However, the group of, I would say, four sides that are still able to entertain hopes of catching us that fall into the unlikely but possible category will be taking solace from the fact that we’ve fired our second blank in four matches after the previous twenty six had bought just one.
When a season is virtually two thirds completed, then the conclusions you can draw from how sides are performing become that much more relevant than any formed in October for example. In our case, a scoring rate of fifty one goals in thirty matches is a perfectly acceptable one which would see us finish the campaign with something in the region of seventy five to eighty goals. It does need to be said though that, after our 4-1 win at Blackburn in early December, we had scored forty two times in twenty one matches – the nine matches since then have bought just the nine goals. Now, as mentioned earlier, the lower the number of matches you use to form opinions has to mean that they are less likely to be accurate ones over the course of a full season, but nine games is heading into the sort of area where “blips” turn into “trends” and, although there is nothing to get too concerned about yet, I do find myself wishing in a way that we had drawn 3-3 yesterday rather than 0-0.
With just two goals conceded in our previous eight matches, it has to be said that shipping three of them in one game is extremely unlikely, but, given that we have managed just twelve attempts on target in four of our last five games, the odds on us managing to score three in a game currently are probably not that much shorter than the ones for us letting in three.The unlucky Kevin McNaughton leaves the pitch after his latest attempt to regain a regular starting birth comes to an early end – Ben Nugent replaced him to turn in another promising forty five minutes in our back four.*
Our defence is doing enough to ensure that we have gathered points at a more than acceptable rate during the nine game stint when we have been struggling in front of goal. Looking back to that Blackburn game, we had let in twenty six in twenty one matches at the time and now, with thirty conceded in thirty we are down to letting in one a game compared to the earlier 1.2. At the same time, our goalscoring rate has dropped from two a game to something like 1.7 – those figures for goals conceded would only have to rise to previous levels over the next few matches while our scoring rate stays at the same rate as it has been over the past couple of months for us to start giving Leicester, Watford, Hull and Palace the belief that we can be caught, not just the hope that we can.
I don’t want to be critical when we are doing so well overall, but you would have thought that a squad which had players like Bellamy, Whittingham, Kimbo, Mason, Noone, Helguson, Smith, Conway, Gunnarson, Mutch, Cowie and Ralls in it (as well as central defenders with the scoring record Hudson and Connolly had until recently) would not be struggling to find the net like we are doing currently. Hopefully, Fraizer Campbell will make a difference, otherwise the time might be coming when Malky Mackay will have to give more than a passing thought to including Etien Velikonja in his squad.
However, as mentioned earlier, it’s not really that we are creating bagfuls of chances every week and missing them – we are not testing opposing keepers anywhere near as much as we were earlier in the campaign. As to why this should be, I’m afraid the thing which jumps out at me is that Peter Whittingham is not as influential as he was in open play and his dead ball delivery has dropped a little from it’s previous impeccable standards. Is it fair to put all of the blame on the one player though? Of course it isn’t, that list of names in the previous paragraph is all of the proof you need that we don’t have to be totally reliant on Whittingham for our creativity – if part of the reason for Whitts’ relative lack of form (he’s certainly not playing poorly) is increased attention from our opponents, then this should create space and opportunities elsewhere for others to make things happen.
The recent concentration of away matches (especially when they have been played on pitches which don’t appear to be up to the standard of the one at Cardiff City Stadium) doesn’t help and I’d say the non selection of someone like Craig Noone is not doing us any favours when it comes to creating chances. Choosing Kim Bo-Kyung and Craig Conway for the last three games has the look of “away” selections by Malky Mackay with the pair’s better defensive play being a big factor in them being picked in front of Noone. Craig Conway has, in a way, created a problem with his selection in every match since he scored the winner against Sheffield Wednesday – he’s not the type of winger who gets supporters going like Noone can do and you barely ever see him speeding past his full back on the outside.
The thing is though, Conway has been our most effective wide player since he got his place back in the side – I see he was nominated as City’s man of the match yesterday by Wales Online . I expect Noone to start against Bristol City next week as Malky Mackay goes for a team more appropriate for a home encounter, but, it will surely be at Kimbo’s expense because Conway just does not deserve to be left out at the moment – the truth is that there are not enough of the players with the qualities that the more prosaic Conway lacks demanding to be included at the moment.When you have attacking players with the quality of Tommy Smith in your squad, the responsibility for creativity should not rest wholly with Peter Whittingham.*
I’m sure Malky Macay would prefer 0-0 draws over 3-3′s and I can completely understand that, but it would be good to have some confirmation that we have not lost the knack of creating chances. Of course, a 3-0 win over the wurzels or Brighton in the next ten days would be so much better, but if we are going to draw a match, I would argue that a one off high scoring one would do the squad more good than another 0-0 – for us supporters at least!
Of course, most of the above presupposes that the sides immediately below us are going to put together runs that will threaten us and that’s just not happening at the moment. I conceded Leicester the three points once they had scored first at Peterborough, but they showed that they still posses the same fallibility away from home that we shared with them until November. Watford and Palace cancelled each other out at Vicarage Road in an entertaining game on Friday night and Middlesbrough’s awful run continued with a home defeat by Barnsley. As for Hull, they blew a chance of making second spot all their own, just like they did against Sheffield Wednesday last month, by losing, unluckily I thought, at Brighton.
Surely Hull will have closed the gap on us by the time we finally play a home game next Saturday, by beating a Derby side who don’t travel too well on Tuesday in the first of what are three home matches in a week for them? With Leicester not due in action for another ten days because of FA Cup commitments, the opportunity is there for the Humberside club to open up a significant gap between them and the team in third, but, despite our scoring problems, we still appear to be be the only team capable of accepting such chances at the moment.
* pictures courtesy of http://www.walesonline.co.uk/
Source: Cardiff City Online