Wales provide what Cardiff City can’t.

CoymayWales played a lot better in drawing 0-0 with Bosnia-Hercegovina at Cardiff City Stadium last night than they did a month ago in winning their initial Euro 2016 qualifying group game in Andorra. In saying that, although it might be argued that a draw was a fair result, it was the visitors who would be more justified in thinking that they were worth the win – they got well on top in the middle third of the game when Wales had to rely on some last ditch defending and some fine goalkeeping by Wayne Hennessey to keep them out.

While I thought he was a deserved winner of Sky’s Man of the Match award, I think if Hennessey was being honest, he would have been disappointed to have been beaten by most of the efforts he had to deal with, but the stop he made from Medunjanin’s close range effort early in the second half was superb and it was great to see someone who has had such a rotten time of it with injuries give a reminder of the ability which made him look such a fantastic prospect before his knee problems.

Hennessey is 27 now which only goes to prove that, once you reach a certain age, the years absolutely fly by – it only seems like yesterday that he was winning his first cap for Wales against New Zealand seven and a half years ago. What it also shows is that the group of very talented players (I don’t like the term “golden generation” – it’s used too often these days and so has lost it’s original meaning) who started arriving on the scene about halfway through the noughties are at the age where they have stopped being “promising”, they now need to start delivering and, helped by the easier qualifying criteria this time around, last night offered genuine hope that they might be able to do that.

As mentioned earlier, it was backs to the wall stuff at times against a more than useful Bosnia team who should certainly not be written off just because they only have one point out of a possible six and entertain group favourites Belgium on Monday - even if they lose that game, I’d still expect them to finish in the top three of our group.

Gareth Bale asks for more from the crowd during last night's game and he got it on a night when the atmosphere in Cardiff City Stadium was tremendous. Unlike some other left sided players we've had in the past, it's obvious that playing for his country means a lot to Bale - we are lucky that a player who I believe has to be rated in the top five on the planet is so desperate for his country to succeed.*

Gareth Bale asks for more from the crowd during last night’s game and he got it on a night when the atmosphere in Cardiff City Stadium was tremendous. Unlike some other left sided players we’ve had in the past, it’s obvious that playing for his country means a lot to Bale – we are lucky that a player who I believe has to be rated in the top five on the planet is so desperate for his country to succeed.*

 

However, there was a spirit and a determination in the Welsh side which has not always been present in recent years and when you consider that injury robbed us of ten players who would have made the squad otherwise, I can’t help thinking that this was a game that would have been lost in previous years.

Granted, many of the missing ten would not have made the starting line up, but when you looked at the Wales bench last night, it really brought home how limited the options Chris Coleman had were. This was most true in central midfield where the absence of the likes of Vaughan, Crofts, Huws and Evans meant that there was only really Dave Edwards who could have come on to provide a realistic alternative to a trio that had a bit of a “bare bones” look to it anyway in the absence of Wales’ second and third best players (at least I reckon they are).

Okay, Aaron Ramsey was a long way off his best against Andorra and Joe Allen only had a limited impact in the same game, but losing the pair of them for the October double header was a huge blow. With them, three points against Bosnia would have been a realistic possibility, but, once they were ruled out, I was definitely in the “I’d take a draw if it was offered” camp.

Without our two most creative central midfielders, Coleman came up with the combination of Joe Ledley, Andy King and Johnny Williams and I think it’s fair to say they performed much as expected. The first named played deepest of the trio and, while not proving as effective a defensive shield as Allen can sometimes be, generally passed the ball efficiently while also putting in the unglamorous hard graft that his critics resolutely fail to acknowledge. King was not as noticeable as Ledley and the runs beyond the strikers which made him such a goal threat in his younger days are only seen rarely now, but that’s probably down to orders from management at club and country level.

If anyone in our central midfield was going to provide a bit of Malky Mackay’s X Factor, it was always going to be Johnny Williams. The Palace youngster’s career seems to have stood still a bit for club and country since he burst on to the scene at international level with that great performance up at Hampden Park eighteen months ago – Williams was never going to be a Tony Pulis type player though and I doubt it if he’s a Neil Warnock type player either so I suppose a loan spell at a Championship club like Ipswich is the best thing for him at the moment. Williams certainly had the confidence to run at the Bosnians and the rough treatment he received at times was an indication that he was pretty effective at doing this, but I’m not meaning to be critical of him when I say that it was only when Gareth Bale became a major factor in the game that Wales suggested that they might have the creativity to open up the visitors.

Bale seemed a little slow to react to an early chance from a low right wing cross and for about seventy minutes was effectively looked after by alleged City summer transfer target Muhamed Besic, but a combination of tired legs in the Bosnian team and an impressive substitute appearance by Hal Robson-Kanu (I’d start with him in for Simon Church on Monday) which gave him a bit more support in forward positions helped the Real Madrid flyer to become the most dangerous player on the pitch in the closing stages.

Bale’s free kick really should have been put away by Ashley Williams, but the otherwise impressive skipper botched his close range header and the best chance of the game was missed. Shortly afterwards, Asmir Begovic had to deal with Wales’ first on target goal attempt of the night when Bale burst past three opponents, but couldn’t get sufficient power into his right foot shot. The keeper had to work much harder to turn aside a spectacular effort from the same player when, realising that he had no support, Bale fired in angled shot that was going just inside the far post until Begovic turned it around for a corner from which Robson-Kanu missed another great chance when he got the contact on his header all wrong – it needed just a glance to leave Begovic helpless, but, instead, he sent the ball back in the direction it came from and almost hit the corner flag.

Hal Robson-Kanu did well  when he came on  for the last half an hour, but, just like Ashley Williams, he botched a very presentable headed chance late on in the game - this photo shows what a great opportunity it was.*

Hal Robson-Kanu did well when he came on for the last half an hour, but, just like Ashley Williams before him, he missed a very presentable headed chance late on in the game – this photo shows what a great opportunity it was.*

Inevitably it was Bale who swing in the corner and we are going to need him to be an influence for more of the game than he was last night if we are to get the three points against Cyprus which would confirm that a draw against Bosnia was a good result. I always feel uneasy when people start taking a Wales win for granted and I believe there is an element of that around already when it comes to Monday night – we should win, but Cyprus (who were beaten 2-1 at home by Israel last night) have already proved that they have it in them to win away from home in this group.

What seems certain though, is that this Wales team are fully committed to the cause (a word of praise for the much maligned Chris Coleman seems appropriate here for the part he plays in bringing about this situation) – I’ve already mentioned the spirit and determination they showed last night and it didn’t take the majority of the 30,000 plus crowd long to realise that, if their team did fail, it wouldn’t be because they didn’t want or fancy it. As the game wore on, the belief the team was showing transmitted itself to the crowd who got right behind them – I mentioned that Wales looked more likely winners in the closing stages because Bale was finally becoming a central figure in proceedings, but it also probably had something to do with the fantastic support they were getting by then.

With the 3,000 Bosnia fans doing their bit to help things along, the myth that Cardiff City Stadium lacks atmosphere was again disproved last night. I could actually feel the hairs on the back of my neck standing up as Bale went over to take that late corner from which Robson-Kanu missed his chance and I tried, and failed, to remember the last time I’d had the same feeling at a City game. Unfortunately, when I go to the same ground to watch my club play, I don’t get the impression that all members of the team in red I’m watching are truly up for the fight like they were last night.

Put this together with the discord which has been caused by the re-brand and what I believe to be a growing feeling among many who still go to home games that this just doesn’t quite feel like their club any more and you begin to see why the game I watched last night was the chalk to compare against the cheese which is a Cardiff City home game these days – it’s a shame Vincent Tan wasn’t there to see what a night watching football in Cardiff could be like.

* pictures courtesy of http://www.walesonline.co.uk/

 

 

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4 Responses to Wales provide what Cardiff City can’t.

  1. Dai Woosnam says:

    Thanks Paul for a fine report.
    Very balanced as usual.
    What percentage of fans around you thought that Bale deserved a penalty when he cut in from the right in the second half and was muscled out of it near the byline? I certainly thought it a close-run thing.
    Good to see afull house. And one again against Cyprus I hope. Certainly there are enough Cypriots resident in the UK to ensure that they more than match the 3,000 Bosnians.
    Are ticket prices the same for both games? I expect so. Presumably they are cheapish (by current standards I mean)?
    And now, try though I may to stay shtum, I come to your closing sentences and the thorny subject of shirt colour.
    Just maybe, it was a good thing that Vincent was NOT there.
    How come?
    Well, seeing how passionate the crowd at Cardiff can be supporting a team in red, just might have made him even MORE determined to press on with the red jersey!
    Certainly though you are right to highlight the issue, which is fast becoming a cancer within the body politic of the club.
    I do not doubt your sincerity and motives for one nanosecond Paul …and that goes for many of your fellow blue shirts.
    But it really is Psychology 101. If the FANS do not believe in the shirt, how can you expect the players to? Carry on like this, and it will be the issue that takes City down to Div One.
    Ideally Vincent – the greatest owner Cardiff have had in my longish lifetime – should admit that his idea was a daft one in the first place, and try and heal wounds by going back to blue.
    But I fear he won’t …not least because of the shameful way he has been addressed by many blue diehards (in print, verbally at games, and with banners).
    And so now the blue brigade really need to search their souls on whether letting the City players feel (by seeing a sea of blue for 360 degrees) that they are almost playing away games.
    I am not suggesting they wear a red shirt. I am not that daft.
    But I do think that unless they decide to go to games in a neutral colour e.g. normal civvies, they are sinking the very ship they profess to love.
    Kindest, as ever,
    Dai.

  2. The other Bob Wilson says:

    Adult tickets are £20 for Internationals Dai (think it’s £5 for children and pensioners).

    As for the penalty incident, there were loads around by me screaming that Bale had been fouled, but we were hardly in the best place to see what had happened and I reserved judgement until I saw the television pictures – having done so, I would say it would have been a harsh decision (if that one was given, then Bosnia should probably have also had a penalty in the first half).

    With regard to what you say about the re-brand, I’m a bit confused because you say yourself that the idea to change to red was a “daft” one. I honestly don’t believe the colour shirts they were wearing has anything to do with the team’s relegation and poor start to this season – I’ll qualify what I say here by remarking that everyone is different, so there may be a few in the squad who are exceptions to this, but, as a rule, professional footballers are thick skinned enough not to let wearing a different colour shirt to the one most of their supporters are wearing affect their performance. Also, we played like drains at Blackpool despite wearing the same colour as most of the City fans unfortunate enough to be there watching it.

    Let’s not forget either that we won promotion while wearing red and, certainly from “scarfgate” onwards, significant numbers of the City support were wearing blue while this was happening. Interestingly, on the night we got promoted, Vincent Tan was telling anyone who’d listen that us reaching the Premier League was down to his “lucky red” kit and, yet our subsequent relegation would appear to be the responsibility of a manager who was at Cardiff for less than half of the season! Supporters’ Trust representatives who met with club officials recently were, apparently, told that the grounds for the change of colour were superstitious ones, so I’d say that with this in mind and with an owner who puts our successes down to this superstition driven change, yet does not extend such thinking to it being the reason for any failures, is it any wonder that people want to show their opposition to what is no more than a rich man’s whim?

    All of this brings me back to the point I was making in my post and the one you acknowledged when you talked of “a cancer within the body politic of the club” – Friday night showed what a Cardiff City match could be like, but one man’s stubborn, superstition driven, insistence that he is right and thousands of others wrong is ensuring that it won’t be for the foreseeable future. A lot of good people, who were previously passionate supporters of the club, paid their first visit to Cardiff City Stadium in ages on Friday night and were impressed by the atmosphere. Truth is though, you can count on the fingers of one hand (and still have a couple left), the number of times there has been an atmosphere that comes close to matching Friday since they’ve been away – the intimidation factor that opposition managers often mention before their team plays at Cardiff has gone and it won’t be coming back while we play in Tan’s “lucky red”.

  3. Dai Woosnam says:

    Thanks Paul for your reasoned response.
    BTW…I forgot to ask you if any of Vincent’s Sarajevo players were in the Bosnian squad! Ha!
    Had they been, that might further explain him staying away, eh?
    After all, his stock with many ungrateful City fans is low enough as it is …without him being seen cheering for the wrong side!
    But back to the elephant that is always in the room…
    I guess where we differ is this: I have never believed for one minute that he believes his Chinese Malaysian “red is lucky” nonsense.
    It is all part of the hocus-pocus that includes The Year of the Rat, Tiger, Dog etc.
    Pure mumbo jumbo.
    This guy is too clever for that.
    What I am convinced about is this: he is a brilliant businessman.
    People should think he is an idiot…at their peril.
    When he looked for a national franchise for a fast food operation, he did not go for PoorMansBurger inc, but McDonalds inc …the clear brand leader.
    Similarly with UK soccer, he did not want his team to wear the colours of – say – Plymouth Argyle, but the colours of the clear brand leader, Man Utd…though doubtless someone told him to dress it up in the superstition rubbish…that to express a desire to be like the brand leaders would not be cool.
    Yes, I have no evidence for this I know. But life is not always about only believing in things that are categorically certain.
    You say Paul, that blue shirted spectators did not stop City getting promotion.
    True.
    But when a team starts losing, they need the fans more than ever.
    And I am convinced that this issue could sink the ship.
    You know, when we talk about Leeds overcoming fan opposition to switch to all white in 1961, and Orient deciding to go to red shirts from blue in 1967, ( and all the other teams who have embarked on such changes) we forget one vital difference.
    There was never the replica shirt back then. (!!!)
    And it is seeing all these blue shirts in the crowd that could prove fatal. “Fatal” in that the issue thus may never go away: there is that permanent reminder.
    That said, I never have understood why people need to wear a replica shirt to sit in the stands, anyway.
    What is wrong with waving a scarf?
    One would not go and watch a swimming competition at the old Empire Pool, wearing swimming trunks!
    Okay, my eyes are smiling when I say that!
    But seriously Paul, if someone counters my argument with “I wear blue because it’s to give the home players a greater sense of belonging”, I say that I therefore rest my case.
    That counter argument has made my case for me.
    So to sum up: I take the Dannie Abse position on shirt colour.
    I wish it had never happened, but it is hardly something to keep one awake at night.
    Time to close this note…with this last thought:
    Today is a momentous day. It is the day Bolton hired the manager City could not have afforded …even if Vincent HAD wanted him.
    And I have a feeling that Neil Lennon will go to the very top…maybe not with Bolton for too long, but that said, he will improve their fortunes no end.
    Kindest,
    Dai.

  4. The other Bob Wilson says:

    Whether we changed to red for superstitious, business or other reasons, I don’t think anyone can dispute that we are currently worse off than when we were last in blue Dai. As I mentioned before, there is nothing in the public domain that I’m aware of which shows that Cardiff City have made any money as a direct result of the re-brand in the near two and a half years since it came in. In my book Tan wanting us to play in the same colours as Manchester United because they are brand leaders is equally as ludicrous as him making the change for superstitious reasons (anyway, if he did want us to play in the colours of the true brand leaders at club and country level, shouldn’t we be playing in white now?).
    I very rarely used to wear a blue replica shirt to matches until August 2012 and since then I’ve worn one to every home match I’ve been to. I hope and trust that there will be reminders of the colour we should be wearing amongst the crowd if we keep on playing in red in years to come – if the rebrand does prove fatal to the club, it’s the man who imposed it on us that people should look to blame, not the supporters who resisted his I know best attitude.

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