Cardiff City 0 Nottingham Forest 2
Championship, November 20th 2010
(Photos © Paul Davies/urban75 2010)
"... 2-0 to the famous team..."
Celebrating at the end as if they had won their third European Cup Final, the enthusiasm of Forest's players, supporters and odious little manager Billy Davies drummed into the home fans just what an achievement it is for any opposing side to get anything out of a visit to Cardiff these days. Scant consolation really and any recurrence of this second home defeat on the bounce will make visiting teams roll up their sleeves and relish a visit to the home of the number one team in Wales, still, just. Perspective is, of course, required here. A win at QPR next week and we will be back on top of the League, and even after today's dismal result and lamentable performance we are still averaging the magic two points a game and on course for automatic promotion if that superb points-gathering stat is maintained. With 39% of the season completed, it's a pretty nifty place to be.
However, a(nother) bad day at the office doesn't even begin to get close to how bad we were today, and after the avalanche of hyperbole which has greeted each performance of sexy football over the past few weeks, one wonders if the players have started to believe their own publicity. They certainly played as if the 3 points were already rubber-stamped and in Dave Jones' back pocket - the game was instead presented to Forest on a silver platter. An extremely average, but hard-working, Forest team greedily sucked them up and mugged the Bluebirds - taking advantage of two moments of defensive ineptitude and sloppiness.
A wonderful strike from Lewis McGugan left the Cardiff City Stadium in shock after 23 minutes - it was a supremely well-taken goal, but one which should never have taken place, the defence should have closed him down and Heaton should have arguably got at least fingertips to the shot. The second was a classic counter-attack sparked off by a clunker of an error from Adam Matthews - McGugan raced clear and fed Blackstock for an easy finish. McGugan is now officially the most unpopular Forest player - his equaliser in the equivalent game last November having been enough to deprive Cardiff of the top spot. Let us hope that Jones does not hang Matthews out to dry again as he did for his errors in the Ipswich game - blaming one individual for today's defeat when all 11 were culpable would be a horrible knee-jerk reaction.
Everything went wrong from moment one. A superficially close to first choice eleven took to the field looking sharp and eager, but as soon as the whistle went the errors started mounting up. It was a jagged, disjointed performance where Cardiff's supreme passing skills went totally AWOL - you could count the number of completed City passes on one hand in a dreadful match for the home team. Again, questions could be asked of Dave Jones' tactical acumen, as the non-existence of Plan B came graphically to the fore. And once again, the absence of one key individual seemed to alchemically transform the slick outfit of yore into a ragbag rabble of clueless scufflers. Having persuaded several friends and colleagues to hop on board the mighty Cardiff City promotion gravy train for this one, I was left embarrassed by a genuinely shockingly lacklustre barely credible performance.
Without England's hottest young(ish) prospect Jay Bothroyd, Cardiff toiled inexpertly against Swansea and got their just rewards - zip. Today, the absence of Chris Burke was, if anything, even more damaging - sucking the lifeforce out of a team and catastrophically affecting the balance of the lean mean Cardiff City attacking machine, powered so often this term by Burke's turbo-charged thrusts down both flanks. It pains me to say so but replacement Jason Koumas was a woeful stand-in, he was so peripheral to the outcome of the game he might as well have been selling hot dogs in the car park. His talent and appetite seems to have evaporated and he looks like a player who doesn't even deserve a place on the bench. Others too were out of sorts - Chopra and Bothroyd were shackled by a muscular and unforgiving Forest defence, but had little upon which to graze, such was the barren creative vortex masquerading as a midfield.
Bellamy was industrious but ineffective, Olofinjana had another dire game, ponderous in possession, wasteful in distribution, and Whittingham was adrift in a world of his own - a footballing version of Nigel Fotherington-Thomas, talking to the sky and blades of grass, whilst being steamrollered by an uncultured but effective Forest midfield. Defensively, we were made to look ordinary, and did not have the luxury of the usual barnstorming attacking juggernaut to mask our manifold inadequacies. Darcy and Kevin Mc were OK at full back, but were unwilling or unable to propel any attacking movements, and the longer the game went on, the more the desperate Bluebirds relied upon Route One Hoofball.
Gabor and Hudson were Gabor and Hudson, a little slow but generally able to cope with the sparing Forest attacks. Watching both goals again will have Cardiff's fanbase and defensive coaches banging their heads against the wall in frustration - McGugan's goal was a peach but he had so much time and space to hit the shot. Likewise, Matthews' lightweight challenge let McGugan through for the second, but the Keystone cops antics of the Cardiff defence, who were back in sufficient numbers to prevent the goal , were calamitous.
Little wonder and just as well that Dave Jones did a siralex and sent Burton out to face the press darlings afterwards - one suspects that he would have savaged the team in brutal fashion. The one Cardiff player who strode off the pitch with head held high was Danny Drinkwater - after a diabolical performance against Swansea, when he was clearly ill-prepared for first-team action after two months out, he had a first-rate game here - injecting the midfield with much-needed gusto, passion and determination to both win the ball and break down embryonic Forest attacks.
Cardiff had four clear-cut chances - a crisp Whittingham free kick shaved a lick of paint off the cross bar in the first half, whilst Bothroyd made a rare mistake in taking the ball too wide after being put through with a humdinger of a defence-splitting pass from Bellamy. In the second half an over-anxious Bellamy volleyed enthusiastically over when, nine times out of ten, he would have buried the sucker. Jay was culpable for the best opportunity of the game, Bellamy having motored clear of the Forest defence, sent over a fantastic swinging cross which was drawn almost magnetically to the bonce of Bothroyd, who, inconceivably headed straight into the arms of a grateful Camp.
Having struggled to break Forest down in any meaningful fashion, the fate-tempting words "be happy with a draw now" had barely passed everyone's lips before Forest's second goal triggered the mass evacuation on 84 minutes. Fickle fans streamed out like sulking bairns, but at least the crowd did not boo the under-performing Bluebirds. The game petered out after that, the only incident of note in the last five minutes was an atrocious, mistimed challenge by Oli on goal scorer Dexter Blackstock - the reaction of both Cardiff and Forest players suggested it was a potential leg-breaker - let's hope not.
Blackstock was on as a substitute for Earnie, who garnered a huge ovation at the start and end of the game, playfully ayatollahing as requested when he left the pitch. Another ex-City player Chris Gunter was, on the other hand, the target of constant abuse throughout - a lingering consequence perhaps of an over-vigorous performance against Cardiff at the City Ground last season. Whatever the reason, the barracking was brainless, and seemed to inspire Gunter, a decent player who did a great job for Cardiff at a very early age.
Next week's eagerly awaited table-topping clash at Loftus Road has the look of a season-defining 12 pointer about it - a draw would be nice but roared on by the travelling two and a half thousand a victory could positively catapult this team into the New Year. Time to man up and kick this accursed November hoodoo into touch.
Paul Davies © 2010
« back to Cardiff City homepage