Jason Koumas slipped on to the pitch almost unnoticed with three minutes to go to replace the man who had made such a great start for his home town club following his decision to drop down a division to try and help them to the Premiership.
Koumas was very much a support act in the Craig Bellamy circus that day, but City fans who had seen him star for us in 2005/06 were content in the knowledge that his time would come – someone with Koumas’ talent would make an impact on the Championship sooner rather than later.
Those supporters waited and waited, but, sadly, there was virtually nothing to remind them of that season five years earlier where Koumas had been the catalyst behind an unlikely Play Off challenge which only faded away completely in the closing weeks of the campaign. This time around, it looked like we had a shell of a footballer on our hands who had seemingly lost the ability, and the inclination, to make that vital contribution which can win a game at this level. There was a shot that was deflected in by Seyi Olofinjana at Scunthorpe back in November and a late run and cross against the same opposition in the return game which enabled Olly to bundle in the only goal of the game, but, to be honest, these fleeting glimpses only tended to emphasise the feeling of frustration and waste that has characterised Koumas’ second spell with us.
That second Scunthorpe match was played in February and after it Koumas talked of his determination to make an impact in the final third of the campaign only for him then to disappear from first team contention again as he succumbed to the latest in a series of niggles and illnesses which have seen him more out of the match day squad than in it throughout the second half of the season. The arrival of two on loan keepers in March followed by the recruitment of Jllyod Samuel has not helped Koumas’ cause either as it has meant that one of our six loan players has had to be left out of the eighteen every week – it has been taken as read for a while that Koumas would always be that player.
That’s why I was surprised to learn before yesterday’s match at Doncaster that Koumas was on the bench at the expense of Jay Emmanuel-Thomas. Now I would guess that Arsene Wenger has not been best pleased to see his player demoted to substitute for recent games (especially when, for me at least, he was very unlucky to be dropped in the first place), but, to have him not even in the squad could mean that he isn’t so willing to let Arsenal players come here on loan again in the future if they are going to be treated like that. It was, therefore, a brave decision by Dave Jones to go with a player who had done virtually nothing to repay the faith he has shown in him this season, but, fair play, it turned out to be the correct one.
Just like back in August, Koumas had three minutes plus time added on to influence yesterday’s game, but, whereas the first meeting between the sides was done and dusted at 4-0 to City when he came on, this time the score was 1-1 and a stuttering Cardiff side were definitely in need of inspiration. Chris Burke had given City the lead after a quarter of an hour against the run of play with a shot which home keeper Woods should have done better with, but Donny had generally had the better of things and when James Coppinger levelled things up with twelve minutes left with a well struck effort from twenty yards, I think it’s fair to say that most people thought the home side were the more likely to go on and win the game – however, cometh the hour and all that.
I must admit that the thought had crossed my mind that Dave Jones had opted for Koumas in front of Emmanuel-Thomas because he had really been turning it on in training this week and the fact that Craig Bellamy and Peter Whittingham were both prepared to let him take the free kick that City were awarded in a central position twenty five yards out in the ninetieth minute does suggest that he had been knocking similar types of efforts in for fun at the Vale over the past seven days. Whatever, Koumas flighted in a brilliant shot which Woods did not get within yards of to give us the lead and then, with the game virtually over, he and Bellamy were able to exploit the home team’s need to pile men forward as they created a third goal which, although it was a bit lucky in that Koumas’ shot was deflected slightly, was still an object lesson in how to take advantage of a two on one.
Although Dave Jones talked of City being in control for much of the match afterwards, it doesn’t seem that too many agreed with him because the general consensus seems to be that Donny deserved at least a draw, but it needs to be remembered that, although they are in a terrible run at the moment, people were saying much the same sort of thing after their previous two matches (1-0 defeats against QPR and Bristol City). I can also remember us picking up scruffy away wins on the grounds of struggling sides late on in previous promotion seasons – the important thing is that City got the job done and the circumstances behind their win (two goals scored in added on time) can only reinforce a belief that they can get that top two spot.
All things considered, it wasn’t too bad a day for City yesterday – Reading winning again was bad news which was not really offset by the fact that they must have, surely, ended Forest’s automatic promotion hopes in the process and Leeds’ hopes of a top two finish look distinctly rocky after a defeat at Millwall who have kicked on with a couple of wins after drawing with us. The longer sides like Millwall can remain in contention the better, because it would be good to have them challenging when Swansea go there in their penultimate game, and with that in mind, Hull’s win at Watford makes the jacks game with them on Tuesday look a tough one given the Tiger’s long unbeaten run on their travels (we could have done with Watford getting a point out of that game mind because I would fancy their chances against Norwich more on Tuesday if that had happened).
On the other hand, it is looking less and less likely that Burnley will have anything to play for when we go there on the last day of the season and, hopefully, Middlesbrough will be safe when we play them. QPR’s amazing 4-1 loss at Scunthorpe means that it is much less likely that they will be already up when they play us (the League’s decision to wait until 6 May before delivering their verdict on the Faurlin case means that they couldn’t take anything for granted when we play them anyway) . As for the huge game between Swansea and Norwich, well credit (and thanks!) to the jacks for their 3-0 win, but, as long as Burnley still have a sniff of the Play Offs when they go there, they still have at least two away matches where they will consider a draw a good result. Norwich are now into the four match run which, I believe, will go a long way to deciding if they finish in the top two – Watford and Forest aren’t in great form, but they will have everything to play for when they play them this week and they do have the quality to take points off the team still in second place.
That said, I thought Norwich were quite impressive in defeat last night and they certainly weren’t three goals worse than the jacks. Indeed, watching some of the slick football both sides came out with and comparing it to some of the stuff we produce, it was possible to get a bit downbeat about our chances. We have match winners who can turn a game in the twinkling of an eye though and if we could add Jason Koumas and, hopefully, a fit again Michael Chopra to a list that already contains Bellamy, Bothroyd, Whittingham and a rejuvenated Chris Burke over the coming weeks, then we must have a great chance of that top two finish.