Cardiff 1 Ipswich Town 0
Championship, November 24th 2007
Something is happening here and you don't know what it is, do you Mr Jones?
Just. Staggering over the finishing line like a drunk wearing lead diving boots, Cardiff earned 3 vital points from a beyond miserable encounter with a supposed promotion contender, whose ambitions barely extended beyond placing a couple of feet in the opposition half. Dave Jones holds onto his job, but despite his pumped-up protestations, is still hanging by the slenderest of gossamer threads, whilst the slavering dogs of war yap hungrily at his ankles, scenting blood and ready to rip into his exposed underbelly.
On a cold, wet, dank and depressingly grey day, a decent crowd of 15,000 (buoyed up by the timely ten pound/one pound offers and a good away support) shuffled nervously into Ninian Park, still reeling from the events of the last few weeks, punch-drunk from pitiful performances, managerial inertia and the creeping dread of the legal showdown with Langstone's and the real/imagined threat of administration and relegation.
The international break came just in time for DJ, who has in recent weeks almost had to change his name by deed poll to "beleaguered manger Dave Jones", such has been the explosively vitriolic campaign to oust him from his managerial comfort zone. One half expected to see Fortress NP besieged by the masses in the style of a Baron Von Frankenstein torchlight mob frenzy. No wonder he's been avoiding the media for the past fortnight.
Were it not for the dire circumstances at the club, the manager would surely have been proffered the taxi which has had its engine running on Sloper Road. But how can you/we/they contemplate sacking a manager and paying the inevitable compensation with the club edging towards financial meltdown? It ain't going to happen. Unless, of course, the results continue to deteriorate and the gradual slide towards relegation becomes a freefall.
The bald facts are that Jones, currently standing at 15th in the longest-serving manager's charts, has been living on borrowed time for months. The incandescent start to last season was rightly lauded by those of us lucky enough to witness a Bluebirds team tearing the division apart with the sweetest football seen at NP for aeons.
But their subsequent plummet towards passionless non-descript mid-table mediocrity tarnished and all but erased those memories, and imprisoned the team in a bubble of ineffectiveness from which they have been unable to break free. This season has just extended and deepened the miseries of the last, and Jones has been palpably unsuccessful in shaking up a torpid team formation, a collective loss of nerve and a seeping collapse in form.
Continuing with the same rigid formation and the same under-performing "favourites", Jones reacts in a stubbornly slo-mo fashion, making obvious decisions about 3-4 weeks after the terrace punters have been screaming for them - the fans, of course, consistently patronised and undermined by condescending managers (not just this one) have "never been involved in professional football" and therefore have no insight about the beautiful game (despite spending a huge proportion of their life and savings on their adored team, and caring more than any player, manager or club chairman ever will).
Getting down to specifics, any fule can see that there are currently fundamental problems with our left back, the central midfield and the half-cocked ill-starred strikers (a shame, by the way, that Robbie's German injections didn't include one for pace). Jones's blithe insistence that Robbie and JFH will eventually come good is beginning to resemble the deluded outpouring of a desperate man, and his resistance to change has been on a brain-boggling Canutian level.
One could legitimately argue that his replacement options are limited, and both MacLean and Thompson have singularly failed to claim the striking position as their own - despite their commendable straining efforts (and in Thompson's case, overwhelming support from the terraces, which however likeable the man is, cannot be justified by his miserable goals per game ratio).
A more serious failing has been Jones's blinkered failure to adequately blood the cream of our talented youngsters, who have been metaphorically banging on his door for months, not just since Blake and Ramsey's outstanding performances for the U21s last week, and Gunter's heroic performances for the national side. Crystal Palace showed the way a couple of weeks ago, giving a full debut to 15 year old John Bostock at Ninian Park - and a fine game he had too.
At this rate, and given CCFC's reputation for flogging off the family silver, Ramsey, Blake and Gunter will be on their way to the Premiership before they have accumulated a full season's worth of games at the club they are desperately eager to play for. With a chronically lacklustre midfield, the time is nigh for the introduction of Blake or Ramsey (or both!). Whilst they are indubitably accomplished players, the combination of Rae and McPhail simply does not work.
Saturday's team selection brought a welcome appearance for Chris Gunter at right back, but this was only happening because McNaughton is not fully fit. When he regains fitness, McNaughton must be paired with Gunter. The springboard for last season's early success was the exciting, dynamic pairing of Gilbert and McNaughton, whose surging runs up the flanks were central to the team's attacking impetus. Tony Capaldi is suspect defensively, uncertain going forwards, and despite a decent throw-in, contributes little to the eleven - he needs to go. Loovens and Purse took the central defensive berths and performed adequately against papier mache opposition.
Once again, the balance and composition of the midfield was wrong wrong wrong (see earlier comments). Ledley had a relatively quiet game and looked tired. Parry made some good runs in the first half and scored a corking goal. Up front, HB was, as ever immobile and ineffective. Thommo was impressive, holding and shielding the ball, laying off some decent possession to those around him, but ultimately he is there to score goals and this he did not do.
Ipswich came to Ninian on the back of a scarifying 6-0 demolition of high-flying Bristol (who incidentally look to be doing a Cardiff this year), and there was every reason to be nervous about this game. Such trepidation was laughable in retrospect. If Ipswich are a force to be reckoned with in this division then I am a banana. They were RUBBISH, and it is utterly mystifying how a team lacking so much of anything can be making such progress. Packing the midfield, and playing with Alan Lee up front on his lonesome, their brief was to stifle and spoil - incredible when you think how poor Cardiff have been over the last two months that this was Jim Magilton's tactical big idea! Nice one James.
Their timidity suited Cardiff, who played well for the first half hour, territorial domination culminating in an exquisitely taken goal by Parry - Ledley passed to Thompson, who neatly flicked the ball on to Gavin Rae, whose pinpoint pass allowed Parry to drive towards goal, cutting in and sending a thunderbolt past Neil Alexander. Instead of settling the nerves and inspiring the Bluebirds to push on and destroy this very poor Ipswich team, the goal seemed to have the opposite effect. City withdrew into their shell and played out the rest of the match in a scrappy, jittery fashion, the desperation not to concede suffocating any desire to win the match convincingly.
The rest of the game was a dire spectacle, City were fortunate to be playing a staggeringly poor side who never looked like scoring, and the continuing crumbs of comfort to be drawn from successive performances against Championship "contenders" is that this division is awash with the flotsam and jetsam of dullness and mediocrity. It is not inconceivable that a none-too-radical refit to the Bluebirds team could result in a serious climb up the table. Well you've got to be optimistic...
Paul Davies © 2007.
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