| Cardiff 3 Leicester 2
Championship, January 27th 2007
...Fox(es) on the run...
Having supped heartily in the last chance saloon over the past 10 weeks, the team scored a staggeringly unexpected victory at Molineux last Saturday in front of no fans (not even the famous blimp), in a game which may well be regarded as the turning point of the season.
After falling away badly from the rarefied upper atmosphere at the summit (good up there though innit?), the time was nigh to get collective butts in gear and go on a run.
With four eminently winnable games ahead before the cruel ides of Feb/March kick in, victories are not just desirable, but vital, if we are to hold on to a play-off spot.
Today the boys responded in some style, echoing the sky-strafing excellence of early season form with some dynamite, precise, attacking play and a simply spellbinding hat-trick from monster-man Michael Chopra.
Some of his critics must be feeling monumentally foolish after that performance, having dismissed his already significant goal haul as perhaps a little flukey.
Today was a masterclass from MC Chops, a goal tally of 16 now which should swell to 20/25 by the end of the season, a fantastic achievement in his very first season with the club.
Do not underestimate the quality of those three goals - watch them on the TV and realise that this fella is quality incarnate - if they had been scored in the Premiership he would have been splashed across every back page this morning.
Full marks to the crowd today as well (those of us who bothered to turn up) - the best rendition of Monster, rocking around three sides of the ground, ever to be heard at NP.
If those Automatic boys haven't got the message yet, a new version with the correct lyrics would storm the charts - get on it boys - you knows it make sense!
Chopra was outstanding, and if we had gone home at 3-0, then we would have no doubt hailed the team performance as equally star-crossed. In reality, the team see-sawed between brilliance and ineptitude - defensive shakiness surely not unrelated to the missing crazy baldhead Darren Purse.
Roger Johnson is a sound player - aggressive, skilful, commanding in the air, but his understanding with Loovens is not as it should be.
Gilbert also looked vulnerable on the right, he has not regained the form he maintained so consistently prior to his injury. And if McNaughton was fit, why was Joe Ledley at left back? Recent performances should have dictated that Ledders was given a rest, McNaughton taking left back and Whittingham installed on the left of midfield.
As it was, Joe stepped in at left back, and did not look happy. Early doors, Cardiff were generally awful, hitting inaccurate passes everywhere, slower to the punch, and generally off-topic and off-colour.
Leicester, on the other hand, were lively and caused a few moments of unease in the defence, a situation which was repeated at various times throughout the afternoon, despite the distinctly shop-worn quality of their players.
A couple of early corners created disarray in the Cardiff back four, and a wickedly hit volley from just outside the box caused Alexander's heart to flutter.
Seeming to wake up and sense the importance of this fixture about 15 minutes in, Cardiff started to play a bit, and it became evident that Chops was intent on bagging some well-needed goals after his fallow spell.
A crisply struck Whittingham free-kick was Cardiff's first real effort, followed by a powerful Loovens header which was just tipped over. Ricky Balboa Scimeca took a terrible kick in the face, and from the resultant free-kick Chopra curled an unstoppable shot over the wall and into the top left hand corner of the goal, leaving the keeper no chance.
A blinding goal, which clearly sent a chain reaction of confidence zipping round the team.
Team fulcrum Scimeca limped off towards half-time with a hamstring injury which may keep him out for a month. McNaughton filled in in the centre, and there were some furrowed brows around the ground, as the fans contemplated what this relatively lightweight midfield would be subject to in the second half.
McNaughton, though, sporting a freshly scalped no. 1 haircut, filled in admirably and the balance of the team was not unduly affected - as a messageboard regular has noted, if Kev had switched places with Ledley we would have had 4 left-footers in midfield!
Cardiff continued to dominate for the rest of the half, Thompson striking a fierce shot straight at goalie Henderson, and Parry being denied a penalty after being pole-axed in the box.
Leicester's profligacy in front of goal proved decisive at the start of the second half. Iain Hume, who had impressed in the first half, missed a jaw-droppingly easy opportunity to equalise when presented with an open goal, hoofing it wide to the relief and derision of the home fans. This seemed to galvanise the Bluebirds into taking control of the game again.
On 57 minutes, a sweetly struck Ledley ball found Chopra advancing upon goal from an awkward angle with the keeper having already foolishly committed himself. Chops took a nanosecond to assess the situation before lofting the ball exquisitely past the stranded gk into a welcoming net. Dare we say, a world class finish?
Henderson, who may yet regret taking to the field in the no 13 jersey, had a nightmare afternoon, making the wrong decision again and again.
Dithering between him and full back McCarthy presented Thompson with the ball on the edge of the penalty area, and with Henderson marooned, Thommo deftly held on to the ball, and even after the chance had seemed to evaporate, managed to slide it across to Chopra, who evaded a desperate challenge and hooked it into the net to complete a fabulous hat-trick. The place was rocking and baying for more goals.
In customary full-on Cardiff City style, though, this was not to be, after the celebration came the sufferation, and two shoddily conceded last-gasp efforts made for a tense final few minutes.
The first headed goal from Kisnorbo could be put down to a lapse in concentration, the second was another Alexander near-post blunder, and will add fuel to the fire for the anti-Alexander camp.
They can rightly argue that whilst the man has probably had his best season for the club, and is normally a very good shot-stopper, he is still less than commanding in his area, vulnerable at set-pieces and is hopeless at distributing the ball - 90% of his clueless punts upfield are gobbled up by the Championship hod-carriers like penguins catching fish - that's not the way to build attacks!
Having said all that, now is not the time to drop the man, with an unproven inexperienced deputy on the bench - that way madness lies. Whatever happens, he is unlikely to be Cardiff's No.1, let alone Scotland's, come the start of the 2007/2008 season.
Those late goals inevitably took the edge of a pleasing afternoon's football - the crowd particularly enjoyed the substitution of the injured referee, and gave his replacement a bellicose good-humoured battering after he took to the pitch.
DJ will be mortified by the defensive lapses and praying that Purse will be back soon. More importantly we lost those two precious goals in the GD column, which could prove to be so important.
On the face of it, Barnsley is a home banker, but it's Friday, it's on Sky, there are likely to be less than 10,000 in the ground, so who knows? Wins against Barnsley, Coventry and Leeds are the insurance we need as we then gear up to the prospect of almost successive games against West Brom, Preston, Birmingham, Southampton, Derby and Sunderland (four of which are away from home). Preston at home may be the key to it all - beat them and the play-offs are on.
Buoyed up by the recent upturn in performances and results, the cloud on the horizon is that the transfer window is about to close with no clear indications that we are going to get some bodies in. Jason Byrne (in the 120 seconds he was given today) totally looked the part - pacey, skilful (a brilliant swivel and turn past a flat-footed defender) and aggressive, but we are still short of quality cover in midfield and upfront. C'mon Ridsdale, flash some cash - it's now or never.
©Paul Davies 2007
We make life difficult for ourselves, maybe it's the youth of the back four, but sometimes we tie ourselves in knots.
But the three goals that Chops (Michael Chopra) has scored are fantastic and that eases a little bit of the nerves.
But you learn how to be winners, some of them have not been at this stage at a football club ever.
Dave Jones, Cardiff manager.
Cardiff: Alexander, Gilbert, Loovens, Johnson, Ledley, Whittingham (Flood 75), McPhail, Parry, Scimeca (McNaughton 35), Chopra, Thompson (Byrne 90). Subs Not Used: Forde, Campbell.
Goals: Chopra 21, 57, 69.
Southend: Henderson, Maybury, Kisnorbo, McCarthy, McAuley, Hughes, Williams, Wesolowski (Johnson 46), Porter (Cadamarteri 79), Hume, Fryatt (Hammond 44).
Subs Not Used: Logan, Stearman.
Goals: Kisnorbo 71, Hammond 89.
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