A draw at Reading isn’t normally a cause for celebration, but after an early season loss at the Madejski, where many players truly hit their nadir, things are looking up. That 3-0 loss saw poor performances from many players, but people like Will Vaulks were singled out for toiling through an abject display.
As expected, there were a few changes to the starting XI against Reading, as Harris shuffled the pack in the midst of a busy run of fixtures. Joe Ralls made a welcome return from injury, Vaulks got a welcome start and Callum Paterson took the place of Lee Tomlin in the number 10 role. Paterson is always welcome in my book, so that gets 13 squad numbers out of 13 for me.
That midfield trio has been subject to a host of changes this season. Marlon Pack has played alongside Ralls, Leandro Bacuna, Vaulks and Tomlin has played behind the strikers. While it’s not been particularly bad, the combo that started today could be the best we have.
First, let’s un-Pack this. Ralls departed the game at Reading injured and that was a disappointment. Mainly because it meant the introduction of Pack. When we signed Pack from Bristol, I was pretty excited but, however many games down the line, I really struggle to see what he brings to the side. He’s not a bad footballer, but he never really stands out. There were times against Reading where he ruminated on the ball just a little too much, inviting pressure on to him and the defence when it wasn’t needed. Perhaps unkindly, the lad behind me at the Mad Stad commented that he needs a zimmerframe…
Compare that with Ralls, who is constantly moving the ball, looking for the next pass so he can make an angle and take the return. When Ralls is fit, he should be first name on the team sheet. He brings something so dynamic to the team and if given enough freedom, could add a bit of forward press alongside some goals.
He should be played alongside Vaulks. His Cardiff career so far has been pretty inauspicious and while I can’t pretend to know precisely why this is, his performance today showed why he should be starting more. He’s everything we want from a midfielder. He breaks up play, he sprays passes and he’s up and down. He had chances to score and can lob a ball into the box from a throw.
He’s also a bit of a prick. We’ve all heard the stories of him calling Jack Grealish sexy and spending 90 minutes trying to get into his head, but Pack or Bacuna don’t strike me as players who can really wind you opposition. Ralls and Vaulks can do it and can handle the flack that comes with it. Vaulks threw himself into some tackles yesterday and got the better of a fading Charlie Adam.
Now the Tomlin vs Paterson question might be the most controversial of selection dilemmas. Tomlin has been brilliant for us this year and doesn’t deserve to be dropped, but Paterson supporting Glatzel made us a bit more menacing today. Pato could win headers and free Glatzel up to play his natural game.
While Paterson is a runner, he’s also a battler, but also with that touch of class we need. Tomlin drifts in and out of games and when he’s brilliant, he’s one of the best in the league, but we do need to turn him into a 90 minute footballer. Something that Paterson already is.
He scored today, as he so often does, and should have had a penalty. He also spent time geeing others up and that’s what you get with him. A player who is willing to give it all for 90 minutes.
Tomlin will likely come back in for WBA, as will Pack because Ralls went off injured, but a trio of Ralls, Vaulks and Paterson could become incredibly potent in a tight league. Harris has some serious food for thought on the back of our draw with Reading and I hope he considers a world outside the norm. The team needs something different going into the back end of the season and in lieu of a new signing, a change is as good as anything. A genuine alternative was presented today. I hope Harris shows a bit of bravery and runs with it.