Seemingly on the brink of a move to Ipswich, the 2008/09 version of Ross McCormack finally put in an appearance last night as he made the decisive contribution as City needed extra time to complete a 4-1 win over Burton Albion in the First Round of the Carling Cup. McCormack, who was said to have been talking terms in Ipswich earlier in the day, came on as a half time substitute for a, hopefully, not too seriously injured Jay Bothroyd and, despite nothing much going right for him during the second half of regular time, showed a better attitude than of late in my book as he looked to bring team mates into play more often as opposed to firing in shots from all angles as soon as he got within thirty yards of goal.
It was in extra time though that McCormack came into his own, with a quickfire double which helped City clinch a tough looking Second Round trip to Peterborough. His first goal two minutes into the second period of extra time was a routine finish via an upright from ten yards, but his second was pure quality as he showed fine control before cutting in from the right to drill a low drive from twenty yards beyond keeper Legzdins. If last night’s match represented McCormack’s Cardiff City swansong, then that second goal, and much of what he did after it, was a reminder of what we are going to be missing. I have been critical of McCormack in recent months and I feel that a parting of the ways from Cardiff City might be the best thing for both parties, but I say that knowing full well that he has the talent to make us regret any decision to sell him in the coming months.
While one player was, seemingly, making his last Cardiff appearance, another one was making his first as Martin John, a twenty two year old English born left back with a Swiss/Colombian mother and a Gambian father started in what has become a problem position for City. John, who has played football at College level in Canada and reserve level in Argentina, made an assured start as he kept things pretty simple but found life a little tougher as the game went on before being pushed further forward when hit by cramp midway through the second half. He ended up playing the full 120 minutes and deserved credit for the way he battled on and made a contribution in extra time, but my impression, admittedly after watching him just the once, is that he is not yet ready for Championship football.
The reason why the limping John had to stay on for the whole match as opposed to going off after an hour or so as planned was that City had lost two players to injury as, besides Bothroyd, Adam Matthews went off with what looked quite a bad injury not long after the break to be replaced by Paul Quinn, while an ineffective Gavin Rae had been withdrawn shortly before John went down with cramp to accommodate the returning hero Jason Koumas.
The original plan had been for Koumas to get just half an hour or so at the end of the game and you could see why there was a reluctance to use him for longer as he made a low key start which illustrated that there is still much to be done before he will be at his sharpest. However, he became more influential as extra time went on as, having had a shot blocked, he put McCormack in for his first goal and then showed great vision to slip Michael Chopra through for our fourth goal on the night, and his first of the campaign, with two minutes left.
By then, we were playing well as we made tiring opponents suffer by keeping the ball for long periods, but, just as on Sunday against Sheffield United, a strong finish to a match should not be allowed to mask the very ordinary stuff that came before it. That said, City had started pretty brightly and you could feel a goal was coming before it eventually did in the seventeenth minute when Peter Whittingham found acres of space down the left to cross low for Jay Bothroyd to stab in from close range. With Chris Burke having a shot spilled by Legzdins into an area where somebody could have been presented with a tap in on another night immediately after the goal, it looked all too easy for City for a little while and there was certainly an air of complacency around shortly afterwards when errors by Rae and Gerrard presented visiting striker Shaun Harrad with a chance which he put away nicely.
From then on until the ninety minute mark, Burton forgot any inferiority complex that they might have been suffering from as they gave as good as they got in more than matching City – Burton impressed me, they were hard working, neat and tidy in their passing and possessed a bit of ability up front which troubled our defence at times. In fact, with City close to conceding an own goal as they got into a mess defending a cross, Heaton making an instinctive save from a Harradd flick from a corner and striker Pearson making a complete mess of a close range chance in the last minute of normal time, I think it is fair to say that Burton came the closer to winning the game in the second half of normal time.
In response, there was a McCormack header, rightly, ruled out for offside, a well struck shot from the same player into the side netting and a lovely low cross from Burke (who had to switch to right back in the reshuffle caused by John’s cramp) just begging to be put away by a City striker, but, all in all, we confirmed the impression I had got from the Deportivo and Sheffield United matches – we are really struggling to create shooting opportunities (let alone goalscoring chances) when it is an eleven against eleven contest played over ninety minutes.
The second half of extra time showed that we have the quality and know how to put tired sides or teams who we have got on top of to the sword, but it is a concern to see how listless and, at times clueless, we were last night in regular play against, so called, weaker opposition who were prepared to make the game a scrap – on Sunday only our full backs looked really effective while Sheffield United had the better of the first hour and last night only the hard working and effective Danny Drinkwater really impressed me as the ninety minutes of regular play developed into something of a stalemate.