Monday, February 13, 2006


Saturday, February 11th, 3pm kick-off Championship @ Ninian Park

Cooper 18, Cox 30 & 68


What a panoramic view from the Grandstand!

Attendance: 10,780
Stokies: 350
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!

Tickets: £20
Programme: £n/a
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?
Food/Drink: £6
Transport: £4
Total for game: £30

Total for season-to-date: £2,359

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Saturday, February 4th

3pm kick-off Championship @ Selhurst Park

CRYSTAL PALACE (0) 1 Riihilati 69


Attendance: 16,972
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!

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