playmaker and that’s just not his game.

Peter Whittingham – I love watching Whitts and he’s pure class but an entire afternoon observing him trying to pick out killer or long passes is not what he’s about or should be doing.

I could go on but that’s enough. Collectively, City were a mess. The lack of movement on the pitch was shocking, City’s tactics largely revolving around hoof-ball punts, sometimes aimlessly, to the front was dull. Teams may be gradually getting to grips with City. When we’re allowed to play, there is nobody better in this division but we have to earn that right (today we never eve n tried to) and must have a Plan B and, on the evidence of the Swansea and Forest home displays, we just don’t have that in the locker.

Half-Time: City 0 Forest 1

Cardiff came back with Drinkwater replacing the ineffective/bloody useless (choose your adjective) Chopra and Bellamy moved alongside Jay. Danny D finally added some zest, energy and bite into central midfield and Cardiff slowly but surely, got some momentum going which became a steady steam of pressure.

However when the chances came, they were wasted. None more so than a delightful move which saw Whittingham play a great pass behind Forest, Bellamy get onto it like a F1 driver and send over the perfect ball for Jay to head in from of goal. Inexplicably, he sent it straight at Camp. Likewise, a corner kick saw the ball met by Olifinjana close range and centre of goal but he nodded it a good 4 yards wide.

Forest were in no mood to surrender what they had earned and the free-kick count ended up 23 to 9 in Cardiff’s favour, Forest also getting 3 second half yellow cards but City were unable to do anything with them.

Just like the Swansea defeat, as poorly as Cardiff played, no side at any level can afford to waste chances like those presented today. A side aiming for automatic promotion must be more clinical, no excuses. City sent over a huge number of crosses and balls forward but just 1 effort on target in 90 minutes tells its own story, that was Jay’s wasted header.

Adam Matthews replaced a poor Darcy Blake for the final 10 minutes but it was Forest who benefitted as they advanced way too easily down Cardiff’s right, Matthews being well beaten, McGugan found sub Dexter Blackstock and he had all the time and space to place a shot wide of Tom Heaton inside the area.

Forest’s 1,500 fans were naturally going crazy, 5,000 or more of Cardiff’s in the crowd of 23,526 walked out.

Those who stayed were held back for even longer as the game ended on a sour note when Seyi Olifinjana caught Blackstock on his leg with his studs. It looked an instant red card to me but both ref and lino either missed it or didn’t agree. Blackstock, after lengthy treatment, was stretchered away with news that it’s likely to be cruciate ligaments rather than a broken leg but that would end his season anyway.

6 minutes of added time saw more huff’n’puff from City but nil quality.

Cardiff fall to 2nd and still in a position that 22 of the Championship’s other sides will envy but they clearly have some sorting out to do. Assistant Manager Terry Burton tried to play it down as a “bad day at the office”. In some respects he’s right, it was a tight game in which Forest took their limited chances and Cardiff failed to do so. However there is a bigger underlying problem than that. What we’ve witnessed in the last two home games is unacceptable. Burton, Jones and the players know that too.


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