Cardiff 4 Scunthorpe United 0
Championship, August 8th 2009
"Mama always told me not to look into the sights of the sun,
Oh but mama that's where the fun is...
So far, so freaking ecstatic. Exceeding the wildest hopes of even the most driven and deluded optimists, Cardiff City officially unveiled their new stadium and kick-started a new era with a perfect display of at times dazzling football which tore the game but hapless Irons to shreds in a torrid 30 minute maelstrom. Psychologically stepping up and distancing themselves from the dismal debacle which constituted the end of last season, the Bluebirds metaphorically apologised to their adoring fans with a scintillating performance, which provided a benchmark for what could be achieved this season, and in the process slapped the faces of the doom-mongers and nay-sayers with a king-sized salty sea bream. If this is the way things are in the Brave New World, then I want more.
The meteorological gods had consulted their fixture lists and duly provided the traditional beautiful late Summer's sun-blasted weather, unsightly mottled legs on show all along Sloper Road, as the masses topped up their tans en route to the gleaming new stadium. Deprived of the lifeblood of the fans which propped up its rotting sarcophagus, Ninian Park already looks like a sad, deserted dump of an eyesore - it seems almost cruel to stare at the place as you walk past - the sooner the wrecking balls move in the better. The gates to Avalon have been thankfully transplanted across the road, and restored to their former glory after some grubbing thieving tosspot sacrireligiously had it away on his toes with one of the iconic bluebirds.
Everything about the new stadium continues to impress - large queues outside the ground at ten to three were quickly whittled down to nothing with the super-smooth automated turnstiles laughing in the faces of fears of techno-meltdown with the first substantial crowd of the season - a painful reminder to the egg-chasing hierarchy of how these things are supposed to work, ten years after the Millennium Stadium opened, their automated turnstiles remain a rusting obsolete failure.
Once inside, the concourse area is throbbing and buzzing with pre-season excitement, a huge noise as thirsty drinkers enjoy the relatively hassle-free queues and avail themselves of the facilities of the plentiful bars dotted around the place. We take our seats in Block 112, subtly check out our season-long neighbours to the right, left, in front and behind (so far so good), soak up the sun and purr audibly as the sight of an immaculately shining pitch illuminates the rapidly filling stadium of happy smiley supporters clad in blue and white.
Pre-season gripes and grumbles about the atmosphere in the new stadium shrivel and disappear as a monumental roar goes up to welcome the teams onto the pitch. The season hasn't even started and I've already got goose bumps and threaten to burst into tears - in a good way. The place is rocking, and suddenly the pain of last season is eased away as the annual intravenous drip of optimism and excitement applies a dazzling hit to the body's endorphins. With the unfamiliarity of the team selection adding to the feeling of a fresh start, we are all set to go.
First up, a one minute round of applause for the great Bobby Robson, a noisy and moving tribute with impromptu chants of "There's only one Bobby Robson..." bringing further lumps to the throat.
Only Mark Kennedy at left back had retained his position in the back 5 - high expectations for new keeper David Marshall, as Dave Jones attempts to finally resolve the goalkeeping conundrum which has been yapping at his heels since he foolishly dispensed with the services of Neil Alexander (recently voted best ever keeper by City Fans - as if to rub DJ's nose in it - even though no one will ever match Fred Davies in my sepia-tinted eyes). Paul Quinn slots in at right back as McNaughton is sidelined for up to 6 weeks, with the twin colossus centre backs Anthony (alright la') Gerrard and captain Mark Hudson presenting an imposing rearguard focus for any opposition forwards. The omission of Gyepes seems surprising and a little unfair, given his outstanding form last season, but early indications are that DJ has picked a couple of diamonds.
The midfield remains the most contentious area and one which still is crying out to be strengthened, whether Ledley moves on or not. Again surprising that Burke was benched given his impressive form of late - with McCormack and Whittingham hugging the wings, Ledley and McPhail occupy the central midfield berths. Up front, no change with the no-brainer partnership of Bothroyd and Chopra currently unassailable.
Scunthorpe United are exactly the kind of under-rated Championship scufflers who have rained on City's parade over the years at critical points in the season, and their early efforts rammed home the point that they were not here to make up the numbers and collect Best Supporting Act nominations. If anything, they had the best of the first ten/fifteen minutes - launching neat and swift attacking moves which were nevertheless competently handled by a composed looking City defence. The game turned quickly, and the man who inspired today's wonderful performance was wantaway hero/traitor Ross "my cheeks are on fire" McCormack.
In the hefty tome of Ill-advised statements by numbskull footballers with large egos, young gun McCormack has already written his own chapter - digging himself deeper and deeper into the doo-doo with comments of breathtaking arrogance from one whose single-season career has left a shining but very brief imprint on the collective elephant's memory of the seasoned City fan. First the evident fishing for a move comments, followed by the cheesy badge-kissing contract-signing "I love this club" favour-currying, and then the obstreperous "I'm off anyway, Cardiff are holding me back" nonsense last week.
After all this, McCormack's reception today was mind-boggling in its adulatory frenzy, and may perhaps convince the pint-sized pocket dynamo that another season in the Championship and another hatful of goals may not be the worst thing to happen to him. Surely better than being a lonely striker at a struggling Premier league club, particularly if that club is managed by perma-tanned bandido Phil Brown, who has osmosed into the most annoying main in football in a matter of weeks (Dave Jones' comments on the Hull/Brown/McCormack affair were totally on the money, and were a righteous "up yours" response to anyone who thinks they can bully the mighty Cardiff City!).
The smart money is on a hasty Premiership move for McCormack as soon as Cardiff's realistic valuation of £4 million is met, Dave Jones wisely concluding that whilst he is here we will make the most of the presence of an outstanding young player. Today, whether McCormack was playing for a Premiership passport or placating the superb fans who unanimously backed him to the rafters throughout today's game, he was dynamite. Sculpting massive holes in the Irons' defence with his pacey and penetrating runs, wrong footing the juddering dinosaurs at the back with nimble and dazzling footwork, he was utterly instrumental in all of Cardiff's first period pressure. The first goal came on 15 minutes after a fantastically audacious McCormack dummy had set up the move - the ball was played to Whittingham, whose shot was deflected in by a bemused but happy Chopra.
Scunthorpe tottered, then collapsed - looking like they would ship a goal every time Cardiff attacked, and that was pretty darned often in the next half hour. Roared on by a crowd rubbing their eyes in disbelief, Cardiff ripped the flesh off Scunny's bones like depraved zombie flesh eaters - not a pretty site for the silent disco of Scunthorpe fans in the corner, but a rampant retina-scorching Oscar nominated festival of football for the City fans in the house.
McCormack again started the move for the second goal, chipping a glorious ball out to Kennedy on the edge of the box - his cross found Joe Ledley - whose shot was deflected and then stabbed in from point blank range by a lurking Bothroyd. Chopra's second was the pick of the bunch, after toying with the cowering Scunny defence, Bothroyd manoeuvred into space and then rolled a delightful back-heel for Chopra, who shimmied and outsmarted a brace of defenders before rocketing an unstoppable angled drive past a helpless Murphy.
Bothroyd also hit the post in the first half and the rout threatened to turn into a massacre as the crowd almost felt sorry for a collapsing United. Ledley was replaced by Rae in the second half, and whilst Cardiff continued to force the play, the game was already over as a contest long before a rampaging Burke was oafishly brought down by the Scunthorpe full back in the last minute to gift Cardiff a penalty. Having already been told by the gaffer that he had now officially relinquished his penalty-taking duties after three failed attempts, Ross could only watch in frustration as Whittingham capped a solid performance with an excellent conversion (the new penalty boy Chopra having already been replaced by Burke).
With the chants of "We are top of the league" echoing around the four sides of our magnificent new home, the players left the pitch to an ear-stinging ovation. Scunthorpe had been dismantled by a totally dominant, composed, controlled and at times vibrantly exciting Cardiff side. Newly promoted lambs to the slaughter Scunthorpe may have been, but there were dozens of reasons to be totally excited about today's performance, and feverishly optimistic about the rest of the season. Defensively we looked air-tight (Gerrard and Hudson looked very good together), midfield sparkled (of the players who still have a lot of convincing to do, McPhail and Whittingham impressed, with McPhail a cool influential presence at the heart of things), and the attacking options were a joy to behold. Man of the match Ross McCormack was outstanding throughout and proved that he can be a lethal presence on the left hand side of a progressive midfield.
Let's not get ahead of ourselves, but with the added strength and depth of Jones' proposed four new signings still to come (we hope!), the season has already exploded into life. Move aside everybody, Cardiff are coming through.
Paul Davies © 2009.
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