Cardiff 1 Wolverhampton Wanderers 2
Championship, November 1st 2008
"We're not very good, we're not very good ... (neither are Wolves, mind!)".
Last time out I suggested that it was high time that DJ decided whether Eddie Johnson was either an asset or a liability. Fifteen minutes into a crucial Championship encounter today, Jones made that call in what must have been the most humiliating public put-down ever seen at Ninian Park. Reeling from the hammer-blow of two gormlessly conceded goals within eight custard-pie spattered minutes, our number two striker goes down with what is clearly a serious injury, and after lengthy attention limps off gingerly holding his hamstring. We have one striker on the bench, we have an ideal opportunity to finally give him the opportunity he has been begging for, seventy five minutes to convince the fans that DJ's bluster about how Eddie will come good soon is more than just self-delusional kidology.
Jones instead delivers a knockout blow to Johnson's glass jaw confidence and brings on makeweight mediocrity Miguel Comminges, whose performances have slid alarmingly downhill since the impressive pre-season outings on the Algaaaarve. Ledley pushes up into his rightful place on the left hand side of midfield, Fromage takes left back and Parry is given the stand-in striker role - a radical team shake-up because Jones has no faith in Johnson. It is a masterstroke of ironic tactical tinkeration which singlehandedly befuddles the terraces and confirms every lurking thought about Johnson's ability to make a contribution at this level.
Ironic because after weeks of unrest and outright barracking from the bone-headed contingent at NP, the fans had come around to the idea that yes, we do not have a pot to piss in, yes we may have been sold a pup in E Johnson, but in the absence of anything else in the changing room resembling a striker, he is after all our pup, a Cardiff City player, and therefore worthy (and very much in need) of our support . All these positive vibes blown away in seconds by DJ. As it 'appens events were to take a turn for the worse later on and Johnson did get his chance, but more of that later. City fans are often depicted as the most fickle in the village, and yet they have bent over backwards to alllow for Johnson's appalling start at the club - now it's time for the boy to do some payback.
Wolves' lowlife supporters disgraced themselves at Ninian Park two seasons ago, ripping up seats and fighting with stewards, and have rightfully been punished into bubbling their fans to Cardiff in the two subsequent fixtures. It was clear that they had not even sold their full (diminished) allocation, and the reduced numbers barely made their presence felt vocally - robbing the big-game fixture of any semblance of big-match atmos. Cardiff fans did their best to roar on the team, particularly during the latter stages of the second half, but overall this did not feel like a top-of-table clash - the football served up certainly did not reflect the lofty ambitions of these two teams.
Wolves, let's be honest, were brazenly underwhelming, and I will be staggered and disappointed if they achieve automatic promotion. From back to front they are built in the image of the proverbial brick outhouse, they are this year's Stoke or Watford - footballing hod carriers and artisans, a world away from the artistry and sexy football of last year's champions West Brom. There are many things wrong with Cardiff City, but Dave Jones can at least be complimented upon urging his team to play football the "proper" way, a fast passing game which they are not always capable of maintaining and tend to abandon when under duress, but which remains at the bedrock of everything they do.
Wolves have two very good central defenders in Stearman and Mancienne, who devoured virtually everything thrown at them during this game. Untroubled is the adjective most fitting to describe them. At the other end of the pitch the bruising battering ram double act of Ebanks-Blake and Iwelumo caused Purse and Johnson lots of problems with their sheer physical presence, but any objective observer would concede that McCormack is the superior striker, by a mile, and the stats confirm that. Michael Kightly was Wolves' best player - fast creative and full of running, he tormented Comminges down the flank. Overall though, Wolves look an inelegant, robotically functional, one-dimensional outfit, who City would more than likely have turned over, had those catastrophic injuries not sabotaged the fightback.
The Sky Sports curse kicked in early today, the Cardiff defence still adjusting their make-up as Mancienne nodded a high ball over the top, which Roger Johnson disastrously missed. Iwelumo was through on goal and parried a feeble challenge from Ledley before firing easily past Heaton. Pre-match optimism in tatters, the crowd barely had time to fill the air with foul-mouthed expletives before Wolves were two up - again profiting from a calamitous defensive mix-up as Purse and co did a Tony Adams and watched in clueless helpless impotence as Ebanks-Blake beat the laughably baited offside trap and slid a well-executed shot past a flailing Heaton. Eight minutes in and it was already game over. Or was it?
The Cardiff team exhibited more heart than the disconsolate souls on the terraces and staged a rousing comeback. Stung into action by the shock of two soft goals, Cardiff attacked with purpose and venom. Whittingham was tremendous in the first half, controlling the play with superb raking passes, going past players with ease and creating all sorts of chances. The injury to Bothroyd threatened to divert City's efforts to get back on terms, but the players adapted well to the changes and caused Wolves more than a few moments of worry.
McCormack's goal was a dream set-up and a superb finish - Comminges played a neat pass along the wing to Parry who sped towards the line before launching a testing ball into the box. McCormack evaded his markers, took one touch and leathered the bouncing bomb into the net.
McCormack was clearly as deliriously happy as the punters leaping up and down on all four sides of the ground, but can anyone explain the bizarre finger-wiggling devils' horns celebration? Is he really a child of Beelzebub?
Cardiff were understandably as fired up as the crowd after that, and swamped Wolves for a solid twenty minute spell. The equaliser remained frustratingly out of reach, though, as Cardiff yet again failed to capitalise on their domination of an unambitious Wolves team which was content to sit tight and await gaps in the Cardiff back four as the Bluebirds moved forward. With the Wolves central defensive pair locked tight as a unit, City ran out of steam before half time, and even at that early stage the game seemed to be disappearing over the horizon.
The beginning of the second half saw the Blues benefit from an injection of impetus, and were so close to an equaliser after 55 minutes. McCormack burst through the centre and was favourite to reach the ball as he cleared the perimeter of the penalty area, only to be criminally clipped and upended by a gasping Wolves defender. A stonewall penalty and a clear sending-off were waved away by the unimpressed ref. Worse was to follow, with McCormack left in a heap in the box, the physio came on and administered what appeared to be treatment for cramp. It was quickly apparent that McCormack was unable to continue, and so finally Eddie J got his big chance, with Dave Jones' bench exposed as a busted flush.
Terminal depressives in the crowd started packing up their thermos flasks at this stage and prepared mentally for the arrival of full time and a plummet down the table. The plain facts are that Cardiff without McCormack are a toothless beast - there was industry and application, but the end product was sadly lacking - the attack had no focal point, and aside from a long range Roger J shot, a tantalisingly close RJ effort at the far post and a last-minute EJ strike from close range which Ikeme bravely blocked, the equaliser looked beyond them.
In fairness to Eddie J, he put a good shift in, won plenty of ball and was full of positive running and genuinely played well enough to suggest that he may have something to offer as a supplementary striker. A goal for him at the end of an action-packed game would have done wonders for his confidence, but despite Cardiff's territorial advantage they did not truly do enough to merit that equaliser. Wolves smashed, grabbed and mugged a naive Cardiff defence.
The prospect of weeks without Bothroyd and McCormack whilst they both recover from hamstring injuries is a gloomy one - the transparent nature of the squad's resources has already been tested and found wanting. Emergency loan signings are needed and they are needed NOW. Even before that, certain members of the squad need to ratchet up their performance levels rapidly. Parry was again hopeless, off-the-pace, whingeing and moaning about the balls he wasn't getting - he looked like a player who hadn't played up front before, ever. Ledley also had a poor game - he was listless and unconvincing in almost all he did. Comminges had an absolute stinker - he looks like a third choice left back, and aside from his contribution to the first goal, his defensive frailties and attacking timidity were horribly evident. Jones' persistence in keeping the excellent, versatile Darcy Blake on the bench is mind-boggling.
Heaton was awful - sloppy and undecided in the box, his distribution was again appalling - booting into the crowd, to the opposition goalkeeper and taking aeons to decide what to do with it, with his back four screaming for the ball. With the team cut down by the forced withdrawal of two of our most effective players, it is unfair to come to too many damning conclusions, but for much of the game we looked tame and ordinary, and will struggle to remain in contention for the play-offs unless a pronounced improvement from key players is delivered. Seventh placed QPR are next up - seven days to get bodies in, battered limbs better and brains back on track.
Paul Davies © 2008.
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