Blues 1 Cardiff City 1 .. Ron's Report

Last updated : 20 January 2009 By Richard Barker

So, what with talk being free, it's understandable that it's used a lot. People say things and make promises, and the problem with doing that is that promises often get broken. Promise nothing and you'll never disappoint.

But because talk is free, people say silly things, other people believe them and those people end up being let down. Things like "I'll get you that game for Christmas", "I will get the tickets" or "I promise it won't hurt at all - the first inch is the hardest". Then you don't get the game for Christmas or the tickets sell out or you can't sit down for a week (with respect to the latter, you know who you are...) and you're let down. Or, foolishly, they say "this is a new Blues. There'll be more tempo and we'll be more dynamic. Our football will be better."

Promise nothing and you'll never disappoint. Promise something, and either deliver or face questions.

Alex McLeish and his management had made such promises, both themselves and through the press. The new signings meant a new look Blues - everything would be wonderful. Grit and determination had got Blues so far, but now it was time to add to that and step things up. There would be pace, passing, crosses and goals. It all sounded too good to be true.

And on this performance, it was.

Even the team that lined up looked like it was good to keep the promise. There was a radically new midfield with Lee Carsley joined by Lee Bowyer in the middle of the park, flanked by Hameur Bouazza and Scott Sinclair. There were changes at full-back too, with Stephen Kelly and David Murphy coming in. Whatever the rights and wrongs of that decision, it appeared to be a step to get more energy up and down the flanks. Up front too, Cameron Jerome was partnered by Kevin Phillips in what you thought would be a good strike pairing with all the new, quick, excellent Blues football.

In the first five minutes, Blues looked ok. They didn't exactly tear up trees, but they were bright. That was their best spell in the game, to be honest. Now, I don't want to sit here and (as is becoming regular) simply slag off the Blues performance and ignore the opposition. Cardiff have been in fine form of late, are well organised, set themselves up well and have players who know their roles. As such, it's tricky to beat them. The worrying thing today though was that Cardiff didn't need to do anymore than that really. They didn't have to over exert themselves or anything. Blues' toothless display did Cardiff's job for them.

I don't want to go over the things that I seem to say in every one of these reports that I write, but, well, I guess I have to. Blues' build-up play was so, so slow and plodding. It was pedestrian. Blues had two "wingers" in the side, but barely got the ball to them with any kind of urgency. By the time they did get the ball to them (which was rare), the build-up had been so slow that Cardiff's two banks of four were in place and there wasn't a great deal that they could do. As a result, Scott Sinclair hardly touched the ball on his debut, whilst Bouazza faded and began crossing to people sat in the Railway End after a decent start.

There really is genuine issues with Blues' play. That's not just moaning for moaning's sake - it's pointing it out. It's not just the pace at which they play (which is so slow that it's sometimes tedious) - it's the basics, like ball retention. There's no rule in place that says that goalkeepers aren't allowed to pass to their own players accurately, but watching Maik Taylor these days you'd think it was a red card offence. His distribution is shocking. When he has the ball, Blues have possession. Yes, it's all the way back with the goalkeeper, but it's Blues' ball. So why surrender it so easily, with a useless punt (a term which sounds similar to what I wanted to call Taylor for much of the game) up field or into touch? Why not try and do something with it? Taylor's distribution is shocking week in, week out. Can someone not say to him, "Maik, seriously, what you're doing is rubbish. Let's work on it or try something a little different."

Then in front of Taylor you have Liam Ridgewell who thinks that he can pick a pass out, but whose distribution is getting worse by the game, Radhi Jaidi who has a right foot like a sledgehammer, David Murphy who is regressing by the week and Stephen Kelly who's never been blessed with passing ability. As such, Blues' ball retention was appalling and they were constantly surrendering possession to Cardiff.

"Clueless" is a phrase I've used a lot this season too, and I don't just mean it in general play either. Rarely, if ever, do Blues look to have a plan with a free-kick or a corner. Invariably it's just lumped into the box with no real thought. Even towards the end of today's game Blues won a free-kick and Jaidi went forward. Ridgewell, however, took the kick whilst Jaidi was still thundering forward - it was stupid. If Jaidi's going up, then let him get there so he can have an effect. Don't take it whilst he's half way, so he's not involved offensively but is also out of position defensively. Why not just apply a modicum of thought and logic to it? It's basic.

As I said above, Cardiff didn't necessarily have to do a great deal other than be organised to be in this game, as Blues were completely clueless. The result was that it wasn't a particularly great game, with neither Taylor nor Peter Enckelman having any real saves of not to make. The game really wasn't helped by an appalling refereeing performance either. I very rarely criticise referees in these reports, as it always sounds like sour grapes. It's not sour grapes here though, as he spolied the game for both teams. He was fussy, pedantic and made some horrible errors (both ways). In fact, I thought there was a clear foul in the build-up to Blues' injury time equaliser, so it's far from sour grapes at all. It was just a shocking refereeing display. (His one linesman got a lot of stick for some offside decisions in the first half too, but sitting in line with a lot of them, they weren't actually that bad.)

So the promised dynamic football didn't materialise, and it was standard fare that's been served up most of the season. With one exception - Lee Bowyer. Finally, finally, finally Blues had a central midfielder getting beyond the strikers. They also had a central midfielder with energy - he got back and won tackles and 10 seconds later was joining in with play 50 yards further upfield. Ironically, the last few minutes it did look like he was fading before he popped up at the far post to volley the equaliser into the roof of the net (something else Blues midfielders rarely, if ever, do). It was the kind of goal Bowyer made a name for himself with. He did make one or two errors and early on looked a little rusty, but in general he was very good and he looked promising for the rest of the season once he loses some of the rustiness.

Alongside him though, Carsley was poor. I said earlier that David Murphy is regressing, and at the moment I have similar fears with Carsley. I can't help thinking that the pedestrian pace to Blues' play is a byproduct of Carsley. He rarely injects any pace or urgency into the play (apart from his infuriating attempts to take all free-kicks quickly and from the wrong position, almost always resulting in him having to re-take them). His game at Everton was suited to the 4-1-4-1 formation that they played, where he sat in between the defence and the midfield. There he had four midfielders in front of him, such as Osman, Arteta, Cahill and Pienaar, which meant that his role was to sweep up a little, knock sensible balls and let those mentioned do their stuff. At Blues, however, he's one of the four. He has to be involved and make things happen and inject some pace. At Everton it was his role to calm things down and be sensible. He has a different role now though, and I'm not sure it suits him at all.

Evidence of this was him being substituted, which is a rarity. Keith Fahey came on in his place and looked lively. More importantly though, with Fahey and Bowyer in the middle of the park, there was more energy, more mobility and, well, more of what we'd been promised. Granted, Blues were chasing the game anyway, but there was more vibrancy in the midfield. It wasn't as though Bowyer and Fahey were all out attacking - they were winning tackles and doing the defensive side of things too - it's just that they were joining in with the play and driving the team on. As I say, I can't help thinking that Carsley doesn't help Blues' play, as it's not a role that suits him. There was pretty clear evidence of that today.

So, truth be told, Blues got out of jail a little after another fairly clueless, fairly inept, fairly poor performance. The worry is that these new players SHOULD bring about a change to the way that Blues play, but there was absolutely no evidence of that over the course of the 90 minutes today. Blues remained unable to do the basics well. Football's a simple game, and if you get the basics right (as Cardiff do), then you're well on your way. In some ways, Blues need to go back to basics, because it's alright saying that we'll do this, that and the other, but unless you actually do the simple things first of all, it'll never happen. This was the first time that this new look Blues side have been together, and there's still time for things to improve. On this evidence though, it's not guaranteed.

As I said, don't make promises you can't keep.