It’s safe to say that the 2020/21 season isn’t going as we would have hoped, in more ways than one. For one thing, we can’t even go to games yet. And after last year’s improbable playoff run, where we came within a goal of the final and 90 minutes of the Premier League, the expectation was that Harris was going to have us competing near the top of the table. Most fans were confident in the summer – including yours truly – and assumed the playoffs were a given; the automatic places were probably in sight.
But now, it seems, the playoffs are slowly becoming a bit of a reach and the automatic spots are just a dream. We’re 12 games into the season, a quarter of the way through. There’s still a lot of football to play but languishing in 15th wasn’t the plan for anyone – least not Harris.
After the weekends 1-1 draw with Millwall, Harris tried to defend himself by peeling off some statistics in the press conference and saying he won’t hide behind them. The full quote was:
“We have done research over the last few weeks, based on expected goals and chances created, conceded, every stat going we are in the top six – apart from the points total. Ultimately, that’s what matters. I’m not one to hide behind stats.”
This seemed to get up the noses of a few Cardiff fans. And it’s understandable. We’ve never been one for stats and possession. I’ve banged the drum on the VFTN podcast that yes, things are improving on that front but over the years, Cardiff fans haven’t paid attention to Fulham fans who deemed themselves more worthy of promotion because they were making 700 passes a game. In fact, we actively gloated about how bad we were at football while still being successful! And while 900 passes a game is nice, ultimately, it’s how many times you put it in the net that has an impact. So why would we care if we’re passing it round now without winning?
I have some sympathy for Harris here. We’ve long needed to improve our all-round game. Under Warnock, there were games where we’d make less than two passes a minute and come away with 30% of the possession. Under Harris, in recent games, we’ve come away with 500+ attempted passes and 59% possession. Against Bristol, it was a similar story. Ironically, when we beat Barnsley 3-0, we only managed 50% possession and were outpassed.
And while it may seem like a timid excuse after another performance where Cardiff flattered to deceive, he does have a point. It feels like as a team, we are getting better at the things that make a ‘good’ footballing side. We create more chances, hold on to the ball more, and move it around well. But while all these things point to a good football side, they aren’t coming through in the results.
Under Warnock, we simply weren’t very good at football. We showed flashes and had moments where we played good football, but it was attritional football at the best of times. But if we needed a result, under Warnock, you expected us to get one and he almost kept us in the Prem with his way of playing. It was, at times, bad football but he knew how to get a win. Under Harris, the football may be better, but this season, we can’t seem to get those three points.
It’s all well and good pointing to a theoretical table but until things turn around on the pitch, the fans aren’t going to go with you on that journey. The past two games have shown why we aren’t winning games. Individual errors and a wasteful attack.
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Bristol City was all Cardiff but after an opening error where Joe Bennett, Junior Hoilett, and the two centre-halves combined to give the Wurzels a goal, we were always on an uphill battle. Then we created chance after chance without ever really testing their keeper. Kieffer Moore a prime suspect in a profligate attack. Then, against Millwall, an uncharacteristic error from Alex Smithies left an open goal for Matt Smith and then in the last 15, Harry Wilson spurned a sitter from five yards amongst other chances.
These were winnable games and with other players on the end of those chances, perhaps we would have won. And that must be so frustrating for Harris. He’s, largely, setting his team up as we’d expect and the players are controlling large swathes of the 90 minutes. But those individual errors are costing us. And while Harris can say he doesn’t really have control over that, the buck does stop with him eventually.
He’s talked of looking at these four games as a group and after a draw with Millwall, surely only three wins will do? Harris needs to get a result to give him a bit of breathing space. I think, for the large part, Cardiff fans like Harris. They like what he’s trying to do but our expectations have been raised. Perhaps if Harris hadn’t got us to the playoff semis last year, things wouldn’t be so bleak.
When Warnock left, it felt right. When Trollope left, we had no other choice. This feels different. There are people out there calling for Harris to go, giving him a couple of games to get his act together. But it doesn’t feel like a consensus. It doesn’t feel like an inevitability. I want to give him more time and I think he deserves that. Because he’s ultimately trying to change the way we do things while being successful.
Three games is a long time in football. Three wins from three would put us on 23 points, in line with the playoffs as they stand. Yeah, teams will win or lose, but we know the Championship is unpredictable. A couple of losses for teams above us and the table looks altogether more different. A couple of losses? Well, it doesn’t bear thinking about.