Over the past few months I’ve mentioned once or twice on here that I didn’t want to make any predictions about our promotion prospects for fear of jinxing us. Now, you may say that to believe that what an ordinary supporter with no influence whatsoever on club policy might or might not say about their team’s chances of reaching the Premiership will, somehow, deal a fatal blow to those prospects is ludicrous – especially when you consider that the supporter concerned won’t have to pay to travel on buses in less than three years time! However, in my defence, I would argue that my, relative, old age is the reason for my attitude – while it cannot be denied that there have been some fantastic, all too brief, highs along the way, fifty years of failure does strange things to you! Last night’s 0-0 draw with Charlton, amid fantastic scenes at Cardiff City Stadium, which confirmed our promotion to the Premiership allows me to say what I have really been thinking for the last half a season or so though.
For a start, from the moment we took twelve points from twelve over the Christmas/New Year holiday period, I’ve thought that promotion was ours to lose and that belief didn’t waver much at all during our so called wobble when we started to draw matches that we had been winning. We weren’t losing many though and so the team’s confidence didn’t start to waver – although some sections of the media were telling anyone who’d listen that we were showing some nerves, I saw very little sign of them, this squad had a belief and quiet confidence that others of recent years have lacked.
I’ll be honest and say that I’ve sometimes looked at Palace, Watford and Leicester play on the television and thought I wish we could play with as much style as that, but football isn’t just about looking good when you’ve got the ball, it’s also about stopping sides looking good and getting the ball off them and I think we’ve been the best in the Championship, by some distance, at doing that this season. When you add to that an attacking game that is better than many are prepared to acknowledge (second highest scorers in the division), then you’ve got a recipe for a team which may not enjoy the type of domination we saw from Reading in 2006 and Newcastle in 2010, but, with a reasonable return from their last three matches, will win the division with a record which bears comparison with any of the other title winners since 2003.
This is the eighth promotion I’ve experienced since my first game in 1963 and I’ve got to say that in my opinion it’s been the easiest one so far. I accept that this sounds arrogant, but I would point to the fact we have topped the league for nearly five months and for the last three and a half of them, led it with a very handy points cushion. There is also factual evidence to back me up when you consider when promotion was confirmed in the seven other seasons;-
75/76 – last game of the season.
82/83 – penultimate game of the season.
87/88 – penultimate game of the season.
92/93 – penultimate game of the season.
98/99 – penultimate game of the season.
00/01 – three games left.
02/03 – Play Off Final.
So, only 2000/01 matches this year’s achievement of winning promotion after our forty third match (as an aside, much was made of our previous promotion to the top flight being confirmed on the same date as this one has been, but the similarities don’t end there – there were three matches left for the 59/60 side to play as well) and they ended up third in their league – one more win will clinch the title for us and, in all likelihood, two draws will suffice.
Maybe the comparative ease of our promotion is the reason why, despite this one being the best of the lot in so many ways, I certainly don’t feel as ecstatic today as I did after we beat QPR in 2003 for example – I can only put this down to the difference in reaction people have when something occurs that that they believed, rather than hoped, was going to happen. This is not to say for one moment that I do not appreciate the efforts this season of Malky Mackay, his back up men and the squad more than they can ever know, they will go down in history and if they do end up Champions, then when you consider that only two Cardiff sides have actually won their division since 1920 (and they were both at a lower level than this), it could be argued that only the FA Cup Winners of 1927 have had a more successful season.
Anyway, I suppose I should say something about last night’s match. Well, if it hadn’t been for the occasion it would not linger long in the memory – actually I suppose it might as a likely answer to the question “what was City’s worst home performance of 2012/13?”. While David Marshall, yet again, showed how important he’s been to us this season with two great saves (I didn’t think he got a touch to Jackson’s free kick which came back off the post, but everyone else says he did, so I must be wrong) and the back four played well individually and as a unit, there was not as much to praise from those in front of the back five. To be fair, I thought Rudy Gestede and Craig Noone didn’t do too badly on their recall to the starting line up and Aron Gunnarsson, who has been so good in April especially, did his bit in midfield.
However, as a team, there were a few signs of the nerves I mentioned earlier (Kevin McNaughton was honest enough to admit this in a post match interview) and, perhaps there might also have been some tiredness for a fourth match in ten days against opponents who had not played in midweek last week themselves. That tiredness may have manifested itself in the performances of Kim Bo-Kyung and Jordon Mutch who were some way below the standards they have set for themselves since the Blackburn game, while, seeing the way Craig Bellamy reacted at the end of the game, I feel his display (which might well have been his worst of this season) could have been effected by the pressure he put on himself because of what the evening meant to him – that might sound critical (because it is!), but, if I’m right then I also have so much admiration for someone who has done so much in the game on such a high level, who can feel like that while playing for Cardiff City.
I’ve also got to give credit to a disciplined and organised Charlton side who showed exactly why they have such a good away record – based on that performance, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them make a top six challenge next season. I think right back might be an area that Malky Mackay is considering strengthening this summer and, although Derby’s John Brayford would be my choice, Chris Solley was excellent last night and looked like someone who could prosper at the higher level – he was definitely a factor in Bellamy’s below par showing.
Of course, this promotion has been achieved while playing in the wrong colours, but that’s for another time and all I’ll say on that subject for now is that as the celebrations got under way last night, I couldn’t help but think of those who have chosen to boycott games because of last summer’s re-branding – I’m not going to offer them my sympathy because I doubt it if many of them would accept it, but, by rights, they should have been there to see them. I also thought of those City fanatics born after 1960 who are no longer with us and so never got the chance to experience what we did last night – I’ve always believed you live and then you die and once you’re gone that’s it, I hope for their sake’s I’m wrong.
* photos courtesy of http://www.walesonline.co.uk/