With seven of the Championship’s top eight winning yesterday any notions of closing the gap on the top six were swiftly quashed. Yet in the final analysis it could just be that the ugliest half an hour of football one is ever likely to see may play a pivotal role in City’s season.
Naturally the loss of two points, if the Bluebirds had managed to find a third, would have been a blow in terms of league position but equally so on the levels of belief and confidence.
That they did finally manage to see it through will be something the players, and management, can draw on when mental fortitude is required in the remaining 20 games – which it invariably will.
But Alex Neil’s big concern will have been how they put themselves in that position in the first place.
For an hour the new manager (how long before I can drop the ‘new?) witnessed all that is good about the Class of 2015. For the remainder all that is bad. But, as one notable City commentator tweeted: ‘… not the worst thing that Alex Neil got to see why we aren’t where we should be in the table’.
If he had any doubts he is now acutely aware of the problems. Call it what you like: brittleness, defensive fragility, a tendency to switch off, a soft centre, but what is clear is that a failure to eradicate it will cost us points – points we can ill afford to throw away with the gap still eight points.
Whether part of the solution to said problem is a gent by the name of Sebastien Bassong remains to be seen. Much depends on whether he wants to be part of the solution, but the fact he arrived back from Watford lacking match fitness is a curious one.
Basically the Bassong of 2012/13 would be more than useful, whereas the 2014/15 version would be a liability. It’s an early conundrum for Master Neil – one he needs to call right – but he does need to address the vulnerability to pace as painfully exposed by Cardiff substitute Kadeem Harris.
As an attacking unit he’ll have seen ample yesterday to convince him the task in hand is an achievable one and, with two of three key figures coming into some timely good form, the tools at his disposal will have likely whetted the appetite.
Cameron Jerome and Gary Hooper are two of those who have hit a rich vein and the last few games have seen their forward pairing slowly morph into a bona-fide striking partnership. It works a treat: Jerome happy to run the channels and chase lost causes and Hooper to drop off in the ‘hole’ and link up with the midfield.
And of course, most importantly both are scoring goals – the striker’s lifeblood.
More of the same – assuming both remain City players beyond the January transfer window – will stand City in good stead for a full-on assault for promotion.
Another who is clearly on the radar of those in the lower reaches of the Premier League is Nathan Redmond and it’s worrying signs of maturity that, from a Canary perspective, are starting to trouble me.
The Redmond of 2013/14 was talented but raw, his decision-making questionable and he lacked the proverbial ‘end product’. But he’s learned. The fields of Colney have clearly been good to him and now we have a winger who realises that a full-back doesn’t have to be tied up in knots before a cross delivered.
He’s acquired the winger’s art of just shifting the ball a yard before whipping in a cross and he’s learned how to dovetail with an overlapping full-back; when to play him in and when to use his run a a ‘decoy’. In short he has become a more rounded player – one who now also poses a goal threat.
In truth if I were say, Paul Lambert, Tony Pulis or Gus Poyet I would probably be tempted to test City’s resolve. But let’s just hope, for our own sake, that their sights are set oversees. And besides City have no financial need to sell.
We’ll see, but I’m awaiting a “Sky Sports understands…” moment from the mouth of Jim bloody White with a ‘Nathan Redmond’ banner at the bottom of the screen.
Either way I expect there to be activity in the next couple of weeks. A couple in, one out would be my completely uneducated guess but if we do wake up on February 3 with the existing squad intact there remains ample quality to see this job through.
Of course if they could do it without putting us through the stresses and strains of yesterday that would be great… but I’m guessing that’s not about to happen.
I suspect yesterdays’s final 30 minutes was just a precursor of what lies ahead; the players’ clever little way of preparing us all for three and a half months of nail-biting and head-scratching.
It’s going to be tension-filled, so let’s just try and hold our nerve and hope Team Neil and the players can do the same.