It has been a tiring week one way and another and I therefore woke up a little later than usual so there was no time to lose in order to ablute, have breakfast, restorative cup of coffee and take Bentley, my neighbour’s Cairn Terrier who is staying with us for a few days, out for his walk before departing down to Blackwater station for the start of the journey. I always look forward to a game on a Saturday but I have to confess it’s not been much fun watching Blues get beat every week. I didn’t go to last Friday’s match against Leeds or the Tuesday encounter against Wigan. I did watch the former on telly of course and when we equalised I could see us going on to claim the points only for us to concede again almost immediately. It was such a shame that having put in a really good performance and dominated the opposition for much of the game that we should give away three of the easiest gifts since the three wise men turned up in Bethlehem. Our defending is nigh on abysmal and it matters naught how well you play, if you ship goals like those, you ain’t gonna win football matches. This was further highlighted by the soft effort we wrapped up in glittery paper, ribbon and a bow for Wigan on Tuesday. Yet again, another corner; set piece defending errors can and should be minimised by work on the training field and yet every week it seems we await the opposition registering from a corner or free kick which we seem to give away with monotonous regularity. We are constantly chasing the game and even poor sides like Wigan can do the basics especially if they are given something to hold on to and if you as a team are not the most prolific scorers in the world you have a perfect recipe for failure as witnessed by us all these last three months. As for the defence, Shotton reminds me in some ways of Darren Purse; OK for 89 minutes! Dacres-Cogley is not good enough – yet and Robbo is too old, too slow but at least he provides some leadership. The wing backs, given the system we’re playing are meant to bomb forward but they must still drop in when the opposition have it which I don’t feel they do consistently.
It was with an air of pessimistic resignation therefore, that I boarded the Swansea train at Reading for Cardiff Central. I was going to walk the mile or so to the ground and hopefully find a pub where it was touch and go whether I would imbibe enough to blur the vision sufficiently that it didn’t matter how we played but perhaps I’m maudlin too much with the match not yet kicked off. Sometimes when you have played as insipid as we did on Tuesday there is an improvement in performance and there was going to have to be. I arrived around 12.45 and walked towards the ground looking for a likely pub along the way. I didn’t manage to find one and was beginning to think that Cardiff should be added to the list of the world’s deserts when near the ground I met three fellow Blues’ fans who had been told that there was a place called the Gol Centre nearby. We never got there as we happened on the Canton Rugby Club that welcomed football fans of all persuasions and it was here that we stopped to quench our thirsts. After a couple of pints of Smooth and a partial watch of the Italy-France rugby international it was back to the ground. The away end was on the far side of the stadium to our approach as always seems to be the case. A steak and ale pie washed down with another pint and it was up to the stands for kick off. I had to take a picture of a tray of ready poured pints all lined up so that I, the customer, got served in seconds despite the concourse being packed. What a contrast to the dire catering service at St Andrews eh?
The match itself was a gritty attritional contest with no quarter given and of course none expected. Birmingham playing in all red started brightly and showed intent when Nsue surged down the right to set up Craig Gardner for a shot which Allan McGregor in goal saved well to his left. As we have seen frequently in recent times Birmingham’s approach play look neat and tidy up until the point when they got into the attacking third when a misplaced or badly hit pass put paid to any good work that had gone before it. Cardiff showed aggression in the form of fierce shots from range and Rall and Halford both tried their luck but were blocked by the wall of defenders. Robinson, Shotton and Bielik formed the back three with Grounds in for the injured Keita and Nsue the wing back on the right. Young Josh Dacres-Cogley had been taken out of the firing line and was sent to the bench. Kieftenbeld, Tesche and Davis formed a central three with Gardner playing just behind Jutkiewicz up front. The big man should have done better when put clean through but his first touch showed far too much to Sean Morrison who slid across to snuff out the effort before the striker could get his shot off. Morrison later missed one of Cardiff’s best chances when he headed over from close range from a wide free kick from Junior Hoillet. Pilkington had an excellent chance from a 25 yard free kick right in front but his effort landed on the roof of the net to the relief of the travelling contingent who were in good voice and singing lusty songs including the National Anthem, something about whales being bloody great fishes and tunes which touched on the subject of bestiality, the perceived parentage of the hosts and of course how rubbish the lot from across the expressway are and of course, our own Keep Right On! You could say there was something for everybody! 😀
Just before half time Bielik looked to have been tripped in the box but it was miles away from us and I can’t say one way or the other. Bielik was shown a yellow card for his efforts and perhaps the theatrical nature of the fall swayed Mr Bankes’ mind. He had no hesitation pointing to the spot after 54 minutes when from a corner Morrison went down to the floor after contact with Shotton. I’ve since looked at the footage of this incident and it looks to me that whilst Shotton’s hands are on Morrison’s back it is only at the latter part of the Cardiff player’s fall and the home player makes a real meal of it. It looks pretty theatrical and the protests from the home crowd may also have influenced the decision making. It looks soft and this was the view of the pundits on Channel 5 last evening. Nevertheless, Joe Ralls dispatched the kick to Kusczcak’s right and was fortunate that despite a solid hand on the ball it ricocheted into the roof of the net for a lead that didn’t look like coming for either side and for that reason I thought that it was probably game over since we certainly didn’t look like scoring.
Zola sent on Che Adams at this point, replacing Robbo and changing the system to 4-4-2. The game became more open and Kenneth Zohore had two fierce shots which threatened, the second of which nearly caught Kusczcak by surprise with a late swerve but the man between the sticks managed a solid punch for a corner. Craig Gardner had a good chance from a free kick just outside the box late on and his shot dipped awkwardly in front of McGregor and the keeper was very lucky that his defenders were on hand to desperately clear as the ball fell to them rather than the incoming forwards. We were in the final minute when good work by Grounds wriggling out of a tight spot on the left flank found Adams with the ball at his feet. The young man looked up and chipped his cross into Jutkiewicz who for the first time in the game had managed to create enough space to get a run at the ball. He got to it ahead of Morrison and McGregor and despite a point blank save by the latter the ball cannoned back onto the striker and trickled over the line for salvation of 1-1. Make no mistake, it was deserved; for the first time in weeks the ball had actually run for us. You look at the stats and you might get the impression that this was an exciting encounter with shots and chances at both ends; Cardiff had 18 attempts to Birmingham’s 10 each with four on target. The reality is many of the attempts were blocked or wide of the mark which made for an attritional match between two ordinary mid table sides and a draw was about right.
The Good: The fact we actually scored a goal. I had forgotten what it felt like, at least scoring a goal that meant something. The organisation of the catering inside the ground; excellent, just the way it should be done!
The Bad: What appears to constitute a pint of beer in Cardiff (not in the stadium I must add)
The Ugly: People letting off flares after we scored; uncalled for and dangerous in a compact crowd.
Cardiff City: Allan McGregor 6, Jazz Richards 6, Sean Morrison 7, Sol Bamba 7, Joe Bennett 6, Greg Halford 6 (Peter Whittingham 56,6) Anthony Pilkington 7, Aaron Gunnarsson 6, Joe Ralls 7, Junior Hoilett 6 (Kadeem Harris 90+5, N/A) Kenneth Zohore 7.
Subs not used: Declan John, Ibrahim Meite, Brian Murphy, Craig Noone, Harris.
Goals: 8 (pen) 52 min
Yellow cards: Ralls 88
Birmingham City: Tomasz Kusczcak 7, Emilio Nsue 7, Ryan Shotton 6, Jonathan Grounds 7, Krystian Bielik 7 (Josh Dacres-Cogley 90+5, N/A) Paul Robinson 7 (Che Adams 64, 7) Robert Tesche 6, David Davis 6 (Kerim Frei 75, 6) Maikel Kieftenbeld 6, Craig Gardner 7, Lukas Jutkiewicz 7.
Subs not used: Adam Legzdins, Stephen Gleeson, Jacques Maghoma, Greg Stewart.
Goals: Jutkiewicz 89.
Yellow cards: Bielik 45, Davis 46, Shotton 52, Gardner 90+4
Referee: Peter Bankes 5: Pretty mediocre performance. Very quick to give the penalty against us but denied a pretty clear shout for one for us in the second half. I didn’t see the incident where he booked Bielik when he went down in the box at the end of the first period so I can’t comment. (I’ve since seen some footage; see above) However the most blatant miss was a shirt pull on Kieftenbeld’s neck collar when he jumped for the ball. It was on the line of the penalty area and arguably could have been given. The Assistant has to see it and yet nothing given. Very poor all afternoon but the most noticeable thing was that he allowed blatant obstruction to go unpunished; whilst you are allowed to get your body between your opponent and the ball you have to be within playing distance; you cannot just prevent the other player from trying to get to it. I felt this official interpreted the obstruction law incorrectly.