The memory can play tricks on you after all this time, but I don’t recall Hunter, Charlton, Giles, Bremner etc. actually killing an opponent during a game. However, the Leeds side of the mid to late sixties and early seventies got away with footballing murder as they took foul play, gamesmanship and intimidation of officials to new levels under Don Revie – the stupid thing was that they were a very talented side who were, arguably, the best in the country when it came to playing good quality football.
Opinions picked up during your formative years often stick with you for life and so Leeds United have always been at or near the top of my list of disliked football teams. With their disgraceful admission prices for visiting supporters, the way they’ve messed Cardiff fans around at games at Elland Road in recent years and their Warnock and Bates connections, the modern day Leeds United would hardly be favourites of mine anyway, but, truth be told, my dislike of the club stems fundamentally from forty and fifty years ago.
If you had told me during that era when Leeds were genuine candidates for a domestic cup and league double and strong challengers in Europe every season that there would come a time when Cardiff City would remain unbeaten by them for twenty eight years and record their ninth win in their last thirteen matches against them, then I would have replied “Thanks, it’s a nice thought, but it will never happen” – it has done though and so I find myself thinking that maybe there is a God after all!
Going back to Neil Warnock, his comments after City’s 1-0 win at Elland Road yesterday could I suppose have been made by any of the other five managers whose sides have been beaten by us in the league since we turned it on at Blackburn in early December. The managers of Leicester, Palace, Millwall, Birmingham and Blackpool could all have bemoaned their luck at important times like Warnock did and I have to say that, on the balance of play, Leeds didn’t deserve to lose yesterday’s match. Lose it they did though, and when you put our latest win together with our previous five, you have to conclude that there must be something more to our recent successes than just luck.
At the time, I thought that the Blackburn win would be significant because it would show other Championship sides how good we can be when we click. However, it’s not worked out that way because, in terms of quality at least, we’ve not played anywhere near as well as we did that night in the nine games we’ve had in all competitions since then. Perhaps the Blackburn win was the pivotal moment in our season that I suspected it to be, but for a different reason – did it lead to us having a belief that we didn’t possess before?
It’s amazing to think that it was only just over two months ago that we were wondering where our next away point was coming from. We’d lost four on the trot and five out of our first eight matches on our travels – things improved with a win against a Barnsley side who were in woeful form at the time and a dogged, if unlikely, draw at Derby, but I would argue that it was at Blackburn where we lost any inferiority complex we might have had going into away games.
I’ve mentioned once or twice before that games in the modern day Championship, where the teams are so evenly matched, are occasions where if you blink first, you lose. Good Cardiff sides in previous years were guilty of doing that and this season’s was during the first three and a half months of the campaign, but not any more it seems.
To give an example of what I mean, look at the goal which won yesterday’s match. The truth is that Leeds’ young right back Sam Byram should get an assist for it after a bizarre attempted clearance which teed up Craig Bellamy – back in the autumn, that might have been a City player handing the opposition a goal, but, for now at least, we aren’t the ones who blink, it’s always our opponents.
When I said after Leeds’ win over Spurs last weekend that I would be surprised and disappointed if we defended as poorly as the London side had done, I wasn’t saying that for effect, it was because I genuinely meant it. Sure enough, once Fraizer Campbell had scored, I’m certain I wasn’t the only City fan who was able to watch the remaining minutes pretty certain that we wouldn’t let Leeds back into the match (this recent development whereby you have almost complete confidence in us holding on to a one goal lead late on is so much easier on the heart, but I think we all know we should enjoy it while we can because it’s not going to last!).
Yesterday’s was our fifth successive away win and, having broken the club record for consecutive home wins earlier in the season, I suppose people will start talking in terms of another one being a possibility soon. I’ll have to do some research during the week to find out what is the highest number of away wins on the trot we’ve managed, but I do know that the 1992/93 Fourth Division Championship winning side managed seven with the big majority of them being tight affairs decided by a single goal margin – that side didn’t win their division by blowing teams away playing glorious, attacking football week in, week out, they did it in the same fashion as most Champions do, by grinding out wins in tight matches which could go either way, but have a habit of going theirs.
Now, I’m not getting ahead of myself in talking like that – in fact you won’t see me predicting a Championship win or even promotion for fear of somehow jinxing us. However, on a weekend where four of our rivals in the top six won and would have hoped we would slip up in a tough looking away game to help close the gap, it still stands at ten points and I’ll repeat what I’ve been saying for a few weeks now – if another side in another division had a lead like ours with just over a third of the season left, I’d be thinking that the other teams had one less promotion place to play for.
We’ve got a great chance, but how many points do we need from our last seventeen matches to book a top two place? People seem to have homed in on eighty six points as being the number that would get us up – if that is the case, then we are now in a position whereby we could lose more matches than we win from here on in and still reach that figure. However, I’m not so sure that would be enough as things stand and my target would be ninety, so nine more wins would get us there.
It’s interesting to note what the maximum number of points our rivals could reach is – Leicester and Hull can get to a hundred and four, Watford one hundred, Palace ninety nine and Middlesbrough ninety eight. Of the teams outside the top six, only Burnley, Brighton, Derby, Leeds and Blackburn can get beyond ninety points by winning all of their remaining matches, but all of them, bar Brighton, cannot afford to lose a single match if they are to reach that total.
So, if we can get those twenty seven points from our seventeen remaining matches, the two sides best placed to overhaul us (Leicester and Hull) would see their current margin for error in terms of the number of points they can drop more than halved if they were to draw just four games. It should also be noted that the top six sides have at least three matches left against sides currently occupying the automatic promotion or Play Off places, so they are all going to be taking points off each other.
It could still all go wrong of course – we don’t need to be reminded that an awful lot of people would know exactly what you meant if you talked about “doing a Cardiff”! However, we’ve now got ourselves into a position whereby we would have to bottle it big time to miss out on a top two place and the really reassuring thing is that, while we might not be winning many prizes for style, we have not shown anything that could be remotely construed as doing that for almost three months.
* pictures courtesy of http://www.walesonline.co.uk/