Jones feels the heat in South Wales derby fallout
Losing a local derby is horrible. Losing one of the most fiercely-contested derbies in Great Britain is even worse. The oft-quoted horror of walking into work on Monday morning and facing opposition fans isn’t the worst of it, though. It’s that haunting memory of others celebrating your demise, magnified by the importance of the occasion.
In the Football League, Cardiff City fans are the latest to experience this. In a corner of their stadium on Sunday afternoon, Swansea supporters revelled in a 1-0 success that checked the Bluebirds’ recent progress and further established Brendan Rodgers’ side as genuine candidates for automatic promotion.
Managers usually demand a reaction after such a result. Dave Jones instead gave a reaction of his own to the assassination he received from the media following the derby defeat.
The intensity of a particularly bitter local rivalry often manifests itself on the pitch through the familiar sight of tackles flying in and yellow cards being thrust into the air. This intensity is not confined to the ninety minutes of action, though. The media focus surrounding a game like the South Wales derby cranks up a notch. And that is what Jones took exception to.
To a certain extent, it is understandable. But only to a certain extent. Swansea are not just Cardiff’s fierce rivals. They are also one of the best teams in the division and, most crucially of all, their setup is one that is best placed to exploit the weaknesses of Jones’s side.
This was where the Cardiff manager’s true feelings were exposed.
“Sometimes you have got to go somewhere with it”, Jones said about Swansea’s possession football. “The players who pass the ball most are their two centre-halves playing it between each other, and that doesn’t hurt you.”
It obviously does hurt the Liverpudlian in some small way. Why else would he refer to it? Old school managers such as Jones sometimes appear defensive about their refusal to focus on ball retention as much as other teams. It is an approach that Swansea have fostered over a period of several years, beginning in recent times with Roberto Martinez and continued by Paulo Sousa.
Is Jones missing the point? Is Swansea’s strength their ability to control the tempo of a game? After all, Cardiff’s firepower up front suggests that they would prevail in a basketball-style encounter with anyone in the Football League.
Swansea’s centre-halves may pass the ball between themselves for long periods of any game but Rodgers can still count on explosive pace further up the pitch from the likes of Nathan Dyer and Scott Sinclair to harm opponents.
A lack of goal threat is something the Swans suffered miserably from last season but the addition of Sinclair appears to have gone a long way to solving that particular conundrum. For periods in the first half in the Welsh capital, the former Chelsea man outshone Craig Bellamy to an embarrassing degree.
Jones is right on at least one thing – Cardiff have not become a bad side overnight and it seems that very little time has passed since they appeared a class apart in one specific second tier clash.
But the Bluebirds’ reliance on Jay Bothroyd and the ease with which they can be tactically out-thought by top-quality Championship sides – not just their great rivals, but also Blackpool at Wembley in May to give just one further example – must be cause for concern.
Where they are headed, there will be more of this. More media focus. More possession football from opponents. More tactically-aware adversaries. More to think about and less games against weaker opposition in between in which Jones will be able to rely on players of the calibre of Bothroyd and Bellamy to succeed.
This may seem short-sighted and reactionary, but it is merely indicative of the pressure that comes with a signing as high-profile as Bellamy and working in an area of a country that feels so close to its goal of achieving Premier League football. If Brendan Rodgers is still within touching distance of the top flight with Swansea five years from now, he will be feeling the pinch too.
Over time, the focus will retract slightly from the Cardiff City Stadium after the flashpoint of Sunday’s derby. But it will be back when the two sides meet again later in the campaign and Dave Jones must hope that it also reaches a crescendo with the opening game of next season against Premier League opposition.
This was just a taste.