It was probably somebody at the EFL’s idea of a great wheeze to appoint Bobby Madley as the fourth official for today’s Cardiff City match, but the joke was lost on me – haven’t we suffered enough already and shouldn’t the pain be spread around more evenly?
When you consider as well that the game against Bristol City marked the return of Darren England to refereeing for the first time since his notorious stint as the VAR official for the recent Spurs v Liverpool match, the scene was set for another occasion where all of the post match discussion would be centred on the officials.
However, City came through another ordeal by Madley unscathed this time as they, first, continued their complete transition in derby games in the past seven months by recording a third successive 2-0 win in such fixtures as Bristol went the same way as they did back in March.
Second, with not far short of a third of the season played, City stand fifth in the table tonight. That’s an incredible transformation for a team which looked certs for relegation in a year’s time based on their performance in their last home game of 22/23 when Huddersfield murdered us.
What had to happen for this prediction not to become fact was the Board had to get the decision about the manager right and then recruit cannily while under an embargo which meany they could not pay transfer or loan fees.
Given the club’s record when it came to managerial appointments and player recruitment in recent years, the chances of this happening appeared to be less than zero, but, credit to all concerned, especially Mehmet Dalman, because it would appear that they got both of the tasks right.
Of course, it’s still relatively early in the season and it cannot be said for certain that the relegation I feared and expected won’t come to pass, but it would take a spectacular fall from grace on the part of the manager and the players, on an individual and team basis, for us to end up in League One next season now.
Indeed, there will be plenty who will say that we can start thinking in terms of the Premier League, not the third tier, for 24/25. After all, although West Brom will probably overtake us if they win at Coventry on Monday night, we are going to be in the top six going into November.
I don’t see us as a top six finisher, but the rise up the table has come about to a great extent without the player you would have thought would have had to be having a stormer of a season to put us in top six contention – if Aaron Ramsey can, first, come back in about a month’s time as is hoped and, second, continue to play as well as he was doing before his injury, then you would have thought he and the team would be more effective with the upturn in confidence that our recent form must have given the rest of the players.
Today’s winning margin flattered us I thought because a Bristol side with twelve first team squad members out injured and a patched up back four in particular gave us a real test in the second half after we’d largely dominated the first period. I reckon we were worth our win, but we weren’t two goals better than the wurzels.
One person who was not impressed with us was Bristol manager Nigel Pearson who came out with the following after the game.
“There wasn’t much in the game. We conceded two goals from our own possession but we didn’t create much. Cardiff might be doing okay but I wouldn’t put them up with the best sides at all.”In our recent games against Leeds, Ipswich are going well, Leicester – they’re all games we lost by the odd goal.
It’s a competitive league and if you don’t make good decisions on the pitch, sides will turn you over. It’s more difficult when you’ve got a young and inexperienced bench.
They (Cardiff) have not really created anything in the game. Most of their stuff has come from us turning the ball over.
No-one here will look at that game and think Cardiff are a really good side compared to Bristol City. I don’t think it was a game of a lot of a quality. It was a game with a team in a good seam that capitalised on our mistakes. They didn’t outplay us.”
There is a whiff of sour grapes to that, but he has a point, because, apart from something which happened late in the game, there wasn’t a great deal of real quality on view, but then when is there ever in derby fixtures in a division where the top two seem a cut above and the bottom three are in danger of being cut adrift already (tonight’s news from QPR may give them a chance now mind) but the rest seem so closely matched? When nineteen of the clubs involved are genuinely capable of beating each other, matches are going to tend towards the tight and tense type without the relaxation and swagger that enables dominant teams to turn on the style.
Anyway, the Bristol manager was again forced to use the crutches he’s had since September as he awaits the results of neurological tests that should identify what the problem is. He also faces a back operation for a different problem and it would appear that his relationship with the Bristol City Board is not in good shape – reading this, perhaps you get an indicator as to why he spoke like he did today.
As for the game, an unchanged City side were forced on to the back foot early on as Bristol took the game to us on a pitch made lively by pre match rain. Harry Cornick shot about a yard wide with an effort from ten yards which seemed all of his own work, but referee England ruled that Jak Alnwick got a touch to it. A very good save if he did, but I didn’t think he did and, more importantly, our goalkeeper didn’t think he did either.
Soon after that, Rob Dickie, the wurzels’ only fit senior centreback swung at a loose ball about twelve yards out, but knocked it well high and wide and, in doing so, he signalled the end of Bristol’s attacking involvement for the first forty five minutes.
After that, without offering too much of a threat themselves, City were able to take charge to some degree. Goalmouth action was rare though,Visiting goalkeeper Max O’Leary comfortably dealt with a Perry Ng free kick from about five yards closer to goal than he was on Tuesday and then he made something of a meal of Karlan Grant’s shot from ten yards after a cross from Ng made its way through to him.
The closest City came to scoring in the first half an hour had little to do with anything of their own making when makeshift left back Mark Sykes (he usually plays on the right wing) chested a Jamilu Collins cross about a foot wide of the far post, but this close escape may have had something to do with the visitors coming under increasing pressure in the face of a short period during which City were as fluent as they were at any time in the whole game.
It wasn’t that they were looking dangerous every time they attacked like they did at Huddersfield, but it did feel like a City goal might be coming and it duly arrived when Joe Ralls swung in another in the string of quality corners he’s delivered in the past week and Ng nodded in his third goal of the campaign from no more than five yards out.
Ng was my City man of the match and his fine performance today ends what has been a very good October for the former Crewe man – could it be that he ends up being chosen as Championship Player of the month?
The rest of the half passed off quietly and, apart from those first ten minutes or so, it was shaping up for a comfortable City win. However, the visitors had to be less passive after the break surely and, with striker Tommy Conway on for winger Sam Bell, it was City who now had to do the defending as the trend of play being more at the Canton end of the ground continued.
The closest the visitors came to equalising during the third quarter which represented their best period of the game was when Jason Knight took aim from twenty five yards and forced Alnwick into his best save of the game, while the keeper would have been concerned a few seconds later by another shot from about the same distance by Knight which hit the side netting.
Captain Andreas Wiemann flicked a cross just over and he wasn’t too far off either with a header in a period when all City had to offer in response was a shot from Josh Bowler which went a couple of yards wide and a chance for Callum Robinson after maybe our best move of the second half which saw the Irish international denied by a good block by Cameron Pring.
In truth, it looked like a question as to whether City could hang on to record a 1-0 win or not and the chances of that happening were improved by the contributions of subs Ryan Wintle, Rubin Colwill, Ollie Tanner and Ike Ugbo for Ralls, Robinson, Yakou Meite and Bowler,
The last three replacements mentioned above all did their bit defensively as they were able to win the ball high up the pitch as the visitors lost possession in the manner which frustrated their manager.
Slowly but surely, the balance of the game changed as City began to just about look the side more capable of getting the game’s second goal.
Darren England had refused to penalise Sykes for what looked to be an obvious back pass from within the six yard box which O’Leary had to pick up and so got the crowd on his back, but I was relieved and a little surprised when he did not give a penalty when Bristol’s speedy seventeen year old substitute Ephraim Yeboah went down under challenge from a combination of Dimitrios Gouas and Manolis Sipios, but the replays I’ve seen of the incident suggest the official got it right.
The moment which ensured that the game moved a notch above the lacklustre came a minute into added time when Collins fed Colwill on the left about ten yards from the corner flag. Cornick and Knight got back for the visitors to cut out the danger and there seemed nowhere to go for the City man until a lovely bit of skill enabled him to flick the ball between the pair of defenders and then burst through the gap himself.
With both defenders now out of the game, Colwill took the ball infield about ten yards and then shot so hard from about twelve yards out on the angle that O’Leary was left flailing at thin air as he was completely beaten for pace.
Just as with the first one, the restart was delayed as Madley walked on to the pitch to give England a list of possible reasons why he could disallow the goal, but the ref was happy enough to let the goal, a candidate for our best of the season surely, stand (N.B. there is one paragraph in this piece which is a total lie, can you spot it?).
It was a tremendous goal by the player who I’d say provokes most discussion on the messageboard I use and I’d like to hope it leads to a real step forward for someone who I feel is playing his best football for City in the near three years since he made his debut.
Erol Bulut has made it clear that he wanted more defensively from Colwill and Robinson and I think he’s getting it. However, as a fan who is, of course, far more concerned by what our players do with the ball when they’ve got it, those two players add things to our attacking play that we would otherwise be incapable of – unless Aaron Ramsey was fit.
This afternoon’s game was the second part of a City v wurzels double as the under 18 sides met each other on the other side of the Bristol Channel this lunchtime. The game finished in our favour as well as goals by Will Speirs, Trey George and Japhet Matondo were enough to give us a 3-2 win.