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.

The Seventy Two
The Seventy Two published an outstanding series of articles about the Football League between 2010-12 and was the brainchild of Leicester City fan, David Bevan. As well as collaborating with The Two Unfortunates on the Football League Blog Network and a mammoth 2011-12 season preview, the site featured a host of leading bloggers and David was rewarded with a nomination in the 2011 Football Supporters’ Federation awards. Latterly, he was joined as co-editor by Joe Harrison and TTU is happy to present this archive of the site’s output.

6 Comments

  1. Mirko Bolesan
    November 10, 2010

    I think Dave Jones’ comments need to be put into a bit of historical perspective.

    Jones is naturally belligerent and his experiences with the press through his well documented court case have soured his opinion of them greatly. His “outburst” today is by no means a unique occurrence, he famously told a shocked press room to “Have a shit journey home” after one game up north (I can’t remember where). I don’t think this latest téte a téte shows he is under any added pressure due to the possible prize at the end of the season, despite five years in Wale Jones has failed to adapt to the goldfish bowl of the Welsh media. I don’t think he ever will.

    As a Cardiff fan I don’t really care if he talks to the media or not, as long as results are there on the pitch. Currently the side are doing just fine, and I don’t feel they’ve quite clicked or hit top gear yet.

    Reply
    • theseventytwo
      November 10, 2010

      Cheers – I like the term “naturally belligerent”! Very fitting too! Bullish is another word you could use to describe his media efforts.

      I suppose I was trying to put across that he’ll have to get used to it more if you go up and that there is added pressure (hence the media focus extending more to a national level than usual), but somehow not necessarily that he was feeling the pressure more. As you say, he’s just naturally like that. He was like it last season when you had lots of injuries and the financial problems were greater.

      Personally I always get the feeling he’s tactically naive. Whether that’s just a cliche or not, I don’t know. I still don’t think he’s got the best out of the players at your disposal over the past three years or so though.

      Reply
      • Mirko Bolesan
        November 11, 2010

        Apologies, I think I slightly misread the piece. I agree if Cardiff do go up then I think he will have to get used to extra media intensity. You only have to look at how the comments of Mick McCarthy’s opinions on tackling and Ian Holloway’s views on team selection have made national football news recently to see that.

        I think in Jones’ time at the club he has overachieved with the budget he’s been given. Put aside whether the club can afford the wages they pay the players or not, I believe last season Cardiff had the 7th highest wage bill, yet finished 4th. In recent seasons Jones’ transfer policy was to sign about 14/15 players on very high wages rather than having a squad of 22/23 (like most clubs in the division). When the first XI was out Cardiff normally did very well, as soon as the club lost a couple of players to injury they began to suffer. This season Cardiff have done well not because they are better than last year, but because they have players who can fill in the gaps where required. (McPhail, Matthews, Blake and Burke came into the team to face Reading last night for example, last year Jones would have had to persevere with those who had played poorly at home to Swansea.

        Calling Jones tactically naïve is an interesting one, a question I have no real answer for. In his four years at the club he has been a strictly 4-4-2 man, with absolutely zero deviation from that. And when I say no deviation, I mean not even if we are losing with five minutes to go will he put three up front. He claimed at the start of this season that the reason he always stuck with 4-4-2 was that he didn’t have a big enough squad to change the system. This year he’s changed the system on a couple of occasions (to 4-2-3-1) and in all honesty it hasn’t really worked. However, last night he brought Koumas on for McPhail and that changed the game, after Bothroyd’s equalizer he then removed Chopra, replacing him with central midfielder Danny Drinkwater. Both substitutions were exactly what the game needed at the time.

        One thing that was always thrown at Jones was that his team never won after going a goal down, i.e. that Jones wasn’t tactically aware enough to change the course of games once they ran against him. In something like 90 games of going a goal down we had only won 5 (that’s a bad record when compared to other clubs), however in the last 8 (mostly this season), the club has won 5 of them. I’m sure Jones will say that’s because he now has a squad and is able to change things as he has decent players on the bench (our benches in previous years have been shockingly poor, mainly filled with youth team fullbacks and the like).

        Dave Jones isn’t really that well liked by Cardiff City fans. His bullish(!) personality doesn’t help. But as soon as anyone says “Well who would you replace him with then?” There are few better, though I do question his 800k (yes, 800k) salary.

        Reply
        • theseventytwo
          November 11, 2010

          Good man! Enjoyed reading that, almost a blog post in itself!

          I’m enjoying the challenge of working out what different sets of fans think about the manager of their respective clubs and then seeing whether I agree and writing about it. I find it fascinating that Jones isn’t well-liked generally, something I’ve picked up on over the past few years. I think it’s inevitable that a manager struggles to win over the fans when his club is so close to promotion on so many occasions but is yet to share that final feeling of ultimate success with the supporters.

          My recent experience of Dave Jones comes mainly from the six games against Leicester since we started back in the Championship at the start of last season so that’s largely where the tactical argument comes from. Even during each of the games we lost, we controlled possession for long periods and Cardiff’s players strike me as so good that this shouldn’t happen as regularly as I saw it happen last season.

          Having said that, the unavailability of key players for the two league games at the Walkers this year and last hampered Cardiff hugely (it would affect anyone to be without the number of important first-team players that you were for this season’s game). I like managers that can adapt between a 4-4-2 type formation and one involving a lone striker and three central midfielders. That’s why I liked Pearson so much, he changed it between the two quite regularly last season and managed to get the best out of a limited group of players.

          Jones is a bit of an easy target, I’ll admit. Probably what the South Wales media think, too. Anyone who gets results like that 6-0 at Bristol City last season and the 4-0 at Leeds recently will get flak if it doesn’t end in promotion. If he gets it, he can give us all two fingers and good luck to him.

          Reply
          • Mirko Bolesan
            November 11, 2010

            I’m convinced that gifting the other team possession is deliberate. When you have the ball playing skills of Whittingham and McPhail in midfield with Bothroyd up front and the pace of Burke and Chopra in your side you become very, very good at counter-attacking. Cardiff under Jones don’t spend a lot of time keeping ball. They either get it forward quickly (long ball to Bothroyd) or they attack with the speed of Burke or Chopra. They don’t mess about playing keep ball.

            Opinions on Jones vary wildly amongst fans and it’s an argument that often crops up. I think it’s hard for a manager that’s been in charge for as long as Jones has. Familiarity breeds contempt.

            Personally I find it very difficult to get too upset with a manager who has taken us to an FA Cup Final and within a game of the top flight. When I started following Cardiff we were a dreadful side finishing 3rd bottom of the entire league in front of 3k people. We took more than that to Reading last night. Perspective.

            Reply
    • theseventytwo
      November 10, 2010

      Also to say I’d like as many Cardiff fans’ views as possible if you read this. I feel like I know the club quite well from an outside perspective but any constructive criticism about this piece or any other on the site is welcome.

      Cheers.

      Reply

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