In the hour before yesterday’s game between Cardiff City and Liverpool, home supporters marched to the stadium from the Admiral Napier pub in Canton in a demonstration against the re-branding of the club’s colours and badge by majority shareholder Vincent Tan. It was revealed in the week that Mr Tan had, apparently, told leaders of fans bodies in a meeting with Chairman Mehmet Dalman and other club employees that he joined unannounced late on, that there were no business or financial reasons behind the changes he imposed – seemingly, it was all down to red being lucky in his mind.
As to the number who took part, all I’ll see is that I was near the back of the march and when I got on to Leckwith Road, I was able to look about 150/200 yards ahead and see the flags those at the front of it were holding going under the railway bridge by Ninian Park station . There was a pretty solid block of people covering the width of the road from front to back of the march, so take your guess as to how many that was. If, as Mr Tan claims, only ten per cent of supporters are against him on this matter, then I’d say every single one of them was there marching yesterday (along with a fair few of his “silent majority” who had, for some reason, inadvertently joined in on the very day that they had nothing red to wear and so, reluctantly, had to put something blue on!).
The consensus among the people I spoke to afterwards was that the march (and the biggest show of blue seen at a Cardiff game seen since the League Cup Final between the two sides a couple of years ago) had been a success and, for a while at least, it looked as if the team could make it into an absolutely brilliant day as they tore into what is widely regarded as the in form side in the Premier League at the moment from the first whistle.
After half an hour City led 2-1 and thoroughly deserved that advantage, but the fifteen minutes before the interval saw the visitors take command and by the time Skrtel equalised on forty one minutes, the tone for the rest of the game had been set. Despite us battling until the end, the second half looked like a game between sides eighteen places apart in the table for most of the time and there’s no argument from me that the result was a fair outcome – even if the scoreline of 6-3 was a harsh one from a City point of view.
So, Liverpool continue a title challenge which I certainly didn’t see coming back in August. I’ve always felt their defensive frailties (I was very surprised to hear Brendan Rodgers say he thought Liverpool had defended well yesterday) would see them come up short, but, having now seen them in the flesh, I’m beginning to change my mind.
I know Luis Suarez is the man opposition supporters love to hate, but I thought he was brilliant yesterday. At the beginning of the month I was lucky enough to see Gareth Bale turn in a world class performance for Wales against Iceland and Cardiff City Stadium was the venue for another one as Suarez’s team showed the goalscoring ability that has seen North London’s finest both brushed aside this season far more emphatically than City were. Suarez showed his good and bad side, but what surprised me was the strength which enabled him to constantly outmuscle bigger men – this was a part of his game that I had not really picked up on while watching him on television.
Alongside him Daniel Sturridge has always impressed me right from the days he first started appearing in the Man City side. Anyone would look good playing alongside Suarez, but Sturridge didn’t suffer too much in comparison with him yesterday. At the moment, the two of them are virtually unplayable, so I feel any criticism of City’s defending has to be tempered, to some extent at least, by a recognition of the quality they were up against.
I think it’s also fair not to blame individuals too much for the last two goals because by then we had made three attacking substitutions and were chasing the game – we were ideally set up for the best counter attacking side in the league. However, our defending was poor for two of the three goals Liverpool scored when the match was a real competition. I notice Ole said our defending was “soft” for the first two goals and I would certainly agree with him about the first one – it must have looked a beautifully constructed goal if you were a Liverpool fan, but Declan John became the latest in a long line of Cardiff full backs/wing backs this season who have let their opponent be played in with an inside pass which gave them a free run to the bye line. I wouldn’t be too critical of our defending for the second one because the quality of the cross from Coutinho (a lovely passer of the ball) was so good, but, even allowing for the disadvantage we had to face, it was too easy for Skrtel to score the third Liverpool goal.
Mention of the third goal brings me on to the other important factor in the outcome – Neil Swarbrick’s refereeing. Now I know supporters of struggling sides always pin some of the blame for their team’s plight on poor officials, but I can honestly say one thing I won’t miss if we go down is the surprisingly poor referees we have had to put up with most weeks – I can’t believe I’m saying this after that notorious Leeds game in 06/07, but Mark Clattenburg (who I think has been in charge of two of our games this season) has been, by far and away, the best referee I’ve seen at City matches this season.
Yesterday, the man who deemed Wayne Rooney’s blatant hack at Jordon Mutch last November was only worthy of a yellow card, had home supporters baying for his blood by the time he ended the game after a number of incidents which certainly worked out in Liverpool’s favour. Speaking for myself, I didn’t think Mr Swarbrick got them all wrong – for example, I didn’t think Steven Gerrard deserved a second yellow for his foul on John (I think it was him anyway) around the twenty minute mark and I didn’t believe Glen Johnson fouled Fabio in the build up to the fifth goal, but, as usual at this level, the 50/50’s consistently went in favour of the “bigger” team and if it had been, say Fraizer Campbell and Daniel Agger chasing the long ball that Juan Cala and Suarez were after in the dying seconds, then I’m absolutely convinced that we would have seen a Liverpool free kick given.
Okay, that last goal was largely meaningless and did not effect the outcome, but Liverpool’s third goal didn’t fall into that category and Mr Swarbrick’s decisions in that incident were questionable at the very least – for a start, was it a dive by Sturridge for the free kick? I suppose what needs to be established first as far as what followed that free kick goes is what happened to Jordon Mutch – at the time, I thought he got up himself, took a swig of water and then was ready to carry on, but I assumed he had received a bit more treatment than that which I had missed.
Now, it needs to be said that, to the letter of the law, Mr Swarbrick did nothing wrong, but, then, in this case, the law is an ass – where is the sense in a side being penalised when two players contribute legal pieces of defending which their manager would probably be complimenting them for after the game? Therefore, if as television pictures seem to indicate and supporters closer to what happened than me are adamant did happen, Mutch only took a swig of water, then wasn’t this a case where common sense should have been applied and one of the two players involved allowed to stay on the pitch – if Mr Swarbrick knew for a fact that the assessor in the stand would mark him down for not insisting that Mutch leave the pitch, then the system needs to be looked at because the rule involved was certainly not brought in to create the sort of situation we saw yesterday.
Anyway, where do we stand now after that incident packed ninety minutes? Well, the first thing to say is that we won’t be facing a side as good as Liverpool in our next six matches – we need to improve defensively, but our opponents won’t have the armoury to hurt us as much as the scousers did. A few weeks ago, I had virtually given up on our chances of staying up, but, one thing which has changed since then is that we finally look like a side which can score goals on a consistent basis at this level – John Flanagan has impressed me this season, but he was targeted by us and we had the rarity of seeing us being good enough to follow through on the attacking plans we made as the young full back endured a very uncomfortable afternoon before he was substituted.
Seven goals scored in our last three matches and the quality of our attacking play in that first half an hour should mean that we can go into our absolutely crucial next two matches with confidence that we are getting things right at one end of the pitch at least. There is also the added plus factor that, by and large, the other results went for us with Fulham, Sunderland, West Brom, Palace, Swansea (who should really start sweating if they lose at Arsenal in midweek) and West Ham all losing – I reckon we probably need to win four out of our last seven, but at least it no longer looks like the only score we could win a game by is 1-0.
+ picture courtesy of https://www.flickr.com/people/joncandy/
*picture courtesy of http://www.walesonline.co.uk/