Thank you Whitts, it’s been an honour and a privilege watching you.

Being honest, I’d reconciled myself to us losing Peter Whittingham this summer months ago. When a player who’ll be thirty three in a few months time spends as many games on the bench as Whitts did in the closing stages of last season and his contract is going to run out at the end of June, I think it’s reasonable to say that the writing was on the wall as far as our longest serving player was concerned.

In saying that, it should be remembered that City had offered Whitts a new one year deal, but, if the rumours I heard were right, it was on terms which represented a very big drop (more than fifty per cent I believe) in his salary.

However, now that the speculation linking him with a move to Blackburn Rovers has been confirmed officially with news of him having completed his move to Ewood Park on a two year contract, the reaction of this City fan who was expecting him to leave is still one of shock for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, and more mundanely, I’m surprised that Whitts has dropped a level to League One with recently relegated Rovers. Perhaps it’s that two year contract that did the trick, but I would have thought that he’d be a worthwhile addition to the squad of, say, one of the promoted sides or someone like a Burton, Barnsley or Preston with plenty of younger players who could do his running for him.

The second reason goes right to the heart of why this is such a sad day – even though I fully expected this day to come sometime this month and could understand, and agree with, the club’s viewpoint on the situation, it’s still a shock to realise how upset I am to finally have it confirmed that the man who did what he wanted has, indeed, gone.

Given what you know about both men’s approach to football, while I suspect it might have been completely different if we were talking about a twenty five year old Whitts, a thirty two year old one was always going to struggle to be a big influence in a City side playing in the manner Neil Warnock wants us to – the play was never going to go through him as much as it did in, say, the Malky Mackay and even Russell Slade eras and, increasingly, Whitts was being looked upon, first and foremost, as a top class provider from dead ball situations.

In saying that though, you knew that there were always going to be two or three Whitts moments in any game he played under Warnock where he came up with little somethings that no other player in the squad (and I mean no other player in the squad) could manage.

I feel sad today, but I also find myself smiling as I recall some of the things Whitts did which may not have captured headlines, but still had me purring at the time at the talent of one of the true Cardiff City greats.

Here are some of them;-

  1. Giving Graham Alexander (then one of the best full backs in the Championship) twisted blood as he laid a goal on a plate for Michael Chopra in a 4-1 win over Preston in one of his first home games for us.
  2. A volleyed forty five yard pass hit on the swivel to absolute perfection which meant that Jay Bothroyd did not need to break his stride as he ran on to score his first City goal in a win over Coventry.
  3. A shot from an even more acute angle than the famous Play Off goal at Leicester which left a fine keeper in Julian Speroni helpless as City clinched a top six finish in 11/12 by winning at Palace.
  4. A power header to win a bottom of the table Premier League clash with West Brom.
  5. A toe poked shot hit early which rolled far more slowly into the net than you’d normally expect a Whitts shot to in the 4-1 win over Brighton in 15/16 – it was beautiful in it’s simplicity.
  6. Another volleyed pass – this time across field at Carrow Road this season, nothing came of it, but it was still absolutely stunning.

The game came easy to a thoroughbred like Whitts, so it’s strange to think that he was, possibly, the worst tackler I’ve seen at the club! I don’t mean in a powderpuff way, I mean in a kick them up in the air way. I’ve been looking up his record at City and it may come as something of a surprise to learn that Peter Whittingham received fifty four yellow cards in his Cardiff career, but then you remember all of those hacks at players who were getting away from him in recent years and you think “No, I can believe fifty four bookings!”.

The “typical” Whitts tackle that stands out to me now is the one which earned him the one and only red card of his career so far. It came during a 1-0 home defeat by Wolves in 14/15 and while you usually try your best to find a reason to defend the City player trudging off for an early bath, it was impossible to do so on this occasion as Matt Doherty hit the ground from a height of six feet!

Yes, as I believe I’ve mentioned on here before, Whitts was in the Paul Scholes class as a tackler, but, just as with the Man United master, that one facet of his game was completely at odds with everything else in it.

Now, I’m not saying for one moment that Whitts was in the Scholes class, but then you can count on the fingers of one hand (actually you probably don’t need any fingers!) the number of English footballers in the past fifteen years who were. However, when Whitts was at his real best, I don’t think there were too many Englishmen who got closer in a Scholes comparison when it came to shooting ability, technique, dead ball delivery and sheer nerve.

Whitts missed three penalties during the 10/11 season I think it was and there was one in a 3-2 defeat at Norwich in 14/15, but, generally you could rely on him scoring and even amid the gut wrenching tension of Play Off Semi Finals and League Cup Semi Finals and Finals you could relax (well, maybe not quite relax!) safe in the knowledge that there was no way our number seven was going to miss from the spot.

His famous lack of celebration when scoring offered the clue to a laid back nature which had to help when it came to all of those penalties and this must have been a factor, along with a fully justified confidence in his technique, in his willingness to try the spectacular when nearly everyone else on the pitch would look for the simpler option – Whitts was like Steve McPhail in that respect as he was a very brave player mentally.

Another player who Whitts could be compared with is Matt Le Tissier in that there’ll probably always be questions about what he might have achieved with a bit more “devil” in his outlook as opposed to being someone who gave the impression of being happy to stay where he was as a big fish in a relatively small pond.

I truly believe that with a bit more pace and a different approach to his profession, Whitts would have won England caps, but, being selfish, that would almost certainly have meant us City fans would have seen him in the Cardiff shirt a lot less than four hundred and fifty nine times and we would have missed out on a lot of those ninety eight goals.

Style, class, loyalty, a big match temperament and a nice touch when it came to self deprecating humour, Whitts is a Cardiff City legend many times over – I can’t help feeling we’ll not see his like again and he leaves with this extremely grateful City fan’s very best wishes, I’m going to be a bit of a Blackburn fan from now on and I hope we draw them in one of the cups next season!


Posted in Out on the pitch | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Now that was a good draw.

There are draws and there are draws. Wales 1 Georgia 1 at Cardiff City Stadium last October was a shocker for the Euro 2016 Semi Finalists as, in the end, they were fortunate to escape with a point against a team that had a world ranking only just inside 150 at the time – it remains the biggest single reason why Wales have never been able to get into a position where qualification for the World Cup Finals in Russia next year looked likely.

On the other hand, Serbia 1 Wales 1 last night was as good as the Georgia result was bad. Based on what I’ve seen up to now, the Serbs are the best team in the group and, with home matches to come against its two weakest sides, they are its most likely winners.

Therefore, for Wales to go to Belgrade with a team weakened by suspension and injuries and keep their unbeaten record in the group intact has to be seen as a step forward in their quest to reach a first World Cup qualification in sixty years – although I accept it hardly felt like that as Newcastle’s Aleksandar Mitrovic brought the home side level with just over twenty minutes left.

There’s the rub for Wales I’m afraid. Having started with a 4-0 canter against Moldova at home, it’s now a Welsh record five consecutive draws for Chris Coleman’s men and the truly galling thing about them is that, the goalless stalemate in Dublin apart, Wales have led in all of them – they did so twice in Austria.

Still, that’s all three away matches against our rivals for qualification out of the way now and I’m sure everyone would have accepted us coming out all square in Austria, the Republic of Ireland and Serbia before a ball was kicked, 1-1 in Cardiff with Serbia wouldn’t have been too bad either, but you do have to keep on coming back to Wales 1 Georgia 1.

Another disappointing aspect of that day when, if anything, Wales ended up hanging on to their point, is that the feeling I got at the time that Georgia would be doing us favours in the coming months by taking points off the other contenders for qualification has not materialised – last night they had to come from 2-0 down to draw in Moldova and the only other time they’ve managed to avoid defeat so far came in another one pointer with the same opponents.

In the group’s other game yesterday, the Republic of Ireland were able to keep their unbeaten record intact by coming from behind to draw 1-1 with the Austrians in Dublin, so they and Serbia maintain their four point advantage over us and the team we play next going into the final stretch of the race for qualification.

I reckon that Chris Coleman was right when he said after the game that to finish at the top of the group now, Wales need to win all of their remaining games – Austria (H). Moldova (A) in September and Georgia (A) and Republic of Ireland (H) in October.

The manager also remarked that it would probably take three wins and a draw to clinch second place now. In a group with so many games being drawn in it, I would have thought Wales could make the Play Off’s with nine points from a possible twelve, but, with Serbia playing Moldova and Ireland up against Georgia next, Wales v Austria on 2 September is shaping up as a must win occasion for both sides.

If Wales need three wins, then I can’t help thinking that two of them have to come when Austria and Ireland come to Cardiff. Although a booking last night means that Joe Allen will be suspended for the Austria match, Gareth Bale will be available again and, you’d like to think that another absentee from last night, Andy King, would be fit enough to step in for the Stoke man.

All in all, I’m pretty confident we can beat Austria and, with Ireland having dropped four points in two home matches after looking likely group winners at the turn of the year, they can definitely be caught and passed, but, historically, they’ve had a tendency to avoid defeat in crucial away qualifiers and I really think it will need something special from one of our match winners for us to prevail in the final game on 9 October.

I can imagine some of those reading this thinking “what does he mean by match winners?”, we’ve only got one. I might have agreed with that viewpoint as I watched Aaron Ramsey struggle through what has to be his worst season at Arsenal (I wish he would leave that club!) when he has been fit and available for the majority of the time, but as his club campaign entered it’s last six weeks or so, there were signs that he was beginning to look more like his old self.

A lovely goal (his only one in the Premier League in 2016/17) against Everton in Arsenal’s final league game was a confirmation of this return to form and he followed that up with a second FA Cup Final winning goal of his career as Chelsea were prevented from winning a League and Cup double – in truth, the goal was the icing on the cake of what was a top class performance anyway.

So, if Wales had to go into a very testing match played in a tremendously hostile atmosphere in a part of the world where they have struggled badly in recent years without their talisman, there were reassuring signs at least that their other star name was back to something like his best.

Aaron Ramsey’s very cool (in both senses of the word) penalty puts us ahead – the picture shows that whether there was a slight miskick involved or not, the Serbian keeper had been completely fooled by Rambo’s Panenka.

The opening stages of the match offered plenty of hope that Wales, with City’s Jazz Richards an impressive replacement for the suspended Neil Taylor, Dave Edwards in for Bale and Sam Vokes up front for the injured Hal Robson-Kanu, would not be suffering anything like the 6-1 tonking they had to endure on their last visit to Serbia – they were comfortable at the back and Vokes was able to win a few headers as the visitors showed that it wouldn’t just be a case of sitting back and hoping for something from a set piece.

However, without Bale to arrive quickly to provide support, Vokes often cut an isolated figure up front – Ramsey offered hope when he was able to get close to the striker, but Edwards rarely suggested he could make any of those runs into dangerous positions that are something of a trademark of his at Wolves.

Gunter and Richards got forward at times, but, hardly surprisingly, they were essentially defensive rather than offensive wing backs as they provided assistance for the back three of Williams, Chester and Davies.

Wales were keeping Serbia quiet, but, for me, it was looking like we were only likely to score from a set piece or a Serbian mistake and with ten minutes of the first half left, the home side obliged with a couple of clangers. First, keeper Stojkovic (who always struck me as an erratic performer in his games for Forest last season) got himself into a right pickle as he tried to shepherd a ball out for a goal kick that was never going to go over the line and ended up fouling Ramsey, then from the free kick, Milivojevic blatantly grabbed Vokes’ shirt and, luckily for us in this age where such offences are so often ignored by officials, the Italian referee pointed to the spot.

With Bale absent, there was little doubt who’d take the penalty – even the sub standard Ramsey of November until March would have stepped forward to take it, but, even though he was playing well and was a far more confident figure now, I still had little faith in Rambo scoring.

To bring things back to a City footing for a short while, Joe Ralls took three penalties for us last season and scored them all. One of them was in a very high pressure situation at Derby which he put away beautifully, but his other two, at Reading and at home against Birmingham, must have left the respective keepers thinking they could have saved them as they got a good contact on the ball – with so many good penalty takes (e.g. Whittingham, Pilkington, Noone and Lambert) expected to leave during the summer, I must admit that the thought of Ralls taking our penalties next season does not fill me with confidence.

For Ralls at Cardiff, read Ramsey at Wales, he’s never convinced me as a penalty taker, but, after last night’s “Panenka” on the ground where the Czech won the 1976 European Championships for his country in a penalty shoot out, maybe I’ll need to have a little more faith!

That said, Dean Saunders thought Ramsey may have got lucky and I can see what he means to some extent because the thought occurred to me at the time that it looked odd to put a Paneka (they usually drift slowly into the middle of the goal over a grounded keeper who has already committed himself) into the corner of the net.

I’ve seen it reported that Ramsey waited for Stojkovic to dive and then dinked the ball into the opposite corner, but, if that was the case, why not just roll the ball in like Peter Thorne (my favourite ever City penalty taker) used to do? Doesn’t attempting a Panenka always carry the risk that, even if the keeper is beaten, things can still go wrong in the manner that they almost did for the great Zinedine Zidane in the 2006 World Cup Final?

In the end, it doesn’t matter whether Ramsey’s penalty was an absolute superb version of the Panenka or one that involved a little luck – unlike a certain Prime Minister recently, Ramsey gambled and won gloriously and this has to increase the chances of us having a confident and in form Rambo in the team when Austria arrive in almost three months time.

A goal to the good at the break, I think the huge majority of Welsh fans knew what lay ahead in the second period. The pressure from Serbia grew and grew and, although there were not too many serious threats to the Welsh goal, it was hard to avoid a feeling that a home goal was coming and it duly arrived when Mitrovic, scorer of Serbia’s late equaliser in Cardiff, netted with what was his sides only on target effort of the game.

After that, there were one or two hairy moments for the Welsh team, but Vokes with  an opportunity that he might have done better with and Ramsey with a shot which Stojkovic kept out at the expense of a corner, offered signs that it was not all one way traffic during the second period.

Still, by the end, I daresay Serbia were probably left feeling like Wales had done when the teams first met seven months ago, that is that, although a draw was probably a fair outcome, they were the side who were more deserving of the win.

However, you only had to look at the names on a very youthful Welsh bench to have it confirmed that this was very much a case of a point gained, rather than two lost – we may have more squad depth these days, but when Bale, Taylor, Collins, King, Robson-Kanu, Woodburn, Johnny Williams and Dummett (who may or may not have “retired” from international football) are all missing for one reason or another, our resources do become very stretched.




Posted in Wales | Tagged , , | 2 Comments