Cardiff 2 Reading Reserves 0
FA Cup 3rd Round, January 3rd 2009
"Even in victory, there is no beauty, and he who calls it beautiful is one who delights in slaughter.
Lao-Tzu, 6th century.
On the 17th January 1978, Johnny Rotten surveyed the aftermath of a catastrophic final Sex Pistols appearance at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco, and with the knowledge that the ferocious punk sparkle of the Pistols had been forever quenched by media hype, junkie loserdom, exploding egos and management manipulation, he dodged one last bottle, let out a withering searing laugh at the assembled part-time punks and washed-out hippies, bidding farewell with the line: "Ever get the feeling you've been cheated?"
Well, yes, John, as a matter of fact I got that very feeling today. As pleased as I was that Cardiff moved smoothly into the next round of the Cup, I cannot recall a victory which filled me with less pleasure in 40 years at Ninian Park. Steve Coppell insulted his team, his opponents, the competition and all the spectators by picking a reserve team to face us today. They didn't quite throw the game, but their team selection and the lacklustre approach of the players who did play suggested that Coppell had made them very aware of where Reading's priorities lay this year.
Call me old-fashioned, but that attitude stinks the place up and makes a mockery of this nonsense about the magic and romance of the greatest Cup competition in the world. It has almost become accepted that Premiership clubs at the top and bottom of the table will field weakened sides as they cling desperately on to the stretching udders of the cash cow of Premiership success/survival, but this attitude is now percolating downwards to such an extent that the competition's status has been severely compromised.
Of course we all benefit from Coppell's capitulation, but a hollow victory like this is not much to savour of a Saturday night. If I were a Reading fan I'd be banging my head against the wall with frustration. If he needs any reminding about what can be achieved in this competition, he only needs to ask 35,000 Cardiff fans what they were doing last May 17th.
Talking of which, hearing James Fox's anthem rolling around the ground before and after the game brought all kinds of warm memories back of the awesome Cup campaign of last season and how great it felt to be a Bluebird as we counted down to the two momentous Wembley days. First step on the journey was adequately dealt with today on a perfect Winter afternoon, temperatures starting at an almost sub-tropical 2 degrees Celsius at kick-off.
Cheap as chips tickets on the BBT ensured a healthy crowd in that area, but elsewhere there were large gaps and it was no surprise when the attendance of just 12.5K was announced. For the second successive home game the visitors turned out in a very fetching shade of orange and once again they were well and truly tangoed by the end of it.
Coppell's decision to withdraw from the FA Cup was dressed up in finest managerial doublethink - this was a "different" not a "weakened" team. Full credit to the Cardiff boss Dave Jones whose integrity was maintained as he selected a full-strength team - the only absentees being the returning loanees Chopra and pantomime villain Wayne ("Cheerio") Routledge. Jones has the nous to realise that you do not meddle with a winning formula - with a week's break either side of this game there was no desire or need to rest players - professional footballers on a winning streak want to play football, and they sure as hell want to win an FA Cup tie, having been a whisker away from winning the blasted thing last year.
Having already met and matched Reading on two occasions this season, they would also no doubt have preferred to pit their footballing wits against the real Reading's eleven in a best-of-three decider. As it was, Reading made eight changes to their team and that undoubtedly robbed the game of a sense of occasion and contest - the atmosphere was as flat as a congealed pancake in the first half - the Reading fans presumably royally brassed off with their manager's team selection.
Of the Reading players on show, the best of the bunch were Convey and Lita, who both buzzed around brightly in the first half and caused some concern to a slightly shaky Cardiff rearguard. Convey fired wide when he could and should have put Reading one up. Once again, Cardiff had difficulty getting their engine revved up in the first 45, struggling to play any coherent stuff and obviously suffering from the absence of their key player over the past few weeks, Wayne Routledge.
McCormack was enthusiastic after so many games out and keen to make his mark, but did tend to revert to some of his bad habits - drifting out wide, taking free kicks when he should have been snuffling in and around the box etc. He had one decent snap shot in the first half, as did Whittingham, but the nearest Cardiff came to a goal were the abortive appeals for a penalty after colossus Bikey appeared to handle in the box. Bothroyd was getting little change out of the towering centre back and was roughly manhandled throughout. Towards the end of the half Jay clearly took a knock and was hobbling about the pitch for a good five minutes before eventually running it off.
The Bluebirds emerged after the break with a jauntiness and desire which had been absent in the first half, and started to make inroads into the Reading half. Reading too had a couple of early chances denied before the critical first goal went in. As the clock approached the hour mark, Bikey conceded yet another foul on the edge of the box and was cautioned for his persistent foul play. Reading's laughably conceived offside trap was foiled by Professor Roger Johnson, whose delayed run allowed him to receive the ball from Whittingham in acres of space and cross clinically for an easy headed finish from McCormack.
The crowd now twitched into life and ramped up the vocal backing which powered the boys home. Coppell sent on three substitutes to attempt to change the course of the game (including impressive Welsh youngster Simon Church), but City were unprepared to relinquish control - steadfastly blocking Reading attacks (with Gyepes importantly clearing off the line) and getting forward to seal the victory. The second goal was a well-worked affair as Joe Ledley motored through the Reading defence, exchanged passes with a handily positioned McCormack and slid his shot past Federici.
For reasons outlined above this was an ultimately frustrating and unsatisfactory victory which left a slightly bitter taste in the mouth - we were effectively deprived of the rattling good Cup tie which we were entitled to. However we are through on merit and the players and management deserve praise for disposing of the team in front of them in efficient fashion.
Back to the league now with three pivotal games against Midlands teams, all of whom will be fired up for these contests for wildly divergent reasons. The club's activities in the transfer window could yet torpedo progress so far - alternatively they may shock the fans and retain Ledley, Johnson and co and bring in some genuine quality signings to bolster the "surge".
Paul Davies © 2009.
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