City reached the halfway point of the Championship season yesterday with no team having lost fewer away matches than us. Our defeats at Hull and Peterborough in October are the only ones we have suffered in twelve matches played on other teams ground’s and only West Ham and Middlesbrough can match us when it comes to avoiding away defeats. However, any similarity between our away record and that of two of the three sides currently above us ends there I’m afraid, because the Hammers have twenty four away points from twelve games and Boro twenty three from one fewer, whereas we have only managed sixteen away points.
The reason for this discrepancy is easy to spot – when the teams in second and third win on their travels, we draw. The number seven figures large in the three club’s away records, but with our rivals it signifies the number of times they return with maximum points, whereas with us, it’s the number of times we’ve lost two points on them both. I’ve mentioned before that I’m from a generation which grew up believing that an away draw is a good result and, sometimes, that maxim still applies, but, ever since the switch to three points for a win in the early eighties, too many draws (be they home or away) will, inevitably, see you losing ground on your rivals.
You only have to look at the away records of some of the clubs below us in the table to prove this point – Hull, Leeds and Reading have all lost twice as many times on their travels as we have and yet they all have more away points than us, while Burnley have been beaten five times away, but six wins has them with two more points than us despite having played a game fewer. Looked at individually, our results in our last two away games don’t look too bad – Millwall have a good home record this season and have a tradition of being a strong team at the New Den, while yesterday Watford stretched their unbeaten run to seven games by sharing the points with us. However, when you put it in a broader context and you say that our last three away matches have seen us pick up three points from visits to the teams that currently sit in twenty fourth, twentieth and eighteenth place in the table, then I believe we have to look at that return in terms of points and opportunities lost.Prince Buaben puts Watford ahead after Marvin Sordell had created havoc down the right hand side of City's defence.*
Remarkably, half of our away matches have ended up as 1-1 draws with us having scored first in four of them. As to why this should be, it would be easy to say that we have a tendency to shut up shop late on in matches we are level in content that a point is good enough. I’m not sure if that is true though – certainly, in the televised draw at Leeds, after being on the back foot until the home team equalised, we had our best spell of the match and had opportunities to win the game after conceding. At Blackpool we kept on creating chances once it was 1-1 and we certainly had late chances in the disappointing draw at Coventry, so I don’t believe that we have a negative approach in our away matches – maybe it’s more down to not having enough quality and, especially, pace to punish home sides that are pushing forward looking for a winner on the break?
I’m finding it increasingly hard not to greet each successive away draw with a sense of disappointment and I’ve noticed that yesterday’s result saw one of the outbreaks of “boring, boring Cardiff” threads that we have seen from time to time on City messageboards throughout the course of this season. Now, while what I’ve said above may sound like I agree with those who are critical of the team when results aren’t top six standard, what such comments do in fact is remind me of what I, and plenty of other City fans, were asking for back in May after our side “blew up” in crucial home matches with Middlesbrough and Reading – that is, give me a side of honest grafters who play as a team as opposed to the temperamental superstars we’ve been watching over the past nine months and I’ll be satisfied.
That’s precisely what we’ve ended up with now and so it’s a bit churlish of me to start having a moan when the consequences of having a team which, perhaps, is short of the star quality you would expect from a top six team sometimes becomes apparent. The thing is though, that, having had to start virtually from scratch this summer, Malky Mackay is not too far short of putting together a squad that can possibly have a run at a top two finish this season. – on that score, it’s interesting to note that virtually everything our manager says about our chances for this season tends to feature our need for at least a couple of players to arrive next month who can come in and make an immediate impact in the first team.Mark Hudson congratulates Ben Turner after his presence had pressured Adrian Mariappa into conceding the late own goal that earned City a point.*
Having put some really solid foundations in place during the summer, it seems to me that we’ve reached a stage where the need for that “X Factor” that Malky Mackay has talked about is as urgent now as it has been at any time over the past four or five months. I say that because I get the feeling that sides have “worked us out” to a degree over the past month or so. Certainly, if I was an opposing manager about to face the current City side, my pre match planning would centre on the maxim “stop Wittnum (as Jason Perry insists on calling him!) and you stop Cardiff”.
It’s a testimony to the impact that Peter Whittingham has had on this season’s Championship that so many sides have come up with plans to try and curtail his influence on matches. Sometimes that may consist of a man marking policy, but, more often, it has seen our opponents give our playmaker less time than he was getting on the ball in the autumn. Now, Whittingham is still good enough to to be an important, and, potentially, decisive factor in games, but he has not been able to dominate matches lately in the manner he was five or six weeks ago and, so far, although players such as Kenny Miller, Aron Gunnarsson and Joe Mason have been able to supply the inspiration that can turn one point into three at times, we could, like nearly every other side in this league, do with one or two more matchwinners.
Based on what we have seen during the first half of the campaign, if Malky Mackay can get the players he wants, then I believe there is plenty to be optimistic about for the coming months. Yes, there are questions, which can only be answered in the fullness of time, about whether the squad can keep the current high tempo approach going for a full nine months , but if we can add the capability to turn some of those away draws into wins over the coming months, then I reckon anything short of a Play Off spot will be a disappointment when you consider what we have seen since August.