CITY STYLISH SIGN OFF WITH A KICK UP THE R's
Cardiff City 1
Queens Park Rangers 0
So what was the fuss all about?
City, temporarily on the pitch and permanently in the record books, made everyone forget what a tortuous, relegation threatened, financial meltdown it's been following the club by signing off the season with a 1-0 victory over QPR and climbing to a final, comfortable 16th place, only 3 positions lower than last term.
With safety assured and no pressures, Cardiff's players lost their inhibitions to produce a first half performance to match anything this season. Jobi McAnuff scored what many will regard as goal of the season, The Bluebirds should have been at least two or three goals clear of the Londoners by the interval. The players minds however seemed to be at airports (or was it their agents offices?) ready for summer getaways afterwards but they hung on to receive prolonged applause and ovations.
With City's Championship status thankfully confirmed last week and QPR safely in mid-table, it was a wind down affair and an occasion to enjoy. Cardiff should have wanted to avenge a 1-0 defeat in West London last November, a real horror show and a strong candidate for worst display of the season - although it had plenty of competition (Plymouth, Watford, Derby at home, Ipswich, Reading, Wigan away anyone?). QPR's last visit to the real Capital was that 1-0 Millennium Stadium defeat two years ago this month, a reason for their manager and players to desire victory today.
Cardiff's side picks itself these days, there are no real decisions for Lennie to make. So it was Alexander, Williams-Collins-Gabbidon-Barker, Ardley-Langley-Boland-McAnuff, Thorne-Jerome. Subs were Margetson-Bullock-Lee-Parry-Vidmar.
Ian Holloway's side have enjoyed their return to this level and, in many ways, have mirrored City's debut season here last term. A great start to the season, livewire play-off contenders at Christmas before settling into mid-table at the business end of the season. They finished in 11th place, 8 points ahead of us and would have been very pleased at that.
In their familiar hooped shirts but in tawdry lime green and white to avoid a colour clash, they started with Rossi - Bignot-Shittu-Santos-Padula, Cook-Bircham-Rowlands-Cureton, Thorpe-Gallen. Subs were Day-Bean-Edgehill-Hislop,Miller.
On a day when the weather was changeable, the match was played under a mix of bright sun or dark cloud and a swirling wind. The crowd was a healthy 15,722 - at least that's what it was declared as - including about 1,000 R's, all of whom witnessed a Cardiff City footballing masterclass in the first half with wave after wave of attacks towards the Canton Stand.
In fact, City could have been three up in the opening 10 minutes alone. Cameron Jerome looked odds on to score inside 4 minutes when a Thorney flick sent him racing clear, his shot inside the area was denied only by smart Rossi reflexes and he got down to save the ball. McAnuff, in outstanding form, almost got himself clear and was just denied then an Ardley corner was headed over by Collins inside the 6 yard box.
City's build up play was fast, exciting and skilful, it has the crowd purring and QPR boss Ian Hollloway reduced to the role of helpless onlooker although his trademark ranting style was close to boiling over. City were within a whisker again of 15 minutes as Ardley delivered another dangerous corner, the ball dropped between several players before Jerome's shot was cleared off the line. A follow up corner saw Rangers just scramble clear again, they looked as down and out already as a Joe Calzaghe opponent.
The first time Rangers made inroads towards City's goal saw Cureton glance a header comfortably wide as City continued to pound the visitors goal with a succession of clever play, good passing, corners and crosses before they eventually scored on 26 minutes, a goal of breathtaking quality but, ironically, after a game of one way pressure, it came from the first time City went at Rangers on the counter-attack.
Cardiff won the ball deep in their own half and when Danny Williams played the ball ahead to Cameron Jerome just inside halfway, there was nothing on. The sheer quality of Jerome's outrageous dummy and turn to leave Santos made the whole ground gasp, you wanted to shout Ole!, as he advanced Danny Shittu came over to the touchline like a steamroller and looked odds on to take the ball, and probably Jerome too, into the Bob Bank but Jerome's precocious talent and speed saw him touch the ball first, leave Shittu dumped, and he tore away again down the touchline. Jerome was probably the only Cardiff player who could still have got to the ball now running towards the Canton Stand/Bob Bank corner but he made it, stood it up, and then sent over a low first time cross. Peter Thorne charged into the middle, took a swing and missed but it ran across the area where JOBI McANUFF matched Jerome's magic with a finish of brilliance, stroking the ball back across goal and right inside Rossi's far corner beating the keeper's despairing dive. That was football heaven.
McAnuff ran straight over to Jerome and jumped on him followed by most of the rest of the team. As assists go, Jerome's was in a league of its own. The celebrations and roars were worthy of a truly fantastic goal.
City were rampant and sparkled all over the pitch but particularly going forward. McAnuff was inches away from firing his, and City's second, within a couple of minutes of the opener as a goalmouth scramble saw the ball drop for him 15 yards out, his effort looked in all the way.
Langley put wide too and even Willie Boland got in on the act. The midfielder with 3 goals in 6 years, 2 of those penalties, must have had nosebleeds and he got into the penalty area twice, firstly only being denied by a desperate last ditch tackle and then showing great play at an angle to chest the ball, flick it past a defender and hit a dipped shot across goal that went wide of the far post. Willie was dynamic!
Ardley was blocked just before half-time before Jerome nearly rounded off an outstanding first half with another outstanding minute in the 1 minute added time as he took the ball 35 yards out and had the same effect on QPR's defence as an instant laxative and he ran at them, sped and tricked his way past three challenges, dummied another into diving for him with another dummy but fired over with the goal in his sights. Brilliant entertainment.
The half-time whistle blew from the resulting goal kick, City cheered and roared off with a standing ovation that lasted until every last player had disappeared down the tunnel. It was fantastic stuff which belied much of the dross we had witnessed at Ninian Park for much of the season until the side had found character through adversity in recent weeks.
Half-time: CITY 0 QPR 0
The less said about the second half, from a Cardiff City view, the better. This was the proverbial game of two halves and as one fan remarked at final whistle and seeing the sun shining, "I think they got the deckchairs out for the second half", such was the contrast to the opening 45 minutes.
City had two let offs. The first an amazing Kevin Gallen miss just before the hour when Darren Williams made a terrible mistake deep in his own half which presented the ball to a QPR player who switched it inside putting Gallen clear on Alexander. The keeper came out, the shot beat him but was incredibly put wide too. Never has "what the ****ing hell was that?" been sung so loud and so rightly.
With 15 minutes to go, Padula's 25 yard free-kick smacked the top off Alexander's crossbar although the keeper looked to have had it covered if it dipped underneath. Alexander also made a good save from Cook.
You always felt QPR were going to equalise as City got sloppy, feel deep and seemed to lose all the pace and energy that they had first half but our defence have been outstanding for us in the second half of the season in particular and it seemed fitting for all that they signed off with a clean sheet. They conceded just 51 all season, better than any side who finished in the Championship play-offs, incredible for a team who battled relegation throughout.
City never created a single effort all half but found some rhythm again for the final 15 minutes after a lost half hour. Lennie used all subs, Thorne and Jerome were replaced by Lee and Parry for the final quarter. Lee - who has gone from skinhead to Beatles moptop inside two months - gave us an unintentional laugh when he used his physique to force his way past three challenges across goal and then ran into Paul Parry and lose the ball. For the final 10 minutes, there was a sentimental choice as Tony Vidmar got his final run out and did some good work too, winning a couple of needed late challenges.
There was more interest in the second half with who was going down, something we genuinely thought we'd be fighting to avoid today only a couple of weeks ago. Fortunes swung as Brighton hung on for the point they needed, Crewe who were trailing at the interval and down turned things around to win for the first time in 20 games and almost 5 months. It meant Gillingham had to win at Forest and they also turned around a deficit for a 2-1 lead before conceding in the final 5 minutes. Having survived by 1 goal on goal difference last season, they went down by the same margin this term, no doubt in agonies over Forest's last equaliser this week and Paul Parry doing the same for us last week.
So City finished the season with their 10th home win, matching last season's tally. Lennie however proclaimed his team had to do better than last season total of 7 home losses, they lost 9 and that was a significant reason why we were always in trouble - couple with the fact we only won 3 times on the road to make up for home defeats. However on a day when others above us lost, City lost to climb to the heady heights of 16th, a slightly false position but we'll gratefully take it.
The closing stages saw the ground get covered with close to 100 police -where did they come from and why? - and the pitch perimeter rimmed by a similar number of stewards but I'm so pleased to say that, at final whistle, they successfully managed to stop Sam Hammam getting onto the pitch! Well done lads. ;>)
Instead, final scenes were all about the crowd and the players - as it should be. It was touching - QPR's players went to their fans, some boots and shirts launched to their fans who gave them good backing in the second half - while City's went around every part of the ground in unison. Ginge Collins launched his boots into the Grange End an incredible distance, he should try javelin this summer.
It went on for some time but last off were Gabbs, Ginge and Williams followed by, last of all, Tony Vidmar. Ali who did an excellent tannoy job once more announcing it was his final City game. The difference being we know he's going, I wonder how many others just completed their last game too?
And that's it folks. Another season over and, for the first time since Sam came here, I must say hallejuah for that. I can handle City hanging on in the Championship while they hopefully stabilise and progress - after all, give me this than the dungeon anyday - but I hope hard lessons are learned and supporters do not get treated with the contempt, mistruths and p.r. shambles we've endured this term. Unfortunately, if Sam's statement this week is anything to go by, I doubt it very much.
In my lifetime supporting City we've had plenty of bad seasons, we've had absolutely dreadful ones and we've had ones where the club's future was in the balance but we've never had one where the people running it have promised us so much but delivered so little, broken so many promises and told hardly any truths. That, for me, makes this as low a season as I've ever known following my club. I feel the fans were badly let down and treated with contempt to the extent that some who had genuine questions and expressed concerns got abused and slated for doing so. They can never be right.
The club has got itself into a shocking mess and whilst we hope for the best, all attention now diverts to the club trying to resolve its many complex issues and internal politics. On the football side, we've lost our best goalscorer, we've lost our captain and we fear we may yet lose anyone of decent price and ability with Danny Gabbidon's departure looking a certainty. With Lennie Lawrences's sights seemingly set on decent, cheap lower division players rather than tried, tested and experienced players at this level, City somehow have to do better than this season but, more likely, with a tougher hand of cards.
Sam Hammam has lost most of his respect, trust and credibility with supporters and must be straight, open and honest with us from now on. Judge the man by his actions only, his words - as two pages of complete drivel and no content in The Echo this week showed - are of little value and bo guide.
There is hope however, there always has to be hope. Clubs like Ipswich, Derby, Sunderland have managed to turn themselves around and if City and Sam can get their acts together, behave more professionally and more responsibly, it may take time but ills can be put right.
And if it doesn't improve - well I guess there's always Brighton, Crewe and, maybe whoever wins the League One play-offs, tom give us a chance of staying up again next season.
Thanks to all the players for always being our inspiration, motivation, frustration. They have mostly under-performed, they have been overpaid but they've still given us good moments over the season - I wouldn't know what to do if we didn't have them to follow.
Thanks to all City fans for your laughs, tears, angst, friendship, disagreements but, mostly, for giving me more great laughs and memories over the season than the team did. We don't all see everything the same way but wouldn't it be unbelievably boring if we did?
Have a great summer - see you in August.