Cardiff City 4 Derby County 1
Championship, The Cardiff City Stadium, Cardiff
(Photos © Paul Davies/urban75, Saturday 2nd April 2011)
Only the most irascible sourpuss curmudgeon (hi Dave!) could possibly have anything negative to say about Cardiff's thumping annihilation of Derby County, no? Admittedly the resounding unequivocal scoreline and the manner in which Derby were painfully and ritualistically debagged, tarred, feathered and tickled to death cannot be questioned, but the Rams were so unutterably poor in every department that the three points come with a realist's caveat.
Cardiff rarely needed to move out of second gear to vanquish their threadbare, confidence-denuded opponents, whose attempts on goal were comical in their execution. A few points above the trapdoor they may be, but Cloughie's boys appear to be sleepwalking towards relegation. Always good to see gormless, gobby narcissist Robbie Savage on the end of a good pasting, only wish the crowd hadn't paid him such attention with the tedious baiting - he loves it!
The extended international hiatus never seems to do the Bluebirds any favours, but after a recent lacklustre spell it did at least give DJ and the coaching staff a chance to prepare for the upcoming run-in, and allow the various knocks and niggles to be sorted in time for today's game. The enforced absence of Chopra and the excellent Hudson meant that the team lined up with some significant changes. Thank the Lord that Tom Heaton is back from injury to replace the woeful woeful Bywater. Heaton is by no means the finished article - his kicking and distribution is appalling, his communication with central defence is lacking and he treats his 6 yard box like a security blanket he cannot abandon. He's not that great - but he's the best we've got.
As expected, Quinn played right FB, incoming Bolton loanee JLS (without any proper game time for a year!) filled in on the left, Super Kev lined up alongside the increasingly impressive Dec in the centre. Chris Burke got a rare start on the right wing, Whitts played left, with Oli and McPhail occupying central midfield. Up front Bellamy partnered the returning Bothroyd.
Crowd mood was optimistic as the game kicked off in perfect Spring sunshine - the pitch having recovered its lush greenery in the break between games. Cardiff lost the toss and attacked the Canton End in the first half, immediately they took off at a tremendous lick - they bristled with poise, purpose and passion, running the Derby defence ragged with some intricate inter-passing in and around the box. The approach won instant rewards when Bellamy sped past Shaun Barker in the box before the Derby player knocked him over. Stonewall penalty which ref Linington awarded without hesitation.
We were all somewhat surprised (as was DJ, we later learnt) when Jay grabbed the ball and placed it emphatically on the spot. Having missed two recent pens, Whittingham hung back sheepishly and let Jay carry on. Bothroyd made no mistake, blasting with some power into the corner of the net. Huge cheers of relief smoothed out the furrowed brows of an expectant but tense crowd, and immediately thoughts turned to last season's 6-1 victory in the equivalent fixture, and the benefits of racking up the GD.
Cardiff continued to dominate throughout the first half but were unable to press home their advantage with further goals. Bellamy went the closest having been sent clear by a long ball through the heart of a splintered County defence. His pace took him clear of the pursuing defender, but as he rounded the keeper, his control let him down and he took the ball too wide - by the time he'd recovered enough composure to take a shot, Derby had bodies back and Barker cleared off the line. Bothroyd was similarly profligate with an opportunity on the right - charging towards goal on his non-existent right foot he let fly with an embarrassing shank which flew off into the crowd. How can a would-be Premiership player be unable to shoot with his right foot?
The half was interrupted with a serious knee injury to Paul Green, which may have contributed to Derby's shambolic performance. Another County player Gareth Roberts was also stretchered off in the second half as the visitors' day crumbled around them.
Determined to finish the job, Cardiff's progressive approach got the match won within 15 minutes of the restart. From a Chris Burke corner Dekal Keinan powered a bullet-header into the net, before Paul Quinn steamed into the box to lash a half-volley past Brad Jones to make it 3.
Derby had collapsed, and what few opportunities they had in front of goal were thrown away with shocking incompetence - Steve Davies' lob over the bar in front of an unguarded goal from 2 yards must surely go down as the miss of the century.
Cardiff's final goal was an expertly executed volley from Whittingham from 10 yards out, after an explosive break from Bellamy had unsettled the Derby defence. Derby's debatable penalty deep into stoppage time was converted by Robbie Savage, whose retirement can surely not come quickly enough - he was like a statue at the heart of the County midfield, watching impotently as Bluebirds buzzed past him. The pen was awarded after hard man McPhail barged/body checked Jamie Ward on the very edge of the area - looked very iffy from Row X, but the ref pointed instantly to the spot. Savage duly converted an ill-deserved consolation, and that was about that.
Dave Jones was critical of his team in the post-match press conference, for relaxing in the last 15 minutes and allowing the consolation goal. There have also been pointed comparisons with how the annoying Canaries keep on going to the end of the road - rattling in goals in the last few minutes of many a match (3 of their 6 scored in their game against Scunthorpe in the last 15 minutes). But after four winless games, a 4-1 victory feels like a significant upswing in fortunes as we eye up the last seven fixtures - particularly given the patchy nature of the performance, which lacked fluidity at times.
As for the players, goalie Heaton was untroubled by anything approaching a meaningful goal attempt, but was still a comforting presence. McNaughton and Keinan were impressively co-ordinated and JLS played solidly on his debut. "Mercurial" Paul Quinn had a real Jekyll and Hyde day - for every strong tackle and shrewd pass, he'd slice and miskick and give the ball to the opposition. Oli and McPhail combined well in the midfield, and our two wingers sparkled sporadically but didn't have their best games. Bellamy up top expended furious amounts of energy, but would surely be disappointed that he was unable to get on the scoresheet, whilst Bothroyd had an improved showing which hinted that a full return to form is on the way.
A fine platform upon which to build, but Jones and his management staff will realise that they are unlikely to face a side as devoid of skill, fight and ambition in any of their remaining fixtures. Norwich currently look to be supremely well placed to take the second automatic spot - despite tricky ties against Swansea, Ipswich and Forest, I would not be surprised if they finished on 85 points (4 wins, 3 draws).
All Cardiff can do is keep winning - even 6 out of 7 may not be enough - but that surely must be the target. More likely is the nail-chomping hell-ride of the play-offs - after yesterday's performance I'm feeling a little less stressed and slightly more confident about that - if we hit a good run in form then it's there to be taken.
A final word about the Derby fans - they travelled in numbers and provided a noisy backdrop throughout the game - despite their team's miserable performance. They deserved more, frankly.
Paul Davies © 2011
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