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"It's only Cardiff City, but I like it..."
As 17,000 slightly disappointed Bluebirds shuffled along Sloper Road, with Coldplay's Chris Martin crooning "Nobody said it was easy…" in their lugholes, it was hard not to feel miffed at the way three points was thrown away in such cavalier fashion - in all honesty two defensive blunders had done for us today - Purse beaten to Steve Howard's header at the far post and McNaughton not closing down Derby winger Jackson who crossed for Giles Barnes' pretty darned special net-busting volley.#
And yet, we remain perched imperiously atop the Championship table, having somehow extended our lead to 4 points and retained the ever-important goal difference of +15. So who's complaining?
A swirling wind and a persistent drizzle swept across Ninian Park at kick-off, and the first of the vocal tributes to Sam Hammam rang out from the Grange End after about twenty seconds. Sam took the plaudits quietly and left the team to take the spotlight, this was never going to be a "walking round the pitch" swansong - if you'll pardon my language!
Overall, this was not one of our better performances, and there were tedious spells interrupted by flashes of footballing brilliance which hinted at a more convincing performance which never quite materialised. Not quite as sharp in thought and deed as we have come to expect, there was a lacklustre edge to much of City's work.
Derby were functional and effective but lacked real creativity and didn't demonstrate why they had picked up 4 victories on the road this season. Their play was summed up by shaven-headed hulk Seth Johnson (yet another Leeds connection!), whose dogged, muscular, unrelenting approach was replicated across the team.
Despite this, City had a plethora of chances in a first half which they totally dominated, most of which fell to the tireless, defence-bamboozling Bradley Walsh look-alike Michael Chopra. Neither he, nor the City faithful could quite believe his profligacy, as he hit shots either side of the post and against the woodwork.
The best of these involved a beautiful Chopra dummy, a slick flick on by the Thommohawk kid, and a sweet finish which somehow contrived to miss the goal. A forty yard run from Ledley led to Chopra's easiest chance, a sitter which he blasted wide.
After half an hour, Derby's Jon Stead had a goal disallowed for a shirt pulling offence inside the area - a lead they would have barely deserved.
Fortified by their half-time oranges and aptly named coach Julian Darby's pep talk, the Rams countered positively at the start of the second half, but first blood went to the Bluebirds - Loovens eventually breaking the deadlock on 52 minutes with a powerful downward header from Parry's corner, his first goal this season, and boy did we need it.
Within 15 minutes Derby were level - a cross from the right and Purse lost his man as Howard headed in. It was a rare mistake from Purse, who had another strong game at the heart of the defence, first alongside the dependable Loovens, and when Loovens was substituted after a bad collision which resulted in a cheek injury, with the equally impressive Roger Johnson.
The stand-in centre back Johnson is what we know in the trade as a "talker", his bellicose ear-bashing of fellow Bluebirds being clearly heard at the back of the Bob Bank.
Cardiff fought gamely back, Parry and Ledley launching charges down both wings and through the middle, before a cleverly worked move allowed Chops to fire home his eighth goal of the season on 74 minutes.
Game over, you would have thought, but City decided to push on for a third instead of locking the doors at the back, and allowed Derby to get back in their faces.
Keystone Cops defending by the visitors nearly gifted Cardiff a third goal, but with just one minute of the added four left on the clock, McNaughton allowed Jackson to cross into the box, where the ball eventually fell kindly for substitute Barnes who walloped it into the back of the net, causing the sizeable contingent of Rams fans to celebrate long after the final whistle went.
A sideways step after last week, with a few players looking leggy and under-par, but the damage done was minimal, and we should be aiming to pick up 8 points from the next four matches - draws at Sunderland and Colchester followed by resounding victories against Burnley (a big big game) and QPR would leave us in a very strong position at the top as we head into the Xmas craziness.
As the breathless early season euphoria levels out, It's getting harder and harder to keep the run going, but with DJ at the helm and the wind of 20,000 Bluebirds at their backs the team are more than capable of sustaining this incredible promotion challenge.
Stats fans will have noticed that we are now one point behind where Reading were at the same stage last season, everyone is out to get us, but, hey, bring 'em on!
Post Match Post Script - State of the Bluebirds Nation
Much to the delight of our detractors and enemies within, the boom went briefly bust at Carrow Road, as the Canaries clipped the Bluebirds' wings (in how many newspapers did you read that dog-eared headline last week?) as the absence of Chopra contributed to a poor performance and the second defeat of the season.
Even before the match had ended, the focus had been shifted to boardroom reshuffles, and the following seven days saw a geyser-like gush of information, misinformation and disinformation about the resignation of Hammam, the promotion of Ridsdale and a shed-load of stories about the stadium.
Lacking the financial muscle (and the confidence of the Council?) to push the stadium project forward, Hammam has stepped down, Ridsdale taking control having mysteriously masterminded a consortium of hedge funds to purchase the club and wipe out the debts in 14 months time - in the process releasing cash for new players in January.
Some of the more feverish myopic Ridsdale supporters have cited Leeds' Premiership and Champions League success as somehow being worth their current slide towards relegation and ignominy, but the vast majority of Cardiff fans are taking a more reasoned and considered approach to Ridsdale's elevation - happy to surf along on a wave of Bluebirds success, provided our future is not being all placed on number 13 on football's metaphorical roulette wheel.
A prominent article in The Guardian questioned whether Ridsdale should even be allowed to run a football club after the Beirut-like state he left Elland Road in.
For the prosecution was James Brown (not the hardest working man in showbiz, but the ex NME journalist and Loaded editor), for the defence was no-mark actor and "celebrity fan" (well he was in Nuts and Bolts) Jonathan Owen, whose general thrust about Cardiff being a real no-frills club that would be welcomed back to a Premiership bloated on prawn sandwiches and comfy seats, was somewhat undermined by his barely disguised and retarded fondness for Cardiff's hooligan reputation.
And as much as we salute the work done by the club and supporter's groups to rehabilitate the name of Cardiff City, which has brought real and tangible changes to the environs of Ninian Park and its attendant atmosphere, a reality check litmus test of Cardiff's current reputation was provided by the blogged responses to the article, which were almost universally negative in their description and perception of Cardiff fans.
There is still a long long way to go, and the club must be much more pro-active in highlighting the progress made and plotting the way forward.
Sam's legacy remains wrapped up in polarised hot and cold running sentiments - successes offset by the reckless financial mismanagement and proximity to administration.
Of course some of Sam's bizarre and outlandish schemes were fantastic - I was quietly looking forward to marching through Canton to the Millennium Stadium for the Play-Off Final behind Sam and his elephant, but for every genius off-the-wall idea, there were usually half a dozen rubbish cringe-worthy ones ("bigger than Barcelona", "waging war with the English", Cardiff Celts, schmoozing the Soul Crew etc).
It would be churlish to deny Sam's moment in the spotlight, and we are all appreciative of his involvement in getting us to the foothills of the Premiership El Dorado (still a ridiculously long way to go, mind). But in the life of a football club, six years is but the blink of an eye.
Managers and chairmen come and go, and we have had our share of the good the bad and the ugly. Dave Jones is already up there with Scoular, Frank Burrows and Eddie May, and is hopefully going to eclipse the lot of them. Owners and chairmen, by definition, occupy a more peripheral and distrustful position, the twin peaks of ego and greed often militating against a genuine love for the club.
As a manager loses the dressing room, then so did Sam lose the terraces on the day that the wheels came off the charabanc and the accumulated debts imploded and threatened the club's very existence.
By this time weary fans had become inured to Sam's boastful blather, but were shell-shocked when the whole team was put up for sale - losing talismanic Cardiff hero Earnshaw was the tipping point, departures of Kavanagh, Collins, Gabbidon and Thorne merely rubbed our noses in it.
In an eerie parallel to Leeds' collapse, the fans took cold comfort in the brief boom years and play-off victory whilst the foundations subsided and we were seemingly fast-tracking a return trip to palookaville.
The club, of course was brought back from the brink (again!), and we shouldn't underestimate Sam's role in securing DJ's services and keeping the momentum going. But ultimately the bedrock and lifeblood of this football club is its supporters, we were here many years before Sam, and will be here long after he has disappeared into the sunset.
As to what happens next, Peter Ridsdale and the nameless money men behind the privet hedges would be well advised to do everything in their power to keep Dave Jones happy - as the seasonal sack race gathers pace, his managerial stock is at an all-time high, and he could walk into virtually any vacant Championship/Premiership hotseat. More than the stadium, this man is the key to our future.
Paul Davies © 2006
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