Cardiff 1 Plymouth Argyle 0
Championship, December 28th 2008
"ELEVATOR...GOING UP! ".
Cardiff City said goodbye to 2008 with a sweet victory over Argyle, grafting out a vital three points which pushed us into 4th place, within gobbing distance of both Reading and Birmingham - both of whom now looking eminently catchable. As a spectacle it was grim gruelling Yuletide fare, but as an indicator of where we are and where we are heading, its importance could not be over-estimated. Now unbeaten over eight matches, Cardiff are undoubtedly one of the form teams in the division, and after the game at Reading, sneaking suspicions that a top 2 finish is an attainable target are beginning to crystallise in front of our very eyes.
An attendance of 19,145 was the third highest of the season - a shame that the Argyle couldn't have bumped it up over the 20K mark. Both teams started slowly, and the game rapidly descended into an attritional war of mediocrity, with both sides vying for most misplaced passes and mistimed tackles - about as unappetising as a desiccated curled-up turkey sandwich (without the stuffing and cranberry sauce). Cardiff's rep now precedes them and Plymouth adopted the same tactics as most visiting teams to Fortress NP this season, packing the midfield and attempting to squeeze the lifeblood out of the game by denying the Bluebirds both time and space for them to indulge in their sexy football.
Grimly effective, Argyle's style of play could be summed up by one word - muscular. Cardiff had neither the wit nor wherewithal to break down the Greens and were lucky not to concede on a couple of occasions. Plymouth had a header cleared off the line by McNaughton and what looked like a fairly kosher goal was disallowed for offside.
Cardiff had a handful of half-chances, and a fully-functioning Chopra would surely have buried the two opportunities he had at the beginning and end of the first half - both efforts hit well wide of the mark. At the moment Chopra's benefit to the side is mainly talismanic, he is clearly not yet hitting the standards he set on his first spell with the Bluebirds - a combination of ring-rustiness and dented confidence probably contributing to some lacklustre performances.
Two goals from open play in ten starts is not a good return for a striker of Chopra's pedigree, especially with the team currently creating a lot of chances. Having said that, it is to be hoped that Ridsdale can secure Chopra's services at least until the end of the season, as there are signs that a very productive partnership with Bothroyd is fermenting. Where this leaves McCormack is anyone's guess - wide on the right as a replacement for Routledge (should he bugger off to QPR) looks most likely, but his contributions to the team have been somewhat peripheral when he has played there thus far.
Unlike the last two home games, there was no great transformation after half time, just more of the same tedious scuffling creatively barren football on display in the first half. Of the Cardiff players, only Bothroyd and Gavin Rae excelled. Rae's combative performance in the middle of the park was unfussy but important, and Bothroyd's movement and control upfront looked our only hope of gaining anything from this game - despite the pummelling he took from the Plymouth central defenders.
Defensively we were fairly solid, although Enckelman's disastrous distribution remains a lingering problem. However many times our wingers changed sides, neither of them were anywhere near their best and struggled to hit the bye-line and were thus unable to provide Bothroyd with much ammunition. Ledley had one of his poorest games for a while and was bypassed in an unedifying midfield scrap. Good to see Whittingham back, and he definitely added impetus when he replaced Parry on the hour.
A turgid monochrome game bloomed into technicolour glory on 81 minutes, as City's two best players combined to winning effect - Rae knocking the ball down to Bothroyd who rifled the ball past Larrieu superbly to extinguish Argyle's hopes of a point and send the freezing huddled masses into a frenzy.
Argyle attempted to "do a Reading" with seconds remaining on the clock, goalkeeper Larrieu racing into the box for their last corner. City cleared the danger and got the ball to Chopra on halfway. His path to goal was only really blocked by McNamee, who had been on the pitch for precisely five minutes before his brutal challenge on Chopra all but decapitated the striker, who would surely have scored had he managed to evade the challenge. A red card was duly brandished and was the last meaningful piece of action.
The players deserve massive plaudits for wading through the custard of a dreadful game and coming out winners with a special goal. Courage, fortitude and an unswerving desire to chase down victories have not always been qualities exhibited by CCFC at Ninian Park, but the team dug deep yesterday to earn a huge victory.
Wolves may be out of sight at the top (but are probably still due for a few squeaky bum moments), Birmingham are wobbling enticingly, and we have already shown that we are able to match the best footballing team in the division, who will be joining us again in the Cup next Saturday. Coppell will undoubtedly play a weakened team as he concentrates on returning to the Premiership (after all, how could a team from the Championship possibly get to the FA Cup Final?) - let's hope Jones resists the temptation to rest anyone and urges the players to take this winning streak into the New Year. One way or another, it's going to be an exciting 2009!
Paul Davies © 2008.
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