Cardiff 2 Bristol City 1
Championship, March 22nd 2008
Panic on the streets of Portishead, Totterdown, Bedminster and Filton...
In its own sensationally satisfying way, this was as enjoyable a performance as the mauling of Middlesbrough at the Riverside two weeks ago. Dave Jones was spot-on in his post-match assessment, asserting that this was demonstrable evidence that the Cardiff players' minds were firmly focused on the league and their admittedly dwindling hopes of a play-off place. In truth, these evaporated a long time ago, and last week's dismal result at Colchester simply confirmed what we already knew.
This "Severnside" derby was trumpeted in the press for all the wrong reasons, and was, despite what many of the fans thought, not about the return of Trundle. With the news that loudmouth Leighton James is believed to be on gardening leave from BBC Wales for repeatedly spouting his "controversial" anti-Cardiff nonsense on rubbish Real Radio and in the Swansea Evening Post, this was not a good time for ex-Swansea "legends".
Lee Trundle was returning to Ninian Park for the first time since his disgracefully loutish behaviour at the Mill Stad in the Swans' sadly abortive attempt to join us in the Championship two years ago - pandering to the thugs on the terraces with his unveiling of the "**** Off Cardiff" flag with lump-brained team-mate Alan Tate. Trundle was a decent player amongst the scufflers of League 1, but has wilted at Championship level, where his rare excursions off the bench have been a classic case of ever-diminishing returns. He was anonymous today, and was played off the park by a snappy Cardiff defence. He was subject to a vicious vocal baiting from the terraces, which cannot have failed to knock him off his stride.
Trundle's presence added spice and salt to an already heated occasion, with a good crowd bumped up by the bubbled-in Brizzle contingent, whose visual presence was far more impressive than their appalling attempts at generating any atmosphere. Having surprised almost everyone this season apart from their bluff down to earth manager Gary Johnson, Bristol City arrived at Fortress Ninian in 2nd position, but having a slight attack of the yips with just three points from the last four games.
Impartial observers have been waiting for the Robins to fall off their perch (ouch!) for months now, but despite their lack of goals (one more than us now) and poor goal difference of +1, they continue to confound, and are giving the brutalist long ball merchants of Watford and Stoke a serious run for their money. What Johnson has done with a modest squad has been either incredible or a damning indictment of the lack of quality in the top half of the Championship.
The game kicked off at pace and with some intensity, both sides enjoying chunks of possession as the balance of power swung wildly back and forth across the border. With HB out of the picture for 3 matches, Cardiff shaped up with Thompson and an increasingly peripheral Parry up front. Jones again decided to rest Ramsey, opting for a less punchy, more functional midfield quartet of Ledley, Rae, McPhail and Whittingham. At the back a nervous-looking Darcy Blake replaced the injured Kevin Mac, with Johnson and Loovens in the centre and the ever-improving Capaldi at left back.
Bristol played some neat expansive football in the first half, with a very impressive performance from Australian Nick Carle in the middle of the park, who pulled all their strings and was effectively running the show. Cardiff were not at their fluid best, but did have chances. Loovens smashed a few greenhouse windows with a wild volley which flew into the garden of a house in Sloper Road when it would have been easier to score.
Thompson should have done better when clean through on keeper Adriano Basso, who blocked Thomo's effort before Bradley Orr cleared off the line. Bristol hit the post from a looping cross which Enckleman misjudged, then just as we got ready for the half time Bovrils, Roger Johnson put the Bluebirds ahead with a majestic header, connecting powerfully with Whittingham's perfectly flighted cross.
Cardiff pressed on in the second half and sought to extend their lead. Bristol's fightback was late in arriving and disappointing for the hitherto untroubled central defensive pairing. Journeyman striker Dele Adebola snuck in between Loovens and Johnson and shouldered the ball inelegantly past a helpless Encks. A couple of minutes later a Steve Brooker header looked to have put them in front but was disallowed for a very tight offside decision.
Cardiff breathed the collective sigh of relief and hit back at their country cousins, McPhail being upended in the box to give the Blues a precious opportunity to finish the game off. After a lengthy delay, an ashen-faced Whittingham, clearly bricking it, hit a decent penalty which was well saved by Basso who was however only able to parry it into the path of the sharp onrushing figure of Whitts. He made no mistake with the second chance and buried the rebound, giving us the points.
There were a few moments of discomfort after that, but Cardiff held on and looked good value for the victory, winding down the clock and killing the game off to the delight of a raucous crowd. Off the pitch, collective ticket hysteria has taken over otherwise sane and level-headed City fans, the hours and days ticking over ever swiftly as we patiently await our historic date with destiny. Another win against flailing Southampton should settle the nerves quite nicely.
Paul Davies © 2008.
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