Cardiff 1 Leyton Orient 0
Carling League Cup Round 2, August 28th 2007
He's not The Messiah. He's a very naughty boy!
God walked amongst us tonight, and whilst it was not quite the religious experience we anticipated, there was plenty to applaud and warm the cockles of the flintiest heart. After the barren patch of home results, it was a relief to get a win, and despite the notional nature of the scoreline, this was a convincing and outright victory. Orient provided good opposition, and although content to play deep, hit on the break and soak up the waves of Cardiff pressure, there was a composure and solidity to their back line, and in particular, their stunning goalkeeper Nelson, which made Cardiff's job of picking them apart a difficult one.
Despite the turgidity and disappointment of Saturday's performance, over 6,000 hardy masochists turned up tonight to witness the full Cardiff City debuts of Robbie Fowler and the great Jimmy Floyd Hasselhoff (as my youngest daughter keeps calling him). After the weeks of expectation and reams of feverish newsprint it was strange indeed to see them both lined up in City shirts in the centre circle. And if it was weird for us, then how must Fowler and The Hoff have been feeling, making their debuts in front of a crowd of 6,000 in the Carling Cup Round 2 against the lions of Leyton Orient. Bizarre.
Once again, the logistical megabrains at the heart of the football club had misjudged the "walk-up" factor by several thousand per cent and as the minutes ticked away towards 7.45, long queues snaked their way behind the back of the Canton Stand - frustrated punters waiting to purchase tickets from the matchday portakabin and ticket office, whilst the under-used turnstile operators ripped the tickets of those who had been fortuitous enough to sort them out beforehand - the concept of paying cash at the turnstiles having been somehow lost in translation.
They were a whisker away from having to delay the kick-off for a match which will probably be recorded as one of the lowest crowds of the season. A cock-up to match the Brollygate Scandal of last year's Wolves match (when hundreds of punters had to hand in their brollies on the wettest day of the year, only to find that, at the end of the match a free-for-all had ensued as punters grabbed the nearest and best looking umbrellas on their way out of the ground). To paraphrase Travis Bickle, "one of these days, this club is gonna get organazised..."
Other new starters on the pitch included Dazzer Purse and Peter Whittingham, Purse needing match practice and the midfield needing something to lift them out of their sterile torpor. The Bluebirds started well, launching a series of attacks in the first few minutes, with Paul Parry once again featuring prominently on the right wing. Both Hasselbaink and Fowler were evidently keen to make a mark and get that important first goal, and both showed signs of their quality, despite a degree of ring-rustiness.
Fowler's approach was more subtle, good off-the-ball movement, some sweet flicks and two sublime chips which very nearly caught the almost implacable keeper off-guard. JFH, by contrast, was all power and strength, operating a fearless shoot-on-sight policy which saw him pepper the goal and surrounding area with shots of all descriptions - clearing the Canton with one hastily despatched effort. Both players' work-rate was exemplary - they chased balls and harried defenders all night, and Fowler even managed an 80 yard run in the dying moments in his quest to kickstart the attack and get the goal.
Whittingham had a great game also, clearly responding to the opportunity to claim a first-team place. He was full of aggressive, direct running, his passing was several notches above Saturday, and he provided a constant threat down the left flank, combining well with the eager Capaldi. Rae and McPhail also performed well, and overall the midfield quartet looked a spikier, edgier proposition. A nominal 4-4-2 formation was frequently assuming the shape of a carefree 4-2-4, such was the marauding wingplay of Parry and Whittingham.
At the back, full backs Gunter and Capaldi were solid, as were the central duo Purse and Johnson. Purse's distribution was again erratic, but he was sharp and determined in the tackle until his substitution on 45 minutes. Darcy Blake came on, and it was a credit to him that the shape of the team was maintained throughout the second half. Goalkeeper Turnbull was untroubled in goal, but did let the side down again with some woeful, wasteful kicking - people ducking on the Bob Bank terrace every time he shaped up to launch one forward.
An entertaining first half saw a myriad of chances fall to the Cardiff strikeforce and midfield, the best of them to JFH and Fowler, who were unable to outwit the octopus-like keeper. As the second half progressed the prospect of extra time did look ominous - Cardiff were so dominant, but Orient held out with impressive staying power, remaining unflappable despite the constant pressure. As the minutes ebbed away, the Cardiff forwards turned the screw a notch or two, playing through the fatigue barrier, and forcing the Orient backline further and further into their own penalty area.
Nelson pulled off some astonishing saves towards the end, tipping over a goalbound Johnson header and a superb Hasselbaink effort which deserved a goal. Finally the goal came after Whittingham struck a low shot from just outside the box. No-one expected a shedful of goals - a prosaic one-goal victory was enough, the team played with a dogged spirit and the two new "lads" earnt the appreciation and respect of the fans with a relentless hard-working approach which still enabled them to show off their class, style and quality. As their match fitness improves and the understanding grows with their midfield suppliers, the goals will surely happen. Pressure's off for now, the hard stuff begins again at Carrow Road on Saturday.
Paul Davies © 2007.
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