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