Cardiff 1 Birmingham City 2
Championship, September 27th 2008
How many legs does a dog have if you call the tail a leg? Four. Calling a tail a leg doesn't make it a leg
Likewise with Cardiff City and strikers. Today Birmingham permed two from five quality strikers, any one of whom would walk backwards into this sick-looking City side. We have Ross McCormack - a fine attacking midfielder who has made a good impression, but is not the striker who will lead the club up the table. Jay Bothroyd continues to labour intently, but contributes nothing to the team as an attacking force. He does not lead the line in any meaningful fashion, foraging far and wide for ball that never materialises and today he was simply hoovered up and spat out by Jaidi in a superlative defensive performance which hasn't been bettered by an away side since Nosworthy bossed it at Ninian Park for Sunderland two years ago.
In many ways, it would have been better had we been thumped 6-0 today - it may have finally got through to the ostriches in the dugout and boardroom that this is a team a whisker away from a relegation dogfight - but don't bank on it. DJ usually reacts to problems like some slo-mo action hero - several weeks after the terrace duffers have been bawling for some response (and suggesting a solution).
At the moment, it's not just personnel that is causing concern - we have tried endless permutations of the fit and available players on the books of this football club, and every one has been found wanting. Time for DJ perhaps to embrace the footballing equivalent of sacrificing virgins on the centre circle - yes, the tactic that dare not speak its name - changing the formation! Dave Jones is so locked into the straitjacket of 4-4-2 as to make this suggestion seem beyond heretical, but the team's flatness and rigidity cries out for a change, the most obvious (given the woeful strikeforce) being a 4-5-1, with McCormack supporting a lone (loan?) striker from deep positions. What we don't need at the moment is McCormack taking corners and free kicks when he should be buzzing in between defenders' legs.
Despite the huge amount of possession and the improved quality of the opposition, today's performance was even more worrying than the wet Echo game against Brizzle. We are now becoming dully familiar with the underwhelming attack, but the creeping malaise which begins up front has now begun to affect the whole of the midfield - all of whom were laid low by a leaden-footed inertia. Ledley and Parry in particular looked hopeless - body language indicating that they were either completely fatigued or completely unconcerned or both. Rae was busy but unproductive and Whittingham floated around like Basil Fotherington-Thomas admiring the daffodils - "hullo birds hullo sky".
These guys need a rocket up their jacksies - and what do they get? DJ shrugs his shoulders, and in that enigmatic manner of his of stating the bleedin' obvious, opines that we did "everything bar winning the football match". Well thanks for the blindingly acute observation, but I prefer the blunt spectator on the BBT, whose response to Dai Hunt's desperate plea "C'mon Jay what you doing?", parried back with "F*** all - like he usually does!". Cruel, but factually accurate.
Before these two difficult home fixtures, the consensus seemed to be that 4 points would be a more than worthwhile outcome, and whilst we feared the firepower of Brum's Fearsome 5, their defeat at home to Blackpool last week gave some cause for optimism, alongside the lunatic notion that something might actually start to click and the Bluebirds would show the fans how much the defeat at the Liberty had inspired them to "kick on". No such luck.
Whilst still finding a vantage point on a clearly overcrowded BBT, on 5 minutes we were 1-0 down - a soppy goal conceded at a very bad time - the Cardiff defence still rubbing their eyes and yawning as class act McFadden slipped the opener past the still unconvincing Heaton. The sunshine and optimism which had energised the crowd evaporated tangibly, and it almost felt like game over even at that ridiculously early stage.
Full credit to the Bluebirds, though, they battled back in the first half and peppered the Birmingham end with goal efforts, some of which it would not be kind to dwell on. Given their exalted position and the clear quality divide between the two teams, it was something of a shock to see McLeish's side prepared to play so deep and rely on the crumbs of a few counter attacks. In truth, with the impeccable Jaidi immovable at the back, there was not much to trouble their defence. Usually reliable Maik Taylor went walkabout on two occasions leaving his goal at the mercy of McCormack, but both times efforts from him and Whittingham were wide of the mark.
As the half wore on, the Cardiff commitment and energy levels wavered and were sapped completely with the second knockout blow from Quincy Owusu-Abeyie, a neat finish from distance on the left wing, which should have been blocked off by defenders and seen earlier by Heaton. 2-0 and now it was game over. Birmingham were uninterested in extending their goal difference and allowed Cardiff to bang their collective heads against a welded tight rearguard, whilst Carsley played the destroyer card in the middle of the park.
More of the same in the second half and as time slipped away Marcus Bent, whose on-off transfer encapsulated Cardiff's shambolic close-season attempts to reel in a quality striker, arrived as a substitute and received the expected barracking from the home crowd. Jerome had also come in for some stick in the first half, a tad unfair given some of the glorious performances he gave us in a Bluebirds shirt. His Charlie Big Potatoes comments about wanting to better himself elsewhere were the ill-advised musings of a young player whose feet were clearly not rooted to the ground, but so what, he was a terrific Cardiff striker who the CLUB sold.
More worrying than the barracking of former Bluebirds was the Feeney-like reception given to Eddie Johnson when he sprinted on with 14 minutes to go. Johnson is already a Dead Man Walking in the eyes of 95% of the watching public, but to whistle and boo the fella before he'd kicked a ball was a disgrace. We have no-one else, his confidence is shot to pieces, is that really going to help?
Nothing else of consequence happened in the last 15, aside, of course, from a wonderful finish from McCormack, who capped a more than decent performance with a swerving run, a cut inside and a wicked left foot shot which curved past Taylor. With 87 minutes gone and a cushion of an extra 4 minutes, there was still time for an improbable draw, but City had neither the energy, wit nor imagination to break down the solid Brum backline.
Dave Jones and Ridsdale have supped greedily from the reservoir of goodwill accumulated by a fabulous FA Cup run last year, but that was then and this, my friends, is now. With the floating voters no doubt exercising their rights to be entertained by TV Champions League football, a diminished crowd on Tuesday will demand a big big improvement.
TV pundits with technical pretensions beyond the red-top cliche factory often wibble on about the "corridor of uncertainty", a phrase originally coined by Geoffrey Boycott to describe something incredibly tedious around the off-stump area, but now applied to the beautiful game to reference that patch of ground on the edge of the six yard box which keepers find so difficult to defend. Cardiff City are currently freefalling into the Canyon of Uncertainty and require some major wind-change or giant-sized parachute to get back on track.
Paul Davies © 2008.
« Back to match reports index