Cardiff 0 Coventry City 1
Championship, August 25th 2007
If we drink, then we die, but we die anyway,
So we might as well say 'what the hell', and drink anyway...
(Old Ukrainian drinking song)
The early part of last week was once again dominated by off-field events, with both the local rags Wales on Sunday and the South Wales Eggo splashing on the shocking news that a professional footballer was spotted "off his face" in one of Cardiff's temples of binge drinking. Leaving aside the pigpen "ethics" of so-called City fans bigging up Robbie Fowler, getting their picture taken with him, and then flogging the tawdry snapshot to the gutter press, the spectacle of a bloated, clearly pissed Fowler plastered all over the local papers was an unedifying one.
Fowler should have more nous than to go on a late-night bender whilst 6,000 Fowler shirt-wearing fans are scanning every morsel of print and news media to discover when God will recover from his thigh strain and lead us to the Promised Land. It will take more than a pious editorial in the Wales on Sunday to disentangle the cultures of alcohol abuse and professional football, but you don't have to be Einstein to conclude that this was a dumb faux pas of Simpsonesque proportions.
Like a poorly constructed soufflé, Cardiff City collapsed today, with about as much energy, panache and passion. Early doors, the boys were all over Coventry like a rash, but in a same old same old kind of way, possession was not converted into vital goals. The decision to leave both Hasselbaink and Fowler off the bench began to look more and more unwise as the inevitable dénouement was played out. The club having cynically pumped up their likelihood of playing to foster increased ticket sales, there were many disappointed punters streaming into Fortess (ahem) NP , as they spotted a suited and booted JFH crossing the multitudes gaining access to the Bob Bank terrace.
The team is currently gagging for a fully functional striker who can rattle 'em in to the back of the net in a 15-20 goal a season stylee. Again, it is far too early to make a rash judgement of Steve MacLean, but early indications suggest a worrying case of the Steve Thompsons - bags of energy and commitment but little of the poacher's poise and purpose.
A shockingly hot day began in fine style as the beer gardens of Canton enjoyed the busy patronage of hordes of thirsty punters. Early season optimism was still abroad and the hope of seeing JFH and Robbie finally making their league debuts sent everyone spiriting up Sloper Road at a decent clip.
A healthy looking crowd welcomed the players onto the pitch. but there was immediate disappointment that the two strikers were not available. Still, despite the presence of lively ex-Bluebird Julian Gray, tasty Leon Mackenzie and always a handful Dele Adebola, Dowie's team were surely there for the taking. And that's the way it looked for the first half hour - attack after attack hit the Coventry rearguard who for a short time looked shellshocked. Parry, Gunter and Sinclair were combining very well on the right flank and making significant inroads into the opposition defence. Sinclair, in particular, was the pick of Cardiff's players - full of running and ideas, inspiring his fellow Bluebirds.
Despite the overwhelming territorial advantage, Cardiff were finding it difficult to find any clear-cut chances, penetration was lacking. Steve MacLean had a decent header saved, but as half time approached, it wasn't just the players who were beginning to get frustrated.
On 35 minutes Cardiff conceded the softest of soft goals, as a quickfire Coventry break caught the Bluebirds defence napping. Turnbull hesitated catastrophically, allowing McKenzie to slide the ball painfully across the face of the goal for Tabb to tap it into an unguarded net. I don't know what the question is, but Ross Turnbull sure as hell ain't the answer. Cov's fans went crazy apeshit, and ratcheted up the noise once again - in all fairness their vocal performance throughout was most impressive, and once the Grange and Bob Bank found their voice, created a decent atmosphere.
A strange shed competition took place at half time, but did little to lift the mood of despondency on the terraces, where pirate bandanas, jazz cigarettes (smoking ban? what smoking ban?) and unwisely revealed pot-bellied torsos were the order of the day.
The second half was a disaster, Coventry sucked up everything Cardiff threw at them, which, frankly, was not very much. The traditional Whittingham for Ledley substitution was made (Dave Jones is nothing if not predictable), but Whittingham was way off the pace, sending poorly hit balls straight at the Cov defence/midfield. Whitts is an excellent player who should be in the team, but needs a run of games desperately.
A reshuffle of the midfield is in order - at the moment Gavin Rae looks the most vulnerable. In general the midfield lacked both bite and guile - Ledley had a decent if unremarkable game, as did McPhail, who also needs to do more to justify the gaffer's faith in him. Never mind the strikers, the one player we appear to be missing more than most is the mighty Riccy Scimeca.
The 7th Cavalry (ha ha) arrived on 80 minutes with the introduction of Warren Feeney - a sign that Desperate Dave had truly run out of ideas. Feeney shot his proverbial bolt this afternoon, and in the eyes of Cardiff City fans, he is now a dead man walking - his purchase looks like a reckless mistake, and his scuffed attempt at converting an open goal was a disgrace and an embarrassment.
A face-saving point was handed to the Bluebirds on a silver platter, when Coventry defender Michael Doyle bundled over Feeney in the box. City fans were delirious, although this could have been sun-stroke. Purse chose absolutely the wrong option. When a calm, cool head was needed, he belted the ball as hard as he could but with no control or direction - it ricocheted stupidly off the cross bar to the despair of the briefly energised CCFC fans.
And that was that. City skulked off the pitch with their heads down, as well they might, to a rising chorus of boos and catcalls, "What a Load of Rubbish" ringing in their ears. This collapse was worrying, second half City were an empty vessel - devoid of heart, soul and bollocks. There is much work to be done, and even the divine intervetion of JFH and Robbie Fowler may not be enough to lift the sprits. Had we won today we would have been second - instead we are in the dead zone - 19th. Oh well, there's always the scintillating prospect of a second round Mickey Mouse Cup match against the mighty Leyton Orient to look forward to. On the evidence of Saturday's game, Orient will be rubbing their hands with glee.
On a desperately disappointing day for Cardiff City Football Club, let us pause for a moment to praise the Cardiff City Under 18s, who beat Manchester United 5-1 (yes, that's right 5-1!). The future, at least, looks in good hands.
(Enjoyed a good post-match chat with a Coventry fan as we walked down Sloper Road, who, after the antiseptic Ricoh Arena expoerience, expressed absolute delight at the facilities and old skool atmos on offer to away fans at NP. And with such an obliging home performance, who could argue with that?)
Paul Davies © 2007.
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