Saturday, April 14th 2007
Championship at Ninian Park - home of a mid-table side
CARDIFF CITY (0) 1 Chopra 90 STOKE CITY (1) 1
THE ATTENDANCE: 11,664 (wonder why they never bothered announcing it?)
Stoke support: 1,200
THE WEATHER: Glorious.
No April showers, just 70+ degrees of sunshine with no breeze either.
Stoke - buoyant, until they were finally shut up in the last moments which was very funny
Cardiff - lethargic, much like the team although some areas did have a go - lower Grandstand Grange side especially.
MAN of the DAY: The sponsors gave it to Roger Johnson who, in fairness, was perhaps the only one who showed the right attitude and fight over the 90 minutes. Some of the others already looked as if they were starting their summer break.
THE “you’re not very good” AWARD:
Nobody was bad but most were distinctly average.
CARDIFF - Four losses on the bounce and just about everyone can keep their place anyway. It says so much about our squad and why we’ve been found lacking at the business end of the season. There was one change only, Thommo started in place of Feeney alongside Chops and quite rightly so.
So it was Forde, Gunter-Purse-Johnson-McNaughton, Parry-McPhail-Ledley-Whittingham, Thompson-Chopra. Subs were Alexander, Blake, Feeney, Flood, Gilbert, ward, Campbell, Flood, Glombard, Whitley.
STOKE - Lifelong Bluebirds follower Tony Pulis, like Dave Jones, has to operate on a tight budget but, unlike Jones who used it inadequately, exploited the loan market. In fact, they have more loans than Picture The Loan! His side were in New Year contention until key loan players were recalled. He then got them back and they are on a late season surge - passing City in the Championship last Monday - after a third successive win.
They lined up with Simonsen, Fortune (Leo’s nephew)-Higginbotham-Zakuani-Dickinson, Hoefkens-Eustace-Matteo-Lawrence, Fuller-Pericard. Only 2 were loan players but 7 others were free transfers or signed permanently after a lengthy loan. Ricardo Fuller and Dominic Matteo are the stand-out names but sub keeper Russell Hoult is the most infamous having been thrown out by West Brom in January as video of his bedroom antics, including a West Brom shirt worn by someone other than his wife, became public. Baggies, Baggies, Boing Boing!
The club are producing DVD’s of this game in the hope that they have found a cure for insomnia, this is as close as you’ll get. Lethargic City, enjoying plenty of possession but lacking (and showing) little belief and conviction whilst missing their few chances, seemed set for their 5th successive defeat - and 3rd at home on successive Saturdays - until Michael Chopra popped up in the 90th minute for his 22nd of the season but first in 8 games to net a 1-1 equaliser and allow us some overdue fun at the expense of the boys from The Potteries. Chops’ goalscoring celebration was probably his best run of the afternoon which, although mathematically still possible, finally extinguished any forlorn play-off hopes. For a must-win game, City’s performance suggested they had accepted their fate anyway.
The game certainly had an end of season, little to play for feel about it, especially after City’s better-not-lately-but-not-as-good-as-it-used-to-be sparkle fizzled out … after half-hour…once Stoke took the lead.
The crowd was, unsurprising down, the club seemed too embarrassed to announce the attendance on tannoy and the big fuzzy pictured screen. Even with Costa Del Canton basking in brilliant, warm sunshine, that along with form and results were enough to keep floating punters well away. A sure sign of the lost enthusiasm were the sparsely populated and eerily quiet Canton and town pubs.
This was a day for diehards, those who got a freebie off the season ticket holding mates who couldn’t be bothered, those with nothing better to do and a small number of eternal optimists - all of us there with a differing sense of duty. The Bob Bank side of the crowd were able to get a pre-summer tan, the club could have done with hiring out deckchairs for the terrace.
Even upto a few weeks ago, you would have put a fortune on City’s last couple of home games of the season being sell outs instead of our lowest crowds but it underlines a shocking decline. Moderate form would have sent us cruising into the play-offs, decent form would still us fighting for auto-promotion but 34 points off 31 games and now, odds are, we’re not even going to finish in the Top 10. This is both poor and unbelievable.
Stoke brought a healthy support and, thankfully, some atmosphere with them, .with them but not as many as I would have expected. They probably needed little encouragement but Ali playing “their” (Welsh) anthem Delilah certainly enthused them more. Let’s play some noise for their boys, good work son!
City started brightly, the game being played almost entirely in Stoke’s half for the opening half-hour but it was flattering. The Potters never looked troubled, Paul Parry’s rasping 10th minute drive after cutting inside was the only time Simonsen was forced into action.
He was as much a spectator as the rest of us as Whttingham blazed high into the Canton Stand after being well set up, Thommo was blocked by some brilliant defending, Johnson headed wide and an extremely lazy looking Chopra, content to jog around, failed to stick his foot out to a McPhail ball over defenders that dropped right in front of him. Thommo’s snapshot from 30 yards earned applause but was always going wide.
There was little invention as it doesn’t help that Parry and Whittingham are both in poor form providing inadequate service and delivery out wide. A few good early crosses and then not much at all from either. Parry has struggled to get into recent games, Whitts seems to disappear every match lately once the opening spell has passed. This was an afternoon when they did get a fair share of the ball but the end product, sadly, was lacking..
The Paul Parry Experiment which has seen the left footer play all season long on the right is now completely important and long past its sell by date but still Jones perseveres with it. It is way too predictable watching Parry cut inside and, on the rare occasions he now goes outside, he is unable to put in a decent ball on his wrong foot. However Parry was our main attacking outlet, heading straight at Simonsen and just missing the angle of bar and post, again after cutting inside.
Stoke’s only response in that spell was self-inflicted City damage as Fuller chased a long ball, Forde rushed out and decided to clear with a waist high kung fu kick, insanity. He played an air shot, Fuller looked favourite to score but went wide and City were lucky to be able to clear but, on half-hour, in reasonable control, City let it slip. ..
A long-kick by Simonsen, Purse and Johnson stood off their forwards, Purse allowing Fuller to bring the ball down form a great height unchallenged then turn and advance on goal, he passed to Pericard who pushed the ball wide to Hoefkens with Gunter having moved in. That was far from clever defending but the finish was outstanding, HOEFKENS, a Belgian international, smashing the ball first time just inside the diagonal of the penalty area nearest the Grange and Grandstand across Forde and rasping inside the far post.
It’s now approaching the second anniversary of Dave Jones Cardiff City winning any game after going behind so we knew and forlorn hopes of victory and maintaining the play-off challenge was gone but could we fight back for a point, something we have managed to do now and again but not often enough?
It certainly didn’t look like it the rest of the half as City’s confidence instantly drained. A couple of wasteful corners was the best we could manage whilst Stoke nearly doubled their lead but Fuller was booked and Lawrence hit the side netting while their fans were now in party mood singing those evergreen football anthems, “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” and “God Save The Queen” - sadly the latter being their national anthem rather than the Sex Pistols version.. The only applause from City fans was seeing Neil Alexander warming up, he got an ovation from the Grandstand.
H/T: CITY 0 STOKE 1
Finally, City fans were able to cheer some meaningful and accurate shots at goals and three 8 yr old kids took on the half-time crossbar challenge. Two of them hitting the bar, the other missing by a fraction. Then we could all settle back into our early summer slumber.
The pattern for the second half was apparent from the off. Stoke were happy and felt comfortable keeping us at bay and hoping to hit us on the break again and with forwards like Fuller, Pericard and Liam Lawrence, you could understand why. It was up to City to make a fist of it and whilst we pushed on, it wasn’t pretty and when chances arrived, we invariably fluffed them. What irked was that there was a lack of urgency and belief out there, City seemed content going through the motions without ever being able to find another gear or even changing anything, tactically or gambling.. Johnson pushing forward whenever he could seemed to be the full extent of our ideas.
Joe Ledley fired wide early on, Thommo twisted too many times for his own good to get closed down and have a shot blocked. Chopra had some fortune as a misplaced Stoke pass sent him racing on goal, he swerved to the side of the last defender but then blazed over. His free-kicks have also returned to their early season standards, his recent purple patch now seems long ago. No power, no accuracy - one hit the wall, the other was chipped at the slowest pace straight into Simonsen’s arms.
Paul Parry was taken off after an hour but in Jonesy-style, it was a like-for-like swap with Willo Flood coming on. Willo, the forgotten man, added some energy to proceedings but didn’t really put over telling balls. City crosses, by now, were one dimensional, knocked high to the far post and hope for the best.
It had become so dull that the essential viewing was banter between Cardiff and Stoke fans. One City fan in the Lower Grandstand getting stick for his beer belly decided to take off his top and dance, in a very gay style, all along the front of the Lower Grandstand swinging his shirt above his head. City fans responded and it did give the game so noise so well done that man.
Thommo made Simonsen save with a shot on the turn but Stoke, their fans probably the most vocal at NP Towers all season, had their first piece of top notch jeering with their side produced miss of the season. McNaughton scuffed a back pass, with the rest of his team pushed up, to send Fuller away with a limping Purse scrambling back. Fuller drew Forde from goal and then passed to his side to give sub Paterson an open goal from 10 yards. It was a thing of beauty to watch him slide the ball a few feet wide. So embarrassed was Paterson that he laughed along with the Lower Grandstand giving him full vocals and gestures.
That was Purse’s final action as he made way for the Kerrea Gilbert for the final 10 minutes who immediately reminded us of what we’ve been missing from him since last November and once again had us completely puzzled why he’s been completely overlooked when not injured.
Stoke probably contributed to the final demise by falling too deep in territory and numbers which allowed City to push on for a last onslaught and, hallelujah, finally commit more men further forward but you still couldn‘t see a goal coming and, indeed, plenty of City fans had gone through the exits. .
Willo hit a shot straight at Simonsen with a minute to go but, bang on 90 minutes, City pumped a ball into the box crowed with all bar 4 players. That came out to McPhail who lobbed a first time ball back, Johnson nodded on and it dropped for CHOPRA 6 yards out to cleverly flick past Simonsen. Stoke players fell to the floor, Stoke fans put heads in hands and City fans relished the goal and the sweet chance to completely laugh at Stoke fans who had been in gloating mode for most of the closing stages.
There were 4 minutes added time to go and you sensed there may be a grand finale but it was a cruel trick. Neither side produced anything, much in keeping with the game we’d seen really.
Notwithstanding miracles, snookers and bribery, that it the end of City’s play-off hopes and, realistically, there’s nothing except price to play for now and, hopefully, some desire to at least finish in the Top 10. For Stoke, other weekend results mean they still have a good shot of making those play-offs, particularly with 2 of their final 3 games at home but, if they miss out now by a point or two, wouldn’t it be glorious to think that Cardiff City are the ones who got revenge again??