Cardiff 1 Crystal Palace 1
Championship, October 17th 2009
"Inward calm cannot be maintained unless physical strength is constantly and intelligently replenished.
Hindu Prince Gautama Siddharta, the founder of Buddhism, 563-483 B.C.
A thoroughly disappointing afternoon was splattered with a rank and disturbing after-taste with the revelation/allegation that Michael 'My Boots are on Fire' Chopra was racially abused as the players left the pitch, leading to a 20-man melee which looked likely to erupt into a mass brawl, but fizzled out as the players made their way towards the tunnel. As Chopra's strike partner JB maintained after the game, on the day that the players were promoting the Show Racism the Red Card campaign, this was a depressing appendix to a lacklustre contest. What a surprise when we learned that referee Steve "See No Evil Hear No Evil" Tanner neither heard nor saw anything...
In truth, neither side really deserved the point that they ended up with - Cardiff showed more enterprise but were bullied out of their stride by a muscle-bound Brobdingnagian team who kicked lumps out of the Bluebirds and were extremely lucky to finish the game with a full complement of players.
Once again, a team blessed with pace and skill have been undone by a bunch of hod-carrying philistines whose gameplan consisted of roughing up the midfield, pushing around our strikers and bludgeoning through our sometimes shaky defence with all the subtlety of a half-brick through a plate-glass window. City couldn't compete with the physical side (which was the only side) of Palace's game and were offered scant protection by clueless official Tanner, who himself appeared to be brow-beaten by Palace's whingeing, protesting players - their intervention clearly persuaded him not to send off the already-carded clumsy hatchet-man N'Diaye after a horrendous challenge on Joe Ledley.
Personally, I'd regard Cardiff's position at the top of the Fair Play league last term as an accolade to be applauded, but it is clear that in certain Championship confrontations, their reticence to "get stuck in" has cost them dearly. We constantly seem to hark back to the much-missed Ricky Scimeca when discussing the limitations and problems of a fancy-dan midfield which can on its day create glorious, fast-flowing, creative and attacking football, but which can equally be tripped, hacked and bullied into submission by the likes of Palace's streetwise turf thugs. A huge physical presence who dominated in front of the back four, Scimeca was key to the success of the 2006/07 team and has never been effectively replaced. Burke and Whittingham are on outstanding spells of form but are physically slight and not able to impose themselves in this type of toe-to-toe contest. Ledley and Rae are battlers but neither were up to the job yesterday.
Jones' resources are so stretched that there was no sign of anyone on the bench who could have come on and mixed it up in the middle. As good as it is to have the Supermacs back in contention, they were not the type of player required, and bringing on Feeney at the end in a bold-for-DJ switch to an approximation of 4-3-3 made the midfield and attacking personnel look like the Ant Hill Mob running around the pitch.
Dave Jones has his team playing the right way, but there is a need to "man-up" against this type of opposition in order to gain the three points. The most dismal aspect of the day as the results came in was the realisation that apart from WBA, all of the teams around us lost - we moved up a place into third but could have been snapping at the ankles of both the Baggies and the Magpies with that crucial extra two points. Let's hope we don't focus on these dropped points when the last lap hoves into view in May.
One thing that remains a constant in the Costa Del Cardiff City Stadium is the oustanding sun-blasted weather we have enjoyed for every daytime fixture - shirtsleeves, sunglassses and Pina Coladas were the order of the day on the New Bob Bank, as we welcomed the team. The international break now provides a triple whammy of unexpected pain for the seasoned Wales-watching Bluebirds fan - a cruel interruption to Cardiff's exquisite run of free-scoring form, followed by the watch-it-if-you-dare pain of yet more excruciating Wales performances, rounded off by the inevitable scrappy, patchy display as the Bluebirds try desperately to remember how they managed to play such sparkling football two weeks ago.
It has become an annoying signature to every international hiatus, and one which the backroom boys need to address as a matter of urgency, as any sustained promotion campaign cannot support such stop-start rhythms. DJ readily admitted in the post-match inquisition that they have tried all manner of strategies to rectify this glaring problem, but still look no closer to resolving it.
Palace had enjoyed a good run of form themselves and looked in no mood to pander to City's goal-machines, taking the game to a sleepwalking Cardiff team with a 4-5-1 formation fronted by bustling centre forward Alan Lee, who looked every inch the genial carthorse we came to love and were more than happy to say goodbye to. Of course, as is the way with all mediocre journeymen former City players, Lee got on the scoresheet (sort of) early doors when his tentative header across goal was knocked into his own net by Mark Hudson.
City responded finally to the Palace putsch with some decent football and grabbed a deserved equaliser on 19 minutes, with officially most improved player Peter Whittingham clinically firing past goalie Speroni after a Burke cross was deflected invitingly into his path. After that it was 70 minutes of eye-gouging tedium, a scrappy war of attrition in which Palace took the battle far too literally for Cardiff's good - barging and bruising them into a timid surrender of the points which were up for grabs had they contested things a little more physically.
There were few highlights to pick out - Whittingham nearly scored with a neat header, a couple of long-range shots barely tested Palace's keeper and the threat from Chopra and Bothroyd was strangled at source, as they were totally robbed of the oxygen of goal-scoring opportunities by a mean and ugly 5 man Palace midfield.
Adam Matthews looked a decent player for most of the game, but started to make some alarming errors in the second half. Kennedy was steady and dull, and again the central defensive partnership looked leaden and unable to compete in a battle or a race. Marshall at the back looks increasingly suspect - rooted to his line, his indecision seems to spread confusion and a lack of confidence throughout the back four. His slowness in possession is also a worry, hesitant and seemingly unable or unwilling to feed the full backs, his kicking is also hit and miss. He's had long enough to bed in at the heart of this defence and looks to be yet another in a long line of goalkeepers who are inferior to the flawed but talismanic Neil Alexander.
The return of Ross McCormack raises yet more questions about the best starting 11. When Bothroyd went off, the Chopra McCormack combo did not look effective, and was not helped by some lump-it-forward tactics. Central midfield is still shouting out for strengthening, we STILL need a warrior in there but will not be holding our breath when the transfer window opens. The sweet and sour Ledley/Rae partnership is currently neither sweet nor sour enough. Rae has the heart of a lion but was not at the races yesterday, and Joe is still not back to his best - spending more time berating officials than steaming into the box and causing mayhem as he was once able to do. If Ledley stays beyond January, it would be good to think that the contract resolution will finally stabilise and inspire his performances.
Tuesday's game offers a welcome opportunity for a swift return to form for all the players who under-performed yesterday, the team selection will be an interesting poser for DJ - the retun of Kevin the Mac would be a huge boost, as would the overdue rehabilitation of Gabor "What Have I Done Wrong" Gyepes. Now is the time for the best 11 to be settled - a critical period between now and Christmas with potentially huge away games at Sheffield United, West Brom and Boro. Time to lively up yourselves Bluebirds - destiny's calling!
Paul Davies © 2009.
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