Saturday’s game against Fulham was supposed to be the game that took us closer to Brighton. Fulham were already down, nothing to play for and we had it all to play for. A win would have seen us right on the tails of Brighton, who were playing Newcastle on Saturday evening.
Instead, Cardiff’s performance was awash with inertia, playing with no urgency for 80 minutes before throwing the kitchen sink at Fulham after Babel’s wonder strike. Of course, it was all too little, too late as the goal didn’t come and we lost 1-0 to Fulham in their cup final. It was hugely disappointing and Warnock has a lot of questions to answer off the back of the defeat. Here’s five for starters:
Why did Cardiff sit back until Fulham scored?
Against Brighton, we were compact and we suffocated the way Brighton played. We were then able to use the times we intercepted the ball to go on the counter, and make chances. It was clear we tried to do the same against Fulham but instead of suffocating Fulham, we allowed them time and space to pass the ball around. Yes, we would push them back from time to time but allowing them the space to knock it around meant we weren’t able to do anything on the counter attack.
Fulham’s goal came when we stood off too long and Christie took the ball into space before laying back to Babel. Similar to how NML scored against Brighton. Why wasn’t Christie tackled long before he was able to break into the box? He’s a full back and he was able to break through us like he was a central midfielder.
Why isolate Niasse and support Ward?
Niasse didn’t have a great game on Saturday but it’s not all down to him. He’s set up to play as a lone striker and at times, the onus is clearly on him to make something out of nothing without much support behind him. The way we set up means the lone striker is going to work especially hard to make things happen. And Niasse fed largely on scraps at Craven Cottage. He was often passed over for passes going wide and when he did get something, his confidence is clearly so gone that he’s looking for a pass instead of a shot.
Ward did a better job when he came on but he was given more support behind him. If Ward got wide, there were players rushing into the box. Because we were then chasing the game, our natural game was to be more attacking and because of that, Ward didn’t look so isolated. He was able to rely on the wingers getting into the box and players coming in from behind. If we’d afforded the same support to Niasse for his minutes, maybe things wouldn’t have looked so bad?
Why bring on Healey instead of Reid?
As several Cardiff fans have pointed out, Warnock seems to get a pass when it comes to his treatment of Reid. The last time we saw Reid start was when we lost to Everton. Prior to that, he had scored against Bournemouth, started against Southampton. Since then, he seems to getting a few minutes here and there off the bench. But why? Warnock doesn’t seem to address it. Perhaps it’s the system we play? If Camarasa starts, Reid can’t? But why then, when Camarasa went off, did we bring on Healey instead of Reid? Reid came on with six minutes to go and his run led us to the best chance of the game and given more time, I have no doubt he would have created more problems for a tiring Fulham defence.
Bobby Reid hasn’t been disappointing – the treatment of him has. He’s scored vital goals against Fulham, Bournemouth, and almost led the comeback at Watford. Saturday was crying out for him playing behind Ward or Niasse and instead, Healey came on. Nothing against Healey but he isn’t good enough and on Saturday, he didn’t even look fit.
Why not risk Zohore?
Warnock stated that Zohore wasn’t on the bench because he had some tightness in his quad and Ward had done better in training – likewise, Healey had been performing well on the training pitch. But why aren’t we risking players at this stage of the season? Perhaps you might say if we’d risked Zohore on Saturday, he could aggravate and injury and miss the last few games. But surely without a win on Saturday, the last two games lose their value?
Saturday was do or die and Warnock didn’t do and with that, our safety hopes may have died. Zohore has been in and out of the squad all season but has showed glimpses of what he could have done. Surely having him on the bench instead of Healey would have given us a more suitable option?
What happens next with Josh Murphy?
Warnock is an honest manager but hanging Murphy out to dry post game by saying he’s simply not been good enough feels daft. Murphy started the season so well and has struggled since Christmas to recapture that early season form. But he’s still a dangerous player to have in our arsenal. But with two games to go, is openly criticising him going to have the desired effect?
I’ve defended Warnock’s mind games this season, as Murphy isn’t the only one to be on the receiving end of comments like these, but surely now isn’t the time to do this? What impetus is that giving Murphy? He may well think why should he give his all for a manager who hasn’t got his back.