Cardiff v Ipswich: tactical experiments

sladeThese teams have conventionally based their play-off push on burly forwards and long ball play, but in recent weeks, Cardiff City have changed tack.

It seems ironic that the club have brought in nine strikers over the last two years and yet the one striker that is their striker is not… a striker. Kenwyne Jones, Adam Le Fondre and Eoin Doyle have, in the past, showed signs that they could be a potent goalscorer at this level. However, all three forwards have been loaned out, as Russell Slade has built his front line around Anthony Pilkington.

Listing the Championship managers you might expect to experiment with a non-striker as a striker, Slade would not be considered. He earned a reputation at Leyton Orient, and in his first season in the Welsh capital, as an advocat of rigid football. He typically favours a tight 4-4-2 system with long balls and big target men up front. Pilkington, not reknowned for his physical presence or hold-up play, is not a man you imagine Slade seeing as a viable option up front.

In fact, not only has Pilkington played there, the former Norwich man has impressed in his new role. His tireless work rate and clever movement has changed the way Cardiff play. Instead of going direct to Jones or Alex Revell, the team is looking to keep the ball on the deck and feed it into Pilkington’s feet.

Ipswich Town’s performance in their 1-0 win over Nottingham Forest last Saturday indicates that they, too, may deviate from their usual direct style of play. The Tractor Boys completed 496 short passes and manager Mick McCarthy, perhaps uncharacteristically, praised his side for entertaining football in the second half.

It seems unlikely that the Barnsley born boss, who appears rather set in his ways, will change his approach too radically. Like Slade, he has always been an advocat of a rigid 4-4-2 with wide men sticking to their defensive duties. However, he must find a balance that gives Ipswich an attacking thrust.

Strong early season form, which saw the Tractor Boys go top after four games, was down to impressive wing play from Ryan Fraser and Ainsley Maitland-Niles. They were given a degree of attacking freedom, making the Ipswich team more dynamic and harder to defend against.

Fraser’s injury and Maitland-Niles’ drop off in form has hindered the team’s cause, but the principle remains: if players are given the freedom to make more forward runs, the team will be harder to defend against.

At the moment, Ipswich’s forwards are struggling: Daryl Murphy has scored just twice since November, Freddie Sears is without a goal since Christmas while Brett Pitman appears to have his better games off the bench.

Ipswich’s Bartosz Bialkowski is a nominee for Championship Player of the Month as a goalkeeper – but given the success avante-garde tactics have yielded for Russell Slade, McCarthy might consider playing him up front.