Cardiff 0 QPR 2
Championship, September 19th 2009
"Dad, can we go home now? There's 12 minutes to go, but it's getting boring now...
A canny 10 year old behind us had been badgering his father to go long before that, and, for once, I was sorely tempted to follow him. This was, without doubt, a pitiful performance, which bore alarming uncanny echoes to the raggedy-arsed, feckless capitulations of last term which ruined your Summer. Have we suddenly become so bad, or were we never that good to begin with? Whichever it is, a bright and bouncing QPR exposed and battered the balsa-wood links which "bind" this team together, and revealed the wafer-thin reinforcements warming their arses on the bench.
Like a coven of wart-covered, green-toothed cackling witch-hags, the noise of the nay-sayers escalated in direct proportion to the degeneration of the team's mind-numbing soul-sucking "performance". Idle threats about the desire to melt down the season ticket and forge into mini-effigies of Dave Jones and his witless wonders may diminish in the days to come as a sense of perspective draws an embarrassed veil over a damaging, disgraceful show - but at the moment it seems like an eminently sensible thing to do.
After the swaggering start to the season this represented a collective resignation and surrender on a sadly not unprecedented basis, and asks some BIG questions of our coaching guru, who is clearly still at a loss to discover what his best 11 is. Three defeats in four games ain't exactly a crisis, and there is plenty of time to get things back on track, but on the evidence of today's performance there is neither the desire, the skill nor the fight to do that. We were shameful today, and even given most football club's culture of keeping internal criticism within the freshly painted walls of the dressing room, DJ's comments that it was a "lacklustre" and "lethargic"performance don't even come close to describing the horror show on the park and represent an insulting riposte to the fans' clamour for some kind of explanation.
Things started going wrong well before kick-off. The honeymoon period of sampling overpriced cooking lager amongst huge crowds in the designer ambience of raw breeze-blocks has worn off for thousands, who have reverted to their choice watering-holes in Canton, where they can sup in comfort, SIT DOWN, and wander down to the ground well in time for kick-off. Except for the fact that, with ten minutes to go and with huge queues at all the turnstiles facing Sloper Road, there was no way that we were going to get in before the whistle blew. A lot of unhappy people missed the start of the game, and it is already clear that there are an inadequate number of turnstiles to cope with 20,000+ crowds, a large proportion of which historically have always rolled up with 10/15 minutes to go. Hope there is a plan B (more turnstiles/converting singles to doubles), cos it certainly ain't working at the moment.
The one consistent thing about home games at the CCFC Stadium thus far has been the glorious sunshine, Bob Bankers basking in the warm glow of a perfect late Summer afternoon. And then the horror descended. For the first 15 minutes it didn't seem so bad - Cardiff enjoyed a fair amount of possession and passed it around with some competence, Solomon Taiwo enjoying a full debut alongside Ledley in the centre of midfield with Whittingham and Burke on the flanks. Up front, Bothroyd partnered Chopra, and the back 5 were Marshall, Quinn, Gerrard, Hudson and Kennedy.
Things started to unravel before the first goal went in. Boo-boy Routledge was causing mayhem when he got the ball, spinning in and out of full backs and centre backs as he consistently carved out openings for the visitors, who started to settle and began to dominate in all areas of the pitch. Alongside Routledge, Simpson was also creating havoc - our defence looked nervous, flat-footed, ponderous and permanently on the brink of collapse.
From a vantage point directly in line with the advancing striker, QPR's goal looked suspiciously offside - Simpson was unconcerned as he easily slotted home past a floundering Marshall to give the Rs a deserved lead. Cardiff were unable or unwilling to mount any sort of credible fight-back, with a tremulous back four punting hopeful balls upfield rather than build from the back like wot proper footballers do. Like a long line of Cardiff City goalkeepers before him, 95% of the time David Marshall also chose the long punt forward - instantly handing the ball and the initiative to the opposition, rather than rely on feeding his full backs to begin a move (although having seen how poorly they were playing, no real reason to trust them to retain the ball).
Aside from the tireless, foraging Chris Burke, whose impact would have more dramatic had he been offered anything like the support he deserved, the midfield were insipid, clueless and toothless. Taiwo started encouragingly, but then deteriorated by osmosis - mirroring Ledley and Whittingham's inability to complete a pass, make a tackle or make any meaningful contribution to the game.
As against Newcastle, but only more so, Chopra and Bothroyd were isolated to a ridiculous degree. Chopra put a shift in, but JB was awful - barely winning anything in the air, and bereft of his usual fancy footwork. Totally outmuscled by a solid and kickass central defence, Bothroyd shrugged his shoulders and appeared to give up.
Rangers were coasting and looked like scoring every time Routledge and Simpson got hold of the ball. The game was over long before the second goal went in - again Routledge and Simpson combined to outwit a pedestrian, slack-jawed defence - the Arsenal loan player Simpson firing easily past Marshall, whose inadequate positioning left a huge gap at his near post.
The jubilant West Londoners celebrated noisily in the corner, taunting the shell-shocked City fans with repeated cries of "You're not very good", which it would have been difficult to argue with. Half-time offered us all a respite from the retina-scorching abomination, and would perhaps provide Dave Jones with the opportunity to collectively grab the team by the scruff of the neck and lambast them with some uncomfortable home truths. The chance of spicing things up from the bench was never going to happen given the wafer-thin representation of out-of-favour, returning from injury and generally untested players who make up our 7th Cavalry.
Taiwo's dramatic disintegration was rubber-stamped when he was hoiked off on 54 minutes and replaced by young Norn Irish U21 player Josh Mageniss, after a hideous error allowed former Cardiff target Rowan Vine (and if you believe that you'll believe anything) to rattle the post and scare the bejasus out of Marshall. Whittingham was replaced by Rae who attempted to fire up the central midfield, and for a few minutes there were signs of a revival as the reshuffled side attempted to salvage some pride at least from the afternoon.
City did huff and puff, but never really threatened the QPR goal - a couple of long-range shots from Burke were the extent of the danger. Mageniss is a game and burly fellow, but after a couple of marauding runs was brought into line with the rest of the ineffective strike force. Bothroyd's miserable humiliating afternoon was completed on 67 minutes when he was replaced by venerable warhorse Scimeca. Once upon a time, Scimeca could have single-handedly breathed fire through the centre of this team and inspired a dogged fight back, but this was beyond him today.
Thousands of fans had disappeared long before the final whistle called time on this daymare, and there was plenty to reflect upon by team, manager and supporters as they all endured a "shit journey home". Four thousand Bluebirds will be heading up the M4 on Wednesday - God only knows what kind of a mess Aston Villa reserves will make of this confidence-sapped team of weak-kneed washouts. We are critically short in key areas - at full back our two best performers McNaughton and Matthews are out injured, and we are relying upon Quinn, whose game seems to be sliding further downhill with each performance, and Kennedy/Capaldi - two doppelganger journeymen who have NEVER been good enough for a Championship side with aspirations for promotion.
Gerrard and Hudson have sucked Jones into some kind of alternative reality in convincing him that they are the central defensive pairing of choice - Gabor will be back next week, and not before time. We have real problems in midfield. Burke has been intermittently sparkling so far, but is being held back by the sacks of spuds who surround him. It is naive to maintain that Ledley's continuing contract saga has not affected his form - he looks like a man who is punching the clock with ever-increasing fatigue as he runs the contract down. The January transfer window will not come soon enough if he doesn't buck up his ideas.
McPhail, Rae and Whittingham have all played well in patches but are all maddeningly inconsistent and have a tendency to fade chameleon-like into the background of the lush green turf. Solomon Taiwo deserves to be cut a little slack and needs to be introduced a bit more gradually into the team before a proper assessment can be made, but after a bright start he fell to pieces today. The return of McCormack is another factor which could jazz up the team's performance and morale.
The totally frustrating thing about this match was the realisation, confirmed by the insomniac's favoured footballing omnibus The Football League Show, that aside from West Brom, there are few teams in this division which could come close to a City team playing like they did against Bristol City just a couple of weeks ago. Recapturing that form and style is DJ's mission improbable over the next 7 days (no-one really gives two hoots about the Mickey Mouse Cup do they?). Another couple of performances like today's however, and City getting promotion is about as credible as Ricky Butcher's new-found infatuation with the vision of loveliness that is Sam Mitchell.
Paul Davies © 2009.
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