Cardiff City 0 - 0 Ajax
unbeaten in 7 games signing off with an encouraging and comfortable 0-0 home draw with Dutch Masters Ajax managed by Marco Van Basten to land their second piece of silverware with the Vans Direct Trophy joining the Algarve Cup at the bottom of the trophy cabinet
City and Ajax are supposed to share the trophy - Ajax must have thought
"Vans Direct" was an unknown Dutch player! - but I think you can safely say
they didn't leave Ninian Park with the trophy and won't be in touch with Cardiff City for their share of it either.
Getting into Cardiff, it was a lovely evening with temperatures around 70
degrees but the first shock of several came when we popped to Ninian Park early to buy tickets and found all the Grandstand (upper and lower) were sold other than restricted views. All match tickets were £10 so we decided to opt for the Bob Bank terrace as it's the final season we can do that.
Shock number 2 came when we were there and rumours were circulating that Jay Bothroyd had signed and was at the ground. He hasn't yet but he was sat
next to Peter Ridsdale. Hopefully he's not our main man - maybe a useful
squad addition - but he won't get us many goals and, as this game proved, we need more menace up front.
Another shock (number 3) came when drinking in Canton, those hazy skies
turned to heavy grey and then a winter-like downpour. Not good when all I've
got on is a short sleeved shirt ... but I accessorised myself with a Tesco
carrier bag over the head which made little difference as I was soaked through long before reaching the ground.
The fourth shock came as we headed back up Sloper Road and saw literally
hundreds walking away from the ground either turned away with no more seating available (yet they kept the Bob Bank seating shut!) or they were punters who just couldn't be arsed getting soaked in queues to the ticket office which snaked outside the stadium and this while the game was already underway. Not a great way to start any season.
The fifth shock was seeing City's new kit. The club made a real fuss about
Ambassador's choosing the final season's kit for Ninian Park and its badge in
various competitions. So, to nobody's surprise, fans voted in droves for
the classic late 70's shirt with the vertical parallel yellow and white
stripes on the chest which the official website acknowledged. So why did they then ignore what the fans wanted and sent City out in a bastardised version which looked more like the Gilesports shirt from a few years ago with stripes on the shoulders and a yellow/white panel added on the kit's side. Worse than that, the shirts aren't even Cardiff City Blue ... they're dark blue of the
type Sam Hammam once wanted and more like his old Wimbledon colours. The club only just had the shirts in time to put players squad numbers, but not their names, on them and they won't be on sale to fans until after the season has started anyway ... I got a funny feeling I won't bother with it.
As for the game, City put out what it likely to be the side to face
Southampton in the league opener next weekend, notwithstanding injuries and any late signings. In goals, Tom Heaton has clearly won the nod ahead of the increasingly error strewn Peter Enckleman. Mark Kennedy deputised for Capaldi while he recuperates from minor cartilage surgery and the front two were the Scots duo of Thommo and McCormack. The side were therefore Heaton, McNaughton-Loovens-Johnson-Kennedy, Whittingham-Rae-McPhail-Ledley, Thompson-McCormack.
Managed by Van Basten coached by Dennis Bergkamp and with a leading Ajax player (Dennis Rommedahl) promising that technical prowess would be too much for Cardiff City, I think it took them all 5 minutes to realise that while City are a strong unit and a force ... if only we had more presence up front.
While the club will get some stick, did anyone really expect such a big
crowd? Pre -season games usually get 5-6,000 crowds, the much hyped debut of Robbie Fowler only pulled in 8,500 last year so it was some sight to see the Canton Stand, Grandstand and Grange End (City side) packed. Common sense prevailed when the Bob Bank seating opened, some spilling over from the Grange End and I could literally wring my shirt out. The crowd was later officially announced as 11,402.
The football on display was pleasing on the eye and City were more than
matching their counter-parts, frequently earning applause for some delightful
touches and movement plus commitment to win a few big tackles, there was a good atmosphere in the ground even if goalmouth action was sparse.
A close first half saw City marginally having the better of things and
encouraging the home support throughout but chances were at an absolute
premium. There were just three as McCormack almost forced his way through, Peter Whittingham missed connecting with a superb McPhail ball over the Dutch defence by a whisker and Thommo went close with a shot on the turn that narrowly cleared the bar. Ajax however could point out that Tom Heaton made one superb save from Rommedahl given a free 25 yard hit on goal as Loovens stuck out a leg and diverted a ball into his path while they somehow missed a free header at the back post, nodding wide when it was easier to score. Heaton also showed lightning reflexes getting down smartly to block one shot when it didn't matter as offside had already been blown.
The only other first half incident of note was the Ajax fans - about 200
only - try to run to the Lower Grandstand, even climbing over seats but they
soon turned tail when police and stewards met them. Later in the 2nd half,
they did this several more times, running for the exits, the front of the stand
and towards City fans in the Grange End as some sort of gesture but turning and running back twice as fast as they charged forward when challenged by
Half-time: City 0 Ajax 0
The 2nd period started with Darren Purse replacing Glenn Loovens who was
either sold during the interval or drained from two weeks of transfer rumours
which got nowhere. Purse also took the Captain's armband off McPhail but,
surely, McPhail should keep it if he starts the game as skipper and is still on
However this was now a game, entertaining though it was, with 0-0 written
all over it and which gave us 90 minutes that summed up Cardiff City at
present. A very solid team, well organised and disciplined, some quality and
flair but just not enough bite and magic up front to get us over the finish line.
It should have convinced Dave Jones that he needs to magnify his efforts to
bring a good striker here and fast please ... and please don't tell me
Bothroyd is that man!
City tried to change things with Parry replacing Thommo but for all our
efforts, we never gave the Ajax keeper a single save to make although McCormack should have done better when he brilliantly turned to get behind the Dutch defence but blazed over from an angle.
The game had drifted so I guess we were grateful for the sideshow
entertainment of one of the worst pieces of streaking ever - a City fan who
ran on the pitch fully clothed then tried to undress. He dropped his trousers and pants, baring his arse to the Bob Bank until he saw stewards run towards him. Trying to get away, he fell over his trousers which were around his ankles ... and then seem to be trying to continue stripping as the stewards piled on him. All the while, the game was continuing elsewhere on the pitch. By my reckoning, there were at least half a dozen stewards and they were soon joined by 8 or more coppers - 14 people minimum to tackle one streaker!?!? The police did look heavy-handed but the would-be streaker was hauled away to an ovation.
Ajax has some late efforts but all were fired narrowly wide while Heaton
nearly messed up with an awkward bouncing ball but we never looked like
winning, we never looked like losing which included our final attacking action as a corner was almost turned on goal while McNaughton tried to repeat his Hereford F.A. Cup wonder goal with the game's last kick but was nearer the corner flag.
Overall, we look no better and no worse than last season. Crucially, we
haven't yet added that attacking edge and quality that could make the
difference between us being also-rans again or a side who can really push on. On the other hand, City should be pleased with their work in only conceding 4 goals pre-season and none to Celtic or Ajax in our key games. There's something to be built on but unless City get in a goals man, we may just have to watch these tight games with no or few goals as the 'norm'.