Cardiff City 1 Preston North End 1
Championship, December 4th 2010
(Photos © Paul Davies/urban75 2010)
"Don't piss on my boots and tell me it's raining..."
Taking the temperature outside the ground immediately after the game, the mood of the departing fans was morphing from frustration through disappointment and heading towards anger - a quiet, resigned anger, but anger all the same. This result was not unexpected - any seasoned Cardiff City watcher eyeing up this fixture, checking out the distance between the teams in the Championship table, considering our current form, and factoring in CCFC's eternal capacity to pluck you from the chirpy sea of optimism into the swirling trough of despond knew only too well what would happen. A hapless, marooned and anaemic PNE would kickstart their season with a battling performance to embarrass Cardiff's claims to an automatic promotion spot. The only surprise was the 94th minute goal which salvaged a vestige of pride from a truly awful performance.
Dave Jones' display in the post-match press conference was almost as bad. Embattled, tetchy, delusional, paranoid and baffling in equal parts, his implication that sinister external forces (Al Qaeda? Scientology? Justin Bieber?) were attempting to unsettle and destabilise the club by inventing dressing room and training ground unrest only succeeded in magnifying the interest in any rumours which had been circulating - why mention them if they are of no consequence? Almost as asinine was the assertion that the players' inept and inert attempts to drag themselves back into this game was a consequence of the fans' urging them on indiscriminately. Duh. That's what we do - it's up to the players to turn that positive energy into goals.
Despite the disappointment of recent results and the natural trepidation of the fans, the mood was upbeat as the game kicked off, and Cardiff showed encouraging signs of aggressive intent early on. Jay's premature exit with a pulled hamstring was not quite a Wembley Blackpool moment (Keogh is thankfully no Etuhu), but there was a certain re-calibration of expectation - most of us would have been happy with just the four goals at that stage!
Far be it from any non-professionals in the bucket seats to chunter on about pre-match warm-ups and so on, but an early hamstring injury had some terrace philosophers wondering about whether the mighty Jay had fully prepared himself for this fixture. Thankfully a post-match tweet from Jay assured his followers that this was merely a "grade 1 tear" and he would be back for the Boro game next week. Let us hope (and pray) that this is so - we look a criminal approximation of a football team without him.
The enforced change upset the rhythm of the team, and despite the lavish possession statistics, do not be fooled by the suggestion of dominance. Yes we had the ball, but we did not do a lot with it. There was a wholesale lack of creativity and devilment about the Cardiff offensive game - possession was dribbled away as the team oscillated between over-playing - attempting to waltz the ball through the massed ranks of hod-carriers occupying the midfield and defensive Preston areas, and lumping it short-sightedly forward.
Keogh was eager and won a lot of possession, but there was no-one sharp enough to take advantage. Bellamy was poor, his runs were mis-timed, his touch was clunky, his shots were unthreatening and his distribution was woeful. All around him, City players descended to the same levels. Burke was ineffective, Whittingham and a returning McPhail singularly failed to make their mark. The defence were, again, wincingly suspect. Blake's replacement Gyepes made some toe-curling errors, slicing horribly on several occasions.
Naylor was once again dreadful - his game summed up by a suicidal crossfield ball in front of the penalty area which was gleefully swallowed up by a Preston forward. Just what does this guy need to do to get dropped? Only McNaughton and Keogh came out of this with any of their footballing dignity intact. Substitute Chopra showed intent but little actual invention or goal threat. Preston were bullish and determined, but transparently limited. "The Beast" Jon Parkin caused discomfort whenever his thundering footsteps bore down on Gyepes and Hudson, but his finishing was painful. Six weeks ago Preston would have been eviscerated by a different Cardiff team. . Incredibly, Jones elected to give this collective bag of shite 10 out of 10 in the post-match dissection of this horror-fest.
Apparently, according to DJ, when the destabilisers are removed, Cardiff, like the emancipated twelve year old's bike, will fly - a transformation of the team's fortunes seemingly unconnected to any change in formation, personnel or attitude. Personally,I would advocate some urgent changes- the return of Matthews at right back, with McNaughton crossing flanks, Bellamy back on the left wing, Drinkwater to partner Oli again in the middle (with McPhail ready to step in if they fail to re-ignite their earlier partnership), Chopra reunited with Bothroyd (if fit) up front.
There is no doubt that Cardiff City fans have a genetic predisposition towards negativity, suspicion and a slightly warped critical faculty which errs on the side of a Dad's Army's style "we're all doomed" mentality as soon as things start going wrong - but there are pressing causes for concern all around. A dismal run of results and performances shows no sign of reversing, our hold on a top 2 position looks tentative and threatened (and will surely be surrendered after Swansea's Friday night home fixture), and the teams below are all putting together a tasty string of performances, scenting the fear and nervousness emanating from the CCS.
Three wins out of three and the magic matrix of automatic promotion - averaging two points a game - will be restored, but can anyone see this happening? The entire squad seem drained of confidence, gripped by tension and fear and unable to recollect the power, pace, precision and outlandish joy of the type of football which destroyed Leeds United at Elland Road less than six weeks ago.
King Canute, the Flat Earth Society, the International Ostrich Bothering Federation and a sub-section of City's support may continue to maintain that we are still second despite the appalling recent run, but the prospect of this team of whey-faced hollow men being dragged into the bare-knuckle bear-pit of the Play-Offs has me reaching for the Imodium.
Paul Davies © 2010
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