Cardiff City came away from yet another home fixture last night with a solitary point following a 0-0 draw with Aston Villa. Since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer took over in early January, the form of the Welsh club has been indifferent at best with defeats coming at Manchester United and fierce rivals Swansea whilst there have been positive results at the Cardiff City Stadium.
Yesterday evening, for the first half, Cardiff City outplayed the visitors with Wilfried Zaha and Craig Noone proving a handful on either flank whilst Fraizer Campbell looked to force the Villa backline further back with great work off the ball. Despite significant pressure, the goal never came, and this is becoming an increasingly worrying trend for Solskjaer’s Cardiff as it was back in the 2010-2011 campaign where Blackpool faltered after a good opening six months, which saw them relegated back into the Championship after just one season.
There are far more similarities between Cardiff currently and the 2010-2011 Blackpool side led by Ian Holloway than I expect supporters would care to admit, through fear of relegation or even jinxing the club ahead of the final months of the campaign. Both teams attempt to play soccer in a positive, attacking manner. It was often seen that Blackpool could be rip-roaringly exciting going forward but embarrassingly slack at the back during their most recent spell in England’s top flight and I am starting to see that with Cardiff.
Solskjaer has implemented an impressive change to the team dynamic in that ball retention is imperative. Gary Medel slots into the holding midfield role and is integral to Cardiff’s ball retention within their own half and the Chilean is entrusted with the task of manoeuvring the ball to the wider areas in the hope of sparking an attacking move. Cardiff, when in possession, are exciting to watch with Zaha’s unpredictability on the left coupled with Craig Noone’s streamlined incisiveness proving to be a nightmare for defenders. However the final bit of craft or even in some cases luck in the final third is not forthcoming.
Kenwyne Jones has talent, and a physical prowess to boot but he has never been a prolific Premier League goalscorer who will put away his first chance. And in a team fighting relegation, that chance can possibly be the only chance of a match. Meanwhile, Campbell works incredibly hard off the ball but as a result is seldom in good goalscoring positions as he pressures the defenders into mistakes. This is very reminiscent of Blackpool’s struggles in the second half of the 2010-2011 season and in the end it is goals that keep you in the division.
Upon reading this it certainly should not be all doom and gloom for Bluebirds fans as Cardiff have acted where Blackpool were negligent, in the January transfer window. Solskjaer has brought quality into the ranks in the forms of Zaha, Daehli and Eikrem. These are three very creative players who can lift a team struggling in a match with the score at 0-0 and create chances, as they did for Jones yesterday evening.
Cardiff also have a much better defensive line in terms of individual ability than Blackpool did although a lot of gaps are created by Cardiff’s over eagerness to get forward in search of a goal. Steven Caulker and Ben Turner look to have built a solid partnership. And with David Marshall in goal, you stand a fair chance of survival.
However Cardiff do not seem to be getting too much luck on the pitch and that is a real worry. When you look for your team to play in a certain manner, as Solskjaer has done, you have to accept you will not get chances like Crystal Palace under Tony Pulis will. For example, lofted balls into an opponent’s half that will fortuitously fall at the feet of one of your strikers. With Cardiff’s concentration on keeping the ball down and in control, despite what we saw in the recent derby against Swansea, these opportunities do not arise and you have to rely far more on individual brilliance and good passing moves to break teams down.
This is one of the reasons why last evening’s match against Aston Villa would have been so frustrating for supporters. Cardiff had control of the ball in the first half, they got the ball into the final third and then not too much happened from that point. There were very few clear cut chances with Kenwyne Jones’ weak header in the second half being the best chance of the game for the hosts. Despite having much of the ball and indeed looking the more likely side to score, Cardiff could have easily lost the game had it not been for David Marshall’s two exquisite saves as well as Gabriel Agbonlahor’s dilly dallying in front of goal. Other teams will not miss those chances, Cardiff simply have to find a way to ensure their impressive attacking play can begin to correlate with the number of clear cut chances they can carve out in a match.
The next two home matches are both to use an age old cliché ‘must win matches’. Hull City and then later Fulham are two teams embroiled in the relegation battle along with Cardiff, and the most important thing when you are in amongst this battle is to take points of the teams around you. Matches against the Chelsea’s and the Manchester City’s are written off completely with sole focus being placed on the matches against teams close by.
Should Cardiff lose those matches, they will find themselves at the foot of the table with difficult fixtures against Everton and Liverpool to follow and from that point you would have to feel that Premier League safety may be just beyond Solskjaer’s team.
Alternatively, though, if Cardiff can turn things around, translate their possession into chances created and put a couple of goals past Hull City and Fulham, then avoiding the drop suddenly appears very realistic despite recent form leading me to worry for Cardiff’s status as a top-flight club.
Editor’s note: For the latest news, opinion and analysis on the Bluebirds, visit the Cardiff City team page.