Cardiff 4 (FOUR) Colchester United 1
Championship, December 8th 2007
No-one knows anything
48 hours later I am still trying to get my head round this one. Cardiff City rose from the dead in a spectacular shape-shifting transformation on Saturday, coming from behind to overturn a half-time 0-1 deficit and trounce the living daylights out of Colchester with a stunning and scintillating display of sexy football which had jaws hitting the terrace floor in unison - the blinding array of goals setting the ground alight. After weeks of misery, depression and tales of impending financial apocalypse, the team turned in a performance which wasn't just the best seen this season at Ninian, but maybe, given the circumstances, the best for years - it was that good.
If the substitutions at the end of the game (some forced, some tactical) hadn't taken place, then the score could have quite easily doubled - 8-1 would have been a very fair reflection on the chasm in class between the two teams. Yes, that's right, chasm - in - class.
So, Dave Jones is God, Stephen McPhail is Pele, the Blues are going up, and after following that performance by watching Peter Kay in The Producers' last ever UK show at the Millennium Centre, this was the mother of all Saturdays.
So where did it all go right? Five factors can be clearly identified:
1. Attitude. Having (rightly) been battered by wave upon wave of criticism from fans and journalists alike (even the fifth columnists at the South Wales Eggo), like Peter Finch in Network, or Kirk Douglas in Spartacus, the players stood up and screamed out "we're not gonna take this any more". From the kick-off, every single player was like a man possessed, bristling with grit, determination and aggression, fighting for every ball, finally playing like their lives depended upon it.
2. Selection. Having resisted the advice of 10,000 armchair managers (no-one knows anything remember), Dave Jones finally took to the Road to Damascus and succumbed to the blindingly bleeding obvious, and actually picked the best 11 players at his disposal, and not only that, played them (shock horror probe) in their best positions. So the two best full backs came together, Gunter and McNaughton (bye bye Capaldi), sandwiching the two best centre backs Johnson and Loovens, whilst the midfield was finally given a bit of shape by allowing Ledley to partner McPhail in the centre, with Whittingham and Parry on the wings. Up front Thompson partnered JFH.
3. Atmosphere. City fans are used to living on the dark side and have so often triumphed in/against adversity, their loyalty and vocal clout never being more evident than when we are up against it. The fans were magnificent, the noise from a paltry crowd of 11,000 would have put the Theatre of Prawns to shame, the singing and chanting were raucous and inspirational. A slight shame that the celebration of one of the goals was soundtracked by the deafening abuse of the Colchester Jack, instead of a song for the Blues. What was the point?
4. Peter Whittingham. After every single Bluebird played out of their skins, it may seem unfair to isolate one individual, but Whittingham was OUT-FREAKING-STANDING. Building upon the promise he has showed intermittently since joining the club, he delivered an astonishing performance of skill, quality, electric speed, drive and enthusiasm which had everything - hard running, fancy dribbling, perfect wicked inswinging/outswinging crosses, beautiful passing and fierce shooting. He bamboozled Colchester from minute one, they were left reeling, gasping for breath and pleading for mercy.
5. The badger on Kevin McNaughton's head. I don't know why, but it made the difference - more wacky haircuts please!
Cardiff's assault on the Colchester goal began after 30 seconds, Paul Parry launching a fizzing ball across the face of the goal, a whisker away from onrushing forwards. The U's were penned helplessly in their own half for 44 minutes, desperately trying to face down the battering they were receiving from an unrecognisably sharp and stylish City side.
Johnson went close early on with a powerhouse header which was cleared off the line. McPhail had a decent volleyed attempt, Hasselbaink hit a cross shot which was tipped onto the post and away by the agile Gerken. After a comedy collision between defenders Duguid and Connolly, Thompson muscled his way through the tangle of bodies and looked to be in with a shout before being hauled down.
From the resultant free kick Whittingham unleashed hell with a ferocious shot which was palmed away by the keeper, and a few minutes later hit the side netting with a neat shot. It was a 0-0 drubbing and as half time approached, the crowd were dumbstruck as Colchester pilfered an outrageously undeserved goal - Jackson leathering in McLeod's cross after the otherwise implacable McNaughton had a moment of madness and allowed the ball to drift over his head and into the path of the midfield player.
Heads dropped on the terraces, but critically not on the pitch. City ripped into the opposition at the start of the second half, determined not to let this one get away, and within seven minutes, the boys were on terms. Parry fed HB on the right hand side of the box, and he delivered a sweet cross into the path of lionheart Thommo, whose brave low header flicked past the despairing arms of the keeper.
The expression on the players' faces spoke volumes about their desire to win this game, and within another 5 minutes we were ahead - this team man of the match Whitts blasting a shot which ricocheted off Duguid into the net. Scenes of pandemonium on and off the pitch as the players and fans sensed a huge and special victory was on the way.
A couple of minutes before that Schmeichel had made a crucial save from McLeod, who'd taken advantage of a rare defensive slip-up to power towards goal and what looked like a certain second goal. Kasper rushed out, denied McLeod the angle he was looking for and made a massively important save.
City's spell of champagne football kept on flowing, the third goal being a sublime piece of artistry. Ledley slipped the ball towards Whitts, who dummied and took off towards the wing, receiving the ball from a quick-thinking Thompson, he played a perfect pass into the path of HB, who nonchalantly slotted home.
Colchester were being ripped apart and humiliated by a rampant City team, who showed no signs of letting up the pace and intensity of their football. It was a joy to watch, and a rich reward for the hardy thousands who'd braved the weather and desperately poor run of form to witness this feast.
Goal number four completed the rout, a powerful cross from Whittingham knocked past a by now pickled Gerken by distraught Virgo. Colchester had been destroyed in a stunning twenty minute spell of outlandishly good football, reminiscent of the very best of the early season form last year, but all the more enjoyable as it was launched from a bedrock of despondency.
Thousands of shiny happy people skipped onto Sloper Road, thinking strange thoughts about where we'll be in three weeks time if this team can produce this kind of form over the Christmas period. Four points from the next two against Blackpool and Bristol, and who knows?
Paul Davies © 2007.
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