As the couple of walks I used to go on with my dog every day were my sole concession to “keeping fit”, I’ve tried to continue with them in the absence of my Staffy Ruby, who was put to sleep in July. This week I was told by the vet that the ten week old Staffy pup, Mica, I bought a fortnight ago to replace her, would be ready to venture into the big, wide world from next weekend, so I will soon be able to lose the slight self consciousness I have felt as I wander by myself around venues full of people walking their dogs.
Anyway, the point of the above is that my breakfast time Saturday morning ritual for the last few years has been to take a walk around Victoria Park and, in recent months, there has been organised football training sessions being held there for boys, and some girls, who look to me to be under the age of ten.
As I walked past them yesterday, with memories of City’s great win last Tuesday against Leeds fresh in my mind, I asked myself how many of those kids would be saying they were Kenneth Zohore, Junior Hoilett, Nathaniel Mendez-Laing or Sol Bamba now following our storming start to the season rather than, say, Harry Kane, Kevin De Bruyne, Philippe Coutinho or Eden Hazard as they played ?
Sadly, on the evidence of the rows of empty seats in all parts of the ground at Cardiff City Stadium yesterday as the home side looked to extend their lead at the top of the Championship against Derby County, the answer to the question I posed is probably “very few”.
Although I’ve mentioned before on here that I would go along to games in the mid sixties at the age of eight or nine without adult supervision, the world was a very different place back then and it was by no means unusual for parents to let their kids go to the football with friends of the same age as them.
So, if only a few, or maybe even none, of those youngsters I saw do not dream of being a Cardiff City player one day, then I don’t blame them – if “blame” is to be apportioned, then I’d say it lies primarily with parents who, presumably, don’t have the time, inclination or, to be fair, in some cases the money to take their sons/daughters to live football games.
Unfortunately, history probably tells us that, when it comes to the people of Cardiff and it’s surrounding areas, not having the inclination to go to watch their local team play may well be the more plausible of the possible explanations I’ve offered.
I think it’s reasonable to assume that one in three, possibly more, of those who were there supporting Cardiff in that twenty seven thousand crowd on Tuesday were absent yesterday. Of course, many of them would have had authentic reasons as to why they couldn’t make it and would have been genuinely upset that they couldn’t, but when you’re talking about something like seven to ten thousand people, there are going to very many who, having only paid a fiver for their ticket for Leeds, just couldn’t be bothered attending against Derby.
I shouldn’t be surprised or disappointed that, yet again, the people of this area turn out in droves for a “big” game and then many go missing a few days later for a fixture that is seen as a more mundane one. After all, it’s happened throughout our history and, for all the claims you read about the passionate nature of Cardiff’s support, it has to be accepted that it’s also more fickle than many as well.
So, as I say, at sixty one I should be old enough now to not let myself get too agitated about the size of our crowds, but I have to say that it grates with me that there were fewer people there yesterday than there were for the Sheffield Wednesday game a fortnight ago, despite us having had two victories to take us back to the top of the table (a position which, to be honest, I never expected us to regain this season after we lost it following our loss at Preston).
Worse than that though, by the time we play next, it will have been a year since we appointed Neil Warnock. In that time, I’d say it’s entirely reasonable to claim that the club has been completely transformed for the better in so many ways, with the most important criteria for measuring by how much it’s changed being results on the pitch.
This is a particularly good time to analyse by how much Warnock has improved things, because we’ve now played forty six Championship games with him in charge. That’s the equivalent of a full Championship season and, although the seventy eight points we’ve accumulated in that time, would not have got us a Play Off spot in 16/17, I think I’m right in saying that it would have done in most of the seasons since the Play Off system was brought in.
So that’s the backdrop that yesterday’s attendance of 18,480 has to be judged against – we’ve been showing top six form, or very near to it, for a year and we currently sit at the top of the league. Yet, back on 14 October last year, when we faced Bristol City in Warnock’s first game in charge, we found ourselves in twenty third position for a game which had been switched to a Friday night because it was being shown live on Sky and there were no deals whereby season ticket holders could purchase tickets for others for £5.
Now, I know it was a local derby and such games tend to attract bigger crowds than the norm, but if you were to tell a supporter of any other club that 22,726 would turn out for a game when the team concerned were last but one in the league and there would be nearly four and a half thousand less there a year later when they were topping the same league, what do you think that person would say in reply? Of course, it’s impossible to know for sure, but I wouldn’t mind betting it would contain something along the lines of “what is wrong with the supporters of that club?”.
As it turns out, it’s possible that the stayaways knew something that those of us who were there for both of our matches this week did not, because there was little on offer yesterday which would have had you leaving the game thinking that you could not wait for the next time you saw us play.
I’ve mentioned before on here that 0-0 draws can sometimes be very entertaining matches, but Cardiff v Derby was not one of them – it was dull, virtually free from goalmouth incident, scrappy and disjointed.
One other thing I remember from a year ago was that we were supposed to be playing in “the Cardiff way” whereby we would succeed by playing crowd pleasing passing football using a tactical flexibility that had not been seen under the manager we had before Paul Trollope.
There was also a “Derby way” at one time and it was a great deal more established than the Cardiff way ever became. From what I remember, there was never any mission statement as to what the Derby way was, but a season or two ago anyone who saw their very expensively assembled team on a good day would know what it was meant to entail – Derby were a very watchable side at their best as they generally tried to outpass their opponents while taking the game to them whether they were playing home or away.
What Derby offered yesterday in no way was the “Derby way” – I’m struggling to remember the last time a side lined up as defensively against us and for about eighty per cent of the game I would have said a 0-0 draw was the height of their ambition.
Derby took a step away from their self proclaimed way when they appointed Gary Rowett as manager, because his time at Birmingham identified him as someone who places defensive strength high on his list of priorities and, like Neil Warnock, he doesn’t seem too bothered if the opposition have more of the ball than his team does.
It would have been easy to look at the turgid stuff Derby produced yesterday and think that they were not a patch on their teams of old, but there was a frailty about the sides that practiced the Derby way which helped ensure that, for all of the millions spent, they never fully convinced that they could make it to the Premier League – there was a discipline and a hard edge about them yesterday that was often missing from those earlier teams.
Rowett claimed after the game that his side deserved to win. I’m not so sure about that, but I don’t think they deserved to lose and, after offering nothing in attack for the first hour or so (I’m struggling to remember a goal attempt of any description from them in that time), it’s true to say that they came closer to ending the stalemate than we did.
Derby weren’t entirely negative, they made a couple of attacking substitutions and tried to catch us on the break more in the last quarter of the match – notably when left back Craig Forsyth’s cross hit a post and there was also a brilliant Neil Etheridge save from one of those subs, David Nugent.
As for us, the general air of “after the Lord Mayor’s show” in the stands was matched on the pitch. For myself, I thought the amount of closing down work the front three put in against Leeds caught up with them – once again, Mendez-Laing was the best of them as he consistently troubled Forsyth, but, generally speaking, their direct opponents won the individual battles with Zohore and Hoilett.
Also, with Joe Ralls replacing Craig Bryson (absent because he was not allowed to play under the terms of the loan deal between the two clubs), there was a sameness about our midfield in an attacking sense as the latter’s ability to make effective forward runs was badly missed.
One thing City can be accused of lacking even when we have Gunnarsson and Bryson in the team is attacking number ten type guile and I thought it maybe took too long to get the man who can provide that, Lee Tomlin, on. Tomlin replaced Loic Damour on the seventy minute mark and, truth be told, disappointed me somewhat with his lack of impact. I also wondered whether, rather than a like for like change with our other substitution as Liam Fenney (who has done little of note since the assist for the equaliser against Fulham on his debut) came on for Hoilett, we could have tried two up front with Danny Ward on alongside Zohore.
Anyway, City have come through what looked like a very testing group of fixtures after the first international break with nine points from two wins, three draws and a defeat. I reckon most fans would have accepted that beforehand and now we head into the second break a point clear at the top – there is a sense of disappointment about yesterday, but I think everyone would have taken this situation if it had been offered back in early August.
Just a few words to finish about the game I saw at lunchtime yesterday – the first thing to say is that I’m not one hundred per cent sure what I was watching! With the fixture list the club website produced at the start of the season saying the Under 18s were due to play QPR at Leckwith at 12 o clock and no venue for the game being mentioned on their Twitter feed, I turned up expecting to see the players who had yet to record a league win in six attempts, but, instead, what I saw was QPR playing in their normal blue and white hoops and a very young looking City team in our new green away strip.
My first thought was that the team management had made wholesale changes to the side following the Welsh Youth Cup tie with Ely Rangers on Thursday – a very strong looking line up fell behind, equalised and then almost conceded again in the dying seconds of normal time, before stretching away to win by scoring three unanswered goals in the second period of extra time.
However, the fact that QPR’s team looked just as young as City’s and that the game finished as early as half past one made me think I had turned up at the forty minutes each way, Under 16 game between the teams.
As for the Under 18s, they did play and all of the regulars were involved, but as to where they played, I’m still none the wiser! It may have been on one of the nearby artificial pitches at Leckwith, which are now covered by a big tarpaulin, but more likely it was at Treforest.
If it was the latter. then I would not have been able to watch it because I would not have been able to get to Cardiff City Stadium in time for the kick off of the first team game, but it was still mildly annoying to learn I had missed that first league win because it finished City 6 QPR 2 with Isaak Davies getting a hat trick.
It was only mildly annoying for a couple of reasons, first when I normally turn up at Leckwith when there has been a late change of venue, I usually have to go straight back home, but at least there was a game going on to watch this time and this takes me on to the second reason – what a very good game it was, certainly a lot more enjoyable than the one I watched a few hours later.
Apologies for the lack of detail, but I’m unable to give you the names of any of the players involved because I didn’t recognise them, but the scoring went as follows.
City went ahead when our number nine stabbed in a cross as I was walking towards the stadium and we held the lead for about ten minutes when the giant centreback and captain for QPR (he was about three inches taller than anyone else on the pitch) nodded in a corner to equalise. City regained their lead, as they worked another short corner routine which enabled one of their players (couldn’t even tell you his number I’m afraid) to score neatly with an angled shot at the near post.
City had fallen foul of a very enthusiastic linesman in the first half. I was sat directly in line with him for many of his offside decisions and I’d say he got most of them right, but there were one or two among them which looked distinctly dodgy to me. By contrast, his opposite number had no such desire to raise his flag at every opportunity in the second half, but, the one time he did, it looked as if he made a big error to me as what looked like a perfectly legitimate one on one opportunity to put us two goals clear was turned into a QPR equaliser as a quick free kick was taken and the ball found it’s way, via a lucky deflection, to the visiting centre forward who walked it in to score easily.
Whether it was down to City feeling sorry for themselves after the way that goal came about or not I don’t know, but they conceded again two or three minutes later. This time it was a good goal as a fine crossfield ball found the QPR number seven in oceans of space and he calmly steered his shot from the edge of the penalty area into the net.
City were not playing as well as they had done in the first half and when our number eleven shot wide after a defensive slip had given him a one on one with the keeper, I thought another defeat was on the way. However, City’s inventiveness from corners paid dividends again as our number five scored on the far post to bring things level again.
We were now gaining the benefit of a stream of offside decisions in our favour and looking the more likely scorers of a winning goal which duly arrived when our number two did well to keep his crisply struck shot into the corner of the net down to record a last minute goal.
So, I saw my second, highly entertaining, 4-3 home win at Leckwith in the space of five days – this years’s Under 16s look a decent a group of players on this evidence.