Cardiff City fans were cheated last night. Over 3,000 travelling supporters were denied their ejaculation, their moment of release, the wished-for instant in a game that keeps you turning up whether a win is likely or not. Even if you lose 4-1, it’s worth going for the unequalled joy in spectating of a goal celebration. No other sport places so much importance on a single action of a ball crossing a white line. Points are scored regularly in rugby, cricket, American Foootball, baseball and basketball. Only in football is a goal celebration so orgasmic.
Except that last night we were denied the opportunity to celebrate Jay Bothroyd’s sublime equaliser in the proper manner. When he chose to chip the keeper from the edge of the box it looked like the wrong option at first. But then we saw the trajectory of the ball as it curled around and up and down beyond the outstretched arm of the grasping Adam Federici towards the welcoming bosom of the net. But then it hit the bar, and the post, and bounced around and out of the goalmouth. I celebrated as I saw it cross the line, but then I stopped as it was cleared. And then I celebrated again as the linesman flagged – but what was this? A crowd of furious Reading players, managers, assistants and the tea lady all surrounding the officials and demanding a recount. The goal was given eventually, but by that time, City fans were shuffling embarrassingly at their stop-start will-he-wont-he celebration. Rarely can a sexual metaphor be more obvious, but this was one premature ejaculation. Coitus Interruptus writ large. Next time City score a controversial goal, I’m going to think of my Grandmother and see if that helps.
It looked like a goal to me from my position high up in the Gods behind Reading’s goal. But it could easily have been denied by a less Azerbaijani linesman. I keep harping on about luck and chance dictating football matches but it keeps being the deciding factor in so many games. We were both unlucky and lucky last night, and a draw was fair.
For the second time in a week, Dave Jones’ selection raised a few eyebrows. Particularly the decision to select Darcy Blake at centre-half for the seemingly-scapegoated Gabor Gyepes. Jones has isolated and criticised individuals a few times this season, notably poor Adam Matthews who was hung out to dry after his mistake at Ipswich. It’s not a trait I particularly admire in our manager. It seems perverse to blame Gyepes for that defeat against Swansea, and there is some confusion over what he did that was so wrong. Jones criticised Gyepes for getting to close to Emnes, while other commentators criticised him for not getting close enough.
I’ll happily admit to knowing bugger all about defending. While City’s following is full of defensive coaches these days, I haven’t got a clue what they’re doing wrong. But I do know that somebody somewhere should probably have cleared Simon Church’s cross before it got all the way across goal to that little baldy bloke who stuck a toe on it while Tom Heaton ushered it over the line like a curling international brushing a path for the ball.
The City defence didn’t look secure all night. Despite his emergency heroics last season, Darcy Blake is not as good a centre half as our Hungarian International Gyepes, and it was a bit risky to punish Gabor when we don’t have a comparable replacement. It appears to me that Gyepes has to play immaculately to avoid being dropped by Dave Jones. I don’t know what he’s done, but DJ just doesn’t like him does he? One particular nerve-jangling trait of our defence last night was the inability to clear a number of crosses that were driven across our box. Reading really should have capitalised on that but thankfully they lacked a genuine goal-poacher, and each time, crosses would meander invitingly across our six yard line before exiting at the flowing estuary of the opposing corner flag.
In the first half City could have scored four goals. McPhail had a clear header which he should have scored. Olifinjana had a goal disallowed and was denied by a last ditch tackle as he was about to pull the trigger from six yards. Michael Chopra’s lob from a one-on-one situation narrowly looped the crossbar in another ooooh—ahhhh moment. Reading could have scored a couple too, and one save from Heaton was particularly notable as Church shot from a central position. But despite a fantastic attacking game with loads of chances at both ends, Cardiff City were booed off at half-time by some of their own supporters.
Now come on. I’m getting really fed up of this. What sort of supporter thinks it will help in any way to boo his own team off the pitch. I wouldn’t even do it if City were awful, but to be so critical in a game like that? It’s totally out of order, but not surprising to anyone who has been following this club for the past few years.
Remember when the team were booed off after drawing at home to Blackpool? Ian Holloway was rightly insulted and mystified. “We’re a good side. How dare they?” And he was right, but he is unaware of the culture of entitlement pervades the capital city club. Some Cardiff fans expect the team to play like Barcelona, but even if we did , they would be criticising a perceived weakness at the back. There were 3,200 fans at Reading last night. I reckon half of them must have been amateur coaches.
And I think that’s the problem. We all think we’re experts. I was listening to my neighbour last night give a detailed explanation to his friends how Mark Hudson should be turning his body at such and such an angle to show his opposition attacker onto his weak foot. Really. Do you not think that Mark Hudson might be aware of that particular nugget of advice? And that’s where those boos come in. They are not boos of displeasure and annoyance. They are boos of criticism. They can’t give the half-time team talk themselves, but by God they would like to. Of course some people who boo are just idiots who react only to the scoreline of a game at any stage.
I am told that there were at least 3,200 Cardiff fans there last night. If that is true, I make it the biggest away following for a regular league game since Scunthorpe in 1993. I’ve heard 320 fans give better support at lots of City away games though. When a following is as big as this, I sometimes struggle to identify with my club. It’s light years away from my early days as a supporter, and even though I understand that the club has to grow to succeed, I still like to touch base with the old, crap, undesirable club of my youth.
I stood at the turnstiles for a while last night and watched the streams of fans pour through the gates. It was reassuring and comforting. Yes of course there were loads of people I didn’t recognise, but about one in every ten supporters was a familiar face I had seen at away games for the past twenty years. It’s those faces that make Cardiff City. Whoever runs the club, and whoever plays , it will always be about sharing that common bond with faces amongst the support.
We’ve come such a long way though. Over 3,000 away fans, not a hint of trouble, and a relaxed trip as a result. If it could have been like this 30 years ago then I’m convinced we would already be playing top-flight football. The Hooligan memoir books like to point out that in the old days, it was only the lads who travelled to away games. The thing is, it was the very atmosphere created by those lads that kept the masses away.
The away following at Ninian Park was regularly hundreds short of what could be expected when those same teams travelled to other clubs. We calculated over ten years ago that over a season, our reputation cost the club nearly £100,000 a year in lost ticket sales from away fans alone. I remember one major sponsor withdrawing their offer after the trouble v Millwall in 1999. The club and supporters deserve huge credit for the way they have eradicated the problem.
I like to watch this Cardiff side from as high a viewpoint as possible. They weave beautiful, unpredictable patterns. We have highly talented footballers all across the field. Even our young defenders, Blake and Matthews are reluctant to put their boot through the ball in precarious situations. It looks like they have been coached that we start our attacks even when we are in danger. Hudson in particular likes to intercept the ball and play it rather than act destructively. This can be a bit scary, but it’s thrilling nonetheless, and exquisite when it works.
McPhail is one of those talented ball players, but in the past couple of occasions I’ve seen him play, his imagination hasn’t been matched by his execution. Maybe he needs to be playing more regularly. It was after a series of misplaced passes by a number of City players that the chant went up of “Jonesy sort it out”. I scoffed at the time – “How can he sort out a misplaced pass?” But he did.
From the moment that McPhail left to be replaced by Jason Koumas, City became more potent. Whittingham took up the centre midfield berth and began to influence the play. Koumas showed the first signs this season that he could be a threat. I waited for the chants of “David Jones is a football genius”, but none came of course. He doesn’t get praise for good decisions, it’s expected of him.
I don’t know what’s up with Michael Chopra, but I’m starting to wonder if he deserves his place in the first team. He is still a great player, but he looked sullen throughout the first half and frustrated. He didn’t work as hard as he used to, and he became one of too many players in our side who are unable to match the opposition’s workrate. For all their ability, McPhail, Bothroyd, Whittingham, and Burke are not known for closing down the opposition. Even Olifinjana, our main destructor is not a scurrying pressuriser.
When Jones brought on Drinkwater for Chopra late in the game, he ran further and made more tackles in 15 minutes than he did all game against Swansea. He looked the part. And City looked a more balanced, happier team with Chopra departed.
Jay Bothroyd tok a hammering all night. He won so many free kicks that we were treated to the obtuse booing of our number nine every time he was fouled. I personally thought that the referees protection of Bothroyd was patchy and when he swung out with his arm after yet another illegal challenge I was glad to see that he avoided the punishment which Reading were trying to provoke.
City fans have to realise that there are two teams playing in a match, and Reading aren’t a bad one. They worked their nuts off to deny City space in midfield, and every time McPhail or Whittingham recieved the ball, he was facing his own goal surrounded by two or three harrying midfielders. It was pretty similar to the Swansea game in that respect, and it will be like that at lots of games for the rest of the season. We don’t have a right to win every game, and this was a good point earned.