The moaners amongst us have had to spend the best part of six months biting their tongues as Malky Mackay and his team picked up plaudits all of the way prior to the Blackpool home match early last month. However since then, apart from a win over Peterborough and a heroic performance in defeat against Liverpool, those who like a good whinge have had plenty to get stuck into and, to be fair, when the performances have been as limp and lifeless as the ones against Leicester, Ipswich and West Ham, those fans who are more upbeat in nature (like I am this season), have to admit that they do have a point.
Given this background, what’s to be made of last night’s 2-2 at the AMEX Stadium with a Brighton team that has not lost in the league this year? There was ammo there for those who are trying to tell us that our manager isn’t likely to be taking over from Alec Ferguson at Old Trafford when he decides to step down and for those who maintain that we are a mid table team that was masquerading as a top six outfit from August to early February. They can point out, quite reasonably, that, firstly and most obviously, this was another game without a win, secondly, that, for long spells in the first half especially last night, we were under pretty continuous pressure as we found it virtually impossible to retain the ball for any sustained period and, thirdly, yet again we lost a lead and had to settle for a point away from home – indeed, it was worse than usual this time, because, rather than in our normal away 1-1 draws, we led not once, but twice.
I said earlier that, although I’ll admit to having a bit of a gripe in recent weeks, I see myself as being more of a glass half mind full this year than I was during last season for example, when my disenchantment with our manager and some members of his squad would have had me being far more critical of the 10/11 team if they had produced the sort of run we’ve seen recently. That said, the one consistent beef I’ve had with the current team from about October onwards was that we have been drawing too many away games.Mark Hudson and Ashley Barnes battle for possession.
Actually, to be more accurate, what has been bugging me is our failure to turn hard fought winning positions in away matches into victories. Our total of four away wins is the lowest in the top half of the table and, if you take away the three teams currently occupying the relegation places, there are only two sides in the division with fewer away wins than us – apart from Watford with seven, our ten away draws is at least four four more than any of our Championship rivals. I expressed the opinion in my piece after the West Ham match that we were struggling because we are knackered – others have different opinions, but, that’s all they are, opinions. I would say that it’s a matter of fact though that our failure to hang on to leads in away matches is costing us dear. For example, if we would held on to our advantage in just two of those matches (it’s seven away matchess that we’ve led in and not won now), while being beaten in two others, those extra four points would see us in fifth position with games in hand on some of our rivals.
And yet, I’d still say it’s too simplistic just to look at the figures alone in our away record. A lot of those ten draws have been bad ones (especially for a side that can point to two wins and a draw away from home against the current top three), but , surely, it has to be a good outcome for a team that has taken just four points from eighteen to return with a draw from the ground of a side unbeaten in ten hasn’t it? Being honest, I was as negative about the outcome of last night’s game as I have been for any this season – I just could not see a way we could get anything from it, so, although I know, it’s another draw where we led, I see this one as being very much a point gained.
Perhaps more than any other of the domestic leagues, momentum counts for an awful lot in the Championship – we had it as we lost just four times from August to early February and then completely lost it by being beaten in four out of the next five matches. By drawing at a club that has, with the exception of a run of winless matches in the autumn, had that momentum in spades for a season and a half, there are at least reasons to hope that we might be coming out of our poor spell. I realise that there may be an element of clutching at straws involved there, but, for the first time in nearly a month, the team have got a result that they can feel pretty happy about and that should give them a little of that precious momentum going into Saturday’s derby at Ashton Gate.Peter Whittingham is congratulated by team mates after scoring the second of two classy Cardiff goals on the night.
So, while extending our winless run to four games in all competitions is hardly a cause for celebration, I reckon there’s enough from last night’s match for both the optimists and the pessimists to claim something to justify their views. Perhaps, the truth though is that we won’t really know how good or bad last night’s outcome was until we have played at Bristol City. Three points there and, all of a sudden, a run in that includes seven home matches and only four away doesn’t look as tough as it did a day ago. On the other hand, yet another draw at the ground of a team in the bottom six would not be good enough in my book – sharing the points at Southampton, Blackpool, Brighton etc. is one thing, but we need more at the likes of Doncaster, Coventry and Bristol City.