Cardiff 1 Stoke City 1
Championship, April 14th 2007
"...You're twisting my melon man..."
3PM. The sun is blazing down, the crowd is depleted to the barest of bare bones, but do we care? Cardiff are on first name terms with adversity and whilst we are not exactly struggling now, the catastrophic dip in form and bunjee like fall to disgrace and genuine mid-table mediocrity has ensured that only the dai-hards are in the house tonight.
Fine by me, plenty of room to stretch out on the Bob Bank, lay out the picnic hamper, catch some rays and maybe witness a performance with a bite to it. And lo and behold we actually got one - a performance of some passion and pride, which did not quite compensate for the crushing disappointment of missing out on the play-offs, but at least took the edge of this terminally depressing run-in.
Early signs were promising. Seemingly fired up by recent failings, the team worked hard in the first half hour, playing the ball around with a modicum of energy and skill, nowhere near the early season champagne stuff, but plenty of drive and determination.
Paul Parry was involved in much of the positive football, twisting the Stoke left back inside and out before belting in some decent crosses, and hitting a fairly special shot towards the keeper from 30 yards.
With Dave Jones having temporarily abandoned the Feeney experiment (what does that say about our new striker?), Thommo was back in the mix, and doing the usual Thommo stuff, making his presence felt but rarely looking like he would seriously trouble Stoke veteran Simonsen.
Our GK David Forde made a catastrophic error early doors, slow to meet the onrushing Fuller, a certain goal was only prevented by Chris Gunter. Purse, too, almost gifted Stoke a goal with one of his lazy, sloppy clearances - the sooner that Loovens and Johnson can take over at the heart of the defence the better.
Our midfield tried hard bless 'em, but that combination of players - McPhail, Parry, Ledley and Whittingham is just too lightweight. Scimeca was again sorely missed, and one of DJ's must-buys in the summer is a gutsy ball-winning midfielder to partner/back up Scimeca.
McNaughton had a wayward time this afternoon, so keen was he to get forward that he left some chronic gaps at the back. Gunter has made significant strides this year, but still looks a little vulnerable.
The rationale behind abandoning the Gilbert/McNaughton full back partnership is still scrambling brains from NP to Dowlais Top. At the start of the season those two guys were unstoppable, Gilbert faded a bit after his shoulder injury, but even coming on as sub today he looked a class act.
In all probability he will return to Arsenal next season, but DJ should have made the most of him. That was a big mistake.
Forde again failed to convince, he collected some difficult crosses, got down smartly to a Stoke free kick in the second half, but does not look a patch on Alexander.
Chopra worked his socks off, but was not getting the service he requires. Thompson's performance was like an extended farewell present to the fans.
He is a workhorse, but he is also a striker, and having scored just six times this season, there is surely nowhere else for him to go. He's a good man, but it would be a mistake to retain him.
Despite Cardiff's early pressure, it was Stoke who made the breakthrough on the half hour, a thunderous half volley from Carl Hoefkens leaving Forde rooted to the spot.
Stoke fans, already fired up by their proximity to the play-offs, raised their game and temporarily put the Cardiff fans to shame with their decibel levels. Depression seeped across the terraces like ectoplasmic slime, and it was a relief to hear the half time whistle.
After the break there was a different mood amongst players and fans. The fight seemed to have returned to the Bluebirds and they gave it their all in an attempt to get back into the game.
Cardiff fans responded in heroic fashion also, roaring the team on with a lung-bursting noise which made the hairs on the back of the neck stand up. The next time Dave Jones starts whingeing about the supporters, someone should play him a recording of the crowd noise today - it was awesome - I salute every one of you.
Despite Cardiff's possession and efforts, the equaliser seemed far away. Thompson was within a whisker of lobbing the ball over Simonsen, but the keeper made a good parrying save.
Chopra hit a tame free kick into the keeper's arms and no end of balls were hit lamely into the centre of the box where they were hoovered up by Matteo and co. Willo Flood came on for Parry and added some momentum. Stoke missed a sitter to kill the game off on 80 minutes.
Finally the moment arrived. On 90 minutes Thompson won a header in the box and the ball fell kindly for Chopra, who buried it without hesitation.
It wasn't much, but somehow it meant everything. Cardiff fans went wild, celebrating as if they had made the play-offs. In truth, the joy was more than a little inspired by the pleasure of watching the celebrating Stoke fans sink into their own mire of gloom.
Their taunts of "Top of the league and you ***ed it up" were trumped with a hearty chorus of "1-0 and you ***ed it up", and given the soul-sapping brain-shredding roller coaster we've been strapped to for the last four weeks, it was a moment of profound pleasure, a catharsis, and recognition that yes, these overpaid jumped-up halfwits on the pitch do care about the badge and the club (not as much as us of course).
They fronted up today and were not found wanting. Three wins from the last three games and we can all have a decent summer. Onwards and freaking upwards.
Paul Davies © 2007.
I thought we deserved a point as we had most of the possession, but we must believe in the way we play.
We are a young side and we have to think that the younger players will learn from their mistakes quickly.
But if I don't think they will reach the level I require I won't hesitate to shift them out and bring new players in, this club will continue to grow
Dave Jones, Cardiff manager.
Cardiff: Forde, McNaughton, Purse (Gilbert 79), Johnson, Gunter, Whittingham, McPhail, Parry (Flood 60), Ledley, Chopra, Thompson..
Subs Not Used:: Alexander, Feeney, Blake.
Goals: Chopra 90.
Stoke: Simonsen, Fortune (Griffin 72), Higginbotham, Zakuani, Dickinson, Hoefkens, Eustace, Matteo (Russell 86), Lawrence, Fuller, Pericard (Paterson 76).
Subs Not Used: Hoult, Martin..
Booked: Hoefkens, Fortune.
» BBC report
« Back to match reports index