Cardiff 1 Hull City 0
Championship, March 12th 2008
(Photos/words © Paul Davies, March 2008)
"What are all these people doing in my house?"
Goldilocks wasn't the only fairy tale being enacted in Cardiff last week, as a loved-up still drunk populace came to terms with the mind-altering events of last Sunday, when Cardiff City made history in monumental style, pulverising the primped-up pumped-down Premiership losers Middlesbrough to waltz into a first FA Cup Semi Final for 81 years.
It was a complete, consummate performance which we all hoped for, and knew somehow we were capable of, but in a maddeningly inconsistent season, only the foolhardy or the terminally optimisitic could have contemplated such a dominant and total victory. Middlebrough's bankrupt and tepid performance should not take the edge off the way in which Cardiff took the game by the scruff of the neck and made it their own, controlling the tempo and dictating the pattern of play in a manner which reflects superbly on the tactical masterplan arrived at by Messrs Jones and Gibson.
Cardiff endured literally minutes of Boro pressure before taking over - Whittingham's goal on 9 minutes was an absolute cracker, surrounded by six banjaxed leaden-footed Boro defenders, his magic footwork shimmied into the space between all of them and allowed him to curl a superb shot into the top right hand corner of the net. Uncontrollable delirium on the Riverside, whilst armchair fans and pub-bound Bluebirds leapt up and down like lunatics.
What little lifeblood was in the Boro body visibly drained away, and the second goal from Johnson effectively sealed the game on 23 minutes. Such was the City's stranglehold on the game, the feckless, drained and uninspired Boro never looked like getting back into it, shrinking further and further into their shell as Cardiff stroked the ball about with arrogant ease, revelling in the space and time their opponents allowed them.
Shocked into recognising the merits of this superb side, the commentators and pundits duly piled on the superlatives, applauding the manner and style of Bluebird domination. Revealing how much homework he hadn't done, "Lawro" purred about the talents of Aaron Ramsey, who, in a scintillating team performance, shone like no other.
The 17 year old's performance was staggering, roaming across the wasteland of a denuded Boro midfield like a pilled-up velociraptor, winning tackles and distributung the ball in peerless style, buoyed up by a gritty performance by Gavin Rae, and equally stylish shows from Whitts and McPhail, whose cultured left feet were liberated from the hectic Championship midfield struggles.
Early concerns about the ability of the lads to hang on to such a brain-scramblingly unexpected early lead had almost evaporated by half time. Soaking up another FA Cup upset like a fine malt whisky, Tweedledee and Tweedledum (the two Alans), were equally vocal in their praiseworthy assessment of the mighty mighty Bluebirds, acknowledging the gulf in class which City had exposed between themselves and their raggedy arsed rovers opponents.
Interesting turnaround from the puffed-up pundits, especially as they had waxed lyrical about Boro's easy route to Wembley after their singularly unimpressive fumbling performance against Sheffield United. The digestion of humble pie was almost as enjoyable as the preceding 45 minutes, and the rarity of watching the team you have followed all your life being praised to the heavens on national TV was as invigorating as it was unexpected.
The travelling fans were as impressive as the team, maintaining a raucous soundtrack throughout the entire game, putting the Boro faithful to shame, as they turned on their under-performing team, streaming out of the stadium as the tentative Boro fightback in the early part of the second half petered out into nothingness.
Never have such a team epitomised the cliche about gutless, mediocre, overpaid, under-performing Premiership prima donnas as this hapless bunch.
Cardiff remained in total conrol and played out the game with masterful poise, the 2-0 scoreline underestimated their superiority. Tears were shed (let's be honest) and celebrations continued for several hours with thousands of bleary-eyed wrecks straggling into work on Monday (and Tuesday).
Immediately thoughts turned to Wembley, tickets and the draw. Luck was with us and the best possible tie was duly announced against Barnsley on Sunday April 6th (be safe and take the Monday off!). The traditional atmosphere of excitement bordering on panic took over as the Interweb crackled with the intricacies of ticketing distribution.
The tiered, incentivised arrangements announced by CCFC, designed to reward ambos and season ticket holders as well as bumping up the gate against Hull and pump-priming the sales of 08/09 season tickets, were pretty much perfect, and guaranteed an almost sell-out (home section) crowd for Wednesday's game.
The debate about glory-hunters rages hard, and whilst we may rib our new-found friends about the lack of space on the terraces, the usual parking spaces now disappeared and the congestion at kick off which meant hundreds of us missed the only goal of the game, the hard reality is that without 'em we would be taking 13,000 to Wembley and not 33/40,000.
Having seen McPhail's goal since, it is worthy of some comment, a superb finish after he received the ball on his chest, cushioning its fall, then spinning and letting forth a tremendous strike which flew past Myhill, struck the underside of the bar and bounced in. A special goal which epitomised the confidence coursing through the midfielder's veins.
Dave Jones made some bold decisions with his team selection, leaving out Ramsey, Jimmy Floyd and Gavin Rae, and bringing in Scimeca, Sinclair and Thompson.
The team had a slightly unsettled look to it, but did manage to play some decent football in the first half hour. Great to see the talismanic Riccy back in the heart of the midfield, and whilst he was some way off the pace and tired noticeably in the second half before being substituted, it is a terrific boost to the squad to have vital, key, experienced players coming back to full fitness at such a critical point in the season.
Clever Trevor coped quite well after such a long time out and made some telling contributions before dropping back to replace Kevin Mac, the extent of whose hamstring injury is a massive worry for all.
Defensively the team coped well with a busy Hull forward line, the Tigers looked like a team on a roll and were perhaps unlucky to come away with nul points.
The atmosphere at the game was strangely subdued, almost as if the homecoming welcome had been sapped of its strength by the indusitrial nature of the weekend's celebrations. The fans were jaded and happy to see out the game to its logical conclusion - a hard-fought 3 points catapulting us back to 12th place, and with a run of 3 games at home in the next 4, a serious opportunity to get back in the play-off mix.
After the highs of Boro, the lows of being a City fan were exemplified by three "off-the-ball" moments which left most of us shaking our heads. The ill-fated Warren Feeney came on as a substitute for Parry in the 90th minute, having battled back from injury after a spell on loan at Swansea.
He was greeted by a very loud booing and disgraceful abusive chanting which unearthed the scummier edge of our troglodyte following.
The court case, too, has sought to bring us down from our natural football high, with the club's existence and status still in very real peril. And finally, whilst we salute the achievements of our superbly talented youngster Aaron Ramsey and contemplate building a team around him, the trashy South Wales Eggo cannot wait to have him whisked off to Man Ure with a ludicrous destabilising story which
Ridsdale hasn't helped mattters, fuelling the "Ramsey auction" story by going on the record about United's interest, whilst broadsheet papers quote as fact statements that "Cardiff are eager to cash in on Ramsey".
For crying out loud, the boy has played less than a dozen games for the Bluebirds, has the most explosive natural talent seen from a local lad for decades, and we are already being urged to count the cash to be made from his "inevitable" sale.
If we survive the court case, and even if we don't get promotion / win the FA Cup (!), the priority must be to retain the young talents of Ledley, Blake, Ramsey and Anthony Acheampong. We need to build on this creative gene pool, not dismantle it. We have the nucleus of a fantastic team, with a couple of additions here and there we can get promoted in time to welcome Premiership football to the new stadium. Time to get it right.
One final thing, if you want a laugh go visit the "independent" Hull City site sadjealouslosers.com and take a look at their impartial assessment of Wednesday's game, an extract from which reads:
"One terrain of empty terracing separated us from an over-full section of bellowing Welshmen (and boys) desperate to watch a Championship match of insignificance to the home side, just so they can get a ticket for the semi-final of a competition they won't win, with the secondary prize being a place in a European competition they can't enter, due to being Welsh. Which is an outstanding reason to bar anyone from anything, frankly".
Never has so much one-eyed banjo playing smalltown envy, jealousy and sour grapes been wrapped up in such poisonous twisted bitterness, stereotype and slack-jawed racism. Take a look, and then think about how good it will feel to win the FA Cup, stroll into Europe sponsored by Michel 'Ayatollah' Platini, and then cap off the season by beating Hull City 5-1 in the Play-Off Final...
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