Saturday, December 31, 2005
GO MARCHING IN
IT'LL BE AFTER
A CITY WIN
CARDIFF CITY (2) 2
Ledley 6, Jerome 9
SOUTHAMPTON (1) 1
Soton support: 1,200 approx.
Weather: Grey, dull, some drizzle
City - We were quiet today. Not sure why.....saving ourselves for Auld Lyne Syne tonight???
Soton - Very good but ultimately subdued.
It may have been an unproductive Christmas but Cardiff City signed off 2005 in fine style with a hard-earned but deserved 2-1 victory over Southampton in a lunchtime Ninian Park New Year's Eve clash.
It was a match of three noteworthy shots which produced three goals. Excellent build up work and finishes by Ledley and Jerome had City two ahead inside 9 minutes, defensive hesitancy gave Southampton a lifeline through Dexter's goal on 25 but City harried and pressed, Southampton never threatened again, quality was far from great but Cardiff toughed it out and got the three welcome points they needed.
After back-to-back defeats and no goals in well over 5 hours of football, Dave Jones needed to sign off the year with an improved performance and result. It was no surprise that he immediately dispensed with what many felt was an unnecessary and negative 4-5-1 system deployed at QPR.
Reverting to 4-4-2 with Michael Ricketts, making what could be his final loan appearance, back alongside Cameron Jerome in attack. Midfield saw Paul Parry start ahead of Kevin Cooper whilst, in defence, Neil Cox continued to deputise at centre-half and captain with Darren Purse serving out suspension and Rhys Weston was still injured so Neil Ardley again deputised at right back. City therefore went with Alexander, Ardley-Loovens-Cox-Barker, Koumas-Whitley-Ledley-Parry, Ricketts-Jerome. The bench was warmed by Margetson-Cooper-Darlington-Ferretti-Lee.
Southampton make City's problems in 2005 appear trivial. Relegated from the Premiership, struggling to make any impact in the Championship, ex-egg chaser Clive Woodward as Director of Football, vision awareness experts and a Brazilian street soccer importer hired and fired, an owner spending as much time in the courtroom as the boardroom.
Fun in the dugout too with Harry Redknapp, taken on from arch-enemies Portsmouth last season walking out on the Saints and going back to Pompey, temporary managers Harry Bassett and Denis Wise thrown out after a couple of games meaning Wisey was lost as a regular player too. George Burley is now the man hoping to bring about stability but this defeat means he has lost each of his first three games with the club. Not funny for them but hilarious to onlookers as football seems secondary to the continuing St. Mary's panto.
On the football front, what a strange season they've having. They arrived in 14th place but only 1st, 2nd and 4th had lost fewer games than them yet today was their 4th consecutive defeat after losing only 3 of their first 22 Championship games. Despite relatively few defeats, only the bottom 7 have won fewer games as The Saints have incredibly recorded 13 draws, half their games, including an impressive 8 continuous league draws in the autumn.
Freefall and self-implosion apart, their cause is not currently helped by a horrendous injury list which has crippled them defensively as regulars and back-up defenders alike seem to be absent leaving them turning to kids. Unavailable to Burley were the likes of Darren Powell, Matt Oakley, Danny Higginbotham and Mattias Svennson amongst others.
Six changes were made to the team who lost 1-0 at home to Sheffield United two days earlier as Southampton went with Niemi, Crainie-Mills-Kenton-Baird, McCann-Prutton-Delap-Blackstock, Walcott-Jones. Anton Niemi returned from injury between the posts. The back four featured two teenagers in Crainie and Mills but they were considerably older than new kid on the block Theo Walcott already earning rave notices at just 16 years old and scoring 4 Championship goals. Dexter Blackstock was playing for the second time against City at Ninian in a fortnight having just returned from a loan to Derby.
One of my recent criticisms of City are that they have started slower, not scored early and not scored first, it was a pleasing habit of theirs until a few weeks ago. That habit returned as, with 9 minutes on the clock (not the jumbotron one, that packed up for the day!), it was City 2 Southampton 0.
Cardiff started fast and with passion and determination, they were biting into tackles and making sure they won the ball, both goals came from exactly that. Jerome was marginally offside as he threatened to burst through, then his first sight of goal was blocked for a corner but on 6 minutes, City forged ahead.
Michael Ricketts fed Koumas wide, he tangled with a defender and then threw himself into a challenge to win a ball that he had little right to win but he came away, sent a ball to the far post, Parry hooked it back across goal and JOE LEDLEY it home from a couple of yards. Great stuff.
Southampton tried to hit back but Jones' header flew straight to Alexander and then it was 2-0 as, this time, Glenn Loovens threw himself into a challenge, won the ball, fed Ledley who threaded a superb pass dissecting the defence and sending CAMERON JEROME clear, he slotted the ball wide of Niemi for his 12th league goal of the season but his first in 8 games. City players celebrated wildly in front of the Grange side Lower Grandstand, fans were ballistic, The Saints were shell-shocked and the City-supporting (due to her husband)
Southampton fan (due to her family and birth place) who sits in front of me didn't know whether to laugh or cry but we did all the laughing for her!
After such a lightning start, the game inevitably settled. Delap sent a scuffed low shot along the floor to Alexander, Loovens and Ricketts gave Niemi similar routine work to do. The good habits that City started with and their intensity had waned and it cost them as they let Southampton back into things on 25. Niemi belted a long ball down field, a wide man sent a looped header towards the penalty spot where Barker, Loovens and Alexander all appeared to hesitate and leave it for each other, BLACKSTOCK nipped in and steered past Alexander into an empty goal, a terrible one to concede.
After that, City needed half-time far more than the visitors who threatened and moved the ball better, backed by some terrific vocal support - why were we so quiet today? - had us hanging on at times and we certainly didn't look pretty or composed. The nearest City came was when a Koumas inswinging corner which Niemi stretched to push out as it almost creeped under his crossbar at the far post and then Jerome almost nipped in again but Niemi smothered. City had anxious moments and a couple of scrambled clearances under pressure but they somehow denied Southampton any attempt at goal so they deserve some credit for doing that.
Half-time: CITY 2 SOUTHAMPTON 1
Half-time entertainment was humourous with some shocking attempts, the best being a 9 year old kid. Ely Valley Blue scuffed his effort about 15 yards, a very large visiting Southampton fan managed to send his boot twice as far as the ball which amused everyone. Next home game has the Dirty Sanchez boys providing the half-time entertainment, that should be something completely different.
There's not a great deal to say about the second half, it wasn't terrific (and I'm in a rush to get out for my New Year's Eve party!) but there genuinely wasn't a serious attempt at goal by either side. Southampton were well contained and generally frustrated by City, they seemed to run out of steam and ideas as we strangled the life out of them. There were times Southampton threatened, a few times, but their end product was either severely lacking or Cardiff's defence and work by the midfielders denied them and won crucial tackles.
City got forward, won a few corners and threatened occasionally but never showed the decisiveness that we saw in those early minutes. They were however winning applause for some big tackles and occasional breaks.
Brett Ormerod came on the the final 25 minutes for Jones, City introduced Alan Lee for Michael Ricketts, surely that's the last we've seen of Ricketts in a City shirt? We have to look elsewhere. Overall, Ricketts flattered to deceive. He looked useful but never got better and often looked lazy and uncommitted. There's nothing to suggest City can make him any better than we've seen and what we've seen just isn't good enough. He got a good reception as he departed, some through sheer relief that he was going going gone!.
With four minutes added on, City were being well backed, Southampton fans had given up hope and the afternoon should have been crowned as City broke on the left, Jerome squared the ball sending Koumas clear on goal but as he entered the area, he was brought down from behind. Could only be a penalty, should be a red card, the ref unbelievably awarded neither and gave "play on" - that was a criminal decision but moments later, the final whistle blew. Just as well City had won rather than drawing or trailing by a goal.
Nobody truly shone today but I though Neil Cox did a marvellous job standing in at the back, he was clear and decisive, put his body on the line and won several key challenges. Likewise, Jeff Whitley's work-rate and ability to pop up everywhere to win a tackle was excellent. Joe Ledley has looked tired recently but he scored one and made the other, that ultimately won the day. Paul Parry, second half, showed glimpses of the player he used to be and Cameron Jerome had his best game for a while rounded off with his goal.
Other results on the day saw City climb three places and finish 2005 in 8th spot with 38 points off 27 games - just 12 points more needed to stay up and let's face it, those were our thoughts in August. To be where we are is a fantastic achievement, Dave Jones and his players deserve plaudits and recognition for the job done to date. It hasn't always been pretty but, as we know deep down, this is a results business and we're doing that pretty well.
And so another year over and, as it always seems to be with CCFC, it was dramatic and traumatic. It had laughs, it had tears. It had us defending our club, it had us attacking our club. We were together, we were in-fighting. We had the best fans and hard-working staff but, according to Mr. Hammam in one of his tirades, we had termites at the club and b*stards supporting them (he soon removed the latter part from his official website statement). It had a few highs, it had many lows, some being the lowest we have felt for many a year. A club that was Bigger Than Barcelona were reportedly a whisker away from administration and becoming Smaller Than Barry as the best paid players got no money at all as a "clerical error" became a full-blown crisis.
Much loved, still loved heroes left but new heroes arrived, the best ones still belong to other clubs at present. Some players we love but criticise, some we just love to criticise. The stadium is closer to reality ... or is it as far away as ever? ... or further away than ever? It's supposed to already be built and we should be playing there now, shouldn't we? Hell, what's another year?
Lennie Lawrence's time, well overdue, was finally up. Few will argue that Dave Jones is shaping up to be our best manager for many years and, by a country mile, the best one Sam has ever chosen. The backroom has changed but still has some old faces and it's the same with the board. Finances are under control we're told but we can't really afford to build the squad or buy anyone and there's the small matter of £30+M of debt. Prices go up, crowds go down, 40% of season ticket holders give up. Home form is patchy and often not greatly entertaining, away performances are better many will justifiably contend, results are better at home despite the struggles.
It could only be Cardiff City, couldn't it? Yet, in a perverse way, isn't this why we love and hang onto the coattails of our club so much? Good or bad, brilliant or awful, there's always a story, always something to discuss or argue about. The amazing thing is, through all trials, tribulations and turmoil, 2005 was actually a greatly improved football calendar year for the team than 2004, we have somehow progressed. It's perhaps easy to forget that Lennie Lawrence's team actually performed pretty well in the 2nd half of last season starting in January 2005 (better in fact that Dave Jones has performed with different personnel so far this term - yet another contradiction!). Compare the Championship calendar year performance;
2004 = Played: 46 Won: 13 Drawn: 15 Lost: 18 Points: 54
2005 = Played: 46 Won: 18 Drawn: 14 Lost: 14 Points: 68
If we can continue that improvement in 2006, we can look forward to Premiership football by 2007/2008. Ah well, if you can't have dreams going into a New Year, what's the point?
Happy New Year everyone and here's to continuing improvements and success in the next 12 months.
THE COST OF BEING A CITY FAN:
Tickets (3): £32 - took the kids today
Total for game: £58
Total for season-to-date: £1,802
Wednesday, December 28, 2005
Championship @ Loftus Road
QUEENS PARK RANGERS (0) 1 Nygaard 47
CARDIFF CITY (0) 0
City support: 1,000 approx.
Weather: The F Word .... F-f-f-f-f-f-f-freezing
"It's just like being in church" sang a silent City until someone pointed out that at least the crowd all sing in church.
As it's Xmas, to the tune of "Away in a Manger" ...
Away at the Rangers
Wish we were home and in bed
A frustrated BluebirdIs banging his head
Ball's hoofed in the bright sky
Can't score at night or day
Oh why Cardiff City
Were we so rubbish away?
Cardiff City suffered back-to-back Championship defeats for the second time this season. The Great Dane, 6' 3" Marc Nygaard decided it with a winner in the opening minute of the second half of a game between two very average teams putting on a poor show - lacking in quality and entertainment - on a bitterly cold night.
City were unimaginative and dull, dreadful in the first half and little better after the interval to the extent that everyone around me realised we were in for a long night inside the opening 5 minutes. Starting 4-5-1 and staying with that formation for far too long, even after falling behind, the passing, movement and style left much to be desired.
City huff and puff, their effort is there and they can't really be faulted on that score but this is the Championshp and you have to be so much better than that alone. We now look jaded with a defence doing well but a faltering midfield completely bereft of ideas and creativity and a lifeless attack who need help fast as now underlined by no goal in five hours of football, 5 defeats in the last 10 Championship fixtures and just 4 points from the last 15 available.
Cardiff City, at this moment in time, have lost their way. Dave Jones was spot on in his post-match assessment that City haven't become a bad team overnight if only because results and performances suggest we've now been a bad team for a month (Leeds away excepted). A paltry haul of 12 points from the last 11 games - that's quarter of a season - is more akin to relegation than play-off form.
City, after over-performing, now appear to be achieving pretty much as we largely expected to happen before a ball was kicked in August, that doesn't make it any easier to stomach. Changes are undoubtedly necessary and DJ will have to wheel and deal hard in the January transfer window if City are to re-establish momentum.
A Christmas Wednesday trip to London was the mission. However stopping en route for a bevvy in Canton whilst it was freezing outside, there was a temptation not to go at all. We did though, leaving it late to get to Shepherd's Bush Green it was achieved in just under two and a half hours with a service stop to boot. With it being Christmas holidays, street parking was very easy and we joined up with the coaches and many away travellers at Walkabout just opposite the frozen solid Green.
Inside, the kids were boisterous, the rest just having a chat and laugh until, an hour before kick-off, the 50+ police outside closed the bar and escorted or 500+ of us on the mile walk to the ground and made us London's newest tourist attraction as locals peered out of their windows, stood on buildings and turned every vantage point into an opportunity to take a photo. City fans endeared themselves by chanting as many anti-England songs as possible, nice touch along Shepherd's Bush Road, a street which seemed to consist of 50 chippies, 25 burger shops, a few takeaways and 100 kebab shops. I think I saw some fruit and veg too.
Once we got to the ground, we had to funnel into an away entrance walkway no bigger than that to the average terraced house and then be subjected to full body searches by over-zelaous stewards, a bit of a throwback and quite unnecessary. Not only had I finally got into an away ground - after my trials and tribulations at Sheffield and Preston - we still had half-hour until kick-off. The bookie was closed due to "technical difficulties" - presumably someone forgot the slips and pens but the catering outlet tea, coffee, bovril and pukka pies were well received on a night which was the coldest December one for 9 years around the country and saw many games postponed as tempartures fell below freezing and wind chill made it feel around -8. Those dodgy Christmas jumpers and gloves from grannies and aunties came in useful after all!
Loftus Road is neat and functional, no frills, completely rectangular with 4 subbuteo-style stands close up to the action. City were housed in the Upper Tier of the away stand which gave good views but, unless, you were near the front, it did make it difficult to see the goal directly below us.
I was on the left side, QPR's Sombrero Man complete with rattle and kazoo - how embarrassing - was in the adjoining stand as were Richard Langley's parents waving over at us. Those on the right were joined by Darren Purse, starting a two match suspension making himself popular when, once again, he'd let us down really. Gareth Ainsworth was popular too for doing the ayatollah, Richard Langley wasn't. Simple things keep people happy sometimes.
City needed a good result after the Boxing Day home defeat but changed tactics and had three changes, two of them enforced. As well as Purse's suspension (Cox replaced him and was Captain too), fans were shocked to see Neil Ardley at right back and Darlington on the bench. Many thought Weston had been harshly cast aside but Purse told others he had a knee injury. Up front, Michael Ricketts was dropped as DJ went for an unadventurous - it is the way we play it! - 4-5-1 system featuring Alexander, Ardley-Loovens-Cox-Barker, Cooper-Ledley-Koumas-Whitley-Boland, Jerome. Subs were Margetson-Darlington-Lee-Parry-Ricketts.
Rangers started the night 6 points behind City, 7 points above the drop zone having a poor season with financial worries (who hasn't?), manager Ian Holloway taking a lot of criticism, his team performing poorly overall and not showing signs of getting better. At home, they'd lost 5 of their previous 8 and hadn't tasted Loftus Road success for over two months. Away, they were shocking in losing 1-0 at Brighton on Boxing Day.
Ian Holloway made 6 changes for this game, some good news for him with personnel returning from injury as he went with Royce, Bignot-Shittu-Santos-Rose, Langley-Bircham-Rowlands-Cook, Furlong-Nygaard. Subs included Gareth Ainsworth.
So far, so good but now to the football, I'll keep it as brief as it deserves.
City started looking uncomfortable, having to scramble a couple of clearances struggling to put together passes and any move. They work but lacked any fluency and Plan 1 of 1 was to hope Jason Koumas produced some magic for us, QPR realising that as they set out to stop him by whatever means any time he had the ball and sometimes when we didn't. We didn't look comfortable with the system, five in midfield but no width - how did we manage that?
Jerome isolated and getting no service, he worked to close players and dispossess but had no chance to show what he was there for and easily marshalled by Shittu and Santos combined.
It was soon apparent that the R's were as ordinary as could be too so, with that, the best of City's singing remained in the pubs and the streets, Rangers never got to that point.
There were only four moments worth recounting. City produced a good left sided move but Cox hit has cross too high for Jerome, Nygaard raced between Cox and Loovens onto a Rowlands ball and saw his 20 yard shot unluckily graze the top of the bar. And there were free-kicks at either end.
Koumas was upended on a 40 yard run by Langley (who was booked), his inswinging free-kick around the outside of the wall has Rose beaten but missed his goal by a couple of inches and hit the outside stanchion then Alexander made a miraculous save to tip over Langley's free-kick which deflected off Cox's head and was destined for a top corner. Koumas' free-kick and Alexander's save were the only moments worthy of Championship football, the rest of it was uncomfortably reminiscent of visits to the likes of Halifax, Rochdale and Bury in previous years.
What singing took place was as half-hearted as the match. A section sang out, "Have you noticed Langley's sh*t"? Naughty although many QPR didn't really argue with that, he was however one of the better players on view. Right, back to the catering for another Bovril then.
Half-time: QPR 0 CITY 0
The second-half saw the game decided by a piece of action that summed up the entire match. Richard Langley had the ball in acres of space on halfway and plenty of options but hit it diagonally straight to Joe Ledley giving out ironic cheers from City. City were now on the counter-attack but Ledley hit the ball straight to Koumas facing the wrong way and with defenders behind him. A QPR player went through Koumas, a foul in my opinion but the ref waved play on as Koumas had little protection all night. As the ball ran loose, Lee Cook, whop gave City and Ardley plenty of problems, hit a ball into the area where NYGAARD rose well over Loovens (by well, it looked like a couple of feet) and looped a header past Alexander into the corner..
Then came within one minute of the restart. Incredibly, with attacking options including Lee, Ricketts plus Parry on the bench, Dave Jones kept it going with the same 4-5-1 formation and tactics for almost 25 minutes. it did however produce City's best spell but also showed our current deficiencies.
Rose was tested twice. A quick, surprise Koumas 25 yard snapshot which he could only beat out as it bounced before him but no blue shirt was within 20 yards to sniff on the rebound. Then came City's best move of the game as Barker, doing too many fancy kicks and flicks which never came off instead of basics, sent a good ball down the line, the otherwise quiet again Joe Ledley brilliantly skipped by a defender on the touchline and cut a ball across for Jerome whose 15 yard effort was too close to Rose so also beaten away. That and Koumas's free-kick were the sole moments of quality.
City had plenty of the ball but lacked ideas, telling passes and creativity. It wasn't just congested in midfield but almost exclusively bunched to the right hand side of the pitch as we got forward, the left hand side was hardly ever used and never exploited. Balls into the middle were like "nine iron" chips hit too high in the general direction of where Jerome or others may be but lacking direction, pace or change of angle. Koumas was now shackled, so were City too. Boland however made Rose produce another good save, this time was a rising 12 yard shot after a move across the penalty area.
Alan Lee replaced Cooper for the final 20, Parry came on for Whitley in the final 10 but it never got better. Instead, City could have lost by a greater score had Shittu not headed over from point-blank range at a corner, Cook fired over an inviting goal after City were cut to ribbons on the tiring Ardley's right side and Alexander not truly outstanding save to deny sub Baidoo with a shot from 6 yards after, again, City were prised open on the right.
The supporters were frustrated and the officials didn't help either. Twice, a linesman gave Rangers a throw deep in their own half after Jerome had seen a defender touch the ball out, Shittu was allowed to be as robust as he liked - Purse conceded a penalty for similar last game and when Koumas won a late free-kick and screamed at the ref to push the defence back, he never made them move one inch further than the 7 yards or so away that they were - the kick flew straight into them. He also stopped play for over 2 minutes with a Rangers defender in no particular trouble just tow foot away from walking off the pitch which he was fully capable of doing.
Subs warming down near us got some banter - none more so than Marc Bircham who was serenaded with "we saw you cry on the telly". Another game to forget, another visit to QPR to forget (it was hardly better than our unacceptable display there last season).
City are down to 11th, our lowest placing for some time but incredibly remain just three points away from a play-off place. How we can be within touching distance of the Premiership play-offs with our recent form and results and just 35 points off 26 games - a sort of tally that often means below halfway - says an awful lot about Championship standards this term ... if "standards" is an appropriate term.
THE COST OF BEING A CITY FAN:
Tickets (2): £48 - took the missus as a Xmas treat, she's just talking to me again!
Programme: Couldn't find one
Bridge Toll: £5
Total for game: £105
Total for season-to-date: £1,744
The other half contained a circus tent, not sure if that was to symbolise what Gavin Henson has become or it was for Wales' egg chasers to prepare the defence of their Six Nations title.
Monday, December 26, 2005
CARDIFF CITY (0) 0
PLYMOUTH ARGYLE (0) 2
PAFC support: 1,000
Weather: Cold and got colder
Atmosphere: Reasonable until we realised the game was pants, good away noise.
"Going down with the decorations", "a stuffing", "giving away presents", "they played like turkeys", "outfought on Boxing Day", "they must have ate too much Christmas dinner" - you think of all the usual Christmas cliches and they probably all apply to City's hapless 2-0 home defeat to Plymouth Argyle. You can also add in a stereotypical Bluebirds cliche, "every time we get a big crowd at home, we blow it".
The first half was poor and boring, the second half was slightly more memorable for the wrong reasons as a game going absolutely nowhere was all decided in one clumsy incident as Plymouth were awarded an innocuous looking penalty, Captain Darren Purse was sent off for the 2nd time in his last three games and Wotton smashed home the opportunity. Victory was sealed by a clinical Norris finish with 10 man City in some disarray and that was your afternoon's sport and entertainment - as poor as Championship football can be.
City went into what can be regarded as "a make or break" Christmas period knowing results were needed to maintain a play-off challenge. A poor set of results from 4 games in 8 days will inevitably plunge them into mid-table slots and off the pace. The results from these games may well even dictate what City do in the January transfer window - both in and out with player movement. It couldn't have got off to a worse start.
A season's best 16,403 including 1,000 or so visitors from Devon making their shortest away league trip of the season - just a 300 mile round trip for them - were hoping to be entertained. The bulk of them expecting to see City show exactly why they're performing far above anyone's expectations in league placings at least.
Dave Jones took all of 0.001 seconds to name what has become the side that picks itself, the team doing well enough, the limited squad not really providing outstanding alternatives or competition. They may be struggling to turn it on at home but only injury or suspension ever seems to stop it being Alexander, Weston-Purse-Loovens-Barker, Koumas-Whitley-Ledley-Cooper, Ricketts-Jerome. There's not really prizes for guessing subs either although Willie Boland was absent today and it was Margetson-Ardley-Cox-Lee-Parry.
The opposition came to South Wales enjoying better times under new manger Tony Pulis after a terrible start to the season. Their last two results - a 1-1 draw at Watford and a 2-0 home win over Palace - spelled out they were a danger. Their side today were Larrieu, Barness-Doueme-Ward-Arljofree, Norris-Wotton-Jarrett-Capaldi, Evans-Chadwick.
He may be Welsh, he may be a City fan and he may often say complimentary things about our club and support but there's something about Tony Pulis sides that I can't stand. Credit to him and his side for the way they cancelled us out and won the game but it makes for no spectacle at all. Two banks of four, big and physical, playing close together which, yet again, City were clueless to get through or around. Add in time wasting and the ability to fall down for treatment and kill the game at every opportunity and what a bore it was to all bar the visiting fans. It will get them away from relegation danger, it will never take them further, as always happens with Pulis teams.
However none of that should negate from criticism of City's inept display. In a game when we were the better side (that wasn't difficult to schieve) and had all the possession, Cardiff managed just one purposeful attacking move all afternoon. The only passes that found a same shirted player were sideways or backwards ones. A lack of movement, nobody able to hold the ball, nobody taking responsibility for running at players and taking the game to the opposition, no Plan B and a complete inability to change things around against opposition whose gameplan was obvious from first kick, it is worrying how very limited we have become at Ninian Park.
A team with genuine play-off aspirations have got to perform better and learn from these tests but this was the 4th time in the last 6 home games that City failed to score against opposition with similar set ups. There is a lot of soul-searching to be done.
The only bonus for me is that I don't have to waste too much time at Christmas describing the game. The first half's main talking point wasn't the football but a flashpoint as a Plymouth player went down for treatment for the umpteenth time, this occasion trying to make out they were the victim of a Cameron Jerome boot.
City decided enough was enough, clearly frustrated and fed up by what appeared to be deliberate tactics to stop the game and carried on playing with the resulting throw in rather than the gentlemanly custom of giving the ball back to the opponents, Rhys Weston was cynically scythed by Capaldi - a player who went down so regularly over 90 minutes that he must know the grass better than the Ninian Park groundsman - which threatened to spark a mini brawl. Capaldi earned a yellow card, he was lucky.
As the for action, City did their best to gift Plymouth a goal in the first 2 minutes as Darren Purse passed directly to Jarrett allowing him a free run on goal. Jarrett tried to be cute chipping Alexander from the edge of the box but put it straight into his arms. Alexander made a smart low save later in the half after Rhys Weston got into a mess in his own box and gave the ball away.
For City, the only enjoyable moments were occasional flashes of magic by Jason Koumas one or two of them were contenders for the Showboating sections on Soccer AM. However it was all in his own half or deep and out wide - where Plymouth wanted him to be and didn't mind him playing. For all the domination and possession, we won only two or three corners and had just a single effort on or off target.
That came in the one minute added time (one minute was a joke but we'd all seen enough of the half anyway). A corner from the right was met by a powerful and spectacular Ricketts header matched by a spectacular save as the tall, agile Larrieu tipped over.
City saw plenty of the ball but, all too often, it was like watching the most predictable chess stalemate as they did little positive with it - the combo of Plymouth's tactics and their own lack of ideas made it completely tedious. City's frustrations told as Jeff Whitley got away with a card as the ref failed to spot a poor, late challenge whilst Jerome unluckily got one with a mistimed challenge, inconsistent and poor officiating helped to affect the game and result. Whitley however collected his 9th yellow of the season before the conclusion so lies one away from a two match ban.
Half-time: CITY 0 PLYMOUTH 0
The best entertainment came during the interval as 6 City supporting laydees seemed to have so much in common with the average male City fan, they came in all shapes and sizes but mostly the type to fill Pages Two and Three rather than just Page Three. They took half-time penalties against an inflatable sumo. Four of them looked like passes to Sumo (including Bluebirdette's effort), one went wide but a 15 year old lass beat Sumo with style.
Unfortunately, it ended all too soon and we soon returned to zzz's watching 11 blues and 11 green and whites doing professional; football a disservice. The best City moment of the match came in the opening minute of the 2nd period but it was followed by an exchange that typified the garbage that was this game.
Joe Ledley had another of those matches that seemed to pass him by in the engine room but he was the only blue-shirted player who went on a run at the visiting defence and it so nearly paid dividends as he ghosted past 3 or 4 men from halfway, found Michael Ricketts on the edge of the box and his looped shot looked goalbound but was tipped behind at the last moment by Larrieu.
After that came the poorest piece of football surely seen all season as both sides sent upwards of 15 passes and headers straight into the air to the other side which was duly returned, a quality of football that would numb the average Sunday League spectator with his dog but this was the Championship and players paid thousands per week. It all ended by Chris Barker finally trying to bring the ball down but he sliced it into the Bob Bank instead. Now that won't make showboating!
City tried to raise the tempo and Plymouth fell deeper but that made the game more stifled than it already was. A few corners were won but all were cleared, Koumas also sent over a couple of threatening crosses but the massed green shirts would inevitably be there ahead of the outnumbered blue ones.
On 65 minutes, Dave Jones introduced Paul Parry in place of the ineffective Kevin Cooper. Parry earned applause for closing players down rather anything he did on the ball. We can all be pundits in hindsight but, surely, there must be a point in games when Jason Koumas is brought into the middle to pose different problems to the opposition. Why don't we switch Ledley and Jason when nothing is happening? Koumas was too isolated from the penalty area and, in these situations, he looks the only player who can make a difference. I'm sure Pulis and Plymouth were delighted to see him remain where he was.
It was a game going nowhere, Plymouth caused City no problems whatsoever and although we huffed and puffed and tried to move Plymouth about, City were devoid of ideas. Both sides looked happy to take a 0-0 with City hoping some way, somewhere, somehow that they could nick a goal without changing much about to achieve it.
Enter referee Lee Probert to do what no player could do - help produce a goal and result. His lack of proper control helped produced the niggly tension on the pitch, the way he allowed defenders to jump over forwards and go unpunished seemed to affect Jerome and Ricketts more than their counterparts who were looking at breaks so how do you account for his penalty award and red card.
A simple low ball played into City's box, Chadwick and Purse tangled in a very innocuous looking fashion, both nudging at each other, both went down and the ball was cleared. In came Probert to award a penalty and seconds later, show Purse an instant red card. Not one Plymouth player appealed for a penalty but they got one, Purse didn't hang about as the red card was flashed but stormed down the tunnel kicking in the fourth official#s substitute board as he disappeared. Everyone was totally confused but the Plymouth fans loved it of course.
It turns out that the penalty was for shirt pulling but it was the sort of thing that always goes on and Purse was as much a victim as aggressor. The red card was because the ref deemed he stopped the last man, many thought it was for something said. City will appeal that decision, it seemed very harsh with so many defenders around. WOTTON blasted the penalty, Alexander went the right way and got a hand to the shot but was beaten for power. City were one goal down and one man down, game over.
The final 20 minutes saw City in some disarray. Cox replaced Barker and Lee replaced Jerome. Cardiff nearly levelled as they won their only threatening free-kick of the afternoon, Koumas beat Larrieu but also the wrong side of the post by a fraction. Then it was 2-0 as City's were caught at the back, Norris was put clear on the left and angled a drive just inside Alexander's far post with 9 minutes still remaining.
Cue the walkout as 16,000 soon became 11,000 and by final whistle, probably no more than 6-7,000. Plymouth were happy enough singing Jingle Bells All The Way, City's by contrast seemed to be causing a minor disturbance in the Grange End.
Very disappointing. City have played worse this season but they need to find answers fast about how to break down teams at home as all visitors seem to be coming to play the same way and we appear powerless and clueless to do much about it presently.
Defence are certainly competent enough, midfield lack guile but you can't fault their work-rate, we over-rely on Koumas to produce the magic and if you can confine him, as Plymouth did, it doesn't look pretty. The biggest concern has to be up front, City look hesitant and indecisive, they can't hold the ball and they seem unable to produce with it.
Cameron Jerome may still be one of the Championship's leading scorers but his double at Sheffield Wednesday are his only goals in 11 matches, he looks overdue a rest and a shadow of the player we know that he is. Ricketts has one goal in 7, looked better than last outing but still so unacceptably lazy in the eyes of most City fans.
Elsewhere, nobody played badly but nobody stood out either, Joe Ledley is another who appears overdue a rest or a run wide in what should be his natural role. Darren Purse was voted man of the match by City fans for the hell of it.
A bad afternoon saw City drop three places to 10th, one of five teams sharing 35 points and two points below the play-off places. Next game is QPR just two days later, thankfully it's away where City seem to produce better performances. However after this game, it's now all about the result and not the performance.
THE COST OF BEING A CITY FAN:
Programme: Sold Out
Drink: £ 1
Travel: £ 3
Total for game: £24
Total for season-to-date: *£1,639
(Total includes £85 spent on CCFC Xmas prezzies for family and friends plus £20 for my Detby ticket (last home game) which I couldn't attend).
Sunday, December 11, 2005
Monday, December 05, 2005
Nine simple words but what happiness and joy they bring to all Bluebirds. A grand day out at in the final season at Highbury away to the F.A. Cup holders but, more importantly of course, the team we beat to win the F.A. Cup in 1927, an event forever etched in football history.
Arsenal are one of the top three sides in the country, one of the very best in Europe and with probably the best striker in the world with Thierry Henry ... other than Alan Lee! It seems a reward for those of us who travel to all corners of this country following City no matter what goes on. With possibly 7,000 tickets, all members and season ticket holders will be catered for. The fight will now commence with less committed fans, and possibly those who have not been at all this season, suddenlt thinking they should be entitled to one. You have to smile at the irony of it all.
Me? I can relax safe in the knowledge that I have a ticket and my club will look after me in the same way that I pay my money upfront always in support of them.
Highbury, here I come!
Saturday, December 03, 2005
Thursday, December 01, 2005
25 years I've waited to see The Tubes back in my hometown. It was worth every moment!
Last time, The Tubes played Cardiff it was the start of the 1980's promoting their Remote Control album. I was a skinny kid - it was that long ago! The venue used that night, Sophia Gardens, was demolished by snow not too long afterwards but never did I think I'd have to wait so long to see them here again.
In the past decade, I've gone everywhere to see them - Northampton, Birmingham, Manchester, Bristol, London to name a few. Whenever they play Bristol, a quarter of the audience are Welsh.
They promised to come back, the reception they got in Wales and the gig itself will go down as my favourite since their heyday. A night I'll long remember.
The venue - The Point - is a new addition to the gig map in Cardiff. A converted church in an area of the city where the old and traditional docks meets the new, vibrant and upmarket Bay - a mile away from the city centre. I think it's the best small hall venue I've ever attended as you're up close, personal and intimate with the group.
The stage, in the old pulpit area, is raised enough from the ground to give everyone a view but segregation between audience and band is no more than the speakers and a small step. You are there with them.I started the night with one of them.
As I got to the venue, Gary Cambra was looking for a restaurant to eat. I directed him to the bayfront where he tucked into a Thai meal.For a gig arranged at less than 3 weeks notice with word-of-mouth publicity, the crowd was near capacity and ready to party and enjoy themselves.
The Tubes came on at 9pm to a raucous reception on a night when they and the audience bonded from start to finish. The set was pretty much the same as on the whole UK Tour but missing were Prairie's Bora 2000 and Sushi Girl, added were an impromptu Jumping Jack Flash with Gary and David on vocals, Matter of Pride was in the encore.
What made it special was the sound and the reaction. They were loud and played brilliantly, overcoming early p.a. problems. The crowd were right up for it and, for me, the audience singing Don't Wait To Wait Anymore with Fee turning the mic on us lives up there with any moment watching them. Tip of my Tongue was never played better and the early songs were adapted in such a way that they still sound fresh, Smoke La Vie En Fumer was a particular hit for me tonight.
The musicianship in the group is brilliant. Roger's guitar work, especially at the end of Don't Want To Wait is breathtaking but so is Gary's when he lets loose. Prairie's stick work and solo is always a highlight for me and even Bill's bass took a star turn pumping out the riff to Smoke.
Of course, part of the Tubes experience is Fee's stageshow and no matter how many times you've seen him do it, you can't stop smiling and enjoying yourself. White Punks on Dope is such an anthem bettered with the show, their cover of Tom Jones' It's Not Unusual in the country it originated was a stand-out moment too completed with knickers being thrown on stage to Fee. And Kat Baillie helps make it more magical too with her 'presence' on stage and vocals on Don't Touch Me There and Prime Time - so fantastic to hear that one in the live show once more.
A special night. The group loved every moment of it, the crowd did too. Two hours of music and performance heaven I can't begin to do justice to it so I hope the pics in my blog help to address that.
Thanks to The Tubes for still doing what they do and so brilliantly too. Long may it conitnue and let's hope they're soon back here. I got a feeling they won't forget Cardiff or Wales next time around!
(1) Mondo Bondage in a converted church
(2 & 3) Fee sings La Vie En Fumer to the right and centre during a whole audience signalong of Don't Want To Wait Anymore
Wednesday, November 30, 2005
Monday, November 28, 2005
CARDIFF CITY (1) 2 Ricketts 30, Koumas 90
IPSWICH TOWN (0) 1 Juan 85
Ipswich support: 250
Weather: Chilly, just above freezing - getting warmer then!
Atmosphere: Very good noise and passion but this was about the diehards.
The Bluebirds are back in the Championship play-offs after Jason Koumas grabbed a 90th minute winner clinching a 2-1 victory over Ipswich Town on a night when we, once more, saw the best and worst of this Cardiff City side who, if nothing else, showed on a night of high drama that they certainly know how to raise blood pressure, severely test heartbeats, wring emotions and fray nerves. You need to be relatively fit to watch them, let alone play for them.
Cardiff should have won so very comfortably and by a large margin. Ipswich conceded a penalty and were down to 10 men inside 15 minutes. Yet an appalling penalty miss give the visitors a lifeline until Michael Ricketts atoned with a goal before half-hour. That should have set City on their way but once more, they over-relaxed once ahead and looked second best against 10 men.
When they woke up in the 2nd half, they missed enough clear cut chances to have won three or four games - some of it due to the brilliance of Ipswich's Welsh keeper Lewis Price but much due to very poor finishing - before somewhat inevitably allowing Ipswich an 87th minute equaliser. City never win late do they? Yet in an amazing finale, they time they did. Mass depression turned to extreme elation and relief as Jason Koumas fell over, got up and smashed home a 90th minute winner.
This was a Championship game moved from Saturday to Sunday so it didn't clash with an egg chasing friendly at Millennium Stadium and then moved again from Sunday to Monday night to be shown live on Sky tv. City fans had the choice of paying between £15 and £26 to be at freezing Ninian Park on a work night with Christmas coming up or watch it on the cheap and in the warm at home or down the pub.
Twenty one games into the season and three times you could watch it all live on tv, two of them at Ninian Park. The options were plenty. For £2, you could watch it live on the internet. For nothing, you could listen to it on Radio Wales. For a small monthly fee, the official website offers full match commentary plus upto 15 minutes of video highlights next day. Am I alone in thinking it's made too easy for supporters to stay away?
Obviously not judging by the Grange End's chants of "Are you watching armchair fans?" and chants of where they could stick their sofas but with us freezing our 'nads off on wood, plastic or concrete at the ground for the cost we pay, who really had the last laugh?
The crowd of just 8,724 including 250 or so from Suffolk was Ninian's poorest league crowd since we played Bury in February 2002, that game at a lower level of football. I suppose I should make some comment or defence or criticism but no doubt others will have plenty to say so I'll leave it to you. I'll just salute those in attendance who made the effort for City.
The delayed game still came too early for Kevin Cooper, not fully recovered from keyhole knee surgery whilst captain and huge influence Darren Purse served a 1 game ban after 5 yellow cards, the veteran Neil Cox having to step in. Purse's partner Glenn Loovens, whilst not 100% fit. averted a major cental defensive crisis by making himself available and Michael Ricketts was available too as City’s sought the win to take them from 11th to 6th and a play-off spot.
Ipswich are well set on the journey to mid-table obscurity, the Horses at times playing like Donkeys, with some starting to think manager Joe Royle should be sent to graze. It's not good by their high standards but understandable given they have £36M of debt (quite possibly more than us!), lost four major players to the Premiership, have had bad luck with injuries and, like City, are having to get by with lesser quality players and some over-reliance on youngsters.
Poor results and no consistency tends to be what you get and that's how it's been with 4 wins and 4 draws at home in 10 games whilst 10 awaydays before tonight produced 2 wins, 4 draws and 4 defeats. Their last outing was a 3-0 home trouncing by Reading and they have won just 1 of their last 9. Their only joy is that they were one place above rivals Norwich in 15th but knew a win tonight would have taken them just a point behind us in a congested Championship table.
They started the night with problems and soon had more. Sam Parkin, their target man striker and big summer buy from Swindon, broke an ankle in training last week, key midfielder Ian Westlake is injured again after only just returning from a 10 week lay off and, similar to City, a couple of other players were used whilst not at 100% fitness due to small squad size giving limited options.
The side were Price, Wilnis-Sito-De Vos-McEveley, Magilton-Richards-Juan-Williams, Forster-Naylor. Experience came in the shape of Jason De Vos who chose Ipswich over City last season, 35 yr old Fabian Wilnis and 36 yr old Jim Magilton. The Canadian, Dutchman and Irishman were joined in the Foreign Legion by Spanish defender and grandly named Castro Sito and French midfielder Jimmy Juan. Juan is on loan (from Monaco) as was Jay McEveley (from Blackburn) with local boy and Bluebirds fan Gavin Williams (from West Ham).
Before the action, there was one minute applause in the memory of the genius of George Best who died over the weekend. It's far, far better and feels more fitting to pay tribute this way to a footballer than one minute silence whilst, at the same, time, it felt slightly corny. One minute's continuous clapping does feel strange on the hands. Let's be fair, we're just not used to giving so much applause down the City. Still, I'm sure Bestie, given his lifestyle, would have smiled at being given a send off with the clap.
Finally, we were underway and it was a quiet start with City not firing on all cylinders and looking a mix between nervous and being over-elaborate with live cameras whilst Ipswich are also a good passing and movement side, no matter who plays for them. But it did flow with Ipswich winning two corners in the opening moments, one of them causing danger, then City doing likewise inside the first 10 whilst Ricketts met a Weston cross but directed a weak straight at Lewis. Putting efforts on goal directly at the keeper was to become a theme.
On 12 minutes, the first real drama of the night unfolded. City attacked, Ipswich cleared but defender McEveley remained on the ground deep inside his area playing everyone onside. As City returned the ball, Jerome cleverly got behind the last standing defender so when Koumas played a ball over them, Wilnis could not quite intercept and Jerome was away on goal. As he closed down on goal, Wilnis tagged him, maybe not the strongest pull but one that ensures all strikers go to ground in that position, Jerome was no different. Penalty to City, red card to Wilnis and Ipswich lost a second defender as McEveley was unable to continue.
The moment that penalty was awarded, I swear I've never seen Michael Ricketts move so fast. He charged to the ball, claiming it and wanting to take the kick. I honestly never knew he had that sort of pace, amazing. Contrast that however to the Michael Ricketts who then took a truly dreadful penalty. As he started his run up, he stuttered, skipped from side to side and by the time he got to the ball, he was motionless. The kick was straight at Price at a perfect height and was beaten away. It was the second worst penalty miss I've seen in my life. Nothing matches Andy Campbell's miskick against Leeds last year and Earnie had an embarrassing miss or two when he did similar to Ricketts on this occasion. Had we gone one up when Ipswich in disarray so early, we could have registered a comfortable win but that's not our way.
Kevin Horlock replaced McEveley, Richard Naylor who had played defence most of the season but started in attack to help his club's problems returned to his natural role. Ipswich still looked decidedly dodgy at the back as they seemed to make mistakes at regular intervals and Lewis Price may be a great shot stopper but his kicking was as bad as the average half-time challenger but we struggled to take advantage.
Ricketts nearly made up for his horror miss by stroking a 20 yard shot inches wide and then cushioned another header straight at Price before they almost shocked City, Forster's drive was tipped over the bar and Horlock was not far wide.
Salvation finally arrived on the half-hour. Yet again Ipswich made a defensive calamity, Naylor
playing the ball straight to Joe Ledley in a dangerous position and they were finally duly punished, Joe's curling ball behind their remaining defenders saw RICKETTS clear and he smashed the ball home inside the near post. Relief all around.
Then, oops, they did it again. In control of a game with an extra man, we just stopped playing and allowed Ipswich to run over and around us, you started to wonder who had the extra man. Paul Parry put tow headers wide in breaks but Ipswich had a couple of efforts at goal, one of them - a point blank effort from Sito - bringing out the very best in Neil Alexander who got down at his near post to push behind, a superb stop. Boy, did they need another half-time rollicking.
Half-time: CITY 1 IPSWICH 0
The interval saw City presented with £20,000 by Network Rail, I'm not sure why, it sounded like a crime initiative? With £60k, I believe, from Sky, it may have been a small crowd but it was decent income. The half-time challengers was the usual standard - none as good as me! - and that included Ipswich sub Darren Currie and a good touch by Ali to play New Order's Blue Monday. Had we lost, would he had played Boomtown Rats' I Don't Like Mondays?
What followed in the second half, even by City's frequent inconsistent and frustrating ways, will take some beating. They dominated the half but often looked second best on the ball. The chances came in abundant numbers, they were wasted. Guinness Book of Records are probably checking out whether the number of times Jerome's and Rickett's sloppiness left them offside is a new standard. Sometimes, the passing was good, sometimes pitiful, sometimes we looked fast and electric, sometimes we were plain lazy, sometimes we were committed, other times we watched players go by and then there were those missed chances.
Ipswich tried to push on us but regularly seemed to leave themselves vulnerable and exposed at the back, the fact they also had a makeshift defence meant they were there for the taking. City had more chances than when we walloped Crewe and had we shown the same standards in front of goal, they could have matched or beaten it.
Ricketts (twice at least), Parry (twice at least), Whitley, Jerome (three times) didn't just have good chances but were all one on one against Price but they missed the lot by either blasting over the bar or shooting and heading directly at the Welsh keeper who was exceptional but we made him look good too. There were at least half a dozen other efforts blocked or put wide from half chances too as they boys didn't seem to realise the objective was to shoot around or past the keeper. It was infuriating, Dave Jones looked on in agonies from the dugout looking very much like an undertaker in his thick overcoat and I reckon he probably wanted to bury one or two of them judging by his reactions.
There were moments when City lost the plot. Joe Ledley trying to beat 5 men on the edge of his area, Michael Ricketts demanding Rhys Weston played him a ball down the channel and then stopping as Rhys hit it, the crowd giving Weston stick when Ricketts let him down, the sideways and backwards passing and with both forwards looking out of sorts and tired, Ricketts in particular, it was crying out for fresh legs and momentum from Alan Lee but Jones resisted for reasons I suspect only he knows. I thought we'd moved on from that style of management, it was a mistake.
Ipswich surely couldn't believe they were still in the game but they could sense they could nick a result and so could most of the crowd watching City's faltering and wasteful display. With 25 to go, Joe Royle threw on 17 yr old prospect Billy Clarke for a debut and he gave City's defence some long overdue problems but it was still one way traffic even going into the final few minutes.
In the last 10 minutes, City wasted one opportunity too many and were finally punished but it was self-inflicted as usual. Clarke took the ball, twisted and turned away from City defenders but was now going wide and nowhere when Jeff Whitley, otherwise City's man of the match, hacked him down, that was stupid. He got booked for the 8th time this season but it set up Ipswich for a free shot on goal.
City got everyone back, put 6 or 7 in the wall and you knew that as long it the kick went over them, we were in trouble. Sure enough, JIMMY JUAN did exactly that, Alexander got across goal but couldn't reach the effort which flew in towards his nearside top corner.
Unbelievable, farce and complete agony, many of the crowd took that as their cue to leave. Moans turned to highly audible groans as Dave Jones now decided to take off Ricketts for Lee giving him 100 seconds plus added time to change the game. Royle took off Clarke for Currie, time wasting without doubt.
City missed another outstanding opportunity as Parry was placed clear on goal but fired straight at Lewis again from just in the area when he had time and space to run in on goal. Those who hadn't pulled their hair out were now grey and ageing fast as what they were seeing.
It looked a hopeless cause but cometh the hour, cometh the man. Jason Koumas, in a match devoid with excitement but devoid of great quality, was the only one providing any and it finally told. So many great passes, brilliant ball control and through balls that we failed to capitalise on, he needed to do it by himself. It was Neil Cox, an unlikely hero, who launched the ball forward. KOUMAS, an inevitable hero, got into the area, made sure the ball was his, the rest was pure Koumas theatre and drama.
He side-stepped the final defender cutting in towards goal before, set to shoot, he stumbled and fell. It looked gone but he got back up, steadied himself, took a touch to send him a little wider and then smashed a rising drive past Price. Let's go effing mental. A superb finish but I do believe our two goals were the only occasions all night we put shots to either side of Price.
And it still wasn't over. Seconds before at 1-1, everyone was speculating that there would be 3 to 4 minutes of added time. Moments later, at 2-1, when 4 minutes were shown, there were howls of derision and looks of disbelief. You got to laugh at us sometimes.
We almost messed it up too. Another edge of area free-kick was conceded but thankfully, it was sent over the bar and a final shot was well taken on his line by Alexander as an attacker boot missed diverting it by inches.
So we're back in the play-offs but, as importantly, 12 points above relegation and only needing 19 more to survive. We won ugly but we won and you have to salute the spirit of our players if nothing else. Who'd have ever believed that would be the case just before halfway going into December? Congratulations to Dave Jones and the boys.
Next up is Hull away this weekend and a great opportunity for more points but, for me, that's it until after Christmas as a combination of competing priorities at this time of year means that I miss the next three matches home and away. I think I need a rest after watching that anyway!
Although it's early, a Merry Xmas to you and yours. It hasn't always been pretty or entertaining this season but we're only in the play-offs we have to enjoy and celebrate that. Let's hope next game at home, the stayaways show their appreciation and give the boys deserved support from the stands and terraces rather than their tv's and radios. It's time they did.
THE COST OF BEING A CITY FAN:
Programme: £ 3
Food/Drink: £ 4
Travel: £ 3
Total for game: £30
Total for season-to-date: £1,510
Friday, November 25, 2005
Wednesday, November 23, 2005
Tuesday, November 22, 2005
CARDIFF CITY (0) 1 Lee 58
BRIGHTON (0) 1 Kazim-Richards 74
Brighton support: 250
Weather: Chilly although above freezing for a recent change, hard to think it was only 5 weeks ago we were getting tans at Withdean.
Atmosphere: Like the team, better than mid-table, not quite play-offs .
Another frustrating Ninian Park night, another missed opportunity, another game where City failed to kill off a game, another late equaliser conceded, another two points lost, another game where City failed to perform for 90 minutes, another game where City scored first and then coasted so got punished and, yet, in this curious season, we're still banging on the door of the Premiership play-offs. As Toyah would lisp, "it's a mys-ter-wee to me".
In a more entertaining game than I expected, City opened the scoring through Alan Lee just before the hour and Jason Koumas produced some creative magic. They should have gone on to record a morale boosting much needed victory but, as has often happened this term, they got lazy and were punished by a stunning 30 yard strike by sub Kazim-Richards. Had it not been for a couple of superb Alexander stops, it could easily have been defeat too.
It now appears to be compulsory when mentioning Cardiff City not to talk about football but crowds instead. The skipper does it, the manager does it, the papers do it, the radio does it, the message boards do it, the crowds do it - "How many do you think it is then?". Rhys Weston was pleased, abuse of him took second place for a change.
So let's get it out of the way first. It was 9,595, only a couple fo hundred of whom came from the South Coast. Disappointing but maybe better than some expected in advance too. The club lost almost 40% of their season ticket holders over the summer (that's about 3,500) so how anyone expected 13,000 average crowds – more than we achieved last term with 9,000 season tickets – is truly beyond me.
Out come the excuses – it’s cold, there’s Champions League football on telly, prices are too high, City don’t know how to promote themselves, I don’t trust Sam anymore, the stadium is dragging on and on, we’ve sold our best players, yet again we have no home game for a while and then it's two or three in a week, results are fine but the quality of football at home isn't, Christmas is coming and more. There’s no doubt Dave Jones and the players deserve better support as they’re not to blame for all of this but it has to be said that all of these "excuses" have truth to them and cannot simply be ignored.
Personally, I don't know why anybody's complaining. I didn't leave Barry until nearly 20 minutes before kick-off, managed to park on the street and be in my seat well before the game started. There's no queues in the toilets or bars. The programmes don't sell out and, if you prefer, you can even spread your arse cheeks over two seats. It's not all bad, you know. Right, it's done, now for the footie.
City were looking to recover from the poor display and weekend beating at Preston. Kevin Cooper remains absent as he recovers from keyhole knee surgery, Michael Ricketts was absent again (this time, due to a weekend knock) but other pre-game doubts Jeff Whitley and Alan Lee were available as was Cameron Jerome after a one game suspension and Dave Jones opted for the pace and directness of Paul Parry on the left and the expense of the pedestrianism but good crossing of Neil Ardley.
It was therefore Alexander, Barker-Purse-Lovenns-Weston, Koumas-Whitley-Ledley-Parry, Lee-Jerome. Such is City's meagre squad that they weren't able to name a forward on the bench for a home game where they were going for victory, it consisted of Margetson-the ABC of Ardley-Boland-Cox and Phil Mulryne. That appears to be the only 16 available to City other than the kids plus the impression that Darlington and Koskela just don't form part of the squad.
Brighton visited Parc Nin just two days after a 3-2 home loss to arch-rivals Crystal Palace (thanks to ex-City star Jobi McAnuff’s 94th minute clincher), a result that left them in 23rd spot. Two wins in 20 Championship games this term is awful but doesn’t reveal how the Seagulls are tough opposition on the road. This was their 10th away game, only two have been lost but this was their 7th draw, the sole away victory being a shock win at Palace.
Manager Mark McGhee also had problems. Defender Gary Hart was absent after a weekend red card, ex-City star Richard Chippy Carpenter is amongst a couple of players injured and before half-time, he lost two more players to injury forcing him to turn to his subs with an average age of 20. His starting line-up were Blayney, Reid-Dodd-Butters-McShane, Oatway-Hammond-Carole-Frutos, Knight-McPhee. The crèche on the bench were Chaigneau, El-Abd, Kazim-Richards, Nicholas and Robinson.
The opening spell with City attacking towards the Canton Stand was very entertaining, the only surprise after the first half-hour was that it was still nil-nil. Cardiff were looking the more incisive, playing the more composed and better quality football and chances were coming. Jason Koumas was close twice in the opening 12 minutes as a trademark free-kick went around the wall and had to be pushed away by Blayney but from a sparkling move starting with Glenn Loovens making an important interception on the edge of City's box, three quick passes sent Koumas on a run from inside his own half before his low 25 yard drive was fingertipped by Blayney onto the inside of the post, across the face of goal and then behind. Whitley fired over and Brighton were having to pack their area to make blocks and clearances.
However The Seagulls were no slouches either. With the tricky and unpredictable midget that is Leon Knight leading their line, it was predictable that they would spend a lot of the game belting balls for him to chase down but he was well supported in the first half at least. Alexander was forced into tow smart saves with distance efforts from ex-Bluebird jailbird Charlie Oatway and Knight before Knight, taking the ball 30 yards out, instinctively unleashed a drive that Alexander seem to have covered if it was under the bar but it was still a close shave as it smashed off the top of his crossbar.
Back came City as a glorious opportunity was wasted. A though ball sent Cameron Jerome one-on-one with the kpeer charging to the edge of his area. The players collided, the ball fell loose, Jerome gathered himself quickest and rolled the ball to an unmarked Alan Lee who had the time to control the ball, look up and shoot but he still managed to direct it onto the head of the last man standing on the goalline. I know it's sometimes more difficult than it loos but you expect Championship strikers to produce in that situation more often than not, Alan Lee seems to defy those odds.
Brighton were forced into changes. Veteran right back turned centre-half Jason Dodd came off worse in a tangle with Jerome and was gone before 16 minutes and on 35 minutes, Manchester United loanee Paul McShane was also out of the action, Alexis Nicolas (who sounds like he should be running a Brighton seafront kebab shop) was on in his place. What was apparent was that Brighton must then have been the smallest side we could possibly play but, somehow, we completely failed to take advantage of them in the air.
The rest of the half didn't quite match the frantic opening. City had the territory and possession but not the intensity about them that they started with. One plus however was Paul Parry who was, at last, showing glimpses of what he can be. He was using his pace, taking on players and putting good balls across, something he has largely failed to produce in his showings this term. Unfortunately, the one time that he was placed clear behind Brighton's defence, he hesitated over whether to shoot or fire the ball across goal and did something in-between. Brighton had now dropped back and in numbers after their losses leaving Knight more isolated but, while City were playing patient football, they were also guilty of not committing enough men into the area, too often it was Jerome and Lee against 7 or 8 defenders as balls were fired over but there were some blocks, a drive into side netting and a couple of near missed efforts.
Half-time: CITY 0 BRIGHTON 0
The half-time halfway line competition started with Brighton sub Jake Robinson, a striker,
having a go - he missed. His effort was better than the rest but there was a touching moment when 8 year old Chandler Jones who suffered with the e-coli bug that, tragically, claimed the life of his younger brother last month took the final kick and scored, albeit from 6 yards out to receive a terrific reception watched on by 50 of his schoolmates. A nice touch by City.
The early stages of the second half was much in the vein as the opening period finished. City had plenty of the ball but appeared to have dropped a gear, they were not showing enough movement and were over-elaborate. As a consequence, Brighton's makeshift defence and withdrawn midfield were encountering few problems, goalkeeper Blayney was having nothing to get excited about.
It needed a moment of magic and it duly arrived. Once again, he was crowd pleasing to watch but, once again, his best moments were in areas of the pitch were he couldn't cause too much damage until City moved the ball from deep and right to left finding Joe Ledley 35 yards out where he switched play again with a diagonal ball behind the last defender.
Jason Koumas seized the opportunity but the way he collected the ball, controlled it and fired low across goal out of reach of the keeper in a split second in no space was something nobody else in the side could produce and few at this level. His ball across the face of goal was turned home from a couple of feet by a delighted ALAN LEE. In truth, the assist was so good that David Blunkett could have scored that one without a bell in the ball or his dog to guide him.
For Lee, it was his second of the season, both coming against Brighton. I wonder if he'll dedicate that goal to someone he can't declare in case he gets in trouble for it?
From that point, City really should have gone on to kill the game but I'm afraid it became a familiar story as, instead, with opposition there to be beaten, they played well within themselves, took the sparkle out of the match and appeared happy enough to try and coast home. The team have done exceptionally well this term but I don't understand why they do this to themselves.
Just past the hour, Glen Loovens limped off, I didn't see the knock that caused it to be replaced by Neil Cox but, initially, he had little to do as the action was largely at the other end but there was nothing much to get excited about.
Jeff Whitley put one wide, Paul Parry almost doubled the lead as he ran at players had deserved luck as a couple of ricochets sent the ball back to him, keeper Blayney had to save his low shot and then a defender just put the ball behind as Parry almost had an open goal and the ban nearly fell his way again. Then, in a moment that largely summed up his evening, the pitch opened up for Jerome but he scuffed wide. Jerome had a strange night. One moment he'd show a good touch and look committed, the next totally lethargic and a poor touch. He wasn't the only one you could say that about.
Then came the agony as City were punished for their failings. Sub Kazim-Richards had only been on the pitch for 2 minutes, his brief to get nearer Knight and give him some overdue support. The ball broke loose on halfway and City were just nowhere to be seen, KAZIM-RICHARDS took it and hit a stunning powerful low 30 yard strike with little backlift that surprised everyone, it hit the back of the net in the corner before Alexander was halfway through his dive for it. It was a quality strike, the type you hit once every couple of years if you're lucky.
Incredibly, City went ragged, midfield went missing for both sides as it appeared they were having a contest of attack v defence with each other and the 50 yard patch in the middle of the pitch was a no-go area. Cardiff were making Brighton look a good side when you could fully see why they are where they are.
Brighton had the better of it, Alexander had to make two superb stops to deny Carole and Knight at his near post as swift movement and, in Knight's case, turning Barker and Cox completely inside out made glorious chances which were, thankfully, brilliantly denied.
Having lost their focus, City were just unable to find it again. Parry brought a simple save out of Blayney but other than that, it was a succession of stuttering moves that broke down. Dave Jones alternated from still numbness to frustration to anger at what he was watching. One injury stoppage saw several players go to the touchline for water, Jonesy remained motionless standing in front of the dugout, obviously feeling that whatever he said would make little difference at this stage.
He did however appear to make Rhys Weston a scapegoat for the final three minutes normal plus four minutes added time and replace him with Neil Ardley in what appeared to be a straight swap rather than a tactical last throw to 3-5-2. Not for the first time, Rhys got the most vocal and critical flak for all the ills out there but Joe Ledley (who looks like he needs a rest from the engine room), Alan Lee (goal apart, he was poor) or Cameron Jerome could have been taken off and nobody could have complained.
Darren Purse won man of the match on a night he had little pressure but won everything and looked so cool and confident in everything he did. Neil Alexander's save prevented defeat so he would have been a good shout. Chris Barker seems to be having a dip at the moment. Jason Koumas, as often happens, flits in and out but is indispensable, take him out of that midfield and we have nothing. It was good to see Paul Parry showing welcome signs of finding form but fans walked away knowing City had thrown two points away against very limited opposition and feeling frustrated by the performance which was too average and too poor in too many spells.
Incredibly, City actually rose two places to 8th with that point and only 1 win with 6 points in their last 6 Championship games. It says so much about this division this season. We're only two points off play-off places but, there again, we're also only 2 points from dropping into the bottom half of the table. It says so much about this average division this season where anyone can beat anyone except the top two who both are on course to be promoted to the Premiership well before Easter at this rate. The rest are also rans.
Right, that's the football out of the way. With the next game at home next Monday night against Ipswich being shown live on tv, no doubt the next week will be spent discussing crowds again and how many we'll have for that game. I think I'll hibernate until then!
THE COST OF BEING A CITY FAN:
Programme: £ 3
Food/Drink: £ 4
Travel: £ 3
Total for game: £30
Total for season-to-date: £1,480