Cardiff 1 Sheffield Wednesday 0
Championship, January 12th 2008
Keep Your Eyes on the Prize, Hold On...
Cancel all plans for May 24th, the Play-Offs are back on! After proving conclusively that it would be mathematically improbable for CCFC to acquire the magic number of 75 points and grab hold of 6th spot at the end of the season, this column is about to undertake a volte-face of Darcy Bussell proportions and posit the notion that yes, due to this incredible surging run towards the summit and the mounting evidence that 95% of the teams in this division could not kick their way out of a wet Echo, the dream is once again alive.
It may just be the season when the lowest points total for years is enough to finagle a way into the Play-Offs, and if that's the case and we are the lucky beneficiaries, then so be it. However, if Joe Ledley does go, as expected, to Everton in the next fortnight, then all bets are back off again, and you can book your weekend away in Trecco Bay!
Yet another 1-0 massacre today, which shone a searching, unforgiving light into all the corners and crevices of this team, illuminating the good points and highlighting the bad. The lack of goals is a cause for concern, and whilst we should applaud the multitude of chances which were created in the first 45 minutes, the inability to stick them away may come back to haunt us against marginally better teams.
Our goals scored and goal difference columns make for sorry reading - the rag-tag collection of strikers are not doing it consistently enough, we are still in desperate need of a clinical target man, the acquisition of such a player would surely propel us on to the next level.
It should have been a case of getting the deckchairs and cigars out for the second half - we were all over the miserable Owls and should have scored at least four. Wednesday were poor, but no better or worse than many of the teams who've laughably turned up and called themselves Championship contenders this season.
Cardiff played neat, precise, inventive attacking football in the first half, bamboozling the slow-witted Wednesday defence with swift, incisive passing movements and lively runs in and around the box. Once again, the creative fulcrum was working around McNaughton, Parry and Whittingham, with JFH having a decent game for a change, making his presence felt and being on the end of several attempts at goal.
Hats off to the team for their spirit and endeavour in the first period, they kept plugging away and the inevitable breakthrough goal on 36 minutes came as a cathartic boost, JFH finishing coolly and extremely bravely to end the frustration. Earlier close attempts had included a couple of Whittingham shots, a JFH header tipped over, and a Johnson powerhouse header which hit the post from the resultant corner. Joe Ledley had the best chance of the half, slashing his shot wide of the upright when it would have been easier to score.
Wednesday's sole opportunity demanded a decent save from Oakes, who got down slowly, but did manage to tip the goalbound shot from Leon Clarke away. A classic Tannoy moment in the first half: "Message for Nigel Way in Block F of the Grandstand, you may want to stay or go, but your wife's just gone into labour" was greeted by raucous applause, especially when the father-to-be, after a few nanoseconds' hesitation, legged it down the stairs. Slightly disappointing to subsequently discover it was a wind-up, but so it goes.
The second half was ultimately all about the fans. Don't know about the "Greatest Team in Football" but we certainly have the Greatest Fans. The game was in danger of slipping into a moribund quagmire, with City conceding territorial advantage and beckoning Wednesday to come at them, in a nervy, familiar fashion.
The A Block Nutters seized their moment and began a Barmy Army chorus which seemed to go on for ever. Similarly energised, the Grange and Bob Bank roared back their support, and the foundations of the ground started shaking. It was immense, and undoubtedly carried the team through a very sticky patch, as Wednesday pushed hard for an equaliser, piling forward and making the added SIX minutes at the end agonisingly hard to bear.
The defence held firm, Michael Oakes made an outstanding save from debutante Ronnie Wallwork, the Loovens/Johnson partnership proved themselves to be in fine fettle, and the celebrations on and off the pitch as the final whistle blew were fierce.
Up to 8th now, only two points behind 6th place Palace. The next six games have a "make-or-break" look about them with a double-header against the imperious West Brom and Stoke away representing the biggest challenges encountered so far. WBA will be keen to avenge the 4-2 hammering we dished out to their under-strength team back in September in the grand old Robbie Fowler days, but against a team who express themselves with open, free-flowing attacking football, Cardiff will no doubt fancy their chances. Five points out of nine in those three matches and it will start to get very serious.
As a postscript, and a starter for things you never thought you'd see on the Bob Bank terrace, how about the sight of a 40something Bluebirds supporter checking his emails on his Blackberry during a lull in the action? Whatever next? The Dave Jones' Barmy Facebook Army blogging on their laptops in the Grange End? The world's gone mad!
Paul Davies © 2007.
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