There are a fair number of City supporters who believe that the 2-0 win at Middlesbrough in the Quarter Final of the FA Cup in 2008 was the most complete performance they have seen from the team. For myself, it was the most dominant of any of the giant killing jobs we have done on top flight clubs that I have seen and, being honest, I’m struggling to remember a match in which so many of our players all played near the top of their game at the same time. However, you have to wonder where that marvelous performance came from, because eight days earlier, a City side which started with ten of the team that demolished Middlesbrough gave a pitiful display in losing at home to relegation bound Leicester City – I did wonder whether I was going over the top with the title I gave this piece, but I don’t think I am, forget about 6-0 at Preston, 2-0 at home to Barnsley or 3-0 at Bristol City, this was as bad as it gets for recent City teams!
Although City had played well in beating Wolves in the Fifth Round of the Cup, the fine run of form which had seen us be transformed from relegation strugglers to Play Off contenders had blown itself out through February 2008 and when lowly Leicester came to Ninian Park on St. David’s Day, it was to face a team that had taken only one point from their last four league matches whilst scoring just twice in the process. With just four wins from the seventeen matches they had played since they had dominated a televised 0-0 draw with us at the Walker’s Stadium, the optimism that was around Leicester at that time following Ian Holloway’s appointment as manager had long since departed – they came into the game with a buffer of three points over the bottom three, but had played more games than the sides around them.
First of all, let’’s get the mitigating circumstances out of the way – the game was played on a bright, but very blustery day and as the strong wind blowing straight down the ground from the Canton Stand billowed the goal nets and made the corner flags come out horizontal to the ground in the moments before kick off, it was obvious that we weren’t going to see a classic. However, the conditions can only be offered as a partial excuse for the horror show that home supporters were going to endure over the next ninety minutes – Leicester were nothing special, but they didn’t have to be as they emerged with a victory which was more comfortable than the 1-0 scoreline suggests.
After just five minutes, home keeper Peter Enckelman gave City fans a taste of things to come as he miskicked a clearance to D.J. Campbell to leave the Leicester striker clean through on goal only for the Finnish international to then make up for his error with a fine save. This was typical of an eccentric performance by Enckelman who soon after did well to keep out a Steve Howard header, but, besides his part in the decisive goal, the keeper’s kicking and decision making was awry throughout. At least Enckelman had his goods moments in the game mind, for most of his team mates it never got any better than poor – for example, I saw Aaron Ramsey’s performance last week against Burnley harshly described as the worst he has given in a City shirt on a messageboard, I can only assume that the person making that comment wasn’t at this game because Ramsey’s display was, comfortably, the worst I have seen from him in our first team.
In saying that, Aaron wasn’t the worst of a bad bunch by any means, but, as it often was when City had a shocker, it was skipper Darren Purse who got most of the flak. Purse and his highly rated centreback partner Roger Johnson both had poor matches, but it was the way that the former tucked away the match winning goal that singled his performance out from the dross that his team mates produced. Visiting keeper Paul Henderson spent most of the game with his slippered feet up, smoking his pipe and reading the paper, but occasionally he did have to field an aimless ball forward by City and just before the half hour mark, he had to leave the crossword he was doing to punt a ball downfield. Inevitably, it caught on the wind and was dropping about twenty five yards from the City goal - with no Leicester player anywhere near, it should have been a simple ball to deal with, but panic set in for some reason as Enckelman came charging from his goal and Purse backtracked quickly.
What happened next was difficult to fathom – it looked to me as if Purse was trying to volley the ball out for a corner, but, instead, the ball came off his leg and started rolling slowly towards the City goal. Unfortunately, Enckelman had come out too far, too quickly and could only watch helplessly as the ball continued on it’s slow but inevitable path into the back of our net. It must have taken about eleven or twelve seconds from Henderson kicking the ball to it barely disturbing our net and eight of those were after Purse made contact with it – this own goal doesn’t beat Jason Bowen’s corker against Crewe as the best, and funniest, one I have seen us score, but it’s right up there in my top five!
If you were going to nominate a candidate for a comedy own goal in that team, it would have to be Darren Purse because such things had a habit of happening to him. When Purse was bad, he was truly awful and it is typical of football fans that, as the years go by, it is the unfortunate incidents and gaffes for which players tend to become remembered. In the case of Darren Purse though, this would be very unfair because, for every one nightmare there were ten and more performances where he led by example and stood up to be counted.
In many ways Darren Purse is an old fashioned footballer for whom the link between player and fans is still a genuine one – it was typical of the man that he not only went along to see us play at Leeds earlier in the season, but he was also there right in amongst our supporters. I also admired the bottle he showed when taking penalties while playing in a position not normally associated with doing such things and I think that it is great that he now has a chance to end his career playing for the club he supported as a boy – football needs more people like Darren Purse.
1 March 2008
Cardiff City 0 Leicester City 1
City Enckelman; McNaughton. Purse (o.g.), Johnson, Capaldi; Ramsey, Rae, McPhail (Thompson), Whittingham (Scimeca); Hasselbaink, Parry; Subs (not used) Oakes, Sinclair, Blake
Leicester Henderson; Stearman, Kisnorbo, N’Gotty, Clapham; Oakley, Hendrie (Mattock), Clemence; Hume (Wesolowski), Howard, Campbell (Hayles); Subs (not used) Chambers, Fryatt