Wednesday, April 19, 2006
Championship Good Friday at Good Ol'Parc Ninian
CARDIFF CITY (0) 0
SHEFFIELD UNITED (0) 1
Sunny and mild
Ok for an end of season friendly
Report also appears at www.nigelblues.blogspot.com
SHEFFIELD UNITED all bar guaranteed Premiership promotion with a late 1-0 winner at Ninian Park. Twenty four hours later, it was confirmed with three games remaining without them kicking a ball thanks to rivals Watford and Leeds both failing to win their games to end all mathematical improbabilities.
The Blades played well within themselves, simply determined not to lose. There was little quality and less to enthuse about. Compared to Reading who put us to the sword and proved they were worthy Champions, United gave every impression that without major investment, they will be Premiership cannon fodder to rival Sunderland's efforts this season but good luck to them. City fans cheekily sang, "Premiership, you're having a laugh" and you felt some justification in that. More justification that the optimistic Blades followers who chanted, "we'll never see you again" anyway.
As for City, they played better than recently but are ready for the beaches. They given their all and there's nothing really left. The fans are ready for this season to be over and although they won't admit, I'm sure Dave Jones and his team feel the same way.
They didn't deserve to lose. For an hour, City more than matched Sheffield and were the better side. In all honesty however, it was another sterile, dull, limited entertainment Ninian Park clash. The damning City fact is that we didn't manage a meaningful effort on goal and hardly threatened. Neil Warnock's men, meantime, scored with their only attempt on target and were gifted that. Only Jason Koumas made the game rise above bland, The Blades ugly win was a City habit but it's been lost recently.
If a team like Sheffield United can get promoted with some ease, the play-off and relegation places are all decided by Easter and City lose three on the trot but stay 8th as nobody below really gained any ground on us in that time, doesn't it underline what a poor Championship season it has been. It doesn't detract from City's achievement but it has been far from the best.
City, unusually playing at 3pm on Good Friday thanks to Sky tv, would have wanted to do themselves justice after last weekend's self-inflicted heavy loss to runaway leaders Reading. Thier cause wasn't helped by injuries. Neil Ardley joined Ferretti on the sidelines. Koumas, Thompson and Loovens were all rumoured to be playing with knocks. By half-time, we'd lost Boland and Purse and Weston finished the game as a passenger. It may be barebones at Crewe on Monday, take your boots.
For the record, Rhys Weston got a chance with Ardley absent but it was otherwise the same staring personnel used against Reading with Boland preferred to Whitley in that disjointed midfield, Joe Ledley continuing as left back. Alexander, Weston-Purse-Loovens-Ledley, Koumas-Scimeca-Boland-Cooper, Thomson-Jerome. The bench, again without a reserve keeper, contained Barker-Cox-Nsungu-Parry-Whitley.
Just as Cardiff and Wolves eventually proved nowhere near good enough to see out a play-off challenge, Sheffield United have limped to promotion in recent times. Despite recent struggles - a meagre 13 points in their last 11 games ahead of City - none of the play-off teams got to them. Again, what does that say about quality in this season's Championship? Jangly nerves were eased by recent wins including last week's 3-2 90th win comeback win over Hull so, in truth, The Blades came to Ninian knowing they could probably lose all their final games and still claim second spot.
Differences between City and The Blades were obvious. Sheffield has used 45 players this season, we haven't used half that number and look to the same 11 players game after game. Their squad is 31 compared to our 23 and it reflects itself in the options and quality on the substitute bench. No wonder we look burned out. Warnock's team were Kenny,
Neil Warnock selected Kenny, Unsworth-Short-Morgan-Kozluk, Montgomery-Jagielka-Tonge-Armstrong, Shipperley-Webber. On the bench were Akinbiyi-Geary-Ifill-Kabba and Lucketti.
After a downpour early morning, the weather had changed to a mild and sunny afternoon. The crowd was just 11,006. Sheffield United making a mockery of those City fans protesting they should been given the whole Grange End on messageboards, they had a good 1,500 support but it was quite shocking to see they couldn't sell out what they had. If City were one step from the Prem, Sky tv or not, we know we'd have been there on the road. The Blades have never brought great support down here so why be surprised?
If you judge your football by goalmouth action, the first half was as poor as it gets. Sheffield United saw Montgomery head comfortably wide. That was their sole effort. For Cardiff, Cooper had the best chance when put clear by Koumas but wasted it as he blasted well over the bar. Koumas hit the roof of the Canton Stand, Thompson glanced a header wide from a Koumas cross, Loovens shot trickled to Kenny in United's goal.
Cardiff were more than competitive, playing reasonable football at times and had most of the possession and territory but were going nowhere. They won a series of corners but wasted the lot. Koumas putting everyone in the 6 yard box towards the far post, Kenny dominated that area and took every catch with no challenge. The one time Koumas varied it, he did a Kavanagh - failing to beat the first defender.
By half-time, they were rocked with two injury blows. Firstly before the half-hour, Willie Boland who had been performing well was following a ball out of play but pulled up in front of the dugout with a hamstring pull. Jeff Whitley replaced him, some wondered if that's the last we'll ever see of Willie, now Cardiff's longest serving player, in a City shirt.
Closer to half-time, Darren Purse, who had returned to customary service and standards after his Reading shocker, won a block tackle but jarred his leg. He hobbled for the closing minutes of the half, hoping to be sorted at the interval, but it was clear that he was fighting a losing battle.
Cardiff were clapped off but there was no mistaking it was a poor affair. It was a game which commenced with reasonable tempo and promise but soon became dour and predictable.
Half-time: CARDIFF CITY 0 SHEFFIELD UNITED 0
Thanks to Ali for playing a long but worthy half-time dedication to Mike Morris who is the Big 40 on Monday and a blast of AC/DC's Whole Lotta Rosie did sound good over the tannoy. It turned out to be more memorable than the game.
City returned with Neil Cox replacing Purse, Sheffield made a change themselves as Ade Akinibiyi was on for Neil Shipperley was barely had a touch in the first half, well bossed by City's defence. The Blades went into a pitch huddle and grope, bless'em, but it was City who seemed to find another gear and applied early pressure.
Two promising moves were intercepted before a big chance arrived on 50 minutes, Steven Thomson glanced a perfectly controlled header on halfway past two defenders, Koumas burst through and looked away on goal. Just as he shot on the edge of the area, with the crowd willing him home, David Unsworth got a last gasp touch, the ball rolled to Kenny and our moment was gone.
Neil Warnock had his only loss of temper of the day, feeling the pressure, as City cleanly won a ball and possession in front of him. Warnock, surely frustration more than anything, argued with the ref, 4th official and then some in the crowd behind. It's panto, isn't it?
Sheffield United came back as Armstorng and Webber both had chances but missed them, Webber closest as he hit the side netting with his shot seemingly covered by Alexander. With 25 to go, Sheffield brought on their second substitute striker as Steve Kabba replaced Armstrong and gave City's defence some different problems. Oh to be able to do that and vary things.
Two minutes later, the normal substitute cautious Dave Jones went for broke too as Paul Parry replaced the Cooper who seems to have returned to his anonymous ways which meant City has used all three subs for the first time in living memory under Jones (has there been another times) but also with quarter of the game to go. It was in the script that would somehow haunt us.
That haunting arrived on 76 minutes as Rhys Weston flew into a challenge on halfway and let out a full throated "f***" to the bench. He was suffering with cramp. Sheffield attacked down his side and he got back but went down in the area for treatment as The Blades won a corner. His cramp was extreme but this was neither a hard game or a hot day, just how do our players suffer with cramp after 75 minutes???
The corner was cleared and Rhys flew into another big challenge near the touchline to prevent United winning second phase possession. It won a big ovation but the challenge sent him down with cramp again level with the Canton Stand area near the Grandstand. It was fatal as it played United's players onside, they stayed up and City's defenders had to hold back. Then a moment of craziness as Cameron Jerome on halfway, oblivious to Rhys sitting on the pitch flexing his foot, played a pass in the general direction of where Rhys should have been.
DANNY WEBBER who was barely seen in the game took the ball with ease, ate up the big hole and gap left on the right and as he reached the edge of the box, angled the perfect low curling shot into the far corner. Unbelievable stuff.
The Blades fans went mad and started their Promotion celebrations, the players went to the dugout and mobbed with Warnock.
That was pretty much your lot. United were never going to concede, Cardiff were effectively down to 10 men with Weston limping through the closing minutes in midfield and Scimeca dropped to right back which may be a better role for him? Parry and Whitley had efforts blocked but it was going through the motions.
Final whistle saw Cardiff fans drift silently away, if they hadn't already gone, quite a few
clapping Sheffield. United players and bench all went to the Grange corner to celebrate with their fans. They knew it was job done.
It is disappointing that a previous excellent home record with only 3 Championship defeats all season was now being spoiled by two home losses inside a week but City are flat and it emphasises there's a lot of work and rebuilding to be done over the summer if we're not to fall backwards fast, let alone stagnate. Recent form has been 11 points off 10 games, that's not good.
The problem areas are very defined. Ask fans who should be a first teamer for next season and, almost without exception, the only names that will feature are likely to be Alexander, Loovens, Purse, Koumas and Jerome. Two of those names are loan players. Barker and Weston's features must be in some doubt, Ledley is doing well at left back but I hope that doesn't become his position, that midfield needs drastic overhaul and we need a new first team striker and options on the bench.
What happens over the summer is infinitely more important that what happens in the last of our Championship matches for this season. In full honesty, the season this season is over, the better for all - fans, players and management.
The highlight of the day was a post match bevvy, a bus trip to town with a David Essex City supporting lookalike belting out his hits to a bus crew who joined in and an evening that became a blur ... just like the game.
The Cost of Being A City Fan: (costs are for two)
Programme: £ 3
Transport: £ 7
Club shop goodies: £10
Total for game: £71
Total for Season to date: £3,192
Monday, April 17, 2006
MIKE "Past It" MORRIS
( He Don't A Look A Day Over 22 )
This flattering pic of the Morris-meister - showing all his best features - was taken just a fortnight ago in Southampton during a Friday night special.
If that was he was like there, heaven help us today at Crewe!!
HAPPY BIRTHDAY MOZZA - ENJOY THE DAY!
Monday, April 10, 2006
Saturday March 18th
Championship at St Mary's
(Ground 84 of the current 92 for myself)
SOUTHAMPTON (0) 3
Lundekvam 47, Fuller 70 & 75
CARDIFF CITY (0) 2
Jerome 57, Purse 90
Sunny and fairly mild but a chilly breeze
Southampton - Quaint
City - Primitive
Report also appears at www.nigelblues.blogspot.com
Full weekend pics (the good, the bad and the downright ugly)
are at: http://tinyurl.com/eaefn
A poor all-round performance especially at the back, a lack of quality and strength by a jaded team who always fight but have run out of gas condemned City to a 3-2 defeat against Southampton at sunny St. Mary's in front of 3,000 travelling Bluebirds.
Our loss against lowly was magnified by Preston winning away at high placed Coventry. City remain 8th but eight points behind 6th Preston with 5 games each remaining means the only ones left talking of play-off hopes are eternal optimists, mathematicians and Dave Jones who
will rightly talk about the possibility until it is absolutely impossible. With newly crowned Champions Reading and the near Premiership certainties Sheffield United up next, that fat lady may as well start singing.
All the goals came in the second half. Both teams survived first-half scares, Cardiff had more let offs but fell behind immediately the restart thanks to sloppy set piece defending but once again showed their fighting spirit by hitting back through Jerome. It was not enough as The Saints found an extra gear in man of the match Ricardo Fuller who grabbed a double that Cardiff half-gifted him. An injury-time Darren Purse header was mere consolation. Yet again, the Bluebirds failed to provide an unbeaten run or follow a win with a win, a season long habit that has finally cost us.
The train journey down. If you thought trains were jam-packed coming down Saturday morning, you should have been on a Friday. Two carriages, all full and a heating system that was jammed at 90 degrees. Had to drink to stay cool and we only had ale - pity! The posh girl who feel asleep reading a novel won't forget reawakening to find she'd been holding onto the centrespread of Daily Sport in a hurry, she never went back off to zzzz's again.
Checked into our High Street hotel, only a huge Wetherspoon's next door which delayed our check-in and inspired us to get back out quickly. Over 30 of us were out for the night and what a good night. In attendance were Mike Morris, over a dozen of the Lansdowne coach regulars and another 10 or so attached to the London & South East 1927 Club.
First port of call was The Square, very similar to the one in Cardiff's St Mary Street, and just like that one, no longer popular with the locals. In fact, had we not been there, nobody would have been. Still, we were suckers for those two cocktails for a fiver, it would have been rude not to. Saturday, it was bursting with Bluebirds, possibly their only trade of the weekend.
Next visit was Yates' and that was fun. Bumped into another group of early City arrivals, some boys from Neath and two or three hen nights, the St. Trinian's Girls proving very popular with the boys. Half a dozen of them jumped on me and promptly gave my beer belly a "happy slapping" - it was strangely erotic, I enjoyed that.
The evening became soured when we next tried Flare's. My missus and one of the boys were first to the door and promptly asked if they were Welsh. When she said yes, they said, "we're not admitting Welsh people" and all of us were "banned". When others were admitted no questions asked, it rightly angered some to protest. I'm sure their reasons were to do with the game but what a disgusting, offensive policy and attitude. We're were a mixed age and mixed sex group.
Anyway, enough of that, it actually helped the evening as next venue was Margarita's at the quayside and what a place. Formal restaurant start of night that then becomes a party venue. This was a posh Kiwi's, loads of women and the place to go if you're a single-ton or 'on tour'. A couple of the boys had a result and big night.
However none endured the night of Mike Morris. Having a big night out, he headed home to a perfectly good hotel room and bed about 4am and entered what he though was the courtyard entrance. It was Lloyds TSB car park two doors away and, once inside it, he couldn't work out how to get back out so spent the night under the stars and extractor fans. What an inglorious end to the week for "The Cat" - our new goalkeeping legend!
And so matchday, cracking breakfast in our hotel, Mike had finally got in to join us and, top marks to the leg-end, he finished it and went straight into Wetherspoon's ... mind you, 50+ Cardiff fans were already there ahead of him. I went for a stroll first - lightweight, I know - and bumped into plenty of City fans, a big day beckoned.
By lunchtime, the town centre was packed with Bluebirds in full flow and full voice. A number of us decided a leisurely pre-game bevvy at The Marina may be preferable and it was enjoyable drinking Premium Beer ... at Premium Prices! ... overlooking millions of pounds of classy boats. The money I spend watching City, I could have one myself if I didn't do it.
Match tickets included free busses to St. Mary's Ground from anywhere in Southampton but with it being a one mile walk from city centre or marina and the weather being pretty decent, most opted for the short walk. Hardly a scenic stroll, St. Mary's is located at the arse end of an industrial estate meaning you pass factory after goods yard after depot after warehouse and scrap yard to get there. A wry smile crossed our faces spotting one factory called Valley Reinforcements Ltd ... the number and type of City faces around, they had truly arrived. To cap it all, St Mary's had an impressive main frontage but facing it was an aggregate yard full of sand mounds. It's like having Ninian Park down Rover Way.
There are mixed views on new stadiums. They're necessary in this day and age, they certainly lack character. I liked St. Mary's for a first visit, an enclosed bowl shaped stadium with a single deep tier all around. Facilities were good, views were excellent and 3,000 City fans arced all around one goal from one side to the other was a mighty impressive sight.
Whether I'll continue liking it is another matter but another impressive aspect was also a concern. West Midlands Police tool up for 1,500 City fans and ban us form all pubs, Hampshire police went to the other extreme allowing us free roaming around the town and minimal presence. Inside the ground, there was no barrier or no thin blue separating rival fans but half a dozen stewards, perhaps 10 yards apart. Some City and Soton fans were closer to each other than a steward. It seemed too relaxed and naive especially given our support attracted plenty of non-regulars who were willing to abuse this trust.
Anyway, football. Dave Jones returned to the club where he has, so far, enjoyed his greatest success with one enforced change to the side who fought a miserable 0-0 draw with QPR last outing. Steven Thompson apparently failed a late fitness on a hamstring injury so in came Nsungu-Ndumbu. On the bench, Lee Worgan made way as, for the first time under DJ, City gambled with 5 outfield substitutes. It was therefore Alexander, Ardley-Purse-Loovens-Barker, Koumas-Ledley-Scimeca-Cooper, Jerome-Nsungu. Subs were Boland-Cox,Ferretti-Weston-Whitley.
Southampton expected an immediate return to the Premiership or, at the very least, a promotion/play-off challenge. Instead, they are horrified to be involved in a relegation battle as turmoil off the pitch inevitably affected what happens on the field. Rupert Lowe a hate figure, Clive Woodward a joke figure, Harry Redknapp walked out, Dennis Wise a casualty, Dave Bassett left, a coach with novel methods was pushed, teenager Theo Walcott sold to Arsenal for £12M and not seen since. The club sometimes seem to be more occupied with legal action than football action.
George Burley, now in charge, has had quite a year himself after being sacked by Derby midst rumours of inappropriate behaviour, then by Hearts when he had them well clear in the Scottish Premier. Fans were handing out petitions urging others to boycott buying a season ticket, a rumoured fly past parading a "Lowe Out" banner didn't materialise.
For this vital game, Burley went with Miller, Baird-Lundekvam-Kenton-Higgingbotham, Madsen-Wright-Chaplow-Brennan, Rasiak-Fuller. Kenny Miller, you fat b*stard, had come out of retirement at 37 having been discarded by Bristol Rovers last summer. Captain Klaus Lundekvam was the only starting survivor from Dave Jones' time with The Saints. In midfield, the young and perfectly bald Richard Chaplow was on loan from West Brom but City fans will remember him from his Burnley days. Up front, Polish international was on loan from Spurs and was partnered by Ricardo Fuller making his first start in almost 5 months.
Southampton were attacking towards us and that mean,t for the first 15 minutes, we saw plenty of the ball. They were out of the traps and at us, we were fortunate to survive that period. Four times they got behind us, nearly always on Chris Barker's side to send over crosses and shots. When they didn't, Glenn Loovens was having to come across to cover as Barker was lost, the Dutchman giving Barks some sound advice at one point.
By half-time, Loovens was off injured, perhaps no surprise as he seemed to be doing two jobs out on the field. Another major struggler was Nsungu who must have ended chances of a City career beyond this season on this showing. Lethargic, slow of pace but even worse with speed of thought in failing to react to passes and through balls, he looked what he was - a gamble on a lower division striker. They sometimes work, this one hasn't, we need better.
In spite of that, City gradually clawed their way back and were closest to scoring in a poor first half but another one which showed our lack of balance, width, passing and movement. The fans started City going by taunting the quiet home fans with "One Rupert Lowe" and "One Harry Redknapp", plenty of Pompey jibes and more than few in homage to City. It was Loovens who nearly got us advantage, meeting a Koumas corner and desperately unlucky to see his nod headed off the line with Miller well beaten. Miller was also beaten by a Koumas free-kick which missed by a fraction but, on the other hand, we were also indebted to a couple more superb Alexander saves to keep parity. The game was opening up, it would normally help City but we looked the more vulnerable of the two.
Half-time: SOUTHAMPTON 0 CITY 0
Most City fans went underneath for a chat - hello Melvin of Barry/Rhoose infamy - good to see us still with City after all these years eh? You had to chat as the beer wait was ridiculous, the bar staff weren't bright enough to pour drinks ready for the interval. By the time, most of us got served, City were one down.
Neil Cox relaced Loovens but within two minutes of the restart, a corner from the left and CLAUS LUNDEKVAM criminally rose unchallenged to flick home inside the 6 yard box at the near post with City's defence and keeper now awake to have an inquest and argument with each other. Lundekvam never scored for Dave Jones and this was his first in over 10 years at home with Dave Jones the opposing manager. His only other Saints goal was at Wolves, yep against Dave Jones, that one virtually sealed Wolves' relegation.
The home fans and team were buoyant, few were confident we'd turn this around. My "lucky hat" bought that morning which had me described as a Fat Pete Doherty, Uncle Paulie from the Rocky films, Suggs from Madness and a Swiss yodeller had to be removed and on came the hotel shower cap! It worked too. City are fighters and never give up, a value DJ has instilled into his team. It shone through on 57 minutes, when from nothing, City were level in a "mental minute".
It all came from a corner, Koumas sent the ball over which hailed the most incredible melee. CAMERON JEROME was first to react, his header from 6 yards clearly crossed the line as far as I'm concerned but was headed out from behind, Darren Purse followed up and headed against the bar, Nsungu did likewise which went in too but again came back before Jerome bundled over for a third time, this also cleared but, finally, it was a City goal. If only they could award us all three!
The City end went ballistic but we were let down by a number of our fans. I threw my lucky shower cap away in the excitement rush, that's why we lost but it was mild compared to twenty or more jumped onto the perimeter or pitch, celebrating players were joined by fans. One lunatic hurled a full coke bottle with cap on into the Southampton fans. Luckily, they saw and caught it, then someone did a copycat. At the front left, City fans were in heated argument with stewards, police and Southampton fans and then, at the rear, there was a surge towards the home fans with supporters goading each other. Order was just about restored, police were eventually drafted to fill the side and the front. Sometimes, we really don't help our cause.
City were now buoyant and partying hard, the signing immense, the belief was there. Dave Jones finally put us out of some misery by removing the pitiful Nsungu (he could have done it at half-time and nobody would have argued) to finally give Ferretti a chance on 67 but before he had any chance, it was game over.
Enter Ricardo Fuller to kill the dream. His direct fast, hard running and skills had caused problems all afternoon and Chris Barker had struggled big time against him but you can only criticise the defending for his first goal. With 20 minutes remaining, the ball went into a corner, FULLER chased and got it then beat Chris Barker all too easily and cut across City's defence either beating weak challenges or watching others stand off him. When he got level with goal, he completely miskicked but it rolled past two defenders and beat Neil Alexander. It was a choker.
Southampton fans were now up and 5 minutes later they were in heave, yet again, where was our defending? A corner came over, FULLER headed towards goal unchallenged, a defensive header was looped right back at him and he sent a none too powerful shot into the ground which beat Alexander when it didn't look as though it should have.
DJ's last sub was to replace Kevin Cooper, having one of his anonymous games, for Willie Boland but the game was going nowhere until, out of nothing, a City corner, DARREN PURSE - who turned down a summer move to Southampton in preference to City - sent a header flying high into the net.
It seemed a consolation, and it turned out that way, but deep into added time. Jason Koumas won himself a free-kick in a good position, a bit further out than he would have liked. He effort beat the wall but was too close to Miller but, even so, it was a moment of panic as he needed two attempts to gather.
The fans applauded the players, the players applauded the fans, both knew that the play-off chase had, realistically, ended. The football has rarely been quality but that team have done us proud. In the end, we just have little left to give and just not strength and quality to make the difference between play-offs and the also-rans. There is no shame in that.
After the misbehaviour of some, routes back to town were changed for home and away fans but, even then, there were pockets of incidents. What seemed a good idea of waiting back for an hour or two to get a less-packed train home tuned out to be anything but, we all had the same idea! Wetherspoon's was made to close but every other pub was open to us.
Fortunately, the 6:40pm train home would normally be two carriages but many more were added. Mike Morris and myself had a few drinks together and it had been a very long weekend, that's my excuse for not remembering much of the journey home anyway.
The Cost of Being A City Fan:
(Cost are for two - again - and I've not counted Friday night)
Programme: £ 3
Taxis: £ 7
Total for game: £173
Total for Season to date: £3,051
Sunday, March 26, 2006
Saturday March 18th Championship at Ninian Park
(a ground we don't have to share with anyone)
CARDIFF CITY (0) 0
QUEENS PARK RANGERS (0) 0
Mini monsoon pre-game, light drizzle during game
Loads of kids but, thankfully, no horns.
CARDIFF CITY and QPR plodded their way through 90 minutes of 0-0 football-hell. City maintained their season long affliction of Bighomecrowd-itis but at least they didn't lose this one. Both sides, through bad defending rather than good play, had one golden opportunity and wasted it. A combo of poor conditions, poorer play and a game devoid of quality and imagination meant both sides comfortably cancelled the other.
It was a game that truly belonged to a dustbin. On a day when spluttering Preston also drew at home, Wolves had a shock home defeat and teams below us lost, it did no harm but little good. Games and chances to make the play-offs are fast running out, we certainly therefore lost two points than gained one.
Family Fun Day was the theme - someone forgot to tell the weatherman and the footballers - every paying adult could have upto 2 free kids. I bet Gary Glitter was gutted to be inside and unable to go. The crowd responded - Friday "in the know" informers declared it was already over 16,000 - but turned out to be 14,271 officially. All sections of the ground looked busy with, pleasingly, the Family Stand packed. City also put next term's season ticket sales on offer and had very early takers.
Attendance may also have hit the last minute walk up crowd. After a beautiful sunny mild start to day, the skies turned grey and by lunchtime, it poured and poured. The Bob Bank terrace, unsurprisingly, was the one area of the ground with room. With the football on offer, a planned Fun Day for the kids was anything but for many. Miserable weather, miserable football, welcome to life with Cardiff City! Seriously, with floods in Sloper Road and huge puddles to tip-toe through or around outside the turnstiles and queues like a Next sale for ticket kiosks, catering booths and the like, it emphasised why our stadium - great as it is to traditionalists - still belongs to the last century.
With everyone fit, Dave Jones gave any thought to his starting eleven, it would have been for a few seconds only before deciding on the same eleven who started - and Jerome in injury time apart - finished too and won at Plymouth. It was therefore Alexander, Ardley-Purse-Loovens-Barker, Koumas-Ledley-Scimeca-Cooper- Jerome-Thompson. Subs were the same too with Worgan-Boland-Cox-Nsungu-Weston. Boland was called to the bench in place of Jeff Whitley who does appear to be falling out of contention.
Rangers came to Ninian Park comfortably settled in mid-table, 15 points above the relegation sides and 10 points behind City. To the outside world, Ian Holloway was likeable, humorous and doing a reasonable job. To those that follow QPR, the joke had worn a little thin and the brand of football was poor.
In came coah and ex-player hero Gary Waddock and they seem happier. Results have picked up, the point extended their unbeaten run to 5 games which started with a superb 3-2 win at Sheffield United but it's been four successive draws since - two x 0-0 and two x 1-1.
In goals and getting a good reception was veteran Wales stopper Paul Jones. Defence were Bignot-Evatt-Shittu-Milanese. Midfield were Ainsworth-Bircham-Lomas-Cook and forwards were Youssaf and Nygaard. Nygaard, a 6' 3" Danish international forward was a handful and scored the winner in Rangers 1-0 victory over City at Loftus Road last Xmas in an equally poor match, his strike partner was also Danish - Youssef having his first start with Kevin Gallen suspended.
In Steve Lomas and Marc Bircham, they certainly had a competitive midfield accompanied by Gareth Ainsworth, returning only a week after playing in Leggy's benefit match, had a great reception and was last off the pitch after waving to all sections of the ground and doing the ayatollah. On the bench was Richard Langley who got a hot welcome with boos every time he warmed up and chants of a derogatory style. He was never a hero but endeared himself less to City fans with claims of being spat on at Loftus Road. Nobody was aware of that and it would have been some feat from where City fans were housed.
And so the match highlights. For once, I'm going to be brief and keep it brief, it really doesn't deserve much more attention and scrutiny. Word is obviously out to set yourself up with tow banks of four when visiting NP Towers and City have little answer, Rangers simple plan exposed the limitations of our side. The pitch was greasy after the heavy rain and both sides spent the entire first half launching long balls forward hoping it would set one of their strikers clear, they could hold it up or a defensive error would be made. It was dreadful to watch.
Darren Purse was awarded man of the match in a game and style of football that was perfect for him. Yes, yet again, either our goalkeeper or a central defender is our best player, in a home game as well. I lost count of how many headers Pursey won but he also got in some big tackles. Some of his flicked headers back or sideways under pressure were sublime but a couple of times, he totally misguided headers too but luckily found Neil Alexander.
First half chances were at a premium, the closest City came was when Steve Thompson, easily City's best midfield or forward performer, missed connecting with Jerome's low skidding ball across the face of goal by a toenail. He also narrowly missed connecting with a header, Ledley - after good set up work by Ardley and Thompson - found the side netting with a low drive and Cooper had a couple of swings from distance, Koumas found the side netting as well after one sweeping move. City did produce a couple of moments of play and passing quality but all too often, it lacked in the final third.
City's only anxious moment, a couple fo stray Purse headers aside, was one penalty area scramble where the ball pinged around before Youssef tried an overhead kick but lacked any power. One threatened break through Ainsworth was abruptly ended by a calculated Loovens foul for the game's sole yellow card but quite a bit was seen of an over fussy ref who loved the sound of his whistle. He blew for too many innocuous moments and, annoyingly, multi-blew his whistle every time too. It just added to the frustrations.
Half-time: CITY 0 QPR 0
In line with the Family Fun Day, we had a kid's game - better than the real match - some kids dribbling around cones and a girl recovering from a serious illness. The kids in the ground however were in the 200 yard queue for hot dogs.
So to the second half and, to be honest, more of the same except QPR had the early chances. Ainsworth was just wide and then got Alexander to produce the game's first save of any description after 55 minutes when he did very well to push a free-kick around the post for a corner.
City were struggling to find any cohesion and fluency. Jason Koumas was showing magic in his touches and control but, all too frequently, it was in an area of the pitch where he could produce little harm. It summed up his game that his only free-kick chance, a very difficult one, was miskicked into the wall.
Then there were those two wasted chances from defensive mistakes. Cameron Jerome first. The player is struggling. He may be closing in on 20 goals but it's only 2 in his last 9 games. Today he looked lazy at many times, his control let him down and, as at Plymouth, he completely wasted a golden opening. A ball from the left was missed by Shittu and ran to Jerome 12 yards out and in the clear. He waited and hesitated and waited giving Paul Jones all the time to run out, by the time Jerome shot, Jones was in enough distance to close down and beat away his shot. The Jerome we know would have buried it comprehensively.
QPR's miss was just as bad, if not worse. Chris Barker somehow miskicked across goal and found Nygaard completely in the open. He had all the goal to aim at but hit it too close to Alexander who got a touch on the ball which deflected it to the inside of the post, across the face of goal and then behind for an unproductive corner.
After that made spell, it was game over. The final 25 minutes as poor as anything we had watched all afternoon. City's defence were doing fine and had ridden an uncomfortable spell but midfield was poor and disjointed. Riccy Scimeca slightly out of things, Joe Ledley invisible apart from a few moments, Kevin Cooper well out of it and Koumas trying hard but unable to produce magic in the telling areas. The forwards found themselves isolated but were also guilty of not holding up the ball well enough to involve the midfielders more. The number of offsides awarded against Jerome was bewildering and rounded off a poor performance and unhappy afternoon for him. Thompson worked hard but without reward, he was the only one who came close to rivalling Purse.
Dave Jones brought on Rhys Weston for Cooper and pushed Ardley forward late on, his one opportunity to cross saw him send the ball into the Canton Stand. It was disappointing to see Nsungu not given a chance and just as disappointing to see Ferretti not even included. He may be raw but does offer something different, home games are now must win, the squad may be limited but are we using all options?
Dave Jones and Cardiff City's problem and challenge remains very simple. Many feel we've reached our limit and probably over-performed to be where we are. Only once this season have City enjoyed an unbeaten run of more than three matches - it was 6 months ago. Only twice this season have they had a winning run - even then, it lasted two games only and has only happened twice all season.
With just 6 games to go and quite a tough finishing programmes, unless City can, at least, replicate one of those runs - they probably need both - there is just no chance of making those play-offs. If runs like these as good as we can be, then we quite really don't deserve to be there anyway, do we? Good Luck boys.
The Cost of Being A City Fan: (Cost are for two .. again)
Programme: £ 3
Club shop goodies: £15
Transport: £ 4
Total for game: £66
Total for Season to date: £2,888
Wednesday, March 15, 2006
A good night enjoyed by Leggy and a far better than expected crowd. The official attendance wasn't announced but with Upper and Lower Grandstand full and the Family Stand around half full, I thought that amounted to more than the "over 5,500" quoted on the tannoy.
This was a benefit game for Andy Legg who has been good for the game and the game has been good to him. Playing until almost 40 with 7 permanent clubs behind him, his best time in football and his most iconic status was achieved with City.
Here for 5 years starting with bad times — relegation to the dungeon - and the best of times culminating with his final City appearance in that Championship-making play-off final win over QPR. Recent successful battles with cancer saw him awarded this benefit game with a
donation going to local charity, Latch.
Pre-game ticket sales were poor but nobody buys an advance ticket for a benefit game. Car parking was free and it was full but with The Echo as reliable as ever informing us we could pay at the turnstiles, we arrived to find several queues 100 yards+ long to get to the various ticket portakabins snaking out into Sloper Road and onto the road. Kick-off had to be delayed by 15 minutes to 8pm. Only at City, I tell you. The second-half was cut-short by the same time as we'd all seen enough by then and there was a party at Giovanni's for the players.. Only at City, I tell you.
Inside, the bars and catering kiosks were closed. The club missed out there. Thankfully, nobody chanted "we want beer" and started smashing on the shutters although I had a brief go.
Little point in reporting the game but those with a thirst to know, there were about 40-50 players used.
The only members of City's squad who didn't take to the park were Neil Ardley, Jason Koumas, Paul Parry, Martyn Margetson, Nicky Fish, Jon Kift, Anthony Taylor and the on-loan Danny Parslow and Byron Anthony but also appearing were youth players Scott Allison, Curtis McDonald, Jamal Easter, Joe Jacobson and also physio Sean Connolly.
Legg's X1 had a few missing, a couple of guests (most notably Robbie Savage but also Big Neville Southall, Ray Houghton and Dave Watson). Managed by Alan Cork "I've never had a bad game managing at this club, have I?", Those who did play included Gareth Ainsworth, Dave Bennett, Jason Bowen, Carl Dale, Earnie, Jeff Eckhardt, Mike Ford, Leo Fortune-West, Jason Fowler, Jimmy Gilligan, Cohen Griffith, Steve Jenkins, Graham Kavanagh, Lee Kendall (as an outfield player), Kevin Ratcliffe, Christian Roberts, Damon Searle, Peter Thorne, Mark Walton, Gareth Whalley and Scott Young. I may miss have missed a few more.
The first-half hour, Leggy's team were determined to put on a show. Neil Alexander had to save from Kav, Earnie was trying but it was generally a knockabout, none too serious. Once that was once and a whole raft of substitutions took place, the game turned in the current City side's favour. NSUNGU scored, ironically by turning Leggy inside out before beating Big Nev from close range. Leo made Neil Alexander save by sending a header where he meant it to go - how unusual?
The second half with mostly "retired" rather than current players for Leggy's team and younger players for City became a little more one-sided. Goals were added by Phil Mulryne (a free-kick), Jamal Easter and a very sharp-looking Andrea Ferretti. I'd love to see Ferretti given a chance before the season concludes. In between Easter's and Ferretti's goals, roly-poly ref Keith Cooper awarded a penalty to Leggy's team just to give them a shot just after Leggy went off, Carl Dale sent a good effort past Allison.
There were more than a few laughs. On the pitch, Neil Alexander dribbling around Earnie was entertaining. Some of the antics were too. Bigger laughs came from pitchside interviews conducted with several ex-players and Robbie Savage. Most of Legg's players wore different shirt numbers to those on the list which had Ali announce many of them incorrectly but it was all part of the fun. Good of Ali to play "I fought the law and the law won" for City fans who went to Wolves.
I can't get enthused about these games although I'm always there. A decent night for those who went, a great night for Leggy.
The Cost of Being A City Fan:
Prog: £ 2
Car Park: Free
Travel: £ 3
Total for game: £15
Total for season-to-date: £2,712
Sunday, March 05, 2006
Manchester Evening News Arena, March 5th 2006
One venue, one date but one occasion I will never forget as I was felt pleased, proud and privileged to watch one of the greatest sporting nights of my life.
When I escape Cardiff City or Wales, boxing is the other love of my sporting life. I love being there at any big Welsh fight. Over the years, I've been there for Colin Jones, Robbie Regan, Steve Robinson, Nicky Piper and, latterly, the mighty Joe Calzaghe. They've all been successful to varying degrees and they've all represented Wales directly or indirectly - these are my heroes.
Joe Calzaghe has been the ultimate. Forty professional fights, won every time, only visited the canvass once (and the guy who did that was made to regret it) but he's been the best, by miles, in an era just after the best of British (Been, Eubank, Collins etc) retired leaving a void. What's been out there feted as the World's Best - Roy Jones Junior, Vivian Harris, Bernard Hopkins - have all avoided Joe and, such it boxing politics and management, have fought much lesser fighters. All have come unstuck in the past year, are now well past their prime and in serious decline.
Joe has fought and beaten everyone out there. This was his 18th defence and he's well into his 9th year as a World Champion. Both incredible records but none as incredible as the fact that Joe has never had the respect and adulation that he thoroughly deserves.
Why? As mentioned, the opponents haven't been there. Sky tv meant his fights were only seen by a select audience. Injury problems, specifically to the hand, meant some of his victories have been ordinary. A boxing legend is amongst us and we've never appreciated it ... until now.
Joe finally got his career-defining fight. Jeff "Left Hook" Lacy was touted as America's best new thing. His record was fantastic, 21 wins (17 by k.o.) and nowhere near a defeat. He had the look, he had the arrogance, America believed he was the new Mike Tyson. So convinced were they, they agreed to fight Calzaghe in Britain.
Their man was 6/4 on, Joe 11/10. Just about everyone I knew told me Joe would lose. I was the only one who said 'no way' and pointed out that the better the opponent, the bigger Joe's performance. All his big name opponents - Eubank, Omar Sheika, Richie Woodhall, Mario Veit (twice), Charles Brewer and Byron Mitchell - were each comprehensively demolished. There was no logic or justice in the arguments that Joe would lose, just people buying the hype. Faith was limited - you crazy fools!
With Millennium Stadium unavailable, hi-ho, hi-ho, it's off to Manchester we go ... having to leave City v Sheff Weds 10 minutes early but, hey, the way they were playing, it was perhaps a blessing!
Manchester M.E.N. Arena
A Modern Collisseum
I loved the Manchester Evening News Arena. Build directly on top on Piccadilly Station in the centre with some great bars and restaurants outside, it was ideal. It was bloody freezing too with hail and snow pouring on us in a mini-blizzard.
Inside, what a great venue. Holds 20,000 and it's like a mini-Millennium Stadium. Great views wherever you were. The worst seats perhaps 80 yard up and 80 yards away from the ring.
Outside, the concourse was buzzing. Bars everywhere, the boys were happy. SuperChef Gordon Ramsey was happy to be seen there too until he got chaired and mobbed. That was the point he sh*t himself and had to be rescued by police. The Jacks were there in force, many calling in on their way home from a game at Barnsley but got so hammered in the bars, half ot them didn't even realise their man Enzo Maccarinelli was fighting inside. He won, put his man down but it went the distance on a night he had to scrap it out and not really convince following his strong start.
Back inside with an Arena probably not two thirds full, we were asked to swap - at no cost - our £50 seats for £150 ones near ringside. Looks better on telly. I bit his hand off ... well I had top, I hadn't eaten since lunchtime!
Up went a chant of "You Scouse Bastards" from the local Mancs as Steven Gerrard, Peter Crouch, a couple more Liverpool players and Jamie Redknapp walked past me. They expected it but didn't like it. Amongst the crowd, up went a roar of "Gerrard is a Bluebird, Gerrard is a Bluebird" and "Gerrard for Wales" from yours truly. Stevie G didn't expect that but certainly liked it, I got a huge smile off him. If we lose Phil Mulryne this summer, perhaps Gerrard will come encouraged by my chanting for him in a hostile atmosphere. I can only dream!
And so SHOWTIME and a fight you've all seen, heard about or read about and maybe still can't get enough of.
Champion! Champion ... for the 18th time.
What was it like being there? Monumental and emotional, a night when I sang, shouted, screamed, stamped and cheered Joe non-stop from first bell to last - along with everyone else there - and got rewarded by a boxing performance that I've never seen bettered over 12 rounds by any boxer in a fight of this magnitude.
Lacy was out-jabbed at the start of the first round, battered at the end of it. The writing was already on the wall and it only got worse for him, better for Joe who was unrelenting in his work-rate, pressure and attacks. I can only salute Lacy for taking it.
Make no mistake, Lacy was out-muscled, out-boxed, bullied, he lost the boxing contest, he lost the in-fighting, he was out-powered in the punches, he was treated with contempt by Joe's power, skills, hand speed and movement. Not just in one round but every single round.
Each Joe punch was cheered wildly and ecstatically, every attack was accompanied by a clack as 12,000 seats upturned with the crowd rising as one, every round ended with cheering knowing Joe had comfortably won the three minutes and Lacy heading back in the general direction of his corner with the whole audience bellowing "easy, easy, easy, easy".
Lacy hides behind a post and a cameraman.
Calzaghe still finds and pastes him!
Many of the Welsh crowd presented and there were plenty everywhere you looked were singing Bread of Heaven. It's normally against my principles to join in with that one but not tonight on this occasion it wasn't.
By halfway, Lacy had two cut eyes, a busted noise, he was bleeding from his mouth. He was able to muster some forward movement and a couple of punches in each round for a small period of time but, without exception, his reward for that was another battering in return. Hit Joe and he always got it back times ten. At one point 40 punches rained on Lacy in 15 seconds according to tv, nearly all of them hitting the head.
Fears subsided Lacy had the power to put Calzaghe away, even though he had a puncher's chance. Only Joe being complacent and sloppy could cost him, he never once was. Indeed, when he only had to stay out of trouble to win, his attacks became even more intensive. On tv, Lacy was heard to ask at the end of Round 8 which round he was in, he was clueless.
Joe's only disappointment was being penalised a point in Round 11 for a punch around the back. He made up for that by smashing Lacy all around the ring. In the final round, with the whole arena throbbing and bouncing, Lacy was finally floored but still got to the finish. I doubt Joe will be disappointed he didn't knock him out, to have dismantled the man comprehensively and won every round with every judge will be his boxing legacy.
Joe and Frank Warren with post-fight interview
No matter what happens from now on, Joe's place is boxing history is assured. I don't think it is possible for him ever to top a performance like that, I was just so pleased to have been a very small part of it by being there. Simply Fantastic.
Lacy - high profile arrival, low profile departure
Oh it's all gone quiet over thereOnce the interviews were over, Joe danced around the ring, came over to the Welsh hordes and celebrated with us for a few moments. Lacy was sneaking away with us shouting out to him, "where's your belt gone, where's your belt gone".
I don't think his imminent prolonged headache from a comprehensive battering was going to be a problem - it will pale into insignificance when he tries to get out of Manchester Airport with a passport photo that will bear no resemblance to his current look!
It took 45 minutes walk at 4am to get across Manchester to the station, another hour before we get book to our hotels and bed and we didn't stop singing, smiling or talking about it all the way. Who cared if was minus three and precarious with frozen ice everywhere?
Job done, Joe enjoys banter with his Welsh disciples!
No, not me. I was there the night Joe Calzaghe became a boxing and Welsh legend. Thanks for giving me a night I will take to my grave Joe and talk about until I get there. You were magnificent. Nothing more to be said.
Thursday, March 02, 2006
WALES 0 PARAGUAY 0 Friendly
The Arctic Monkeys is not the latest vogue group, it's the kids with horns who go to watch Wales on a freezing night like last night. At least they were there.
Just 12,324 went. Mind you, that's still a fair few more than Cardiff City can muster these days! It included 60 or so Paraguayans with one chant, a double whistle by chief cheerleader followed by Par-a-guay. The South Americans, surely mostly exiles, must have enjoyed the bracing South Wales weather. The roof was shut, it didn't help.
The crowd were 90% made to occupy one side of the stadium, no surprise to learn that was the side opposite the tv cameras. I think the crowd was about right, it was the venue that was wrong - this should have been taken to Swansea or Wrexham but I won't complain about another chance to watch my country and, of course, there was always the opportunity to buy a cheap seat and walk into a best one if you were daring enough - many of us were!
Other advantages - car parking near the ground was easy, getting to the front of a bar and served even easier. You could even get a seat in pubs around the ground. The novelty of it all!
As for the game, it was an international friendly. Like testimonials, pre-season games and FAW Premier Cup games, there is no answer to the question, "when have you ever seen a good one?".
For Wales however, with the serious business of Euro'2008 qualifiers starting early next season and John Hartson finally retiring from the international scene after two years worth of performances in the red shirt that made many think he already had, this was a time to test young blood and those who can perhaps serve us over the next few years.
With that in mind, it was a shock to see 39 year old Paul Jones in goals. However it was just as well because he turned out to be the Welsh hero making 4 or 5 superb stops before finally being replaced by Lewis Price for the final quarter, the rookie keeper also making one fantastic stop.
The Paraguayans, as with all Latin American nations, were nimble and skilful. Their first World Cup 2006 match is against England and, on this limited evidence, they can certainly give them a good game. I look forward to supporting them!
They do look loose at the back however and their shooting, despite the saves was quite poor. Both need to be sharpened if they're going to do anything more than make up the numbers.
For Wales, Ginge and Gabbs didn't control and look as assured as they can be in a 3-5-2 system. The one who caught the eye was Lewin Nyatanga (a great taffy name) who with just 13 league games for Derby and at just 17 and a half became the youngest ever Welsh international, taking that title from Ryan Green. I only hope he goes onto achieve far more than that player.
He certainly showed the talent. A good left foot, tidy composure, he looked more than comfortable at this level. Nyatanga even managed to get up front but put a header wide. He could not have hoped for a better debut. Well done son.
In the system, Jason Koumas didn't stand out as much as his golden daps. I can only hope he was saving himself for Saturday. With some irony, Wales won their only dangerous free-kick of the night after he went off, Ginge scooped that one over. Midfield overall were functional and methodical, Simon Davies being the pick for me until he limped off.
Strikers for the night, and likely the immediate future, were Ryan Giggs and Craig Bellamy. With no target man, the style is very much to hit them early, even hit them long, hit them in their direction and let's see what they can conjure. On the night, it wasn't a great deal.
Bellamy took the friendly exercise spirit far too literally and jogged through the game in a half-hearted manner. He had four or five outstanding chances, in a competitive game, you would have backed him to have scored at least one or two of them. Instead, the Paraguayan keeper didn't really have a save to make ... unless you count Bellamy's attempted lob when clear on goal with all the time in the world, that he scooped into his arms instead.
Giggs took on too much responsibility, was over-elaborate and often tried to do it by himself. He never came off for him, it was never likely to. However, in a match situation, there's little doubt those two can cause a lot of problems. It may even be we are better away from home than at home.
A poor spectacle became even more disjointed in the second half with both sides using their rotas of 5 subs but at what seemed like 2 minute intervals. More youngsters for Wales and the crowd were particularly happy to see Earnie and Joe Ledley come on. Joe looked good, he has the attributes to be a long-serving Welsh international. Earnie's lost weight but hasn't increased his danger just yet. In fact, all I noticed him do twice was spin himself dizzy on the touchline trying to twist and turn past players and taking the ball out instead.
Biggest groan of the night came with the over-enthusiatic tannoy man (did he really bleat on about a fantastic and memorable night at final whistle?) excitedly announced that we had three minutes of added time. We didn't want it mate!
Overall with players like Cotterill and Crofts also getting involved, it can only have been a useful night for the national team. Whether it was a useful night for spectators and the tv audience is entirely another matter.
- A "SHORT" POINT
The shirt or shorts???
Why is it everyone is talking about the new shirts but nobody is talking about the new shorts???
The "retro" shirt with an enormous white band "v" neck looked good to me. If it's true that Kappa have finally, after all these years, realised that the average Welsh fan doesn't have a 30" waist and the design of a model in a biology book, then it bodes well. Adults will love it and would buy that in preference to a TOFFS retro shirt. Kids, however, will not be so fussed. Many around me last night thought it was horrible. They'll come around!
However what was it with those shorts ... or should they be called longs? I think they've tried to create a 1950's knickerbocker look to go with the shirt but they are the best comedy shorts I've seen in ages. On our smaller players i.e. most of the team, they look like three quarter trousers .... they'll be full length on me then! Several players gave no flashes of leg to the girls as they socks went higher than the bottom of their shorts. Brilliant!
Maybe we should go the whole hog and get Sky to show us in Pathe news style black and white clips. Richard Sheppard can do the commentary, he always sounded like he belongs to that era.
Monday, February 13, 2006
Saturday, February 11th, 3pm kick-off Championship @ Ninian Park
CARDIFF CITY (2) 3
Cooper 18, Cox 30 & 68
STOKE CITY (0) 0
What a panoramic view from the Grandstand!
Weather: Sunny and warm first half, cold later as the sun dropped
Atmosphere: Excellent, just a pity that aren't many more of us there
Stoke Manager Johan Boskamp, in despair at his side not winning for two months and now facing Cardiff, the side who always turn his club over these days, got down on his knees
"Lord", he exclaimed, "My Dear Lord, for one weekend only, please will you let me be like Jose Mourinho and let my team play and perform like Chelsea. For just this once, please let us match whatever Chelsea do. Have mercy on us.". The Lord listened to his prayer and answered. And so it came to pass ... Chelsea got dicked 3-0 at Middlesborough, Stoke got stuffed yet again by Cardiff City by the same margin. There truly is a God!
A wonderful Kevin Cooper goal, an outstanding performance and double goal blast from unlikely hero Neil Cox, some sterling individual performances and a superb work ethic meant Jason Koumas just wasn't missed as City coasted to an emphatic win. Stoke tried hard and certainly threatened at times. Ultimately, they were out-worked by a City side who always made them look fragile at the back whilst we, in turn, looked rock solid and restricted The Potters to just one shot at Neil Alexander long after the outcome was beyond doubt. A highly satisfying afternoon.
With the teams currently in the play-offs all doing well, City know they must go on a winning run to maintain a challenge. There's plenty of points to play for but it still seems unlikely as the gap has widened whilst we've never gone won more than two on the bounce all season and that has only happened twice but we're not giving up hope by any means judging by this display.
Having earned himself two needless bookings over the past fortnight taking him to five, King Koumas the talisman was suspended. Meanwhile Steve Thompson left us feeling "stumped"
about how he "core"-t his hand slicing an apple that needed an op to help regain feeling in his hand, it gave us the "pip" and made us (g)"rind" about his absence.
It meant a first start for "Dave" up front whilst Willie Boland started in midfield with Jeff Whitley again overlooked (producing inevitable terrace rumours "he must have got up to something during the trip in Portugal" being the clear winner) and Joe Ledley playing outside on the left in what many feel is his best and most natural position.
City therefore went with Alexander, Ardley-Cox-Purse-Barker, Cooper-Boland-Scimeca-Ledley, Nsungu-Ddumbu and Jerome. Special mention must go to the funk soul brothers of Nsungu and Jerome playing with wristbands. One had a black one, the other a white one, they must have come in a 2 for £1 pack from Primark. Subs were Alexander-Ferretti-Mulryne-Weston-Whitley. Jermaine Darlington who surprised some of us by not only getting back in the 16 but getting a couple of minutes too at Palace last week seems to have disappeared again.
City were down to barebones but so were Stoke, especially up front with key wideman and all round ugly bloke Luke Chadwick injured along with talented forward Paul Gallagher (on a season's loan from Blackburn) whilst their starman Sanbegou Bangora went to the African Nations Cup with Guinea and gone AWOL with the club having no idea where he is since they were eliminated. Maybe they're now regretting turning down an alleged big money offer for him in the transfer window.
It all added to the problems of a club having apparent behind the scenes bust ups on the coaching side who have taken just 2 points out of the last 24. Mind you, it can't help if your manager and entire coaching team spend the entire 90 minutes sat in the dugout with nothing to say and nil encouragement to the players out there. The only upside for the visitors is an FA Cup 5th round game with Birmingham next week but they only got there needing a replay and penalties to beat non-league Tamworth and then scraping through narrowly at home against Walsall. Clearly not the best of times for a club who have had a fierce recent rivalry with us. Anyone feel sorry for the Stokies? Thought not.
Their side were Simonsen, Broomes-Hoefkens-Duberry-Buxton, Henry-Brammer-Sigurdssson-Sweeney, Skoko-Sidibe. Duberry got the usual stick for being a grass but plays with a smile and has banter with the crowd. At times, he got a bit carried away with that and he certainly copped some choice comments from Lower Grandstand. Mind you, he didn't get as much stick as "The Big Mamma" Sidibe who had the longest and loudest choruses of You Jack B****** hard at Ninian for some time. Boy it sounded good too. Although he really should have been given stick for his ridiculous black leather golf-style gloves. It looked as though he'd loaned them from O.J. Simpson.
Stoke only brought 350 yet, appallingly, City attracted only 10,400 more. If it were not for Brighton's mini ground limiting their crowds, we would embarrassingly have been the lowest Championship crowd of the day. This at a club aiming for the Premiership play-offs with a home record at least 5th best for wins, points and goals at home but we continue to be one of the worst five supported.
What is it with the stayaways? This is the best City have done for over 30 years as far as league standing is concerned and, still, they can't be bothered to watch. They may well feel that the club and its leaders let them down in many ways, and with real justification in my view, but how does that make it right for them to continue to let down an excellent manager and the current group of players? We should be ashamed. I find it insulting that a few thousand more of us put our hands in our pockets to watch Lennie and his lot do very little last season by comparison. It is increasingly difficult to understand or defend them but somehow, the club and them need to address it.
Anyway, the game, it was preceded by a minute's applause for "H", Harry Parsons, City coach/trainer/kitman/coach driver and just about everything else during a lifetime's devotion to the club. A true Bluebird legend. There was also acknowledgement for Gwyn, who spent the last 20 odd years, looking after the needs of the pressmen. After his generalised drivel attack on City fans for not all being 100% behind Welsh rugby - it's our national duty apparently (what planet are they on?) - let's hope whoever gives Paul Abbadonato his next cuppa at Ninian slips a laxative in to help him can continue his peculiar brand of crap.
Although predicted to be tight with Stoke defending deep and in numbers to counter Jerome, it started with plenty of pace, life and ambition with both teams making for a rattling good spectacle. One thing that was noticeable in the first 25 minutes especially was that all the action was in front of the Grandstand as City, attacking the Grange End, only went down the right through Ardley, Cooper and co whilst Stoke, playing towards the Canton, had all their forays down the left with Peter Sweeney a dangerous outlet as he was able to by-pass Neil Ardley at pace.
First chance fell to City as Jerome and Nsungu linked up well, Jerome sent Ngungu spinning away, his angled low shot come cross flashed across the goalmouth with nobody able to get to it. "Dave" started well and obviously very keen to impress, that was emphasised by his 9th minute rash challenge which almost disembowelled one of the Stoke midfielder's for the game's first yellow card. The bloke behind me remarked that it was a shame ref's only record shirt numbers for bookings as if he needed to write down Guylain Ndumbu-Nsungu's name instead, he probably wouldn't have bothered!
Nsungu threw his body into everything and was warned later in the half by Jerome to clam down a touch. Part of the reason was referee Mike Jones from Chester who, today, was incompetent and came seriously close to losing control of the game in the first half.
For the opening 45 minutes, any time a City player collided with a Stoke one, no matter how minor, the outcome was a love affair with his whistle and a free-kick to Stoke. Has there been a rule change that I don't know about or did he also produce the most inept decision seen all season. A long ball was contested by Sidibe and Purse, Purse went down to a loose elbow with a head injury, the ref allowed play to continue. Purse had to get up was far behind play but, fortunately, the move broke down and the ball went back to Alexander. In rage, Purse saw red mist and gave the ref a verbal volley. The yellow card was inevitable but how does that transfer into an edge of area free-kick to Stoke from the spot where Purse shouted at him???
The only decisions he gave us in the opening 45 minutes were our goals, there were a couple of occasions that it became very close to boiling over. Some of his decisions so unbelievable and incompetent that you simply had to laugh at them, something Dave Jones had to do on at least three occasions towards an embarrassed looking fourth official.
Somehow, the game was a good one despite the ref not because of him, City had let offs as Skoko, World Cup bound with Australia and on loan from Wigan, had a cracking chance in front of goal but headed 15 yards wide, a shot went wide and then Sweeney turned Ardley inside out at the by-line but his cross was missed by two Stoke heads at point blank range. In between, City almost messed up as Sidibe managed to get past Barker through the centre but who recovered to flick behind with Purse rollicking Alexander on a day when he discovered his affliction of line-itis where he seems to be glued to his goal-line.
City were having the territory and domination but Stoke carried the bigger threat although Neil Ardley produced one outstanding deep cross that was just deflected away before Jerome pounced. Cardiff were showing the greater resolve and it directly lead to their opener.
With Stoke coming away with the ball, one of their players was hounded by Boland, Ardley and then Scimeca, the ball went loose and Boland flicked onto KEVIN COOPER. There was nothing on as Cooper took the ball 25 yards out on the touchline but he cut inside a Stoke player, got to the angle of the area and unleashed one of the best foot finishes I've seen. Being right behind the ball, it was incredible to watch it swing outside, swerve back inside and then dip on goal. Simonsen had no chance as the ball flew home into the top opposite corner. What an outstanding finish to end a week in which Coops notched up his 31st birthday.
With that, City established control and domination. Their work-rate was fantastic and they were not only first to every ball, they always seemed to have two players there as well. With Stoke being harried, a second goal was no surprise, the scorer was. An Ardley corner was flicked on at the near post by Jerome, NEIL COX incredibly found himself alone at the far post and turned home from 5 yards with nobody near him. The Stoke fans, managed one muted chant of Ing-ger-lund and didn't bother singing Delilah as they knew they would be embarrassed in return, looked sick.
The only time Koumas was missed in that first half was when a free-kick was awarded in prime JK territory. Ardley took it and floated one straight at Simonsen.
Stoke looked poor at the back and struggled to deal with Nsungu who worked hard and showed good touches although his one shot was well wide. It looked as though there were more goals in it for us but it remained two by the interval. City went off to long applause, the ref to sustained booing.
Half-time: CITY 2 STOKE 0
If the first half was very good for City, the second half probably saw us put together the best 25 minutes of pure possession and domination. We all love quality, skill and flair but how gratifying was it to see City charge into every challenge and win it, hunt for the ball in packs of twos and threes, pass and move it around at ease. Stoke tried to get back into the game, City never allowed them. his replacement Kopteff eerily sounded like Cot Death over the tannoy producing an uneasy silence and fans asking each other "is that really his name?" before someone quipped that he was doing well to still be around if that was his name. Continuing the child theme, a later sub for them was Junior.
Any time they got near our area, Purse and Cox especially were enormous. They had a battle but they won it hands down, Cox easily having his most impressive game of the season, his personal performances since Arsenal at the turn of the year especially have been immense. In front, Scimeca seemed to be everywhere winning the loose ball, taking control and passing it about. On the left, Joe Ledley was at his best, his work-rate up and down the pitch was outstanding, he showed some mean skills and trickery and his passing always precise. I love watching that boy in his stride and he looks so much better, so natural in this role. It was one of those performances where City's tenacious work-rate and team effort completely wore down the visitors and then we earned the right to play and score.
Kevin Cooper now had a taste for long range shooting and an instant 25 yard powered snap drive was just tipped over by Simonsen. Purse was so unlucky as he pounced on a high bouncing ball inside the area, his hooked effort smacking off the top of the bar. Alexander again caused panic as he failed to come for a ball dropping three yards in front of him and he then flapped at the resulting corner, punching when it was a routine catch, but it inadvertently almost became an assist as Jerome sped away, linked with Nsungu and was just denied with the return.
You did worry that one Stoke goal could leave City hanging on but those doubts were removed with the killer third on 68 minutes and it again emphasised how alert we were. Kevin Cooper was brought down near the Bob Bank touchline, level with the area. Stoke were slow setting up and in charged Neil Cox from 40 yards out, Ardley spotted the run and sent over a quick but perfect free-kick, COX ghosted in and glanced home his second of the afternoon in off the far post. Cox getting head, nothing's better! Cox was Man of the Match without his goals, head and shoulders above the rest which had those around me purring about his display long before this, his positional play quite outstanding.
3-0 at Stoke, 3-0 at Ninian, game, set and match Six-Luv to City. Thank you very much. In fact, it was the 5th time in 6 games, we've scored three against Stoke so no wonder we all sang, "can we play you every week?".
The final 20 minutes saw City cruise home but have to repel some Stoke pressure as they remained lively up front. Alexander showed how he doesn't let occasional errors shake his confidence these days by making an excellent low save from Kopteff, a couple of shots went wide or over but Stoke had no joy in getting a consolation, Alexander got his first clean sheet in 5 games and his 10th of the Championship season.
The only disappointment for many fans was that, with the game comfortably in the bag, it seemed the perfect occasion to let Ferretti have a 15 - 20 minute run out. It would have been good for him, there was nothing to lose for City. With another game coming up at Luton on Tuesday, it also seemed worthwhile to give one or two an early finish. However Dave Jones never looked to his bench, surprisingly the eleven who finished were the eleven who started but they all played very well. Nsungu had a satisfying first show, good touches and strength but without much nuisance in the area today anyway - reminiscent of a certain Alan Lee in that respect although he's now doing the business elsewhere.
That was the good news, not so good news came with other results as Watford and Preston had big home wins, Leeds and Palace got away draws so whilst remaining 7th, we're 5 points off the play-offs with those immediately above us having a game in hand too. However, we're now 4 points clear of those below us. All we con do is keep winning and hope someone above us crack but, regardless, we can truly enjoy days like today. Well done City!
THE COST OF BEING A CITY FAN:
Nope not one on sale along Sloper Road again and I went early to the game.
Are they not bothering to sell them outside anymore from those who come to the game from Canton?
Total for game: £30
Total for season-to-date: £2,359
Tuesday, February 07, 2006
PAUPERS AT THE PALACE
3pm kick-off Championship @ Selhurst Park
CRYSTAL PALACE (0) 1 Riihilati 69
CARDIFF CITY (0) 0
Away support: 750 approx.
Weather: Dull, grey, cold.
Atmosphere: OK in City end, a wake in the Palace end
Final whistle scenes morror City's play-off hopes ... gloomy.
Soft and scrappy it was but Crystal Palace's Aki Riihilati's 70th minute only goal of the game entirely befitted a drab Selhurst Park clash. A match with high stakes but so low on quality, action and entertainment. A poor pitch, a poor match, a dull for a dull day.
Dave Jones and City may well reflect on whether their unambitious 4-5-1 tactics were the correct approach. It surely can only be ironic if the Bluebirds complain about sides coming to defend and be negative at Ninian Park when it's the 4th time City themselves have done this recently on the raod themselves. It may work 'oop north' with those 4 points from Sheffield and Leeds but it certainly ain't 'darn sarf' with this abject loss very similar to how City went down at QPR five weeks ago.
Perhaps one benefit of this, I certainly hope, is that we won't do this again. Remaining 7th but now 6 points off those elusive play-offs having played more game than everyone above us and holding a vastly inferior goal difference mean City have to win games if they're not simply to fall away without a real fight, only winning games can now make any difference.
I thought this was City's biggest match for some time but it seemed decidedly low key from the outset. No big match build up and no fighting talk, coaches mostly little more than half full and less than a thousand City fans made the trip to South London. I can only assume the counter-attraction of watching Wales get slaughtered by England in the egg chasing was deemed more worthy to many Cardiff followers who criticise rugby and rugby fans but want to be part of it - the big occasion - themselves when push comes to shove.
We set off before 8am from the Lansdowne having good banter, none more so than when we reached Reading Services and met quite a few who became rugby fans for the day. Top marks however goes to the man at Scottish Courage who are Ninian Park's beer suppliers and a club sponsor - also a Wolves fan! From the back of his jumbo limo, he produced champagne, enormous king prawns and salmon to feed us great unwashed. I could get used to being in the 'prawn sandwich brigade' if it's like that all the time!
CARDIFF CITY'S EGG CHASERS
We let'em off when they gave us booze'n'grub!
Getting to Palace is horrible by road. Along the M4, cut across to the M3 at Bracknell and then onto the M25 exiting at the Gatwick Junction turn off was pretty easy but the last bit, a single lane road mostly bunged up with traffic and roadworks seems to go on forever until you pass Croydon and see the Crystal Palace transmitters that mean you're there.
Our coach dropped us off in Thornton Heath about 10 minutes from the ground and we soon discovered so did every coach driver as Wetherspoon's directly opposite the railway station, whose travellers joined us too, became an adopted part of South Wales for a couple of hours. Good to meet so many City fans there, plenty of "listers" (those on the internet mailing list) and plenty of messageboarders. Very friendly, great atmosphere and still low key.
Found a Jamaican chippy on the way to the ground, got over the trauma of the girl behind the counter asking whether we'd like "jerk sauce" and then could hardly eat them as that sauce is like volcano lava. The moral being it's easier to spit out yer chips with jerk sauce on them than swallow.
Selhurst Park, like Ninian Park, is midst a residential area but has been developed to a reasonable standard with a bit of modern but also shows its former days in many ways. Modern stands behind either goal, one very well populated with perhaps half their crowd or even more and the older on either side. The Arthur Wait stand is, in many ways, similar to the Bob Bank in length and depth but seated from front to back. We were housed at one end taking up a third of the stand, the view offered was o.k but far from ideal.
Both sides needed the win, although City seemed to plan not to lose. Palace are red-hot favourites to make the play-offs (they're now 7 points ahead of us in 5th plus a game in hand) but would have been relieved having lost midweek at Preston and drawn the previous three. They've never really been on fire but they key is that they rarely lose these days.
Iain Dowie's team for the day were Kiraly (the comedy keeper with the Primark jog pants), a back four of "One Size" Fitz Hall-Ward-Boyce-Leighterwood, midfield led by Michael Hughes with Riihilati (back after 5 months absent) Reich and former City glory boy Jobi McAnuff and "AJ" Andy Johnson plus Dougie Freedman up front.
In a week that saw Sol Campbell go through a crisis of confidence, City's Rhys Weston is having problems of his own as he was dropped after completely switching off against Millwall in midweek. DJ, as mentioned, opted for 4-5-1 that was more like 4-1-4-1 with Scimeca asked to play a deep holding role but surprisingly using Willie Boland instead of Jeff Whitley who was back in the 16 but unused on the bench. Has he been injured or is there a story? Up front, Steven Thompson was on the bench leaving Jerome to forge alone, Thompson also struggling slightly with fitness and a mystery hand injury.
City therefore went with Alexander, Ardley-Purse-Cox-Barker, Scimeca, Koumas-Boland-Ledley-Cooper, Jerome. On the bench were Margetson-Darlington- Nsumbu Ndungu-Thompson and Whitley.
The atmosphere, especially from the home support, was quiet and the crowd didn't look as good as the 17,962 later announced, the pitch was more like that we used to see in lower division football (rutted, brown, uneven in many areas), the weather was dull and grey and so, for the next 90 minutes, was the football.
All the key moments of the first half came in the first 20 minutes. Palace believe they were denied a decent penalty shout in the first 5 minutes when Neil Cox tangled with Johnson, it was at the opposite end of the pitch so tough for us to judge. 10 minutes later, an incredible let off as Palace, through Freedman, worked their way behind our back line, his cut back to the 6 yard box was somehow missed by an unmarked Johnson standing in front of goal but ran across to McAnuff who amazingly hit the bar from 8 yards with half or more of the goal gaping. Maybe he couldn't do it to us!
City were inviting pressure and whilst they were rarely in trouble, it didn't make for good viewing especially as Jerome was being left completely isolated and we were unable to put any moves or breaks together. They managed just two, both were close. The first saw Jerome, picked out by Koumas, beat Hall 25 yards out and superbly smash home. I, and the City end, went mental in celebration and then a different sort of mental as a goal that the ref was allowing became overruled by his linesman.
I saw nothing wrong with it, those level mentioned Jerome was shirt-pulling, having seen it on tv seen, it still looks a perfectly good goal, if anything Hall was offending in the incident rather than Jerome. Shortly after that, Ardley skipped a challenge out wide and Kiraly beat out his cross drive, Hall narrowly preventing Joe from turning home the rebound.
The rest of the half blurred away, not just because of the beer but because nothing really happened. Although it wasn't too clever of me to shout, "Come on Weston" as Rhys appeared to be strolling before realising it was Ardley in full flow, a girl in front delighted to put me right.
Johnson was lively and looked as though as he that little bit more quality than those around him. His decisive role in the winning goal underlined that. Like the rest of his team at this stage however, their pressure and territorial domination which City were allowing wasn't converting into any work for Neil Alexander, Cox and Purse were both doing a grand job out there.
Half-time: PALACE 0 CITY 0
The second half was very much in the same vein as the first half. With City now defending the half where we were located, it meant we got to see more of the game, not that we wanted that but Palace never really threatening to score, City defending very well and being greatly backed by ourselves just praying we could somehow nick a win.
Truly, nothing happened, until the goal arrived with 20 minutes left. We got excited when Koumas won himself a free-kick in prime position but his effort lacked power and gave Kiraly a comfortable save, that was more than Palace managed.
The goal, when it finally arrived, was a terrible one to concede. Palace won a free-kick 30 yards out, Purse making sure Johnson wasn't about to spin away from him. They initially took it short, Boland charged out to block but entered into WWF with McAnuff, both going to ground, the played was played wide to Johnson who ghosted past Joe then danced all the way around Barker to the by-line and being allowed to cut back across goal, the ball somehow going through Cox's legs before finding RIIHILATI completely unmarked 6 yards out, the task of turning home from there could have been completed by your mum.
That was game, set and match, rank bad defending lost City three points against Millwall and Palace.
Now behind, City finally showed some intent throwing on Thompson for Cooper and going 4-4-2 but, as is often the way, when you've spent almost an entire match playing cautiously and withdrawn, trying to transform yourself into an attacking beat just ain't easy. We never looked getting an equaliser, even with three minutes added on, Darlington and Nsumbu-Ndungu thrown on as last cards.
We went down narrowly, could have got a draw on another day and with better defending but would have needed luck to have won although if Jerome's effort was allowed, as I still think it should have, who's to say we wouldn't have closed that game out?
The players tried and nearly did what was asked, they got applauded off. It just felt a little empty as we went down to major rivals without having a real go at them. I cannot say Palace were that good, they weren't, I just like to see my Cardiff City sides making a game of it.
The buses took a while to get away, even longer to get back to the M25 but we motored back making it home to central Cardiff not long after 8:30. On the Severn Bridge, I decided to let those around me know the other results reading them from my mobile Jams Alexander-Gordon style. I read out Crystal Palace 1 (in the excited tone) Cardiff City 0 (depressed) but then laughed and told them my mobile claimed Fitz Hall was sent off.
Incredibly, to me, they confirmed he was indeed missing for the final 10 minutes for elbowing someone off the ball while I popped to toilet, Lloydey "forgot" to tell me when I got back, I can't say I heard any shouts when it happened. As he's waiting to see me mention this rather than cover it up, then I better had.
Bloody hell, I was back in Wales before I realised we were up against 10 men for the last 10 minutes! My punishment was to lose my jeans as a slight tear in them was ripped apart then Bev (The Lansdowne landlady) managed to tear the leg away. Can't beat a quiet journey home reflecting after a loss, can you?
THE COST OF BEING A CITY FAN: (Costs are for two again)Tickets: £50 Programme: £ 6 (got two) Food/Drink: £30 Coach: £30 Transport to/from Cardiff: £ 4 Total for game: £120 (costs are for two)
Total for season-to-date: £2,329