This Cardiff City side must be admired but they aren’t easy to love. After a great 2-0 win at one of the Division’s form sides, I should have returned from Hull buzzing, delighted to have made the trip, “proud of our boys” and all that entails. But there is so much more to supporting your team than watching them take 3 points and driving home with the match programme. So what’s my gripe? Why am I whinging after such a positive outcome?
There is just something not very satisfying about watching City at the moment. The football is very good, we have some great players, but there’s something missing, and that is a sense of identity, a feeling that we’re all in this together, a warm glow that you did your bit to come back from Humberside light in pocket but full of pride.
It starts for me with the goal celebrations. While other teams leap around forming human mountains and practically hugging the scorer to an inch of his death while he lies prostrate on the turf, our team barely shake hands and pat each other on the back. When Jay Emmanuel-Thomas scored a vital second goal in the last minute yesterday we couldn’t tell from the other end of the pitch that it had gone in. The team barely recognised the goal, and simply strolled back to halfway.
Ever since Sam Hammam arrived at the club in ten years ago the fans at Cardiff City have been divided. His spectre still hangs over the club, and our fans will not be unified while he is still on the scene. There are two camps of supporters backing and opposing Dave Jones too. Maybe it’s like this at other clubs, but I’m not sure it is. There have been worries recently about the poor crowds at Leckwith (18,000, not the reported 21,00 which includes season tickets). The atmosphere is pretty flat, and Hull made a noise yesterday that Leckwith rarely approaches. This is what happens when you expect to win, and your team hardly cares if you’re there or not. Part of the attraction of watching City used to be that you were part of something – you were doing your bit. I think that’s gone and the incentive has been lost for a lot of people who find the Leckwith experience less than thrilling. Does this level of detachment come with a top class team these days? Is this what we are hoping to achieve with promotion? Be careful what you wish for, eh?
There was a comment on a Hull forum that Cardiff simply turned up expecting to win and moaned at the ref when things didn’t go their way. That’s not far wrong. In some ways it is understandable – City played on a different level to Hull yesterday – but it’s so frustrating that with a little more application and enthusiasm, this team could win promotion comfortably. The lack of team spirit in the camp is now so evident that it makes the supporter feel a bit put out. Why don’t they care as much as we do?
Aaron Ramsey showed his class again, though he did lose the ball a few times in dangerous situations. I’ve noticed that he does this from time to time, and would be a bit concerned if he plays in a deep role for Wales. I don’t think he’s made a tackle since he’s been with the City, but then who has? Cardiff have developed this “back-foot” style of play which relies on nicking the ball away from attackers, rather than playing a physical game. It can be frustrating for fans who prefer to see a team on the front foot, pressing and snapping into challenges, but I think the City supporters have now got used to it, and can appreciate the relative success that it has brought. At the end of the game I sent my lads down to the front as I was expecting some sort of emotional goodbye from Ramsey – maybe throwing his shirt into the crowd. I was to be disappointed – he barely made it across halfway, gave a few cursory claps and trudged off with everybody else.
This is part of the no-spirit malaise. If we’ve travelled ten hours to watch you win, you could at least pretend to appreciate us. I’m 43 – I’m not the type of desperate follower who cheers when someone does the Ayatollah – I don’t care if you “give us a wave”, but I see away teams at Leckwith all together in the corner with their fans at the end of a game, particularly if their team wins – but at Hull yesterday it felt like you didn’t give a shit if we were there or not. I know it’s trite and a but puerile, but a player like Joey Jones or Jason Perry can ignite a crowd with a simple raise of the fist. City don’t have that player.
On a day when Leeds took 3,100 to Swansea, Cardiff in an identical situation only took 700 to Hull. That’s an indication of the respective size of the clubs, but also a reflection on a Cardiffian fan base which feels alienated and remote. We used to take that many away in the 3rd Division when Jason Perry, Cohen Griffith, and Damon Searle would climb on the fences at the end of a game. Remember the wild bonding that took place with the team after Cambridge away in 1999? the wildly celebrating John Williams running out of the fog after the 3rd goal at York City in 1991? Carl Dale being mobbed by the Grange End after scoring against Wrexham in the 1993 Welsh Cup? The Welsh Cup? That’s gone – we have a team of performers now, and apart from Stephen McPhail, I think this team is well out of touch. Sometimes it feels fine to lose when you come back from an away game with a sense of pride and companionship, but a win with no inclusion can feel empty.
Reading official news reports from the first half, I wondered if I was watching the same game. I felt that Cardiff were well in control, and only required a break in front of goal to win the match. Yes, Heaton made a stupendous save from Fryatt, but Cardiff had a clear penalty claim denied (it happened right in front of me – and yes Bothroyd was clearly tripped), they had a goal rightly disallowed, and Hull were forced into two goal line clearances. Chopra might also have had a pen when it looked like he was pushed in the first half (he was also clearly shoved in the back in front of goal early in the second half).
But City are getting nothing from referees these days. And I think it’s partly their own fault. Bothroyd has resorted to big grandiose dives when he is fouled, as he has been frustrated by the refusal of officials to correctly penalise defenders who constantly foul him. Chopra, too, made a couple of extravagant swan dives intended to emphasise an offence which might otherwise have gone unseen. Referees hate this, and naturally refuse to make decisions which might be given without the theatrics. When you have Bothroyd, Bellamy and Chopra constantly whinging throughout the game, it’s little wonder that refs favour the opposition. That’s human nature.
Cardiff were just too good for Hull, and some of the passing moves out of defence were a joy to watch. Paul Quinn instigated some of these in a man of the match performance. What has happened to this player? He has improved vastly, and has added some attacking flair to his sturdy defence. City’s back five were satisfyingly solid against a turgid Hull attack yesterday, but at last we have a sense that this is a proper back four with some spine. Hudson was again outstanding during a late Hull onslaught.
Craig Bellamy was very subdued. Was he fit? Not once did he take on his full back and was happy just to receive the ball and play it back to McNaughton, time after time. He looked like he might have been sulking about something – and in no way did it weaken the team when he was taken off after 80 minutes. McPhail was brave – he took some hefty challenges during the ninety, but perservered with good spirit and played his part.
There have been some calls recently for Dave Jones to revert to a 4-5-1 system which proved successful against Leicester. That would mean leaving Chopra out, which is unthinkable. You shouldn’t underestimate the quality of the header for City’s first goal. Chopra’s first touch isn’t great at the moment, but he is such a threat that he can’t be omitted. We did try to include him in a 4-5-1 earlier on this season and it didn’t work.
Anthony Gerrard was injured in the first minute and this allowed Bothroyd complete supremacy – he won almost every header that came his way. He still didn’t move a lot, but we’re used to that. He’s not as pivotal as he used to be, maybe because Ramsey has allowed us to play through the middle, but he is still a key figure. His insouciance is symbolic though – he plays for himself like so many others in this current line up.
City almost threw this game away in the last ten minutes. Hull were going nowhere and the home fans were starting to leave when inexplicably we started giving the ball away and inviting them onto us. We started playing the corners after 80 minutes when we didn’t need to. Just after Emmanuel-Thomas came on, he stared lazily at a full back in position for a good five seconds instead of closing down. This allowed the full back to pick his cross which resulted in panic, and a 20 yard free kick which could have easily gained Hull an underserved point.
Maybe I’m getting old. Maybe the younger fan is happy to go away, and watch a game from a distance admiring the skills of eleven quality players – but personally I prefer to feel part of something. Yes we won, yes we were superior, but I wouldn’t fancy standing alongside this City team in the trenches.