Having had to endure so many games involving City sides who could not hold a candle to the current one, it’s not too often that I get downright angry watching us play these days. However, after Peter Whittingham self indulgently sent a free kick from a dangerous position high and wide in the dying minutes (apart from one early shot which forced a routine save from Speroni in the Palace goal, Whittingham’s dead ball delivery was way below par all night), I decided I had seen enough and, with my blood pressure no doubt at a dangerously high level, made for the exits.
On the rare occasions when I do get really annoyed at a City game now I usually find that a night’s sleep tends to restore a sense of perspective, but it hasn’t this time around. Maybe I am over reacting, but I still feel a sense of anger towards the team and our manager following a display which made the poor fare seen on Saturday against Millwall look almost Barcelona like by comparison.
Actually, it would be wrong to say that my annoyance stems just from last night’s match, it’s more to do with the series of games we have played in the last fortnight. In his post match interview, Kevin McNaughton said with the sort of honesty he always shows on the pitch that we have not performed for the past five matches as he included our win over Hull in the series of sub par performances we have seen from the team lately, but I think he is being a bit harsh there because, although we weren’t great against Hull, we always seemed to be in control.
No, for me, it’s been the past four matches where we have significantly under performed and I think what is getting me increasingly wound up is the way that various players have come out before each of these matches and said something like, yes we do have injuries to important players, but we have enough ability amongst those who are still fit to maintain the standards we expect. Despite all of the talk, the past four games have seen us perform collectively to a standard more suited to the lower reaches of the Championship while, on an individual basis, it’s hard to think of anyone who has maintained a decent standard throughout the last few games.
There was talk before we played Palace of there being “no more excuses” for poor performances, but there was still an air of complacency amongst the team as they knocked the ball around sideways and backwards almost believing that Palace’s woeful away record meant that goalscoring chances would be handed to them on a plate (the one time that happened, Chris Burke wasn’t up to the task of putting away a pretty easy opportunity). Now, with City set up to play more of a 4-5-1 system last night, I can understand the need for patience in our passing, but, eventually, someone has got to produce something which attempts to hurt the opposition – that didn’t happen last night (or over the previous three matches).
Trying to find good performances from the outfield players is a hard task – I suppose the better displays came from the back four, but, truth be told, all they did was perform to an adequate standard. As for the six in front of them, I am afraid the word dross springs to mind -I’ll qualify that a bit to say that some leeway should be given to Seyi Olofinjana who, apparently, has done very little training since he went off against Hull and, although he is some way short of his best form, Chris Burke at least gave the impression during the second half that he was trying his hardest to make something happen, but as for the other four? Whittingham and Koumas (more on him later) looked laboured, one paced and not suited to playing alongside each other, Keogh (as he so often is sadly) was on the edge of things and Bothroyd gave one of those performances that so frustrates while also picking up a ridiculous booking for behaving like a prima donna.
The obvious man of the match for City was Tom Heaton as he produced a decent save from a Garvan header, a good stop from a Clyne shot and a brilliant tip away from a point blank header from Dorman when his team mates fell asleep in allowing Palace to work a short corner routine. The latter two of those saves came early in the second half as City showed with their lack of purpose and urgency that Dave Jones’ half time team talk had singularly failed to have the desired effect.
In the purely black and white terms that form so much of football opinion, I am Dave Jones supporter. I think he has done a good job overall over the past five and a half years and I, increasingly, find myself thinking that he may well be the best manager I have seen at the club, but, for me, he had a poor night of it against Palace. My gripe with the manager stemmed not so much from the system he used which gradually became more of a 4-4-2 as the match progressed, but more with his non use of substitutes and then, when he finally got around to making his only change to a team that had barely threatened the opposition goal in eighty minutes, it was one which was defensive in nature!
It needs to be said of course that Dave Jones has had far stronger benches at his disposal than the one we had last night (where was McPhail?), but, even so, there were still options available to him. I still can’t figure out why it was Paul Quinn who replaced Lee Naylor and not Adam Matthews. If we were really trying to win the game last night, then Matthews’ supremacy over Quinn in the attacking department surely had to overcome any reservations about his defensive qualities or is the youngster still suffering for what happened at Ipswich - it does not reflect well on our manager if that is the case.
It’s also worth remembering what happened with our second goal against Hull when Aaron Wildig’s clever little pass from just inside the penalty area found Gavin Rae who scored from about eight yards out – Koumas and Whittingham never came up with a pass that caused as much damage as Wildig’s did and neither of them got into the sort of position which Rae did that day when scoring. Wildig and/or Rae would have at least made runs from deep positions into the penalty area and would have made Bothroyd less isolated than he was for much of the second half – they might also have added a bit of drive to our midfield play (on the subject of drive, I see some on the messageboards have been saying that the player we really missed last night was Michael Chopra but I would say that it was crying out for Danny Drinkwater who provided so much energy and momentum in the middle of the park earlier in the season).
Finally, I usually find a couple of action shots to include in these reviews of matches, but it says so much about last night’s game that I could only find the one. It also seems somehow appropriate that the picture shows the five foot seven inch Edgar Davids comfortably outjumping Jason Koumas who is three inches taller than him – unfortunately, that picture almost provides a commentary on Koumas’ second spell at Cardiff. After the game Dave Jones said that it was good that Koumas had got another ninety minutes under his belt and it might be that, despite the fact that he has been with us for nearly two months now, he still isn’t right physically, but watching him last night tended to confirm a suspicion I have had for a while now – are his problems more mental than physical? I say that because I kept on thinking “he doesn’t want to be out there” to myself as he played his oh so safe passes to one of the back four or arrived just too late for a challenge on an opposing player.
If last night’s game had taken place in 2005/06, the closing stages would have seen Jason Koumas demanding the ball as he tried, almost single handedly, to turn one point into three. He would have been drifting in from the wide position he had started the match in and would have been the focal point of our attacking play. Instead of that though we had the sight of him stuck out on the left wing barely featuring in the game as attack after attack floundered – even if he was under orders to stay out on the left, the Koumas of old would have been unable to resist getting more involved but, it seems, that desire is no longer there. I hope I am wrong in what I am saying, not just because it will be great for City if Koumas does start performing as we know he can do, but also because he was such an exciting player to watch during that season when we were privileged to watch a real craftsman at work – come on Jason, there were 20,000 plus there last night who all really want you to succeed with us.by The other Bob Wilson
Although Saturday’s heavy defeat at Derby tended to confirm the suspicion that it is going to be a long, hard winter for the South London side, I wouldn’t mind betting that after the game some Crystal Palace fans were casting their mind back seven years to the 2003/04 season. In November 2003 I can remember watching Palace being thrashed 5-0 by Wigan in a televised match that was even more one sided than that scoreline suggests – that defeat left Steve Kember’s side just outside the bottom three with only one win from their previous thirteen matches (no prizes for guessing who that came against!).
Hardly surprisingly, Kember lost his job two later as ex Wales player Kit Symons took over in a caretaker capacity. Symons stayed in charge for almost two months during which time results improved marginally, but Palace were still deep in the relegation mire when Iain Dowie was appointed manager a couple of days before Christmas. Dowie made an ignominious start on Boxing Day as local rivals Millwall went home with the points after a 1-0 win at Selhurst Park saw his new side looking over their shoulders in twentieth position with just twenty one matches and sixty three points left to play for.
A little over three months later Palace came to Ninian Park for what was a vital game for both sides. City’s very promising displays over the opening few months of their first season back in the second tier in eighteen years had seen them get as high as sixth in the table just before Christmas, but patchy results since then meant that they were now four points away from that last Play Off position with six matches to play in need of a very strong end to the campaign if they were to extend their season. Given what what I had said above about Palace, you would have thought that their need for points would have had more to do with what was going on in the bottom three of the league rather than the top six, but an incredible run which had seen them win eleven of their last seventeen matches meant that they were just a point below City with a game in hand.
Ten points from their previous four games meant that City were in good form going into the match, but Palace had an ominous momentum behind them and on the day they proved too good for City as their 2-0 win all but ended our hopes while also prolonging the visitor’s amazing sequence of results which would eventually see them making sixth place despite losing their final match at Coventry. Palace’s promotion seemed almost inevitable after that and, sure enough, they secured their place in the Premiership with a 1-0 win over West Ham at the Millennium Stadium in a nondescript match that almost made our win over QPR twelve months earlier look good (oh for a crap 1-0 win at Wembley last May!).
Something that made City’s defeat that bit more galling was that someone who could have been playing for us played a prominent part in Palace’s promotion. Left winger Julian Gray had been on loan at Cardiff for a couple of months earlier in the season and with him in dispute with Palace over a new contract, it was widely assumed in those innocent days before everyone realised that we were skint, that Sam Hammam would splash the cash yet again to make Gray’s move to Ninian Park a permanent one. Instead though we went for a much cheaper option in Paul Parry (who, to be fair, represented good value for money given we got five and a half seasons out of him).
Gray was still determined to leave Selhurst Park despite Palace’s promotion though and, for a while, Lennie Lawrence made noises about bringing him here on a Bosman, but that was never going to happen with other Premiership clubs interested in him and he ended up signing for Birmingham, who often used him as a left back, before going on to Coventry, Fulham and Barnsley – he’s now playing for Walsall and scored for the League One strugglers on Saturday.
Looking back now at Gray’s short spell with us, what strikes me is that he didn’t really have any outstanding facets to his game – he was quick but not lightening fast, skilful, but not outstandingly so and his crossing was usually into the right areas. Gray may not have provided many memorable moments while with City, but it’s worth noting that we lost just one of the nine matches he featured in, five of them were won and with seventeen goals scored, we averaged virtually two goals a game in that time. Based on his spell with us, I would say that Julian Gray has made a decent career for himself by being good at many of the various factors that make for an effective wide player – this makes him a difficult opponent who doesn’t have many weaknesses that can be exploited.
Going back to the game, it’s tempting to say that the most memorable thing Gray did was when he gave an Ayatollah during the first half (which very clearly annoyed his manager!) when requested to by the home fans, but that would be to ignore the part he had to play in the vital first goal which came ten minutes into the second half of an encounter that had seen Palace contain City with few alarms in the first half. Gray was put clear down the left and sent over a fine cross which was desperately scrambled away from the onrushing Dougie Freedman, only for the ball to fall to Andy Johnson who was able to tap it into an empty net.
City huffed and puffed away after that, but, without the injured Kavanagh and Thorne, there was barely a threat to the visitor’s goal and the closing stages of the match were most notable for the part played by another player who featured in plenty of stories about him coming to Cardiff permanently even though we never had anything like the money needed to sign him. Nineteen year old Wayne Routledge was just about the best player on the pitch that day and didn’t he know it! Routledge’s performances in the early part of his loan spell with us during 08/09 established him as real crowd pleaser, but from the perspective of an opposing fan that afternoon six and a half years ago, he was annoyingly good and, by the end, he was taking the piss at times.
City lost Tony Vidmar to a second yellow card with five minutes to go and Routledge got the goal his performance deserved two minutes later when a sweet one two with Johnson put him in on goal and ,with the confidence he had shown all afternoon, he found the net with a shot across Martyn Margetson.
Routledge looked a tremendous prospect that day, but I think it could be said that the less spectacular but more reliable skills of Julian Gray have given him the more successful Premiership career. I say that because, after making little impression in a Palace side which were relegated back to the Championship a year later, he has never really established himself in the top flight despite being given plenty of opportunities during spells with Spurs, Portsmouth, Fulham and Villa but, maybe, things are changing for the man we think Chris Burke makes look shite. Although being a transfer target of Liverpool isn’t quite the compliment now that it was a few years back, it’s still a sign that a player must be doing something right and weekend reports suggested that Roy Hodgson might be taking him to Merseyside – perhaps Routledge is finally starting to fulfil that promise he showed at Ninian Park in 2004?
10 April 2004
Cardiff City 0 Crystal Palace 2
City Margetson; Croft, Collins, Gabbidon, Vidmar; Robinson (Bullock), Langley, Whalley, Parry (Campbell), Earnshaw, Lee (Gordon); Subs. (not used) Alexander, Barker
Palace Vaesen; Butterfield, Hudson, Popovic, Granville; Routledge (1), Hughes (Derry), Rihilahti (Leigertwood), Gray; Shipperley (Freedman), Johnson (1); Subs. (not used) Berthelin, Black
Att. 16,656by The other Bob Wilson