Increasingly, any Cardiff City fan who harbours doubts about our ability to win the third and final promotion place is being accused of lacking moral fibre by some on the messageboards. Although I don’t get the connection myself, if that’s the way it is, then so be it – I’m a coward and a bottler!
Times like this always bring out exhortations to “keep the faith”, but, if Craig Bellamy is out (that doesn’t seem as certain as it did on Saturday mind) and, as predicted by some, we start with Bywater, Naylor and Rae in the team, then I think we are beginning to head into blind faith territory. Don’t get me wrong, those three players will all give of their best I’m sure and the first two have previous experience of playing in winning Play Off Final sides while Rae has the International caps and winner’s medals to prove how successful he has been in his career. However, Bywater’s failure to deal with Reading corners on Friday made him look like an accident waiting to happen, while Naylor and Rae’s best days are, surely, behind them now (Rae only started two Championship games during the regular season).
In a way though, it’s not the presence of a few journeymen in our side that concerns me most, it’s the collection of talented but flaky potential match winners we have in our ranks. If some of these players were to play to the level they were capable of tonight then we would be able to blow better teams than Reading away, but, previous experience says that, more often than not, they fail to produce on the really big occasion.
Friday night was a case in point as it was the solid pros who you can rely on to give their all no matter how they are playing (for most of the time, this season’s Peter Whittingham would fall into that group) who were responsible for getting us the draw rather than the potential match winners like Bothroyd, Chopra, Burke (he’s played in four Play off matches now and produced virtually nothing in any of them) and JET. Collectively, those four made little impact on the game and while I wouldn’t question their desire too much, it was misplaced in the case of Bothroyd for example – I don’t doubt that Jay was up for the game, but he showed it by indulging in a running battle with the officials as he tried continuously to gain free kicks rather than using the Premiership quality skills he has to make life difficult for the Reading defenders.
The efforts of the generally reliable and hard working core of the team can only take us so far though and it’s hard to avoid the feeling that we will need a bit more than that if we are going to see Reading off – it’s time now for the “flair players” to do their bit for a change.
If they do, then it will be Swansea City who we face in the Final on 30 May. The jacks beat Forest 3-1 last night in an entertaining game which included a remarkable late goal from the half way line by Darren Pratley to seal their triumph. Although I think that over the course of the two matches the better team won through, Swansea had more than their fair share of luck last night as Forest hit the woodwork three times and had a good shout for a penalty for handball by Ashley Williams turned down when the jacks were really wobbling late in the game (there was also the obligatory Alan Tate offence in his own penalty area, but as these never get penalised it hardly seems worth mentioning!).
Unless one of the two teams involved tonight turn on a brilliant display, I think that the jacks will, rightly, be considered favourites whoever they end up meeting in the Final, but the reason last night’s game was so watchable was that there was the possibility of goals coming at either end – the number of matches they have lost this season offers proof that Swansea can be got at and Forest provided further evidence of this last night.