Sunday, 30 August 2015

Forest 1 Cardiff 2, again, as we're left to ponder 'what if?'

We live in a world of 'what ifs?' at the City Ground at the moment. Take, for instance, every team announcement. A quick glance over the squad list will lead you to ponder what the side would be like if Chris Cohen, Andy Reid, Britt Assombalonga and Matt Fryatt were fit. For yesterday's 2-1 defeat to Cardiff Henri Lansbury was added to that list.

I enjoyed the 1995/6-style programme

Injuries are one thing to consider, transfers are another. What if we lose Michail Antonio, Michael Mancienne, Jack Hobbs? What players can Dougie conjure from his magic tartan hat if they go? What is the point of FFP if barely anyone else pays it even the slightest bit of attention?

All this means it's a welcome relief to concentrate on a game or two. A relief, that is, until you're 2-0 down and struggling en route to a third 2-1 defeat to the Bluebirds in a row.

Cardiff City do, in many ways, sum up why this division is difficult to predict. After a tame return to Championship action that offered little evidence of a promotion challenge, many might have predicted Russell Slade would soon be packing away his baseball cap and looking for pastures new.

Still, after years of hectic comings and goings, Cardiff have embraced stability and benefitted from a strong start to the current term. They've largely stuck with the players they had and have stopped loaning their best talent out to other Championship sides.

That bore fruit yesterday, especially in the first half. Lee Peltier once again enjoyed his tussle with Antonio at the right of a well-organised back four. Peter Whittingham - yes, him - now puts his wand-like left foot to use to pull the strings deeper in midfield and Kenwyne Jones will threaten any defence at this level.

It was the latter two that, inevitably, combined to put Cardiff ahead. Whittingham - teed up by a tame Eric Lichaj header - curled a delicious cross and Jones left our unconvincing centre halves for dead to power past Dorus De Vries. What if we had Reid and Assombalonga to replicate such play, eh?

The international break certainly leaves Dougie with the time required to get his defence in shape. The Mills-Hobbs combination hasn't been authoritative and this was the worst of the former Hull City man's 50-plus games in the Garibaldi Red.

Forest huffed and puffed. Tyler Walker tried hard - and came close with a decent effort - and David Vaughan showed his class but there was little else. Kyle Ebecilio didn't quite look as bright as he did on debut last week, Chris Burke - up against a former employer - couldn't get into the game and Michael Mancienne looked a lost soul in midfield. You could forgive him for looking around at the 'Mills and Hobbs Show' and wondering why, if they were performing like that, he couldn't command a place in his preferred position.

Ben Osborn injected some much-needed energy into the side after replacing Ebecilio at the break but the second half had barely begun before Antony Pilkington's cross had been nodded home by Joe Mason, a man Freedman had on loan at Bolton, to leave a mountain to be climbed.

What followed next appeared to be a bit of a mess. Antonio had been shifted to a central position to shake off the shackles of Peltier and co. We then threw on Dexter Blackstock for Burke. So, to chase the two goals we needed, we had Osborn on the left, Mancienne in central midfield, Tyler on the right and Antonio operating virtually as a central striker. Four players out of position.

Yet sometimes in the Championship logic isn't everything. Cardiff actually struggled to know how to mark Michail and Dexter's introduction provided a physical threat that seemed to unsettle the centre halves. What if we'd attacked them like this earlier?

Cardiff creaked but, thanks to David Marshall, held firm. The stopper's efforts (what if he hadn't been in such good form?) meant Tyler Walker was somewhat unfortunate to depart the pitch goalless. Des' son and heir, voted the man of the match, was replaced by another teenage prodigy in Gerry McDonagh.

The push for a goal eventually bore fruit. A flick on from Dexter played in Michail Antonio and he kept his composure to ensure Marshall was finally beaten. Personally I feel we need to keep everything crossed that he's still with us when the window shut at 6pm on Tuesday. If not our goal threat will be severely diminished and it could be a long slog of a season.

With the window closed and the chance to spend training time with the foreign imports and up-and-coming youngsters, things could improve. If we hold on to our assets and sneak a freebie or loan in then things could also look a little rosier.

Let's hope so. After all the biggest of the 'what ifs' is something we don't really want to have to contemplate: What if Fawaz gets tired of results going against us and pulls the trigger again?

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