As the wins have piled up during October (traditionally a good month for Dave Jones’ City teams), there have been increasing comparisons with the 2006/07 side which went storming away at the top of the table over the first third of that season. The side from four years ago’s record had consistently been better than the current one when you compared how they were doing after every match, but, despite this, I don’t think I am the only City fan who had been more optimistic about this side’s prospects for the months ahead when compared to the 06/07 one at a similar stage.
Yesterday, for the first time, the current team moved ahead of the Scimeca inspired side of four years ago. In 2006/07 City had thirty points from fourteen matches after Giles Barnes’ superb stoppage time goal had snatched a point for Derby in a 2-2 draw at Ninian Park. That result, following on from a 1-0 defeat at Norwich, offered the first suggestions that the side would not be able to maintain their great form, but with yesterday’s 3-1 win over Norwich in a hugely entertaining match at the Cardiff City Stadium, the current team took their tally to thirty two points from fourteen matches and you get the feeling that they will stay ahead now for the rest of the campaign.
As always, there is a need for some caution – if October tends to be a good month for Dave Jones’ sides, then November has always seen a stutter from City in the five previous seasons under him and, with matches against Swansea, Reading, Forest and QPR to come next month, there is certainly the potential there for history to repeat itself. However, as City hit the top of the table for the first time yesterday, it’s hard to avoid the feeling that this side has got players in it who have a belief in themselves that the other Dave Jones sides have lacked. For example, the talk in previous seasons has always been of going for a top six place, this time around top two is all we hear about – whereas in previous seasons, there was a feeling that the confidence shown in public was only skin deep, at the moment the players know the bar has been raised at Cardiff and they are taking everything in their stride because they are proving that the increased expectation is justified.
As for yesterday’s match, the first thing to say is what great entertainment it provided and the part played by our opponents in contributing to the enjoyment needs to be recognised.
City had already twice come close to scoring before Jay Bothroyd surely clinched the Championship player of the month award for himself with his fifth goal in five games during October as he headed in from close range after Gabor Gyepes had nodded on a Whittingham corner in the ninth minute. When Michael Chopra’s calm finish from Jay’s flick doubled that lead three minutes later, I remarked that we all knew what happened to the last side that went 2-0 up early on at our ground, but, in truth, I was expecting us to go on to steamroller Norwich in a repeat of the Leeds massacre.
Instead though, we saw a very impressive response from the visitors as they piled on the pressure for the next twenty minutes. Although the circumstances were different, what happened in that period reminded me of the Doncaster match in which Craig Bellamy had made his only previous home appearance. For much of the first half of that match, Doncaster were dominant in the middle of the park, but, whereas they never really provided much of a goal threat, Norwich looked dangerous on a number of occasions and they really should have scored before the impressive Wes Hoolahan netted with a brave diving header from a lovely cross by visiting left back Steve Smith who was the pantomime villain of the afternoon following an awful looking challenge on Chopra which earned him a yellow card.
Although still 2-1 down, all of the momentum was with Norwich at that stage and I believe that period of dominance for them showed the down side of having only one player in our front six for whom defensive duties come naturally (and, even then, Seyi Olofinjani can’t resist bombing forward every now and then – I still don’t really see him as your Makele type defensive midfielder). In many ways, the team Dave Jones has picked for the past three matches is a throwback to the days that only old fogeys like me can remember when sides used to have five attacking players.
Such an approach is potentially a dangerous one as Norwich showed yesterday – Peter Whittingham has done pretty well when not in possession during the last three matches, but, understandably, he has his weaknesses in that department and that puts more of a strain on Olofinjana who struggled during that period of Norwich dominance. However, I can’t help thinking that Dave Jones has picked the side he has in the last three matches content in the knowledge that, player for player, we are better than most sides we face while the front five we have fielded lately have no equal in this league. Therefore, as long as our defence doesn’t have one of it’s off days (and to be fair to Hudson and co, they have been defending well lately), our manager is backing his team to come through these dodgy spells we have (like in the first twenty minutes at Leeds) because we have too much quality and firepower to be second best for too long.
That’s what happened yesterday – Hoolahan’s goal was as good as it got for Norwich. Okay, the penalty we got within a couple of minutes was fortunate as the ball hit Ward’s arm when there wasn’t a City player close to him, but, from then on, we were never in serious trouble. The comparison with the Doncaster match continued after the break as I thought we were comfortably on top for the whole of the second period, but whereas the goals came with a rush against Donny, some fine saves from goalkeeper Ruddy and the intervention of the crossbar on a couple of occasions prevented us scoring this time (a score of, say, 5-1 would have been very harsh on Norwich though).
Much of the post match comment centred on Jay Bothroyd’s suspension from the Swansea game next Sunday. Speaking after the game, Jay said that he thought all of the controversy over his bad tackle in the Leeds match had made him something of a marked man yesterday and that he didn’t deserve his yellow card. I’ve got to say that I don’t agree with him there – from where I was sat, it looked the correct decision by the referee, but, even if I am wrong and Jay was hard done by, it doesn’t alter the fact that three of his previous bookings have been completely avoidable. That apart, Jay was superb again yesterday and, forget about the Championship, you have to ask whether there are players of his type in the Premiership who are playing better than him at the moment? However, he wasn’t my man of the match yesterday, that went to Kevin McNaughton who turned in a performance that was a throwback to those first few games he played for us back in 2006/07 – he got done once out by the corner flag in the first half, but, apart from that, I thought he had a tremendous match and he looked a real threat going forward in the second half.
To finish, I’d just like to add my thanks to those Norwich fans who applauded Craig Bellamy (who was quieter than he was at Leeds, but still showed a few examples of quality and quick thinking which marked him out as being too good for this division) as he went to take that corner in the first half – their generosity and the general good support they gave their team was another factor which added to yesterday being one of the most enjoyable matches I have been to for some time.by The other Bob Wilson
The middle player in the photo above is Gil Reece who played for us from 1972 to 1976 after joining from Sheffield United in an unusual transfer deal which saw Alan Warboys move to the Yorkshire club with Reece and fellow Welsh international Dave Powell moving in the opposite direction along with a cash adjustment of £25,000. Cardiff born Reece had been on our books as a teenager but was released in 1962 and found his way to Sheffield two years later via Pembroke Borough and Newport County.
Reece was thirty when he signed for us and I think it is fair to say that Sheffield United fans saw the best of him as he was a regular in the Blades team which pipped us for promotion in 1970/71 and when they, briefly, topped the First Division table at the start of the following season. Reece and Powell made their City debut in a home match with Bristol City in September 1972 (needless to say, we lost!) and they must have wondered what they had signed up for when the one of their team mates had to receive treatment in the pre match kick about after being hit in the face by a shot from another City player (I can’t remember who the player who got hit was, but I am pretty sure that it was Billy Kellock, sat to the right of Reece in that photo, who had the shot)!
That incident rather summed up Cardiff City through much of the seventies when relegation scraps were the norm and although, with forty Welsh caps between them, Reece and Powell had a good pedigree, they were unable to arrest the gradual decline which would see us relegated at the end of the 1974/75 season. The injury plagued Powell had already retired by that time, but Reece was still around and, ironically, that season was, arguably, his best for the club as he finished top scorer with nine goals.
To be honest, there was something of an air of inevitability to our relegation that year – my recollection is that, although we had always managed to pull ourselves clear at the last moment in previous seasons, there was a general acceptance that we weren’t good enough and that there were only two or three times when there was any optimism around that we could avoid the drop again.
One of those occasions came after a home win over high flying Norwich City on January 11 1975 which lifted us to the dizzy heights of eighteenth in the twenty two team Second Division (that was a high as we got all season!). That victory meant that we had only lost once in twelve matches but half of these games were drawn (one of them coming at Norwich, courtesy of a Gil Reece goal, in front of the Match of the Day cameras just over a month earlier) and so our truly awful start to the campaign which saw us pick up just one win and two draws from our first eleven games meant that we had not benefited as much from our good run of results in terms of league position as we might have done.
Still, a win over a good Norwich side which featured future City players Roger Hansbury,Colin Sullivan and Steve Grapes as well as, arguably, the best striking partnership in the division in the prolific goalscorer Ted MacDougall and the clever Phil Boyer was something of an achievement and Gil Reece was the difference between the two sides on the day.
The small and wiry Reece was a versatile forward who could play on the flanks or down the middle off a target man and it was in the latter role that he featured against Norwich with Derek Showers as his attacking partner. It’s funny how some things stick in your mind after all these years, but I can remember it being one of those brilliantly bright afternoons which meant that, even in the middle of winter, your hands were always shielding your eyes if you were stood on the Bob Bank (like I was that day) until the sun went down and that City, playing towards the Grange End, put together one of their best halves of the season as they dominated the opening forty five minutes.
City’s reward came in the form of a couple of goals both scored by Gil Reece. Neither of them were anything spectacular, just a case of someone being in the right place at the right time to net from close range, but they ensured that we had a handy lead to hold on to during a second half which saw the expected Norwich improvement. MacDougall reduced the deficit with around half an hour left, but City were probably as confident at that time as they were at any stage of that season and, whereas they probably would have folded on other occasions, they were able to hang on to their lead to record one of the best wins of the campaign.
The fact that City had now beaten two of the teams who were eventually to get promoted in Aston Villa and Norwich, as well as Sunderland who would finish fourth, at Ninian Park offered proof that the side had it within them to rise to the bigger occasions, but a devastating 5-1 defeat at Millwall (who would accompany us into the Third Division that year) in their next match was the precursor for a dreadful run of nine matches without a victory. Only two more matches were won all season and just one point from our final six games meant that relegation had been confirmed before the curtain was brought down on the season with a 2-1 home defeat by Bolton.
Like quite a few other local boys down the years, Gil Reece was never really a favourite of the Ninian Park crowd – I know I was excited when we first signed him and was always disappointed that he didn’t turn to be as good as I thought he would. Maybe that was a bit unfair considering his age when he came here, but perhaps other felt the same way? Reece stayed with the club for one more year but was not a regular starter during the 1975/76 promotion campaign and left to play for Swansea City as a part timer as he began to concentrate on his Grangetown based plumbing and central heating business. He only played a couple of times for the jacks before retiring from the game in 1977 but, unfortunately, was not to enjoy the best of health in the coming years – problems caused by cysts behind his right knee meant that he had to have his right leg amputated in 2000 and he died at the age of just sixty one three years later following a long illness.
11 January 1975
Cardiff City 2 Norwich City 1
City Irwin; Dwyer, Morgan, Larmour, Pethard; Villars, Smith, Buchanan, Anderson; Reece (2), Showers; Sub (not used) Whitham
Norwich Hansbury; Machin, Forbes, Stringer, Sullivan; Miller, Suggett, Morris, Powell (Grapes); MacDougall (1), Boyer
Att. 11,637by The other Bob Wilson