Cardiff 0 Bristol City 0
Championship, September 13th 2008
Three wheels on my wagon and I'm still rolling along...
Tepid, tame, torpid and at times downright tedious, this was anything but a tasty Severnside derby, so lacking in grit, dodgy tackles and hackle-raisng aggression as to give the phenomenon of local derbies a bad name. Last term the very same match produced a genuine and fiercely tested contest which Cardiff deservedly edged. Today's anaemic encounter didn't merit a winner, and asked some tricky questions of a flat and unimpressive Bluebirds team.
Listening to the post-match interviews from both managers I had thought that perhaps I'd stepped through some cosmic wormhole and ended up at the Bernabeu for a Madrid/Barcelona clash, such was the enthusiasm of Jones and Johnson's match summaries. But no. The briefer than brief highlights on the Championship confirmed that this was a dull affair, and in all honesty, the atmosphere was deflated well before the game made a beeline for stalemate city.
Inexplicably, after such a powder-puff display, the team ascended to the lofty position of 7th on Saturday, or joint 14th if you're a glass half-empty man. Undefeated in the Cup and League we remain, but a points tally of 7 from 5 games and a goal difference of +1 is not getting many pulses racing on the terraces - a single win and four draws papering over cracks which are beginning to widen. Compare and contrast with the storming start Wolves have made, inspired by the excellent Welsh striker Sam Vokes amongst others, they have won 4 and drawn 1 and sit imperiously atop the table with a GD of +11. Now that's what I call a good start to the season.
Meanwhile, the inadequacies of the squad are amplified and exaggerated with every passing onfield minute - Jones and Ridsdale can almost be pictured relaxing on their wheelbarrows of used fivers, metaphorically sparking up another Havana Montecristo cigar, discussing shares options and drooling over the latest dossier from Accrington Stanley Reserves. Pronouncing ever more buffoonishly on the club's inactivity in the transfer and loan market, Jones has now suggested that we can wait till the January transfer window, when we will be able to invest modestly in a young player or two. Pardon! If, after that display, Jones seriously thinks this squad will tread water beyond the end of September, never mind Christmas, then he is clearly living in some alternative reality peopled by the mighty Tharg and fellow extra terrestrials from the planet Quaxxann. As mad as a rat with a gold tooth, to twist a saying from Down Under.
I like Dave Jones, I like the fact that he is the thirteenth longest serving manager in the four leagues (curiously enough Gary Johnson is fourteenth), and apart from McCleish, Dowie, Laws, Blackwell, Coppell, McCarthy, Irvine, Martinez, Coyle, Warnock and Coleman there is probably no better manager in the Championship. But with that stability can come complacency and inertia and an untouchable armour-plated coating which blithely deflects any form of criticism - constructive or otherwise. Dave has made it plain over the years that he regards the terrace tacticians who disagree with him as deluded fools. Dave, we may be thick but we're not stupid. We can see where this is heading, and even mid-table mediocrity may be beyond us at this rate.
The 64,000 dollar question has yet to be answered - where has the transfer surplus of 24 gazillion gone? The fog of deceit and web of lies being spun by the Ministry of Disinformation at Ninian Park is beginning to get the natives more than a little restless.
We clearly still have problems in three key areas. Heaton, despite a superb show-stopping save at full stretch from Nicky Maynard, again looked like a man who would vapourise if he left his line for more than 5 seconds, and whilst his distribution from hand has improved, his kicking continues to terrorise the poor punters in the first few rows of the BBT and Lower Grandstand. He is not the answer!
The midfield today were pants. Joe Ledley shone intermittently and threw his heart and soul into the game, as we have come to expect, and perhaps take for granted, but towards the end he was clearly tiring after the heroic international exertions of midweek in Moscow. Rae and McPhail did nothing of consequence and were devoid of attacking ideas. Whittingham was a frustrating ineffectual presence, aside from his one moment of genuine quality and class, when he almost converted the best move of the game with a superb half-volley, a Bothroyd cross having been placed on a plate for him by Gavin Rae's header.
This midfield is crying out for a hairy-arsed destroyer with titanium cojones to galvanise a balsa wood spine, and a probing progressive creative midfielder to feed the hungry strikers with decent ball. Most important man on the park in the halcyon table-topping Chopra days was Riccy Scimeca - the midfield has never looked settled, balanced and full of ideas since then - he has not been replaced and early indications suggest that this season will be as Riccy-free as last year.
It is up front though, where problems remain. Parry started coltishly but his performance petered out, as if his shameful and premature international retirement had worn the poor love out. Bothroyd and Parry are not a partnership, and on the evidence of the second half neither are McCormack and Bothroyd. Bothroyd is a physically imposing striker who seems to win less ball in the air than Michael Chopra - he is not a commanding presence in the opposition penalty area and provides very little for the players around him. For a big lad, he has nimble feet and a good touch, but far too often he was chasing lost balls on the left wing when he should have been putting himself about in the penalty box. Eddie Johnson may yet shake things up, but Jones has very little time to forge a dynamic striking partnership out of his four available attackers. McCormack's stats of 4 goals in 5 starts are currently more impressive than his performances. We look lightweight up top.
Tactically we were all over the shop today, sacrificing genuine width for the sappy long punts towards Jay and co. I can't recall a single moment when the Cardiff attack got behind Bristol's back four and launched a decent ball back across the face of goal. It simply did not happen.
Defensively we looked fairly solid, with a few caveats. Comminges had an enthusiastic game and was not afraid to pile forward - he did however seem to develop a case of the jitters on passing the half way line, and relied far too heavily on support from the mighty Joe Ledley when he got himself in a pickle. Kevin Mac did well but did not exploit the flanks as he usually does. Johnson had some flaky moments and some of his distribution was dire, luckily Dazzer Purse had a flawless game and has clearly grasped his place back with a vengeance - he played the simple ball on every occasion and did not put a foot out of place.
The stats imply that Cardiff were way ahead in terms of shots on goal etc, but the Bluebirds were flailing away with a very blunt instrument and never looked like scoring. Bristol were largely content to soak up pressure, hit us on the break, and in Nicky Maynard have spent actual money on a quality striker - his left foot shot which grazed the cross bar was the nearest anyone got to a goal.
Having said all that - two wins against struggling opposition and we may well be in the top 3 next Saturday. Two defeats, though, and we'll be lurching backwards. Already, this looks like a pivotal moment. Cash needs to be splashed on loan signings now - careful use of the loan system played huge dividends for Stoke last year, so what are you waiting for, Peter?
Paul Davies © 2008.
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