Cardiff 3 Blackpool 1
Championship, April 12th 2008
Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.
Seneca (Roman Football Pundit, 5 BC - 65 AD)
So. That's all it took then. To shift the slumbering giant all you need to do is get to an FA Cup Final for the first time in 81 years, after taking the lead in a Wembley semi-final and holding it for 81 minutes. A five megaton bomb exploded under the blubbery snoring lardarse, and a frantic scramble for Final-enabling season tickets is now underway before the ambo window closes on Monday (or Friday).
And then, just when you have been sucker-punched into believing that football fever had finally, possibly, definitely maybe infected the metropolitan Cardiff area, Saturday comes and even the prospect of paying a personal tribute to the heroic Wembley efforts of management and players cannot entice more than 14,500 supporters to Ninian Park. Like Ridsdale said in the week, what is all this clamour for Cup Final tickets? Where were you all today? Ho hum - time to move on, again.
A beautiful Spring afternoon afforded thirsty punters an opportunity for a late-season pre-match al fresco aperitif. A bit of a worry that close inspection of the pub sign of our favoured hostelry indicated alarming similarities to the Pompey club crest - with conspicuous crescent/stars configuration. Not that I'm superstitious you understand, but don't tell the players!
Six days later, the blue euphoric mist had finally started to lift, I'd stopped walking into lamp-posts, gibbering incoherently and spewing out stats about Trixie, Keenor, Abide with Me, anthems, allocations, lucky scarves, replica shirts, rosettes, confetti, balloons, flags and normal life is slowly resuming - until Monday's ticket announcement of course, when all hell will break loose again.
Today, though, was an absolute breeze. Do not feel sorry for Blackpool. Theirs was a dismal performance - gutless, clueless, witless and thoroughly deserving of the thrashing inflicted upon them by a below-strength City team which were in second gear throughout, and whose dominance of the game was so complete it nullified the contest as a spectacle. We wiped the floor with this team, who fully deserve to get relegated on this form. Cardiff didn't even break a sweat.
When the third goal went in, it looked like Blackpool had crumbled and an avalanche of goals were on the way. Somehow, the Tangerines held on, and even managed to claw back some consolation, but don't let their solitary goal fool you - they were demolished today by a mega-tired City team robbed of key individuals.
Fatigue and nagging injuries meant Cardiff lined up with four personnel changes to the recognised starting 11, with Dazzer Purse stepping in for Loovens, Thompson for Parry, Sinclair effectively taking Ledley's place and Ramsey the versatile virtuoso being the stand-in striker whilst Jimmy puts his feet up. A word or two about Purse first - maximum respect to the fella, who has had a hugely frustrating time as a virtual fixture on the bench, Loovens and Johnson having both had fantastic, immovable seasons.
An easy decision for Jones to stay with that central defensive pairing, but Purse has not moaned once, kept respectfully schtum, and when called upon to help out, has thrown himself into the fray with masses of enthusiasm. He was superb today, and considering how ring-rusty he must be feeling, he rarely put a foot wrong. A captain's performance indeed.
The pitch was in magnificent start-of-the-season shape and a tribute to the terrific efforts of the ground staff over the course of a long eight and a half months. It's easier to play football when you have a lush, gleaming Axminster carpet of a pitch to play on.
City looked jaded in the first few minutes, and an anaemic performance was lifted by an extraordinary goal from new fan's hero Stephen McPhail. A cross from Sinclair was knocked back by Thompson to Ramsey, and after a blocked shot from Whittingham, the ball bounced invitingly just ahead of McPhail, who caught it with such venom and precision on the volley it very nearly tore a hole in the net. It was an outstanding strike, and came at a good moment, settling nerves and providing a platform for what was to become a comfortable victory.
Cardiff controlled the first half and it was difficult to believe that Blackpool were fighting for their Championship lives, such was the poverty of their ambition and powder-puff application. Enckelman had very little to do, collecting one looped header, and turning one shot round the post, but it was a cakewalk for City in the first half, a tedious cakewalk, but a cakewalk nevertheless.
Things revved up in the second half as Cardiff sought to take advantage of their territorial dominance and kill the game off. Two sweetly taken goals did for Blackpool and drew a line under a pathetic capitulating performance which Simon 'Larry' Grayson must have been tearing his hair out about.
On 50 minutes, a good Cardiff build-up saw an overlapping Capaldi cross into the box, a scuffed Ramsey shot rebounded to Trevor Sinclair, who celebrated his 500th league match by slamming the ball low and hard past beaten keeper Paul Rachubka. The crowd relaxed, and the singing became ever more animated with a critical 3 points now in the bag.
Eight minutes later, the game was out-of-sight when Peter Whittingham capped a fine performance with a deftly struck daisy-cutter, after a long period of Cardiff possession. The Bluebirds effectively clocked off then, when it felt as if another hatful of goals were there for the taking. A lapse of concentration at the back saw Andy Morrell hit back with a barely deserved near-post header on 73 minutes, after Dickov had beaten Purse with a cross which then evaded the normally unflappable Johnson.
Sinclair had been replaced on 68 minutes, with a second-ever substitute appearance from Academy product Jonathan Brown. Overall, this was a fine team performance in potentially difficult circumstances, with very good individual showings from Capaldi, McPhail and Ramsey. As for Steve Thompson's swivel and drag-back in the second half which left the Blackpool defence and the Bob Bank terrace gaping with admiration - sir, we salute you. Chants of "Just like watching Brazil" rolled down off the terrace, once the shock had subsided - a fitting memory from an important match.
So where the hell does that leave us? Having already discounted the possibility of reaching the Play-Offs several times, the continuing choking performance of our immediate rivals leaves a window of opportunity still tantalisingly ajar. Of our four remaining fixtures, I cannot see us failing to beat Scunthorpe and Burnley away, and Barnsley at home on the final day of the season. If certain results go our way, a win at Wolves may staggeringly be enough to take us into the Play-Offs, with all the delirious complications that may bring.
If it happens, it happens, and we must grab the opportunity now and not blather on about it being too early. An extra three games is not going to help preparations for the biggest match in the club's post-war history, and the danger of burn-out on two fronts is stupidly obvious, but it is a delicious diversion which we cannot possibly turn down. If we fail to make the Play-Offs, then we have a luxurious two week window to rest bodies and exercise the mental strength to be able to properly prepare for the Cup Final and give already over-confident Pompey and 'Appy 'Arry the game of their lives. Que Sera Sera, and all that.
Whichever division we find ourselves in next year, should the club continue the habits of a lifetime and sell off both our brilliant young stars Ledley and Ramsey, then there will be a lot of disgusted City fans at Ninian Park next year, and a lot more potential fans stuck to their sofas - and let's face it, they don't need much of an excuse. If we do go up, then it's a no-brainer, we can afford to keep them and pay them Premiership wages, whilst their value increases exponentially.
If we don't go up, there has never been a better opportunity to launch a serious bid for promotion. With the success of the Cup, the arrival of the "New Stadium", and the prospect of building a team around our young talent, a modest investment in key players (two strikers, a central midfielder, a left back and an additional keeper) would kick-start a storming farewell to Ninian Park.
Paul Davies © 2008.
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