The absent thousands pick a good game to miss as Derby “park the bus”.

As the couple of walks I used to go on with my dog every day were my sole concession to “keeping fit”, I’ve tried to continue with them in the absence of my Staffy Ruby, who was put to sleep in July. This week I was told by the vet that the ten week old Staffy pup, Mica, I bought a fortnight ago to replace her, would be ready to venture into the big, wide world from next weekend, so I will soon be able to lose the slight self consciousness I have felt as I wander by myself around venues full of people walking their dogs.

Anyway, the point of the above is that my breakfast time Saturday morning ritual for the last few years has been to take a walk around Victoria Park and, in recent months, there has been organised football training sessions being held there for boys, and some girls, who look to me to be under the age of ten.

As I walked past them yesterday, with memories of City’s great win last Tuesday against Leeds fresh in my mind, I asked myself how many of those kids would be saying they were Kenneth Zohore, Junior Hoilett, Nathaniel Mendez-Laing or Sol Bamba now following our storming start to the season rather than, say, Harry Kane, Kevin De Bruyne, Philippe Coutinho or Eden Hazard as they played ?

Sadly, on the evidence of the rows of empty seats in all parts of the ground at Cardiff City Stadium yesterday as the home side looked to extend their lead at the top of the Championship against Derby County, the answer to the question I posed is probably “very few”.

Although I’ve mentioned before on here that I would go along to games in the mid sixties at the age of eight or nine without adult supervision, the world was a very different place back then and it was by no means unusual for parents to let their kids go to the football with friends of the same age as them.

So, if only a few, or maybe even none, of those youngsters I saw do not dream of being a Cardiff City player one day, then I don’t blame them – if “blame” is to be apportioned, then I’d say it lies primarily with parents who, presumably, don’t have the time, inclination or, to be fair, in some cases the money to take their sons/daughters to live football games.

Unfortunately, history probably tells us that, when it comes to the people of Cardiff and it’s surrounding areas, not having the inclination to go to watch their local team play may well be the more plausible of the possible explanations I’ve offered.

I think it’s reasonable to assume that one in three, possibly more, of those who were there supporting Cardiff in that twenty seven thousand crowd on Tuesday were absent yesterday. Of course, many of them would have had authentic reasons as to why they couldn’t make it and would have been genuinely upset that they couldn’t, but when you’re talking about something like seven to ten thousand people, there are going to very many who, having only paid a fiver for their ticket for Leeds, just couldn’t be bothered attending against Derby.

I shouldn’t be surprised or disappointed that, yet again, the people of this area turn out in droves for a “big” game and then many go missing a few days later for a fixture that is seen as a more mundane one. After all, it’s happened throughout our history and, for all the claims you read about the passionate nature of Cardiff’s support, it has to be accepted that it’s also more fickle than many as well.

So, as I say, at sixty one I should be old enough now to not let myself get too agitated about the size of our crowds, but I have to say that it grates with me that there were fewer people there yesterday than there were for the Sheffield Wednesday game a fortnight ago, despite us having had two victories to take us back to the top of the table (a position which, to be honest, I never expected us to regain this season after we lost it following our loss at Preston).

Worse than that though, by the time we play next, it will have been a year since we appointed Neil Warnock. In that time, I’d say it’s entirely reasonable to claim that the club has been completely transformed for the better in so many ways, with the most important criteria for measuring by how much it’s changed being results on the pitch.

This is a particularly good time to analyse by how much Warnock has improved things, because we’ve now played forty six Championship games with him in charge. That’s the equivalent of a full Championship season and, although the seventy eight points we’ve accumulated in that time, would not have got us a Play Off spot in 16/17, I think I’m right in saying that it would have done in most of the seasons since the Play Off system was brought in.

So that’s the backdrop that yesterday’s attendance of 18,480 has to be judged against – we’ve been showing top six form, or very near to it, for a year and we currently sit at the top of the league. Yet, back on 14 October last year, when we faced Bristol City in Warnock’s first game in charge, we found ourselves in twenty third position for a game which had been switched to a Friday night because it was being shown live on Sky and there were no deals whereby season ticket holders could purchase tickets for others for £5.

Now, I know it was a local derby and such games tend to attract bigger crowds than the norm, but if you were to tell a supporter of any other club that 22,726 would turn out for a game when the team concerned were last but one in the league and there would be nearly four and a half thousand less there a year later when they were topping the same league, what do you think that person would say in reply? Of course, it’s impossible to know for sure, but I wouldn’t mind betting it would contain something along the lines of “what is wrong with the supporters of that club?”.

As it turns out, it’s possible that the stayaways knew something that those of us who were there for both of our matches this week did not, because there was little on offer yesterday which would have had you leaving the game thinking that you could not wait for the next time you saw us play.

I’ve mentioned before on here that 0-0 draws can sometimes be very entertaining matches, but Cardiff v Derby was not one of them – it was dull, virtually free from goalmouth incident, scrappy and disjointed.

One other thing I remember from a year ago was that we were supposed to be playing in “the Cardiff way” whereby we would succeed by playing crowd pleasing passing football using a tactical flexibility that had not been seen under the manager we had before Paul Trollope.

There was also a “Derby way” at one time and it was a great deal more established than the Cardiff way ever became. From what I remember, there was never any mission statement as to what the Derby way was, but a season or two ago anyone who saw their very expensively assembled team on a good day would know what it was meant to entail – Derby were a very watchable side at their best as they generally tried to outpass their opponents while taking the game to them whether they were playing home or away.

What Derby offered yesterday in no way was the “Derby way” – I’m struggling to remember the last time a side lined up as defensively against us and for about eighty per cent of the game I would have said a 0-0 draw was the height of their ambition.

Derby took a step away from their self proclaimed way when they appointed Gary Rowett as manager, because his time at Birmingham identified him as someone who places defensive strength high on his list of priorities and, like Neil Warnock, he doesn’t seem too bothered if the opposition have more of the ball than his team does.

It would have been easy to look at the turgid stuff Derby produced yesterday and think that they were not a patch on their teams of old, but there was a frailty about the sides that practiced the Derby way which helped ensure that, for all of the millions spent, they never fully convinced that they could make it to the Premier League – there was a discipline and a hard edge about them yesterday that was often missing from those earlier teams.

Rowett claimed after the game that his side deserved to win. I’m not so sure about that, but I don’t think they deserved to lose and, after offering nothing in attack for the first hour or so (I’m struggling to remember a goal attempt of any description from them in that time), it’s true to say that they came closer to ending the stalemate than we did.

Derby weren’t entirely negative, they made a couple of attacking substitutions and tried to catch us on the break more in the last quarter of the match – notably when left back Craig Forsyth’s cross hit a post and there was also a brilliant Neil Etheridge save from one of those subs, David Nugent.

As for us, the general air of “after the Lord Mayor’s show” in the stands was matched on the pitch. For myself, I thought the amount of closing down work the front three put in against Leeds caught up with them – once again, Mendez-Laing was the best of them as he consistently troubled Forsyth, but, generally speaking, their direct opponents won the individual battles with Zohore and Hoilett.

Also, with Joe Ralls replacing Craig Bryson (absent because he was not allowed to play under the terms of the loan deal between the two clubs), there was a sameness about our midfield in an attacking sense as the latter’s ability to make effective forward runs was badly missed.

One thing City can be accused of lacking even when we have Gunnarsson and Bryson in the team is attacking number ten type guile and I thought it maybe took too long to get the man who can provide that, Lee Tomlin, on. Tomlin replaced Loic Damour on the seventy minute mark and, truth be told, disappointed me somewhat with his lack of impact. I also wondered whether, rather than a like for like change with our other substitution as Liam Fenney (who has done little of note since the assist for the equaliser against Fulham on his debut) came on for Hoilett, we could have tried two up front with Danny Ward on alongside Zohore.

Anyway, City have come through what looked like a very testing group of fixtures after the first international break with nine points from two wins, three draws and a defeat. I reckon most fans would have accepted that beforehand and now we head into the second break a point clear at the top – there is a sense of disappointment about yesterday, but I think everyone would have taken this situation if it had been offered back in early August.

Just a few words to finish about the game I saw at lunchtime yesterday – the first thing to say is that I’m not one hundred per cent sure what I was watching! With the fixture list the club website produced at the start of the season saying the Under 18s were due to play QPR at Leckwith at 12 o clock and no venue for the game being mentioned on their Twitter feed, I turned up expecting to see the players who had yet to record a league win in six attempts, but, instead, what I saw was QPR playing in their normal blue and white hoops and a very young looking City team in our new green away strip.

My first thought was that the team management had made wholesale changes to the side following the Welsh Youth Cup tie with Ely Rangers on Thursday – a very strong looking line up fell behind, equalised and then almost conceded again in the dying seconds of normal time, before stretching away to win by scoring three unanswered goals in the second period of extra time.

However, the fact that QPR’s team looked just as young as City’s and that the game finished as early as half past one made me think I had turned up at the forty minutes each way, Under 16 game between the teams.

As for the Under 18s, they did play and all of the regulars were involved, but as to where they played, I’m still none the wiser! It may have been on one of the nearby artificial pitches at Leckwith, which are now covered by a big tarpaulin, but more likely it was at Treforest.

If it was the latter. then I would not have been able to watch it because I would not have been able to get to Cardiff City Stadium in time for the kick off of the first team game, but it was still mildly annoying to learn I had missed that first league win because it finished City 6 QPR 2 with Isaak Davies getting a hat trick.

It was only mildly annoying for a couple of reasons, first when I normally turn up at Leckwith when there has been a late change of venue, I usually have to go straight back home, but at least there was a game going on to watch this time and this takes me on to the second reason – what a very good game it was, certainly a lot more enjoyable than the one I watched a few hours later.

Apologies for the lack of detail, but I’m unable to give you the names of any of the players involved because I didn’t recognise them,  but the scoring went as follows.

City went ahead when our number nine stabbed in a cross as I was walking towards the stadium and we held the lead for about ten minutes when the giant centreback and captain  for QPR (he was about three inches taller than anyone else on the pitch) nodded in a corner to equalise. City regained their lead, as they worked another short corner routine which enabled one of their players (couldn’t even tell you his number I’m afraid) to score neatly with an angled shot at the near post.

City had fallen foul of a very enthusiastic linesman in the first half. I was sat directly in line with him for many of his offside decisions and I’d say he got most of them right, but there were one or two among them which looked distinctly dodgy to me. By contrast, his opposite number had no such desire to raise his flag at every opportunity in the second half, but, the one time he did, it looked as if he made a big error to me as what looked like a perfectly legitimate one on one opportunity to put us two goals clear was turned into a QPR equaliser as a quick free kick was taken and the ball found it’s way, via a lucky deflection, to the visiting centre forward who walked it in to score easily.

Whether it was down to City feeling sorry for themselves after the way that goal came about or not I don’t know, but they conceded again two or three minutes later. This time it was a good goal as a fine crossfield ball found the QPR number seven in oceans of space and he calmly steered his shot from the edge of the penalty area into the net.

City were not playing as well as they had done in the first half and when our number eleven shot wide after a defensive slip had given him a one on one with the keeper, I thought another defeat was on the way. However, City’s inventiveness from corners paid dividends again as our number five scored on the far post to bring things level again.

We were now gaining the benefit of a stream of offside decisions in our favour  and looking the more likely scorers of a winning goal which duly arrived when our number two did well to keep his crisply struck shot into the corner of the net down to record a last minute goal.

So, I saw my second, highly entertaining, 4-3 home win at Leckwith in the space of five days – this years’s Under 16s look a decent a group of players on this evidence.

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8 Responses to The absent thousands pick a good game to miss as Derby “park the bus”.

  1. Russell says:

    Thanks Paul for the write up of the decidedly dreadful draw we wittnessed, and your suprise U16 game ,you were gifted by the club , its great news both one, its our future after all .

    I am going to admit something, I will be 61 soon , I to started watching the City at a tender age ,13 , back when we played footy ,which was everyday as children we always seem to pick a player we wanted to be, for me it’s was Denis Law as I loved his one arm salute after scoring, I loved the City strikers with venom ,Tosh and Clarky , however me and mates always wanted to be Charlton ,Law or Best, it had to be their fame, and our limited access to the media, even way back then , bit like “mild green”Fairy Liquid adverts convincing us of a direction of wanting ?

    Yesterday was always going to be a tough one and I half imagined Ledley grabbing the winner late in the game ,thank god he was crap , so was his twitter comment about signing contracts ,he was quickly reminded by a number of City fans about the contract he could have signed before leaving for a rewarded contract at Celtic .

    Derby came and shut up shop , bit like Sheff Utd did ,shut our forwards down very well , and as you say on both those games, only Lainge took it to them .

    Ralls l, I felt could have bagged one , and I think Bryson maybe the cleverest of the two.

    What a positive though, once Bamba again showed he’s a decent midfielder.

    Pelteir and Bennet played well.

    Etheridge was my MOM though some great saves , he has moved on in my view from his poor Preston performance, by the time Camp is ready he maybe hard to budge .

    Still on top who would have beloved it , shows how uncertain this league will be .

    Boring draws may become more prevalent as we go through the season , as teams come for the draw , I think our forwards will better enjoy themselves on the road.

    Strange substitutions l
    As you say, I was expecting Ward to be on , and Tomlin looked like his mind was elsewhere , perhaps he was jealous of the Ben Stokes video release , I do wonder how fit he is ?

    Crowds, well nothing to add really ,ours are fickle, we suffer from not much fame , our fan base being split between paying too watch Wales than us , they now wait for the fiver ticket offer , and let’s be fair its not cheap anymore , a lot of fans are from the valleys or one junction away so travel is long , weather plays a part I guess . Loyalty well there has always been 13 k over the last 10 years or so, anything over that I see as a bonus . If we go up we will see the return of the plastics ,they won’t attend every game though, a few oldies will be nudged out of retirement to return once again , and if all goes “”not so well”" for Wales in the future ,a drift back will be seen from those chosing to spend thier footy pocket money on Welsh away / home games .

  2. BJA says:

    Good morning Paul and everyone else. Your comments as ever hit right on the mark. Just where was everybody? Ever since Tuesday’s epic victory, our match against Derby was at the forefront of my mind, wondering and yes, worrying also, would we be able to sustain for the second time in a few days another brilliant performance to maintain and possibly increase our lead at the top of the table. But as you rightly state, thousands did not seem to be bothered and this bearing in mind our next home match is not until the end of October, twenty-eight days hence. By that time we may well not be leading the way…..who knows!! I think we understand that supporters can be fickle, but even the casual supporters must be excited at the team’s showings, so yesterday’s attendance was so disappointing. And yet, visiting the Club Shop some 45 minutes before the game, there was plenty of activity, so perhaps there may be some youngsters appearing wearing shirts with the name of any of our current crop of stars putting in an appearance at Victoria Park ( as an aside we often walk our beast at the same park, I’ll keep my eye open for our colours ).
    In the build up to this match, I was more than aware that few teams will ever go through a season without a loss at home, and I had a sense of foreboding when I looked at Derby’s starting eleven, and even more so when I saw Messrs Martin and Nugent on the bench. That Derby did not bother us at all in the first 45 minutes was the reason why Martin arrived for the second period and he immediately started to put himself about, niggling away at Morison and the referee with the result that whatever composure we had seemed to permeate through our team. Whilst we had a number of corners, the attacking of the ball was never really accurate enough to threaten the target. Nugent’s arrival on the scene posed more threat to us, but Etheridge was once again equal to the task.
    Our substitutions of Tomlin and Deeney brought nothing extra to our team in midfield although I do think that Tomlin is a most capable deliverer of a dead ball. At the final whistle, I was grateful for the point.
    And so, after almost a quarter of the season we head the league which few would have imagined, even NW himself. But behind us there are teams gathering pace -Villa, Wolves, Norwich and even Bristol City, not forgetting the two Sheffield Clubs, Leeds and Preston. We will need all of the support possible to maintain a top two slot, or even top six. If we are to have 25,000 plus crowds, the City’s hierarchy may have to look at more ticket price initiatives to entice the missing to attend, but would that possibly alienate the regular season ticket holder – possibly.

  3. Anthony O'Brien says:

    Good rep

    rt and comments from everybody. I particularly liked Russell’s witty remark about Tomlin : “perhaps he was jealous of the Ben Stokes video release”. On reflection, there may well be a serious point to that. I also noted the reference to Denis Law, guilty of the worst premeditated foul I have ever seen when he kicked Steve Gammon so hard that he never fully recovered.
    My grandson remarked during the game that Bamba’s performance would not have been out of place in the Premiership. I agree. I hope he continues to be picked in the holding midfield position, as long as he retains the energy and the enthusiasm to play there. In addition, I thought that Joe Bennett was excellent throughout the game, and Neil Etheridge was first rate when called upon. But we certainly missed Craig Bryson and his incisive forward runs. I accept that the main strikers did not receive very much in terms of worthwhile passes, but neither did they have a cutting edge. In fact, for most of the second half I expected Danny Ward to be introduced. It remains a surprise to me that this did not happen. But, thankfully, we are still where we are at the top of the league.

  4. Royalewithcheese says:

    I’m not sure about “parking the bus”, Bob. I thought their main tactic was to park both fullbacks on the halfway line to thwart our wingers, which coincidentally congested the midfield, which easily became three front or back whenever. Derby were effective and I was glad to get a point in the end. I too dreaded us losing to a goal by Ledley; I thought he was energetic.

    We missed Bryson’s box-to-box. We missed Gunnarsson, as much because we want Morrison on the end of long throws, not taking them. Eleven games in and the wear and tear of our pressing game, third game in a week, told. Nowhere more so than Ken Zohore. If he has been found out in any way, I’m worried. A lot rests on his young shoulders. He has the skills. I wonder whether he is mentally strong enough. It can be a lonely place up front. Mates who refuse to give up on you can almost make it worse.

    Top at this stage, especially given the fixtures we’ve had, is a fantastic achievement. The next 11 games will take us to Boxing Day, against no opponents currently in the top 7, as has been said. Will we find it easier against thus-far lesser teams? Some are improving. It seems hard to believe we will acquire as many points. 48 from 22 games would surpass Malky’s 2012/13. I think I’m right in saying only 2 teams in the last 12 years, Wolves and Reading, have had more than 48 points after 22 games, and only one team (Watford) top at Christmas in the last 12 years has failed to go up.

    The current mob is a lot more exciting than Malky’s, but is it as durable?

  5. MIKE HOPE says:

    I think it is safe to say that most of the deserters from the Leeds game were the £5 opportunists.It would be interesting to find out how much more the the club could do to persuade these ‘customers’ to come regularly paying the full price. Perhaps the £5 ticket should have come with a questionnaire!
    I can tell the club that from the small sample of newcomers in my vicinity they were all,with one exception, passionate City supporters with the potential to be regulars and perhaps season ticket holders at the right price.
    The one exception was obviously attending his first and probably last game at CCS.
    I can say this with some confidence because his accent suggested that he is more used to watching the New York Yankees and when our choristers were announcing what section of the community was leading 3 Nil he asked his friend ‘Whats a sheep shagger?’

  6. Barry Cole says:

    Not a lot to say this week except in the last 10 minutes we were lucky to come away with one point. Good goalkeeping from Eldridge and a great performance from bennet.
    Not so in midfield and further forward.
    There is a definite lack of feeding the forwards and teams are starting to suss us out. It’s now up to NW to try and rectify this and maybe look at other options like bogle instead of ward or maybe pilkington.
    Yes we will improve with Bryson and gunnarsson back again but we still need a midfielder to create and produce the killing ball to the forwards. Tomlin was the man but I think off field problems are affecting both his judgement and NWs judgement.
    On a different tact it’s nice to see you have a new friend for your walks, when my dogs have passed away I have always gone with , never again, and a few months later the new arrival takes over. Enjoy

  7. Clive Rymon says:

    Hi Paul,good observations as usual,my take on the crowd issue and it’s been a hobby horse of mine for quite a while is that I don’t understand the reasoning for having two home games together and two aways together.In the “old” days I’m sure it was one home ,one away I have always wondered what their reasoning behind this.When you consider the fact that Warnock complained about the travelling for the Fulham and Preston games it surely not beyond the wit of man to change the format,it might help where supporters would not have to choose between games in a short period of time,it might be an idea.

    Regarding the game like others when I looked at there side I thought we would have our work carried out to get a result,but overall a draw was a fair result I mean the lad Wisdom cost 3million alone from Liverpool,what a player he looked.

    My only gripe with what happened on Saturday was at the time when we were looking to nick a goal we did not bring Ward on as he can play wide or up front,we all have our opinions on who or should be playing so mabey Warnock had is reasons.

    We now leave the hurly burly of the championship and look to Wales to get us over the line to get to Russia,here’s hoping it’s a positive set of results.

  8. The other Bob Wilson says:

    Morning everyone, a few quick thoughts on each of your messages.
    Russell, yes I agree with you, I wanted to be Charlton, Law or Best when I was the age those kids I see in Victoria Park were, but I only ever wanted to play for City. I think you could be right about more teams coming here to defend from now on – Malky’s Champions always get slagged off for being boring, but maybe sides came and shut up shop here after the first few home games that season – some of the games in the second half of that campaign felt like pulling teeth!
    BJA, you make a good point about us not having another home match for four weeks. My barometer for whether the gate on Saturday was deserving of criticism or not was 20,000 – I honestly didn’t have a clue whether we would exceed or fail to meet that figure, but I didn’t think there’d be more than a few hundred in it either way. I certainly wasn’t expecting the crowd figure to fall 1,500 plus short – it was a very bad turnout when you consider it was almost a month before City next played at home. Maybe I will bump into you as I’m walking my new dog – I tend to go to Victoria Park three or four times a week and I’ve usually got the “mauve and yellow” jacket my brother’s family go me to celebrate my fiftieth anniversary as a City fan on.
    Anthony, the funny thing about Ward was that he was ready to come on when it looked like Zohore had done his hamstring, I hope we aren’t into territory where it can only be one of Zohore or Ward playing up front, not both. Apart from, say, the last five minutes where we, maybe, settled for a point to some extent, we were trying to win that game throughout, so I’d like to have seen us go 4-4-2 with the wide midfield men primarily concerned with attacking or, even, a type of 4-3-3 which included Tomlin just behind the strikers and at least one of Hoilett and Mendez-Laing as well – as you allude to, with Manga there to patrol in front of the defence, we should have had enough to cope with anything Derby threw at us.
    Royale, we’ll have to agree to disagree about Derby- I’ve not seen a side sit back that much against us since our promotion season. Interesting point you raise about our durability – I would have thought that, although it’s not quite the same thing, having been in a promotion winning side from this division would help a lot on that score and I make it that Jazz Richards played some games for the jacks in their promotion season, Sean Morrison may have played a few for Reading in 11/12, Camp was reserve keeper at Bournemouth in their promotion season I believe, Gunnarsson of course, but that’s all I can think of, so we seem to be heavily reliant on our manager on that front.
    Good idea to have included a questionnaire for those who went to the Leeds game on a £5 ticket Mike – perhaps an ultimatum that anyone failing to complete one would not be able to get in might have helped!
    Barry, I agree with you about our need for more creativity. Warnock was comparing Lee Tomlin with Danny Ward last week in terms of how well they are training and I know it much be hard for him when he is getting so few chances to make an impact at the club, but I’ve been a bit disappointed with Tomlin’s performances when he has been used off the bench in recent home games. As Anthony alludes to, it may be that he has off field matters on his mind, but I can’t help thinking that there are going to be more home games where we may need something a bit more subtle to break down a massed defence – he may not have been involved much so far, but I still expect Tomlin to have a big part to play if we do end up having a successful season (success for me would be a place in the Play Offs), so I hope this Court case is not going to be hanging over his head for too much longer.
    Clive, I thought Wisdom looked a fine player at this level as well – as for the two home games, two away games schedule which seems to have dominated for a decade or more now, the only thing I can think if is that, with a forty six game season, there are always going to be plenty of midweek games, so I suppose it’s conceivable that some sides could end up playing nearly all of their home matches in midweek under lights or others could barely have a weekend afternoon kick off if it was a one home, one away fixture list.

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