Cardiff 1 Plymouth Argyle 0
Championship, January 1st 2008
Moving on up now, getting out of the darkness...
Bookended by two very different but equally clinical and functional 1-0 victories, Cardiff's festive fun-packed fixtures yielded a tremendous ten points out of twelve (better than Man Ure, same as Arsenal), only being denied the full twelve after the criminal bungling time-keeping of referee Grant "Homer" Hegley in the Watford match.
Like a Christmas episode of Countdown, we picked off two from the top six, one from the middle and one from the bottom, and are now poised nicely within gobbing distance of the play-offs.
Today's match was a nothing fixture against a nothing team, and if you needed reminding yet again of the dearth of quality in this division, then take another look at Plymouth Argyle, a lacklustre bruising pub outfit who were sixth in the table coming into this game.
The sound of churning guts and the uniform deathly pallor of the crowd indicated that most of the City fans present had enjoyed a very good New Year's Eve, and whilst not appreciating the unseemly early kick-off, were in good humour as they took their positions in the stand and on the terraces, a big walk-up and a healthy away following boosting the crowd towards a respectable 15K.
Plymouth's supporters appeared to be nursing heavier hangovers, as they barely made a peep throughout the entire game. Aside from the ritual booing of Capaldi, and the hilarious hurled-about plastic sheep (oh how we laughed!), theirs was a ghostly presence.
Watching paint dry has never seemed so attractive after the first half hour, Cardiff allowed themselves to be dragged down to the same Stone Age level of football as our visitors. We were lacking pace, invention, creativity and struggled to make any inroads into a static Plymouth rearguard.
Argyle's tactics revolved around hitting long and hopeful punts towards Cardiff lad Jermaine Easter and huge centre forward Sylvan Ebanks-Blake, both of whom battered and bullied their defensive opponents - Johnson and Loovens will certainly know they were in a game.
As a spectacle, this game was a non-starter, there was almost nothing of consequence to report on in the first half, apart from the small matter of the winning goal. Joe Ledley added some more pounds to his transfer valuation with yet another crucial winner, after he seized upon a parried clearance from the Argyle keeper Romain Larrieu and calmly slotted home to ease the tension.
Cue terrace jubilation and Ledley's just-like-that goal celebration. Shortly after Plymouth went perilously close when a deflected shot from Norris sent Kasper the wrong way, and agonisingly (for Plymouth) hit the post and went wide.
More of the same in the second half, as a titanically tedious tussle ate away into the recesses of the brain and ground down towards the full time whistle. Festive fatigue was evident, and Cardiff did well to hang on in there.
Jimmy Floyd CashintheBank (as he has already been waggishly christened) had his worst game - devoid of energy and purpose, the guy was statuesque and embarrassingly ineffective. Jones shook things up a little with the introduction of MacLean and Thompson (JFH and Whitts going off, with Parry dropping back), and there were a couple of half chances. MacLean should have done better when he was put through by Ledley, and Parry had a decent half-chance towards the end.
A satisfactory outcome, then, to a teeth-pullingly painful match. An emotional farewell for Kasper Schmeichel after his last game for us - he has undoubtedly been the bedrock for this mini-revival, and it is very disappointing to read Dave Jones' mealy-mouthed comments about the contribution he has made to the team.
Doing the math, and recognising that 75 points is usually enough to claim 6th place, we now have a target of 39 points from the last twenty games.
Frankly, this looks beyond us, and perhaps the best we can hope for is a place in the top 10 at the end of May. This would represent our highest finish since promotion in 2003, and would, all things considered, be a staggering achievement - further evidence of slow but steady consolidation.
On the other hand, if we can hold on to Ledley, get Scimeca back, buy a decent keeper, get shot of JFH and Fowler, beg borrow and steal the necessary cash to get a decent striker in...
Happy New Year!
Paul Davies © 2007.
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