“Just as a matter of interest, has anybody at City (or anywhere else) actually scored when the crowd cry “shoooooooooooot” as the ball breaks for them about 35 yards plus out from goal?
I don’t mind Peter Whittingham taking that advice sometimes, but I wish the rest of them wouldn’t as it leads to delays while they get the ball back from outside the ground .”
So, when the ball came to Mark Hudson nearly seventy yards from the Derby goal last night with City nervously clinging on to their 1-0 lead after around an hour’s play, I groaned inwardly as the crowd yelled ”shoooooooooooot”. What they had seen was that visiting keeper Frank Fielding was some way off his line after slightly miskicking a clearance and that the Derby goal was unguarded, but Hudson is a “donkey” centre half isn’t he – he’s used to wellying the ball upfield in the general direction of our forwards who are grateful if it lands within five yards of them! Actually the truth is that our captain has increasingly shown this season that he is not at all a bad passer out from the back and he’s better than I thought he was with the ball at his feet, but, come on, sixty eight yards from goal?
As it happened though as soon as Hudson hit his shot (and let no one tell you it wasn’t a shot), I thought “this has got a chance”. Although, sitting at the corner of the Canton and Ninian Stands, I didn’t have the best of views as to it’s direction, the way Fielding was frantically chasing back confirmed it was on target and the only question was whether the keeper, who had already almost been caught too far off his line by a Gunnarsson snap shot from around forty yards in the first half, would get back in time to keep the ball out.
As the pictures show here, Fielding didn’t make it and our centre half had scored a goal from ten yards (maybe more) further out than David Beckham’s much lauded effort against Wimbledon in 1996 to secure a 2-0 win which means that the Play Off door is almost, but not quite, closed on our rivals. Now, there’s been a few other long range goals scored down the years (here’s a selection of ten of them) , but, off the top off my head, I can’t remember one coming from a defender in a domestic club match. Even if there has been, the 21,000 plus present at Cardiff City Stadium last night were privileged to be there to see a truly marvellous goal – even the Derby fans will admit to that, but it may take them a little more time to do so!
Hudson’s goal displaced Peter Whittingham’s against Barnsley last season as the best seen at the new ground in my opinion – it doesn’t beat Peter King’s against Middlesbrough in 1970 (five mins, twenty seconds into this video) as the best I’ve ever seen us score however. For sentimental reasons, John Buchanan’s against the jacks in 1980 stays in second place in my top three City goals, but Jimmy Gilligan’s against Exeter in 1987 drops out now to be replaced by Hudson’s howitzer.
Of course, that goal was the main topic of conversation when it came to our captain’s performance last night, but I thought he was one of three City players who turned in very good individual displays at a time when our stuttering home form and our pursuit of a top six finish meant that there was plenty of pressure on the team in this match. Goalkeeper David Marshall came up with a string of fine saves to deny Derby the goal that, at the very least, their efforts deserved - the ones that stick in my mind were his turning aside of a Hendrick header in the second half and the double save from Davies’ free kick and Green’s follow up in the dying moments. Finally, Joe Mason’s goal tended to get forgotten given what followed, but he put it away with his usual calm efficiency and I thought he had a good all round match – he was the only one of our front six who the ball tended to “stick” with when it was played to him.
Mason’s goal came in the middle of City’s best spell of the game, but for the majority of it, they were given a very tough time of it by a Derby team which played with a freedom that, perhaps, you only see when there’s nothing at stake for the side concerned. I still believe that having the sort of opponents we had last night, and in our next two matches, when you are in a position like ours, is preferable to playing sides with promotion or relegation issues because there have to be doubts about their intensity and attitude. Derby did show that there’s always the chance that the lack of pressure they feel will result in an almost carefree attitude though that will see them go for the more risky, but, potentially, devastating option rather than the safety first, play to the percentages, stuff which we see from so many other sides (including us) at the business end of the season.
This approach led to City having a very rough first quarter of an hour when they were grateful to Marshall and for a linesman’s flag after Tyson put the ball in our net. With Mason often playing in more advanced positions than Kenny Miller, our formation had more of a, very narrow, 4-4-2 look to it than the normal 4-5-1, but, however many we had in what was a congested central midfield, we were second best in that department for the great majority of the match. When you have McPhail, Whittingham and Lawrence in your midfield, I think you are entitled to expect your side’s ball retention to be good, but it certainly wasn’t last night – when you have passers as good as the first two named are playing what should be simple side footed balls straight into touch (as happened during a five minute period in the second half when we were in quite promising positions), then you know you could have problems in the middle of the park.
That inability of the midfield to impose themselves on proceedings, except for defensively with their harrying of opponents, was the biggest cause for concern for me going into our last two matches – all of our midfield put a real shift in last night in terms of effort and attitude, but they have a lot more quality than they showed and we need to see much more from them in terms of playing to their strengths. Apart from that though, it’s good news all the way as far as I’m concerned – Middlesbrough, who are, realistically, the only team who can deny us a top six finish, will, in all probability, have to win twice to stand a chance of extending their season given their inferior goal difference. They’ve got even more serious issues than we had about playing at home however and you’ve got to think that a Southampton team knowing that a win will promote them will fancy their chances of getting at least a point at the Riverside Stadium on Saturday.
What City have shown in their last four matches though is that they don’t appear to need the help of others to get what they want. It’s hardly pretty at the moment and you can guarantee that Neil Warnock will have Leeds wound up this Saturday lunchtime, but this side certainly has the character and determination to make the tea time match irrelevant from Middlesbrough’s perspective – what we could really do with is a bit more from our best technical players or, failing that, another seventy yarder from our skipper!
* picture courtesy of http://www.walesonline.co.uk/