Last season, City strolled to an easy 3-0 home win on a great pitch but it was in mid-February. Last season's game and result was overshadowed by Earnie getting injured in scoring and missing the next 2 months of the season. This time, in atrocious conditions and a pitch that was arguably unplayable and certainly a leveller, City struggled against a physical, committed Swindon side and were indebted to a last gasp Earnie equaliser to earn a draw. A disappointing game and result but while it raised more questions about City and Swindon fully deserved their point, it maybe a point for City that could make all the difference at the end of this season.
The main talking point before kick-off was whether the game would be played. It's been a long while since Ninian Park was waterlogged but incessant rain had taken its toll. The playing surface was green at kick-off. By full-time, it was battered, brown through the middle, cut up everywhere and badly rutted, it looked like it had been ploughed through the centre. It passes a lunchtime inspection but just because it wasn't flooded, it didn't mean that it was playable. On the day, Swindon had the players and game plan to deal with it better.
Lennie named an unchanged side from the team that convincingly beat a poor, low spirited Huddersfield side 3 days earlier. The gasp was that it meant Kav, available after suspension, was on the sub's bench, the first time he had effectively been dropped since signing for Cardiff City. For more than a few fans, the biggest surprise perhaps was that it had taken so long to happen, there had been plenty of reasons to do it before today. In the event, you really wondered if Lennie's decision to put him on at the start of the second half for the (again) ineffective Fan Zhiyi was not so much a tactic but a premeditated action and what, if anything, it had achieved.
The first half was poor. City's tactics and plan was horribly wrong given the conditions. If there was a time to adopt simple and direct football, today was it. Players struggled to keep their feet although, in the worst conditions of the season, Prior never slipped or fell once. How does that work?
The best plan seemed to be balls over the top for players to run onto, making defenders turn facing their own goal and struggling to turn. It seemed simple and obvious but this is Cardiff City, we not only played football but were guilty as charged with overplaying. Some of the passing moves looked good and were admirable in the conditions then you realised that you had just watched City exchange 10 or more passes to see the ball end up exactly where it had started. More often than not, City players were too close together when this was happening and, inevitably, someone would misplace a pass. To crown it all, City looked a little tired and lethargic, it was a day for grafters and battlers giving 110%, we lacked it, especially in the crucial midfield area.
In the opening 45, City were comfortable defensively. Swindon hit a shot wide but, that apart, only had one break. Another effort from a quickly taken free-kick, needlessly conceded by Fan Zhiyi clipping a player from behind when other defenders stood in front, hit the side netting which had the away fans celebrate for a moment believing it had gone in.
Cardiff were struggling to make anything happen. Rhys Weston, looking tired to me, had a poor game but was incredulously awarded Man of the Match by sponsors Van Insure (a place to avoid if that's how good their judgement is). Part of the problem was that he has become used to knowing the whole of the right side of the pitch has been his to cover in our lopsided system. With Jason Bowen buzzing around and frequently going right, Rhys, in silly silver boots, didn't seem to know when to make a run or not. When he got the ball wide, he was one of many who struggled to cross well, it would have been hard getting balance on the standing leg to accomplish it though.
City's cause also wasn't helped by an inept linesman in particular who didn't seem to have the slightest understanding on the offside rule. Three times he gave Earnie offside when he clearly was on, the little fella seemed too quick for him but the linesman had no excuse for the time Earnie rang back from offside, waited for defenders to get behind him then turned and went again but did even worse in the second half when a Swindon player kicked the ball out with nobody near him and won the throw!
The linesman compounded it all by getting Jason Bowen booked for a good challenge near him only a minute after a Swindon player went through Gary Croft two-footed to win the ball but that was ignored.
Despite criticism, I thought Peter Thorne was City's best player in the first half as he won everything in the air, his knocks on and flicks were excellent but nothing really came from them, that was hardly his fault though. Where were our midfielders running through to support?
Jason Bowen buzzed around but it wasn't the day for him, Leggy's control and skill in the conditions was first class but again, Fan Zhiyi was never in it again. Now dubbed The Chinese Defective (remember the tv programme?), nobody doubts his ability with the ball at his feet but he has no idea how to adjust to the pace of the game at this level and failed to appreciate that while he may now be a holding midfielder, his job also involves hunting for the ball and getting play moving. The game passes him by, Fan had 4 or 5 first half touches only, City's slow and ponderous style has a lot to do with his play.
City did raise their game in the closing minutes of the half and came agonisingly close when a good move at pace, one of the few we achieved, and Jason Bowen's cross was met at the far post by Earnie whose measured header perfectly looped over Griemink but nooded away by Haywood running back almost on the line. A couple of other efforts buzzed high or wide but the only other notable effort was the luckless Peter Thorne, playing against an old club of his, winning the ball at the far post seeing his goalbound downward header flick off a defender running back and fly a foot wide.
There wasn't much to laugh about but the vertically-challenged referee Penn - he was so short, possibly not even 5 foot that his first name must have been Bic - awarding a free-kick against Swindon. Their player showed dissent, got booked, and the ref took the ball 10 yards forward. No matter whether the ref has tiny or huge legs, 10 yards always seems to be 10 paces - Bic's 10 paces took City forward about 6 yards with sections of the Grandstand bellowing at him to take another 10 steps.
HALF-TIME: CITY 0 SWINDON 0
City came back out with Lennie's highly predictable swap of Fan for Kav.
Swindon, having realised City weren't threatening them too much and the game was there to be won, got more adventurous and took the game to the Bluebirds. As happens far too regularly this season, when opponents do something different from their usual game, City's players and tactics seem unable to respond and deal with it.
City had the best of the opening exchanges, Peter Thorne heading narrowly wide then his turn and 20 yard shot brought a flying save from Griemink, Kav's follow up shot hit the side netting. This time, a section of the home support celebrated thinking it had gone in.
Then the game swung. Swindon pushed more, Cardiff run out of ideas (mainly because they never seem to have too many, creativity is at a premium this season) and we looked in trouble.
Correct me if I'm wrong but does anyone remember how last season Neil Alexander always seemed to be beaten by a decent shot, had suspect distribution but his strength was dominating his goal area at corners and crosses which gave a lot of confidence to his defenders?
This season, it's virtually a mirror image. He has become a shot stopper, his distribution is a little (but not much) better as he has finally discovered that he can roll the ball to defenders in space rather than aimless punts downfield but like Michael Barrymore at a party, he just won't leave the white line.
As Swindon starting getting balls over, all it needed was Alexander to come and take it. Conditions were such that catching was difficult but if he punched or flicked away, something Griemink did at the other end several times, it killed pressure.
The goal had been coming. Shots were saved by Alexander, others were blocked or went wide, the away team were winning corners. The Swindon fans became noisy and animated. City finally responded by introducing Leo for Bowen and afetr a flurry of, often poor, crosses got their tactics wrong again by failing to deliver any aerial ball.
Then the goal came. Swindon pressured, Leggy poorly headed the ball outside the area, City's defenders and midfield again too slow in reacting and Duke hit a wonderful high goalbound shot that was in all the way but miraculously stopped by Alexander, probably City's save of the season.
But it was rendered meaningless as the resulting corner came over, Griemink would have been out and touched it on, Alexander stayed on his line and City's defenders were static and didn't pick up Swindon's big centre-forward SAM PARKING who nodded downwards, Alexander couldn't stop it and it squirmed over the line. It was Parkin's 15th goal of the season in 21 games for a struggling side, not bad for a free-transfer!
The final 20 minutes were agony and frustration as Swindon stuck 8 or 9 men behind the ball, probably a mistake, and let City attack them. In deteriorating pitch and weather conditions, City were clueless. While you could excuse them for the pitch, you can't really offer excuses for million pound players like Kav showing no ability to put threatening free-kicks over or around walls, corners and other free-kicks that did not even clear the first defender. Willie Boland's passing was abysmal, so bad that he would have struggled to have passed wind. Andy Campbell came on for Gary Croft after Croftie, in desperation, had been switched to the right.
Earnie did brilliantly to find space on one of the few through balls, went wide and clipped an excellent lobbed shot over Griemink. Leo was at the far post and really should have dived to convert it but appeared to hesitate thinking the ball was dropping in only to see to go a couple of foot wide. Nice killer touch by Leo.
Time was running out for City and so desperate that while Andy Legg wouldn't take long throws when offered, Spencer Prior did, quite good too if anyone had won it in the box.
It looked desperate when a goal came from nothing. City scrambled forward, pumped a ball in the box, Swindon weakly cleared, Prior falling somehow got a shot in which went through a mass of bodies, Griemink got a touch to it and first to react was the priceless EARNIE who converted from about 3 feet.
It was King Earnie's (he's not a Prince anymore) 24th of the season, 21 in the league and to think Lennie ignored him for the first half a dozen league matches. It's not even worth thinking where we'd have been without him this season.
It was a moment which earned a point that took City from a demoralising home defeat which would have dropped them to 4th place into 2nd instead City went berserk, Earnie still somersaulted and made a perfect landing in the mud. Swindon's players, management and fans collectively put their hands on their head.
There was 3 minutes of added time but it was Swindon who came at City again, Sabin, their French striker, failed to beat the last man .. thankfully.
Final whistle blew and mostly relieved applause, some boos but then big cheers when everyone knew Bristol City had finally lost a game. Wigan and now away and seem uncatchable unless they mess up big time. Unbeaten since August, they are now 9 points ahead with a superior goal difference with 21 games to go.
City have thrown away so many points recently and over quite a bit of the season, that they are no longer matching them and now seem to be in a 4 way fight with Oldham, Bristol City and Crewe for the 2nd spot.
I still don't believe Bristol and Oldham are good enough and it's between Crewe and ourselves. The transfer window has to be used by City to give us the edge. We are badly in need of new faces to freshen things up. Better options are essential to deal with this misfiring team who are aiming at promotion in the hardest way possible. We all have different opinions but, in my view, anything less than a good wideman and a classy midfield battler would be selling us short and taking huge risks that just aren't necessary.
City's next league game is at lowly Northampton on January 11th followed by more lowly opposition. Quite simply, it has to count, we cannot throw away points anymore and get swallowed up in the pack.
Report from FootyMad.
A last-minute goal from Welsh international striker Robert Earnshaw earned a point for Cardiff City as they climbed to second place in Division Two.
Earnshaw's goal in the final minute of the game cancelled out Sam Parkin's header, but City were far from convincing against inferior opposition.
However, it is Swindon who will be rueing an opportunity to gain a valuable three points.
In a dull encounter in harsh conditions the visitors took the lead with 70 minutes on the clock. Parkin headed home a corner from three yards out to claim his 15th league goal of the season.
As Cardiff sought an equaliser Swindon always looked dangerous on the break and the Robins had several opportunities to extend their lead.
Second-half substitute Eric Sabin raced clear on a couple of occasions, but his lack of composure saw him fire straight at City keeper Neil Alexander on both occasions.
But it was Cardiff who scored next with Earnshaw netting his 21st league goal of the season in the final minute of the game to give the Bluebirds a valuable point.
Earnshaw reacted fastest in a crowded area, tapping home from one yard out, following Peter Thorne's scuffed shot.
It was somewhat against the run of play and Cardiff boss Lennie Lawrence admitted it was a huge relief to get the equaliser.
"A point gained," said Lawrence. "The conditions were the same for both sides so that's no excuse but it hampered our style of play.
"It was a bad goal to concede but I think a draw was a fair result. Their style of play made it hard for us and they played very well and deserved their draw.
"A few of our players looked tired and jaded and I was thankful to have fresh legs on the bench.
"In the conditions it helped us go right to the end and Earnshaw popped up in the right place at the right time yet again and has rescued a point for us.