Given recent results, I’m pretty sure that everyone connected with Cardiff City would have settled for a 3-1 home win over League One strugglers Colchester United in last night’s Third Round FA Cup tie.
While not a faultless display by any means, there were encouraging aspects to City’s win as a team showing six changes from the 4-2 defeat by Watford five days earlier asserted their superiority over opponents who, for me, could have had a legitimate complaint about the margin of their defeat, but not at the defeat itself.
It was during the middle third of the match that the game was taken away from the visitors – all of City’s goals came between the thirtieth and sixtieth minutes and there could have been others during this time when City’s greater power, allied to an advantage in pace in some areas of the pitch, really did make it look like it was mid table in the Championship v last but one in League One.
Either side of that though,Colchester gave as good as they got – indeed, they were very much the better team for the last twenty minutes or so.
Watching the television coverage, the impression was given that City started off playing their normal 4-4-2 with Kadeem Harris joining Federico Macheda to form a front two, but that wasn’t how it looked to me at the ground.
Right from the first whistle, it looked like City lined up with Tom Adeyemi alongside Joe Ralls in central midfield with Craig Noone and Harris on the wings and Peter Whittingham operating in an advanced central position behind lone striker Macheda.
This 4-2-3-1 with the deployment of Whittingham further up the pitch gave many fans the formation they had been asking for, but there was also a willingness on the part of the advanced midfield three to switch positions which, allied to Adeyemi’s ability to make forward runs, gave the whole thing a tactical flexibility that our managers critics claim he doesn’t possess – to be fair, I’d seen little sign of it before last night mind.
None of these changes of personnel and system was enough to alter the general mood around the ground though as City made a nervous start which saw yet another opposing side dominate possession (that dominant middle third ensured City were actually able to win the possession battle 54/46 according to the BBC) in the opening stages.
However, things gradually began to change as Ralls and Adeyemi in particular began to assert themselves. Ralls provided City’s first goal threat when his shot from twenty five yards drew a good save from visiting keeper Sam Walker and when the ball dropped to him in a similar position twenty minutes later, the midfielder’s well struck effoty got a couple of deflections off Colchester defenders to leave the wrong footed Walker helpless.
Although, the BBC are reporting it as an own goal, I hope Ralls is eventually given it because his shot was on target – it looked to me as if Walker would have saved it, but who can say for sure?
Minutes later, Adeyemi made the sort of driving run forward from midfield that we haven’t seen since Jordon Mutch left – Walker again did well to turn aside a shot taken early by the tall midfielder after he had burst past a couple of defenders.
When Harris athletically hooked in his first goal for the senior side and substitute Kenwyne Jones capitalised on some poor Colchester defending to nod in a Whittingham corner seconds after replacing the largely ineffective Macheda, it looked as if City had broken the visitors spirit and further goals would inevitably follow. However, although Adeyemi had a couple more decent opportunities to score the goal his overall performance probably deserved, City faded in worrying style – particularly after Adam LeFondre replaced Whittingham.
Once the impressive Freddie Sears had given a neat Colchester build up the finish it deserved with seventeen minutes left, there were times when City looked to be hanging on and things would have got very jittery if the visitors had been able to score the second goal they probably deserved on the balance of play.
One other slight gripe, we score three and yet none of the goals came from open play. All three of them came within seconds of Whittingham taking a corner – once again, there wasn’t a great deal created in open play.
I’d say what City can take from this game is that, while it needs to be remembered that there will be far tougher tests than this in the coming weeks, the system they used looked to address the biggest problem we’ve had all season – our inability to compete in central midfield.
On an individual basis, I thought it was players who have hardly been regulars this season who did best. Ralls and Adeyemi deserve another chance on these displays, although his overall performance was no more than a six out of ten I’d say, Harris has qualities that have been virtually absent from the team during this season and while there were a few of those dodgy defensive moments thrown in, Declan John did more than enough when was in a position to dictate to the opposition, to ensure that my, almost certainly fruitless, campaign to get him to be used in his original position on the wing will continue! Finally, the brilliant save Simon Moore made to deny Gavin Massey just before half time strongly suggests that we have a more than adequate replacement if David Marshall has to miss matches for any reason.
However, if this game is remembered for anything in years to come, it will probably be for the fact that there were just 4,198 (comfortably the lowest crowd ever for a senior fixture at Cardiff City Stadium) there to see it.
The crowd announcement for the Watford match drew hoots of derision because it was pretty obvious that there were considerably less present than the “official” figure given of 22,000 plus. It’s generally reckoned that there are in the region of 16 to 18 thousand season ticket holders this season – all of these are assumed to be present as far as the crowd given by the club is concerned, but it’s generally felt that around a quarter of them don’t attend for one reason or another.
With a larger contingent of visiting fans (it looked around 250/300 to me) present, I’d only say something like 3,800 Cardiff fans were there last night – of course, with everyone having to pay for tickets for cup matches, only the club will know how many of them were season ticket holders.
Even if we assume that all of that 3,800 had bought a season ticket though, it still means that something in the region of three or four times more chose not to attend.
So, can it be assumed that a sizeable proportion (say something like half) of them did not go to the match as a protest against the rebrand? It’s impossible to tell with any degree of certainty, but my guess is the number who boycotted the match purely as a protest against the rebrand would be pretty small and, more importantly, Vincent Tan and his representatives can say that there were plenty of other legitimate reasons why people might not decide to turn up.
With the game being televised, City being in such awful form, the football being so poor, the opposition not being the most attractive, people looking to save money after Christmas and, sadly, the competition involved not being as popular as it once was, it would be practically impossible for anyone to come up with convincing arguments that the low crowd was solely down to us playing in red with a beermat badge.
Although last night’s gate was a thousand or two down on other pretty recent home Cup ties with lower division teams, the tendency has been to get gates some way under ten thousand for such matches – in the last ten years, our gates for home cup ties against sides from lower divisions have been as follows;-
Macclesfield 05/06 3,849
Barnet 06/07 3,305
Brighton 07/08 3,726
Leyton Orient 07/08 6.150
MK Dons 08/09 6,334
Cardiff City Stadium
Dagenham and Redbridge 09/10 5.545
Bristol Rovers 09/10 9,767
Burton 10/11 6,080
Huddersfield 11/12 6,829
Wigan 13/14 17,123
Looking at those figures, I find it very hard to find any evidence that there was a widespread anti red boycott of last night’s match. What doesn’t help is that, a Fifth Round FA Cup tie against a Championship side while we were in the Premier League apart, there are no other games in that list from a period when red was our first choice – if, say, we had played Accrington Stanley at home in last year’ s League Cup and got something like 12,000, then a few conclusions maybe could have been drawn from last night’s game regarding changing attitudes to the rebrand.
No, it seems to me that if there is a single match this season whereby the large gaps in the crowd cannot be spun by the club as being anything other than a protest against the rebrand, it needs to be a high profile league game – if sufficient numbers were to take part, a boycott of such a game could have a real impact, with the protests planned for the Derby game four weeks today, that seems the natural choice for any such boycott to me.
*picture courtesy of http://www.walesonline.co.uk/
+ picture courtesy of https://www.flickr.com/photos/joncandy/sets/