Disgraceful capitulating surrender monkeys 1 Ipswich Town 2
Championship, November 29th 2009
First off, if you had the foresight, good sense and wisdom to give this fixture a miss on a dank afternoon of torrential downpour and bone-creeping chill, may I offer warmest congratulations and ask you to give me a shout the next time you are similarly prophetic in your decision-making. A malicious re-run of the last time the Tractor Boys ploughed in to town and mugged us for three points in that calamitous jellyfish performance which was to be our final memory of Ninian Park, a patently piss-poor team once again waltzed in and toppled Jones' fragile house of cards with the gentlest of shoves.
After thirty days and nights of intense rainfall and a bit more egg-activity than usual, the pitch looked less than immaculate but held up well. It had seemed like aeons since the last game at CCS, and our fortunes had plummeted since the lacklustre surrender against Notts Forest, when our chance to be Kings for a Day had been upended by an efficient but hardly awe-inspiring Forest team whose work ethic triumphed over our complacency.
Another Sunday, another keracking pre-match roast dinner in a warm local hostelry, the attractions of which intensified as the moment to leave the pub approached, and another schlep down puddle-strewn Sloper Road past the forlorn bombsite which is Ninian Park. The neon flash and glare of the new stadium and the prospect of re-igniting the promotion charge found the supporters in high spirits, even if this was not adequately transmitted to the team by a frankly flat atmosphere.
Early possession was shared by the teams, with Ipswich having two very good chances to open their account - Stern John causing problems in the heart of the Bluebirds defence. For Cardiff, the return of Bothroyd provided a temporary fillip, and his contributions were influential in the first 45, holding up the ball well, and bringing in Whitts and Chopra when appropriate. Two near-misses before the first goal, with goal-crazed Whittingham hitting the woodwork twice.
The goal was worth waiting for, Bothroyd combining with Chopra, before Whitts let rip a stunning powerful volley with his magic left foot, which nearly took the net off the posts. An awesome strike and continued reward for our most improved player as he soared to the top of the Championship scoring charts. Nervous tension having dissipated, we settled in for a return to the free-scoring irresistible football of just a few weeks ago, an opportunity to rack up the goal difference combined with the added bonus of helping the ever-likeable Roy 'not mad at all' Keane on his way to what we used to call the Labour Exchange. With hindsight, as soon as the "Sacked in the morning" chants started ringing round the ground the script was ceremoniously being signed, sealed and delivered upon a silver platter to our struggling visitors.
An injury to Richard 'no relation' Wright threw proceedings off kilter a touch, and City never managed to maximise their footballing superiority. Half-time brought the unenthralling prospect of a 3rd round away Cup tie at Brizzle City, for which no-one could muster much enthusiasm. Keeper David Marshall, who continues to look like the weakest link in a worryingly inconsistent and rocky back five, and who had made a comical acrobatic double-punch when it would have been immeasurably easier to catch the blasted ball, was replaced by Enckelman, whose ring-rusty performance of clangers, boobies, bloomers and bloopers was notable for all the wrong reasons.
It was clear from whichever vantage point you adopted from Row A to X and beyond that the central midfield were wading through quicksand - an inept first half performance from Rae and Ledley was trumped after the break by a supine display of worrying lethargy and creative inertia. Ledley took a lot of stick and sadly this was justifiable - his default mode of standing in the centre of the pitch shouting at team-mates and throwing his hands in the air like a three year-old having a tantrum did not help frankly - instead of lambasting colleagues for not making things happen, make it happen yourself Joe! Rae was, if possible, even worse, losing out on all the key challenges and giving the ball away in critical areas. Whittingham tried, but was peripheral, and even Burke seemed to catch the creeping lurgy affecting other players.
Nothing much to praise in the back four really - Matthews was OK but hampered by those around him. Kennedy was clueless and embarrassed himself with some crosses which would have looked out of place on Pontcanna Fields in their ineptitude. Gabor and Hudson were alright but never totally convinced. As the central midfield effectively clocked off at half time there was little for Bothroyd and Chopra to do, subsisting as they were on lofted clearances of the hit-and-hope variety.
Had Bothroyd's disallowed goal been given the thumbs-up, the talk would be back on for promotion - instead we are examining an(other) awful and shameful capitulation. Cardiff's inability to close out a game after going ahead was depressingly familiar as was the all-too-predictable equaliser - a decent shot from Jon Walters giving added impetus to Town's fightback. Jones had failed to react when the midfield was lost, and gambled on Etuhu after the equaliser went in. The decision to withdraw Burke seemed somewhat eccentric, and before the change in personnel had a chance to pay off (Kelvin was palpably off the pace and ineffective), Enckelman had a horrible Cup Final deja vu moment, conceding awfully at the near post from a tentative strike from perennial journeyman Jon Stead.
Too late to realistically influence anything, Ross McCormack came on with a few minutes to spare and contributed precisely nothing. Even with a generous 4 minutes of added time, the Bluebirds did not have the guts, guile or wherewithal to mount one serious attack on goal. Ipswich could not believe their luck and celebrated frenetically at the final whistle. Cardiff trudged off looking like the hapless shower of shite they had resembled throughout the second half.
The season is unravelling woefully before our eyes in a totally Cardiff City fashion, and once again, whilst the fans seem uniquely capable of making measured judgements of what should and could be done, even with the current constraints on finances and player availability, they remain impotent as the ideas run out, the players give up, and the unassailable Teflon curmudgeon Dave Jones struggles with the basics of how and why to intervene in a game which is glaringly slipping away.
How many times have we bemoaned wrong substitutions, late substitutions, tactical intransigence and a refusal to countenance anything beyond a Stalinist Plan A. As worrying as the manager's inability to tactic his way out of a paper bag is his players' total lack of fight when the going gets tough. The body language told its own story and its utter familiarity from last season' humiliating collapse and other yellow-belly performances this season makes it no easier to bear - you might surmise from yesterday's performance that they've already given up on the play-offs, let alone automatics...
In terms of points gained we are now closer to 22nd place (Ipswich Town!) than 1st - we are abseiling down the division at an alarming rate and managed to look simultaneously panicky and flagrantly blase. Three weeks ago a table-topping tussle against free-scoring West Brom looked like a tasty prospect between the two best footballing sides in the division, now it is threatening to be a sobering Throstles thrashing. First we need to get past Preston, who will not need reminding of the 6-0 battering they delivered to a mystifyingly demoralised Bluebirds team on the cusp of promotion last term. A fourth defeat on the bounce would be unthinkable, wouldn't it?
Paul Davies © 2009.
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