Cardiff City 3 Bristol City 2
Championship, October 16th 2010
(Photos © Paul Davies/urban75 2010)
"People get ready, there's a train comin'
You don't need no baggage, you just get on board ..."
A flawed but thrilling victory showed the character of a Cardiff team rocked to their very bones by two Bristol goals in the first eight minutes. A huge improvement on the last two dull and disappointing displays at CCS, Cardiff are edging slowly towards the vim, vigour and va va va voom of the early-season performances, which saw them installed, upon a wave of crashing Craig Bellamy euphoria, as favourites to walk away with the Championship title. Craig who? came the cry from the back, as yet again Bellamy was nowhere to be seen, now having played only three of the first eleven games.
We are reliably informed by Craig's personal medic that Bellers will be fit enough to play 30 games this season, one a week, but there were many disgruntled fans who thought that, if fit, Bellamy should have played today. The Number 39's absence was compensated by the return of Chopra, sidelined by a horrendous tackle by Doncaster's Wayne Thomas two months ago.
Since then, Cardiff have gripped tightly to second spot, capitalising on the failure of the chasing ratpack to mount a significant challenge, riding their luck in some uninspired performances, and improvising marvellously in inventive formations in others. Alongside the annoyingly machine-like 'Oops from Loftus Road, Cardiff City are the team to beat.
The return of the hugely missed talismanic Chopra to partner Jay up front allowed Jones to revert to his favoured 4-4-2 formation, Tom Heaton still keeping Marshall out of the team, Gyepes and Hudson at centre back, McNaughton and Naylor at full back, with a tantalising midfield four of Burke, Olofinjana, McPhail and Whittingham.
After the pain and humiliation of the international break it was gratifying to be back home, albeit for yet another stupidly (unnecessary?) early kick-off. Given the atmosphere inside the stadium at the start of the match, which was more like a tepid Sunday school fete than a spikey Severnside derby, it seemed difficult to justify the inconvenience of a midday kick-off on top of an already bubbled fixture.
Bristol's diabolical start to the season, their worst for nearly 30 years, saw them arrive in Cardiff snugly secure at the bottom of the table - the premature retirement of Steve Coppell after 2 games having effectively demolished any chances of success this season, before the first Autumn leaves had fallen. Not-so-famous any more keeper David James must be wondering what he's walked into, a battle against relegation being the most likely source of excitement for the Wurzels.
Whilst Cardiff fans approached the game with optimism, the realisation that our worst performances have come against the scufflers at the bottom of the league (Leicester, Palace) meant that the calamitous double concession was met with rage but not surprise. Cardiff's players were still rubbing the sleep out of their eyes as they lined up for their second restart - staring down the barrel of a humiliating payback for last season's titanic 6-0 demolition of the carrot-crunchers at Ashton Gate.
Panic-stricken and incompetent defensive frailties had caused the two goals - a tricky free kick betwixt corner flag and edge of penalty box was floated into the mixer, and Gabor Gyepes was shoved out of the way by on-loan defender Steven Caulker who converted his header easily. The Curse of the Canton (we never play well when attacking the 'New' Canton Stand in the first half) struck again on 8 minutes, the second goal a neat flick on from the journeyman's journeyman Jon Stead, but once again the defence was split like a long-dead kipper.
Game over? Not for this team of battling diehards. The fight back was feisty and immediate - fearing the half-time hairdryer treatment, the Bluebirds remembered who they were and slid into their exalted style of high-tempo one-touch football, long passes snaking crossfield and sending Brizzle defenders giddy. We were good, and quickly made amends for the dullard defensive dropped bollocks. Michael Chopra was keen to make his return count and was influential in the build-up to the first goal - receiving the ball inside the box his cross / shot landed at the feet of dead-eye Bothroyd who swivelled to lose his marker and whacked the ball past James.
Despair washed away, the atmosphere built as City pushed to get on terms. In truth, their progress was fitful, Bristol City were not yet ready to capitulate and whilst playing for much of the match with 11 men behind the ball, they had, in on-loan Spurs player Danny Rose and Albert Adomah, two zippy and talented wingers who caused problems throughout - the corner count of 8-2 in favour of the Robins a testament to their contribution to an exciting game.
As the game progressed Cardiff's defensive jitters were (mostly) calmed, Hudson again proving himself to be a sturdy bulwark, making some terrific last-gasp blood and thunder tackles. Naylor was OK (apart from needlessly conceding the corner which led to the second goal), whilst Kevin Mc had probably his best game of the season, forming a dynamic partnership with Burke as they took it in turns to barrel up the wing and torment the left side of the Bristol defence.
Burke tired and faded in the second half and appeared less than 100% fit. Oli and McPhail stood firm in the centre and Whitts had a fine game. Chops was enthusiastic but rusty, and Bothroyd was a mixture of sublime and stupid - displaying a range of passing and movement to make you gasp one moment, and then spit the next, as he remonstrated with officials and kicked the ball away to get a needless booking. The ongoing soap opera that is the Cardiff goalkeeping 'situation' seems still to be unresolved with Heaton, having performed admirably in the past two home games, displaying worrying signs of fallibility as he flapped like a nervous schoolboy at a succession of dangerous crosses which strafed the box in the first half. We could perhaps do worse than tap up Old Father Time Calamity James, who made a brace of outstanding saves to keep Bristol in the game. 2-1 at half time, with Cardiff in the ascendancy.
Peter Whittingham finally got his first goal of the season within a minute of the start of the second half, a long loping free kick from outside of the box foxing both defenders and keeper and bouncing delightfully into the net. Time to relax a little and try and predict how many we would score before the end of the afternoon. To celebrate the change in fortunes the sun was beating down relentlessly and the temperature soared, as did the vocal exhortations from the pumped-up supporters. Bristol were on the ropes, but were game opponents, who still threatened to upset the momentum on their occasional foray into our territory.
Chopra, Burke and Bothroyd all went close before the game was settled. The winning goal was deserved, inevitable and greeted with an avalanche of noise as City fans celebrated the win that cemented our position in second spot - bragging rights over the not very noisy neighbours seemed fairly inconsequential. Another free kick outside the box, and whilst substitute Jason Koumas (on for McPhail) loitered with intent, it was Whitts who whipped a stunning left footer over the wall past a beaten James. Still some time to go before the final whistle, but Cardiff killed the game off in a clinical and professional style - extricating themselves from the doo-doo with an impressive performance of strength and skill, whilst still only firing on three quarters of their cylinders. Forget Bristol's position, this was a massive three points.
Savouring the victory over a post-match pinta in my favourite local beer garden, four lads between the ages of 5 and 7, all in City shirts, engaged in an animated game of footy using a half-brick for a football (times are hard!) - arguing about who was going to be Burke, Bothroyd, Chopra or Bellamy. Can you imagine that happening five years ago? In many ways, this seemed a lot more important than the victory today.
Cardiff City are going places - if you haven't done so already, it is time to hop on board, whilst you still have the chance.
Paul Davies © 2010
« back to Cardiff City homepage