Cardiff City 3 Norwich City 1
Championship, October 30th 2010
(Photos © Paul Davies/urban75 2010)
"... the greatest team in (a Cardiff City) football (shirt), the world has ever seen"
It would be churlish to begin to describe today's encounter without a word about the game at Elland Road on Monday night. Cardiff sent out a message via smoke signal, semaphore and loud rattling martial drumbeats that they are the team to beat in this division, pummelling dirty Leeds to an undignified messy pulp, which in the second half seemed almost indecent to watch, such was the extent of Leeds' public debagging.
Post-Leeds chatter understandably focused on the sublime nature of Cardiff's forward play in particular, without giving enough credit to the performance of the unit - a lean mean stripped-down fighting machine scything through the opposition with energy, aggression, wit and humour. To paraphrase the Godlike Kevin Rowland, I have seen quite a bit in my 51 years, but never have I seen a Cardiff City side as good as this one - and frankly, and to hell with all the cringeing hamstrung superstition-haunted, rabbit-foot rubbing neuroto-sceptics, if we don't go up as champions I promise to eat my own head.
Having set the bar so unreasonably high, expectations were rattling skywards as we schlepped down Sloper Road, and the barely contained excitement was crackling across the pavement as the huge crowd motored towards the stadium as if fired up by a thousand Van de Graaf Generators. Sensing the top spot, City fans were alive and alert to the possibilities at their fingertips, with a brace of huge and important matches on the horizon.
I'll always love Norwich City - a proper old skool Second Divison team who were great when we were great - as the 60s flipped into the early 70s, Cardiff crashing, burning and flirting with relegation as the Canaries did what Scoular's boys were supposed to, and ascended to the Promised Land. Since those days of the great Kevin Keelan, Wembley Cup Finals, Jeremy Goss, Bayern Munich and Craig Bellamy (!) the boys from Carrow Road boomed and bust - slumping down to League One, where they shrugged off the indignity of a 7-1 reverse to Colchester United on the opening day of the season by stealing their manager Paul Lambert.
A superbly gifted creative midfield player, his finest hour as a player was undoubtedly a Champions League winning performance for Borussia Dortmund against Juventus, where he was instrumental in besting the peerless Zizou - Zinedine Zidane. As a manager, he made it all look very easy last season, taking Norwich to the League One title in his first season, playing slick fast attractive football, scoring a shedload of goals in front of average crowds of 25K. A big club then, and good to see them back. Their fans enhanced their already gleaming reputation with a hearty ovation for old boy Craig Bellamy when he took his first corner - unsurprising really as Bellamy started his career at Carrow Road, and was inducted into Norwich's Hall of Fame in 2002
Having already taken points off QPR at their manor, Norwich had settled in to the Championship very nicely thank you, and came to Cardiff in 4th spot, snuggling up to our beloved neighbours with a nigh-on identical points total and goal difference. We were not that surprised that Norwich had the temerity to face down Cardiff's sexy football and take us on in a very open and frantically entertaining first half.
Their approach play in and around the box was impressive - feeding nimble number 10 Canadian Simeon Jackson whenever possible, the midfield trio of Hoolahan, Smith and Lappin created a host of chances and tested the steel of Cardiff's backline. Big lump of a lad Grant Holt (scorer of 30 goals last term) found the Championship's second best defence in less generous mood, Gyepes and Hudson locking down the central areas in generally imperious fashion.
Cardiff went off like one of Guido Fawkes' premature skyrockets - ballistic, dangerous, eye-catching as they swept towards the opposition goal with pace and panache, almost levitating above the turf as they sought to stick it to the tweeting plucky Canaries, such was the quality of their forward play. Once again, man of the moment Bothroyd was outstanding, a part of everything with subtle touches, sharp movement and electric reflexes. He'd already been denied twice by Ruddy when his 12th goal of the season began Norwich's nightmare. A well-worked training ground manoeuvre saw a Whittingham corner flicked on by Gabor towards Jay whose calmly struck header gave the Bluebirds a 1-0 lead on 8 minutes.
Having tickled the crowd's fancy with the high-tempo sweet and subtle one-touch football which has made them the scourge of Championship defences, City went all prehistoric on Norwich's ass three minutes later with a goal of route one simplicity - Heaton to Bothroyd to Chopra, who took a touch to control the ball then slid it past the advancing keeper.
Unfazed by the impending goal avalanche being wished upon their heads by the City faithful, Norwich battled back and took control of the game midway through the first half, dominating possession and bearing down upon Heaton's goal with ominous regularity - successfully raiding down the right flank, where once again, Naylor looked suspect. Their goal was fully deserved and executed with lion-hearted bravery by Wes Hoolahan, who hurled himself towards an incoming cross in the corridor of uncertainty, his flying header evading Heaton's grasp - almost being decapitated in the process by Gabor Gyepes.
As the balance of the game teetered uncertainly on the thinnest of edges, Cardiff resisted the Norwich fightback and took the game with a rather fortuitously awarded penalty kick, a clearance from a Norwich defender striking Elliott Ward on the hand. Whittingham converted routinely for his fourth of the season, and despite the spirit of the Norwich team, they were not canny, cagey, strong or skilful enough to deny a Cardiff team on a mission. Clearly aggrieved by the penalty decision, Norwich were perhaps fortunate to still have eleven players on the pitch at that stage, Michael Chopra the victim of a horrendous lunge from Steven Smith, who was chastised by the erratic referee with a mere yellow.
The intensity of the game dipped in the second half, Cardiff maintained control of the game and came close to extending their advantage on three or four occasions - the most entertaining being the dipping rocket of a half-volley from Bothroyd which left the cross-bar reverberating for minutes. Substitute Koumas also went close, but misjudged his flighted chip.
Sadly Jay's dark side surfaced towards the end of the game with a stupid stupid spiteful challenge on the first half Chopra aggressor Smith. His fifth booking of the season means he misses the towering clash with the Swanjacks next Sunday, and whilst we can concur with DJ that this is no one-man team, we must also recognise that his importance to the team is absolutely pivotal, he's the fulcrum upon which the team turns, twists and attacks, and his absence will be keenly felt. The depression dissipated with confirmation that QPR had dropped points again, and for the first time this season, the mighty Bluebirds are lording it (justifiably) at the very top of the tree.
Post-match, DJ was lugubrious as ever, but was right to single out the team for special praise in killing off the game in the last quarter (again) - passing the opposition into giddy supplication and sucking the lifeblood out of them like ninja footballing vampires.
Possible formations against the Jacks were already being worked out on the back of Golden Goal tickets as the fans streamed out after Cardiff's fifth consecutive win. The back 5 are, for the moment, immovable. I'd be surprised if Jones starts with Chopra and Bellamy upfront and is more likely to go for a fluid 4-5-1/4-3-3 - lone striker Chops supported from the flanks by Burke and Bellamy, McPhail and Whitts in the centre, with Olofinjana bringing up the rear and throwing a ring of steel round the back four. Same formation as last year's April derby then, but with radically improved personnel.
It will undoubtedly be a tough tough game, but I would be very surprised if the Swans' resolute defence can extend their impressive record of not conceding for the last 5 games. Bellamy was quiet today, his main contribution being the fact that when he is in possession he draws defenders in twos and threes like a loved-up cross between Albert Steptoe and Diego Maradona, allowing his comrades the time and space to exploit the gaps. What price an explosive Bellamy Bonfire hat-trick next Sunday - you knows it makes sense!
Paul Davies © 2010
« back to Cardiff City homepage