"Set the controls for the heart of the sun. We're coming in."
Read the first (score)line again, and savour it, roll it around your palate like a cheeky and responsive vintage 1811 Veuve Cliquot champagne - I'm sure you had a glass or two last night... then read it again, and then have a look at the Championship table, and then pour yourself another glass - you deserve it.
Celebrating recent victories at the CCS has been somewhat akin to break-dancing drunkenly on the poop deck of the Titanic, a giddy and euphoric high tempered by sporadic reflections upon where that fricking iceberg is. Happy to report that the iceberg was duly melted last night, under the oxy-acetylene dragon-breath of 23,000 hoarse and bonkers Bluebirds who exploded into an orgiastic orgasmic love-in as Chopra fired his 92nd minute winner past dreaming Dorus to win the game for the mighty Cardiff City.
Schadenfreude is a wonderful thing, and as much a part of football's primal rituals as the instinctive innocent uninhibited goal celebrations which were performed all over the blue side of the stadium. To silence the Swansea fans' tedious chants of "You'll never beat the Jacks" in such a cruel, heartless beautiful fashion ramped up the exultation-factor to a ridiculous degree. Callow youths in glasses took their tops off and swung them round their heads San Siro fashion, pudgy middle-aged men pogoed up and down hugging similarly ecstatic granddads, and kids who must have been at their first ever derby celebrated so enthusiastically, you just knew that the import of this fixture had already permeated their very soul.
That's why we stayed in the ground for ten minutes after the game, celebrating our victory, serenading our goofily grinning players on their warm-down, and reminding the ashen stunned away fans of how many teams there are in Wales. A lot of gloating yes, but also a recognition of what we have achieved and the excitement of the short journey we are about to embark upon.
The day began with a late lunch in a crammed Canton watering-hole, pre-match excitement goosed up by a few liveners before an early walk to the stadium. The preponderance of tooled-up robocops (in good humour) was a reminder of the identity of our guests, but the atmosphere on the way to and outside the ground was noticeably less lairy than that other (in)famous late kick-off against Leeds United in 2002. Inside the stadium, the noise intensified as the minutes ticked down to 5.20, and the place erupted volcanically as the teams took to the pitch.
After all the misinformation being spread around about the likely line-up, it was heartening to see a strong Bluebirds team, goalkeeper Marshall protected by Matthews, Capaldi, Gerrard and Blake, midfield of McCormack, Rae, McPhail and Whittingham, with Chops and Bothroyd notionally up front.
It quickly became evident, though, that Dave (4-4-2) Jones had FINALLY come round to the conclusion that playing four against five in midfield is not the way to compete against the ball-hugging Jacks. So, a fluid, 4-5-1 is debuted, spilling seamlessly into a 4-3-3 when the Bluebirds launched their attacks.
Swansea had the edge in the first 30 minutes, controlling the game and enjoying masses of possession. Cardiff, though, tucked in, held their lines and repelled the infrequent attacks when Swansea chose to venture beyond their halfway line. One can applaud their "continental" tactics, their patience, their possession until the cows come home, but ultimately their style of football is innately negative and sterile, and without a goal-scoring demon fairy at the apex of the fancy Christmas tree, their ability to hurt the opposition is limited.
Having said all that, the opening goal was a crushing, withering blow which hammered the fans a lot more than the players - who seemed to recover remarkably quickly. Nathan Dyer and Darren (has ever a player been more accurately named?) Pratley were prospering down the right flank and giving Capaldi a torrid time. No surprise then, that the corner that did the damage came from that side. As well as targeting our left back, Swansea had clearly identified Marshall as one of the weaker links, and tested him numerous times with dipping swinging crosses into the box.
As we have discovered over the past few months, Marshall has all the attributes and fragilities of the much-missed and equally much-maligned Neil Alexander. A sensational shot-stopper, he still does not command his box adequately, punches far too often when he should catch, and flaps when he should punch. The goal came from a wickedly inswinging corner from Orlandi. With no-one on the near post, McPhail having gone walkabout, Ashley Williams did enough to distract/impede Marshall, and may have just got his head to it as it whistled past the goalie's jazz hands.
1-0 to the Swans, and definitely not what the doctor ordered. Prior to the goal, McCormack had wasted an excellent chance, set up by Whitts on the edge of the box, he sidefooted wide of the post.
Roared on by the crowd, City came back into the match and began to influence the contest in midfield, Rae and McPhail making timely interventions and beginning to spin things in Cardiff's favour. Jay Bothroyd was toiling manfully upfront, winning headers, holding up the ball and bringing in the darting terrible twosome Chopra and McCormack.
Judging the moment superbly, the man who hadn't scored since the Chelsea game seized his opportunity with the relish of a hungry man with a point to prove - Bothroyd's perfectly positioned flick being devoured by Michael 'One-shot' Chopra, who unleashed a rocket-powered finish to trigger off scenes of untrammelled joy and chaos. The timing was perfect and a punishing blow for the visitors, who never really recovered.
Chops had an opportunity to lob the keeper shortly after and the Bluebirds finished the first 45 on a high. Half-time Bovrils tasted strangely sweeter after the equaliser, and Cardiff fans waited eagerly for the resumption of hostilities. Something of a stalemate seemed to develop in the second half, with both teams all but ready to accept the one point on offer. If anything, Cardiff strived harder for the winner, and were driven forward by the massive psychological boost of having Ledley appear from the bench to pep up a tiring midfield, Rae having run himself into the ground. Terrific to see Joe back amongst it, and despite being understandably a trifle off the pace, his energy revitalised the team at a critical moment.
Etuhu took McCormack's place on 70 minutes, with the last quarter of the match being a tense and nail-biting war of attrition. Big-boned bellyflopping Shefki Kuqi was the Swans' last roll of the dice, and his physical presence caused some concerns at the back. He very nearly stole it at the end, an excellent glancing header being turned away reflexively by Marshall's legs.
And then it happened. With seconds left of the 3 added minutes, Matthews took a long throw from the right, Ledley headed on and Chops anticipated superbly, controlled with one touch and lashed home with the second. If you were there, you may want to relive the moment here via the wonders of youtube:
Play it again, and again - it's free.
Justice, of a kind, was done. The team playing the football won the match. For all the protestations of the Swansea fans, the possession stats show us evenly matched on 50-50. The stats that matter however are etched indelibly onto the psyche of every walking talking Bluebird - Cardiff 2 Swansea 1. League position 4th, Points 68, Goal difference +19 and Goals scored 69, against 5th, 62, +1 and 34. How many teams in Wales?
Now that the bragging rights have been sorted, we move on to more important matters. A result against Forest could have seismic implications for the end of season shake up. May be too much to expect City to win in Nottingham, but if they did, how much good would that do, following blinding victories against our other two play-off rivals? With West Brom we are officially the form team in the divison, 5 wins and 1 draw from our last 6 games (it would be remiss of me to mention that Swansea are themselves bottom of the form table). We are on an unstoppable roll and surely cannot be denied. Despite everything that's gone wrong this season, the team have battled back superbly.
London is calling to the faraway towns and whoever we meet in the semi-finals and final, I have a strong suspicion that this time we are going to make a nation sit up and listen and admire our footballing prowess. Come on City - we can do this!
A couple of post-scripts:
Good to hear that, apart from a few trashed WCs in the away end (well done lads, a truly moronic response to the trashing of your toilets by our brains trust at the corresponding fixture in November) and the thick-headed exchange of missiles and bits of our stadium, the day passed off without too many unpleasant off-field incidents - 8 arrests from 25,000 is still 8 too many but a laudable stat in context and a tribute to the behaviour of the majority of both sets of fans, the well conducted operation of the South Wales Police and the excellent stewarding of CCFC officials. Can we have our 3 o'clock kick-offs back now please?
Ali is a national treasure round these here parts, but come the big occasion, is there not room for a reduction in volume of the brain-draining techno nonsense, and some time to allow the noise of the crowd to be the dominant sound in the stadium. We are talking pre-match, half-time and post-match here. The atmosphere was spectacular and was not helped by the decibel-defying tannoy tinniness. Whether this be an edict from the club or Sky Sports not wanting their sensitive viewers' ears to be tarnished by the industrial language of a proper Championship derby, it was a nagging thorn in the side - and so easy to rectify. Next time please...
The post-match interviews from both managers stuck in the craw for wildly divergent reasons. Dandy highwayman Paulo 'Prada' Sousa has clearly supped plentifully from Arsene Wenger's Cup of Sour Grapes, and was spectacularly ungracious and wildly delusional in defeat. According to Lord Gaga, "once again, we proved today that we are better than our opponents". Uh? Remind me again Paulo who won the game, scored more goals and snarfed up the three points. Enjoy the moral high ground - we will enjoy the victory.
Dave Jones was reasoned in his tactical summary, but could not let it lie when considering the accusations of his detractors that he undervalues the South Wales derby. Seeming to enjoy shoving it up them more than the actual victory, he ended up sounding paranoid, petty and vindictive. An irascible old curmudgeon you may be, but we love you Dave! You will never be a fans' favourite like Scoular, May or Burrows, but why should you care? You may just be about to become the most successful manager in our lifetimes, so let's get on with it and stop sniping at the fans at the most inopportune of moments. Dave Jones' critics should officially now back off also.
Let's not get sidetracked by trivialities at this momentous time - with refreshed players returning to the squad at exactly the right moment, we may have the luxury of selecting a team to do battle in the Play-Offs from a totally fully fit squad - with confidence gushing through their pumped-up veins.
And let us not worry about their mental strength and bravado - unlike last season's miserable surrender, the past three games have shown that like Viz's Buster Gonad, every one of those players may need a wheelbarrow to carry around their super-size cojones as the season reaches its conclusion.