Cardiff 2 Coventry City 1
Championship, September 30th 2008
"Nobody knows anything!
Relegation Dogfight my arse! In that kind of form the mighty Bluebirds
will be leaping over Mick McCarthy's head in a couple of weeks and
lording it over this division as we prepare to take our places at the
top table of Premiership football. Well, not quite. But anyone
witnessing Saturday's wash-out performance could not fail to be excited
by the 1,000% improvement against Coventry. Guillotine-sharpening on
hold, firing squads stand down, angry emails to Peter Ridsdale and local taxi firms are booted into Deleted Items, Dave Jones and Darren Purse have a loved-up hug and all is rosey in the garden.
It was an extraordinary game if only for the spectacular way in which
referee Roger East disallowed Eastwood's goal in the 56th minute -
the linesman rather timidly waved his flag after an obvious handball
from Dann, then put it back down to his side after being ignored by the
ref. Coventry swept upfield and the always dangerous Eastwood finished
off a slick move by firing past Heaton. Cue uproar from the City fans
and a heated but civilised/non-threatening protest from McPhail , Purse and a couple of others, who urged the ref to consult the lino, even as the rest of the players were setting up for the restart.
No way is he going to change his mind, we thought, and then incredibly
after long moments of deliberation, lo and behold he did, indicating
that play should be returned for the original handball. A brave and
gutsy decision or a shameful capitulation to pester power depending upon the type of blue shirt you were wearing last night. Wearing an objective a head as is possible given the affliction of being a lifetime CCFC supporter, I would venture that this was the right decision, and the ref should be complimented for correcting an error of omission. The Sky Blues' fans, players and management were incandescently apoplectic, and without missing a beat, the rolling chants of "You Don't Know What You're Doing!" osmosed to "You Do Know What You're Doing!".
In the short time between Saturday and Tuesday fixtures a whole heap of
things had transpired in and around Sloper Road, with Dave Jones
oblivious to the mounting catcalls from fans and local press criticising the team, their performance, their tactics, instead directing his ire towards a surprising dressing down for Dazzer Purse, whose performances this season have been one of the few highlights.
Despite Loovens' recent departure, the arrival of Hungarian Gyepes has meant that Purse's hold on the centre back position was always going to be somewhat tentative and subject to continued good form, but if DJ thought that this was a clever piece of man-management, it backfired bigtime with Purse launching his own tirade against the manager. Lessons learnt, when questioned after the Cov game, DJ rather sheepishly admitted that this is now "behind closed doors".
The downturn in attendance was less pronounced than expected, miserable
Saturday performance, mildly inclement weather and Arsenal/Porto on the
telly wiping only 2K worth of glory hunters off the crowd.
Ever-optimistic, the fans were vocally up for the challenge, and it was
evident from a very early stage that the players too were collectively
in a far better place, psyched up and bristling for the game in a manner which hasn't been seen at Ninian this year.
Ross McCormack in particular was a man possessed, already this season he has shown commendable work rate, but tonight he sped about like a cheetah with its tail on fire. He was a constant torment to the Coventry defenders, was desperate to score and willing to unleash shots from every available angle and at every available opportunity (much to the frustration of Joe Ledley on one occasion in the second half when Joe was much better placed).
Bothroyd, too, was also conspicuously more effective, and whilst still not dominant in aerial challenges, his goal was supremely well taken and will no doubt boost his confidence in a manner which no amount of supportive comments from the manager could replicate. What was equally encouraging was the pumped-up team spirit on show throughout - particularly when the goals went in.
Coventry had clearly been given the heads-up about Cardiff's fragile recent performances, and were keen to establish a lead in the first half, going close through Morrison, Eastwood and Doyle in the first half hour - exposing some gaping holes in Cardiff's back line. In a game which flipped entertainingly from end to end, Cardiff were a far more potent attacking force than of late. In midfield, Whittingham and Ledley were almost back to their best, McNaughton powered forward time and again on the right flank, whilst McCormack and Bothroyd played some of their best football yet. The shape of the team was much much better - Kennedy filling in for Comminges, and McPhail replacing the unconvincing Parry.
City had three decent chances before scoring - McCormack slipping his markers on the edge of thebox and firing towards goal, later hitting a looping volley just over, and Roger getting close with a powerful header from a corner. Bothroyd's first goal for the club was truly one to savour. Whittingham hit a perfect ball down the flank with the outside of his boot, Bothroyd picked it up, powered towards goal, held off the Coventry defender who attempted to shadow him, then coolly pushed the ball through the legs of keeper Westwood.
Nerves settled, Cardiff pushed on and had two more chances before the break - Ledley heading over when he should have scored, and Rae going close with a fierce drive from 25 yards. City sought to extend their lead in the second half and Darren Purse hit a terrific shot from the edge of the penalty area which was tipped over by the keeper. Cardiff had the edge at this stage and looked good value for the slim lead, despite occasional Coventry breaks.
The goal that never was would surely have changed the course of the game had Coventry equalised at such a critical juncture, but they fell back noticeably after the ref's about-turn - as dispirited as their small band of supporters. Cardiff continued to pile forward in an attempt to kill the game off, with McCormack at the heart of most of the good things.
With just five minutes to go Ledley was put clear in the box by Bothroyd, and was clumsily upended as he bore down on goal - a stonewall penalty awarded by our friend Roger, which elicited only a token protest from the Coventry boys. McCormack strode up and hammered the ball into the net to send the terraces doolally - celebrating enthusiastically and grabbing and pointing to Bothroyd to share the acclaim and acknowledge his partner's contribution.
Game over, you might have thought, but nothing is ever so straightforward at a midweek Cardiff City fixture. Coventry refused to roll over and in the very last minute snatched an equaliser, man of the moment Scott Dann heading home from close-range - a disappointing defensive lapse which led to some nerve-jangling final moments, especially when the illuminated board went up with an inflation-busting 5 minutes of added time.
Cardiff hung on in there and held on for a deserved victory in what we can only hope will be a turning point for the Bluebirds. The deficiences in the squad are still as visible as ever, three of the next four games are away from home and we face a difficult November after that with games against QPR, Reading and Swansea. We are, for the moment though, sitting comfortably in 7th position with everything to play for.
Paul Davies © 2008.
(additional photos Andrew Rees)
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