I’ve only seen a couple of match reports on yesterday’s 2-0 win over Doncaster Rovers, but the word “routine” has featured in both of them – funnily enough, it was the very word that was on my mind when as I left the ground. City’s performance didn’t hit any great heights, but it was good to start the run of six matches until the next international break with a win because it would have been tough going into what looks a testing quintet of fixtures starting at Blackpool next week on a run of four league games without a victory.
I must admit to fearing for my second favourite Championship team’s chances of staying up though – Doncaster were neat and tidy in possession as always, but carried very little threat going forward and their defence creaked every time City put them under any pressure. In many ways, the game reminded me of another match we won 2-0 that featured a goal by Anthony Gerrard at the Canton End. When Peterborough, who were destined to finish bottom of the league, came here in February 2010 they had quite a bit of possession and pressure, but, despite a pretty ordinary City performance, there never seemed a chance that the match would end in anything but a home win. The low key nature of the game allied with the fact that City were up in court (again!) for non payment of taxes the following day were probably the reasons for a flat atmosphere that night and it might well have been a reaction to what happened before the game at Wembley on Tuesday that caused it yesterday, but neither match had a “normal” feel to it for me.
However, I’m not sure that our win yesterday deserved the sort of panning it has received from many on the messageboards. Some of the comments seemed well over the top to me considering that we got the job done without conceding against the league’s bottom team. If that doesn’t sound much to get excited about, it might well be a good time to point out how last season’s team, that so many still want to compare so favourably with the current side, got on at home against sides at or around the bottom of the table. Scunthorpe were only beaten by a single goal scored five minutes from time, Sheffield United left with a 1-1 draw despite having to play the last hour of the game with ten men, Preston were only denied a 1-0 win by an Andy Keogh goal four minutes into added time at the end of the match and Palace got a 0-0 in a match in which we barely had an attack worthy of the name.
Therefore, maybe those making comments like “It’s the most bored I have ever been watching Cardiff in 30 years” should stop and really think about what they are saying. For me, the quality of Peter Whittingham’s free kick, which made scoring a formality for Anthony Gerrard, alone provided more interest and excitement than anything I saw in the whole of countless matches during the 80’s and 90’s in particular. To be fair, the first half offered little apart from the first two minutes which saw a shot against the post by Earnie and an intervention that almost led to an own goal as a through ball by Gerrard caused problems in the Doncaster defence so, yes, with Donny also struggling to create much, it was boring at times. For all of their problems with injury and poor results though, Donny were never going to lie down and make things easy for us and it’s difficult to avoid the impression that we have all become a little spoilt lately after years of chasing a top six finish.
Wins are no longer enough it seems, now there needs to be style and flair as well and yet I’d say that, without playing anywhere near as well as we did against the wurzels, we didn’t do too badly in the second half yesterday. True, Doncaster had long spells of possession after going 1-0 behind and we did get ragged at times with long balls played out of defence as the gap between our midfield and attack became too big, that handed possession back to our opponents, but we could have had a hatful of goals after the break. Besides the two we did get, Earnie and Hudson, especially, wasted good chances inside the first couple of minutes and keeper Woods made fine saves to keep out efforts from Whittingham and Gestede, while, as Malky Mackay observed, there were quite a few times when a better final ball would have put us in on goal.
After twice coming so close to scoring, Earnie secured the points when he netted from close range after being teed up, at the second time of asking, by Whittingham and, if a strike rate of three in six matches could be continued over the course of the campaign then we would have one of the top strikers in the Championship on our hands. However, once again, there was little sign of any cohesion in his partnership with Kenny Miller, who, in a mixed overall performance, saw some great runs go unnoticed by his colleagues. As has been the case so often substitutions seemed to improve the side – this time, this wasn’t just down to the introduction of Rudy Gestede, but also the comeback of Aron Gunnarsson and Filip Kiss after injury. Gunnarsson, who started off the move that led to the second goal, in particular added more midfield craft and know how when he replaced Darcy Blake (who did okay, but no more than that in the holding role), while Kiss showed his eagerness to get involved with a series of attempted tackles, which didn’t always come off, and one or two decent and clever passes.
Best player for City for me was probably Kevin McNaughton. After the game, Malky Mackay compared him to Peter Whittingham in that, like Whitts, super Kev is someone who can still make improvements to his game at this, relatively late, stage in his career. Certainly, we are seeing more of McNaughton in advanced positions and, although I wouldn’t say there is anything too subtle about his attacking play, it is growing in effectiveness. Yesterday there was some forceful running past defenders and one or two good crosses, one of which should have resulted in a goal for Hudson, at the end of it. This is not a natural part of McNaughton’s game, but is something that our manager wants encourage and it it was funny to hear Malky talk about our “Stanley Matthews” on the wing who he wanted to stop bombing forward in the closing stages!
Finally, although there have been plenty of times when the behaviour of some Cardiff fans have made me ashamed to be a supporter of the club, yesterday was a reminder that there is also a lot which is good in our fanbase. The tributes, in the form of flowers, flags and banners, to Mikey Dye outside the ground and the minute’s applause inside it were a fitting way to remember someone who died last week because he decided to go to a football match, while the recognition of the imminent passing of Brendan Roger’s father, as well as the response of so many jacks fans to the week’s events, offers hope that the rivalry between the two clubs can continue, but on a more mature basis.
* photographs of yesterday’s game courtesy of