City deserve full praise for an outstanding display but it most also be said that The Mackems astonishingly bad arriving as the Black Cats but departing as red-faced Pussies. Overwhelmed from first whistle to last, a man sent off early (before any goals but with City already well on top), shambolic defending and some of their players looking like they didn‘t want to be there. No wonder they were taunted them with, “are you Scotland in disguise?” whilst their manager, Mick McCarthy, so animated 1st half gave up on in the 2nd period and just leaned against his dugout looking on in angst.
Embarrassed on the pitch and embarrassing off it too as The Mackems large numbered, low volumed 1,500 support were badly let down by a vocal minority of their otherwise excellent support ruined a one minute respect and silence for John Charles, the Gentle Giant of a footballer and man who sadly died earlier that day. Their antics fired up some City fans to catcall them and what should have been a tribute for a true King became a farce.
Coming just a week after Sunderland demanded and expected a minutes’ complete silence for Bob Stokoe, their own legend who just passed away, it was vile. I hope those involved are thoroughly ashamed, although I doubt such brain-dead idiots would be, but I know many City fans felt the hammering City dished out was divine retribution.
There were some bizarre pre-game sights. My usual pre-match watering hole was busy with City and Sunderland fans having a good bevvy together and enjoying Chelsea v Arsenal on the big screen when in walked the Wedding of the Year for their reception 25 or so people took up the spare tables around us, the bride looked splendid in her dress as she fagged it up whilst feeding her baby and they hadn’t even ordered meals so bride, groom and guests ordered baguettes or burgers and chips for the bar menu. I can’t believe why no representative from OK or Hello magazine was there!
Ninian Park was a little surreal too with the outside programme cover purposely blurry and featuring the Bluebird badge inside a heart in the middle of a shooting star. What kind of hallucinating drugs do you need to be on to come up with ideas like that? The inside cover had a picture of Kav celebrating his goal last week at West Brom but crouched in a position and with a grimace on his face that made it look like he was having a dump.
Inside the ground, new painted staircases around the Grandstand and a new clock in the middle of the Grange End. Made by Omega and sponsored by a local jeweller, its presence seems a complete waste of time as the clock is huge but its hands are skinny so near invisible and unreadable from distance. It will surely be a matter a time before smashes a shot into it smashing its glass or plastic outer casing and sending it into the Grange End - don’t stand underneath it fellas!
As for the footy, well it’s been a big week for City. An unlucky loss but confidence building performance at West Brom followed by 10 away on international duty, Earnie smashing a hat-trick against Scotland, Paul Parry’s superb debut and Lennie having the complete luxury of a complete injury and suspension free squad to select from.
There was plenty of debate about the off-form Langley and Weston maybe getting a rest, Croft and Robinson coming back into the team. Would the hungry, powerful and in-from Lee get a start over Thorne whose scoring run has stopped? We should have known better than to see Lennie make wholesale, or any changes, as for the 4th game in succession, he named the same team of Margetson, Weston-Gabbidon-Vidmar-Barker, Langley-Kavanagh-Boland-Parry, Earnie-Thorne and the same subs too of Alexander-Prior-Campbell-Lee and Whalley.
What they did on grass was nothing but Mick McCarthy’s team-sheet and line-up looked impressive and should really have given us a much tougher game than they did.
It was Matt Poom, Wright-Gary Breen-Joachim Bjorklund-McCartney, John Oster-Jason McAteer-Whitley-Julio Arca, Marcus Stewart-Kevin Kyle. £16 million of signings in their starting line-up, internationals and ex-Premier players just about everywhere you looked. Subs were: Williams, Byfield, Thirlwell, Alnwick, Tommy Smith.
The Mackems started the day in 7th, 5 points ahead of City and with 5 points more. They also had one or two games in hand on everyone above them which, if won, would take them to 3rd so they seem set fair for the play-offs at least. They had lost just 1 of their previous 9 games and had scored in 13 successive games before today but their away form prior to this match of 5 wins, 4 draws and 6 defeats was near equivalent to ours - they were to be respected but definitely not feared and to their immense credit, that‘s how City went about it.
On a bright day but with low temperatures and a biting wind, it felt artic - ironic for a game sponsored by Heatwise - and it showed with Earnie, Gabbi and Vidmar in blue gloves, most of the rest in long sleeves but Paul Parry and Kav showing they were the real hard mend - no gloves and short sleeves. Billy Ayre would have approved.
Once it started, City were hot, hot , hot. Sunderland won the first corner but City caused the first danger by breaking upfield from it, Paul Parry cut inside and let fly with his left foot a fraction high and wide with Poom struggling. On 6 minutes, City applied pressure on Sunderland’s rocking defence, won a free-kick for which we were so nearly rewarded for finally showing some variation.
Far too often, all we see is Kav and Langley trying the bend the ball around or over the wall towards a top corner. So often in fact, do we ever see anything else? This time we did as Kav found Parry who unleashed a low drive that looked a certain goal except Rhys Weston got in its way and deflected it over the bar.
Sunderland’s defence was a mess. They were far too casual, knocking it sideways and back for each other and with City hungry, they closed them down, pounced on them or waited for the ever regular errors to turn over possession. Langley tested Poom from 30 yards, Thorne looped a shot over from 25 yards, both efforts from The Mackems gifting the ball.
The 16th minute brought a decisive moment in the match as Sunderland’s awful defence lost possession again, Richard Langley sprinted away towards goal and with Earnie inside, it was a 2 strikers against no defenders raid. Swedish World Cup player Joachim Bjorklund chased Langley, tugged him outside the area but Langley persevered and was eventually brought to ground inside the box. It looked, and was I’m certain, an obvious penalty.
However the poor quality ref, Mr Crossley from Kent, ran towards Langley and it looked like he was going to book him for diving. What did he say? Whatever, he next turned to Bjorklund, spoke to him for an eternity and in front of the away support, produced an instant red card presumably judging that he was the last defender even if he brought down Langley on an angle from goal. 17,000 City fans waved “cheerio”.
Now the penalty ... except it wasn’t. Crossley awarded a free-kick outside the area. Did I get the wrong view? Everyone around me was adamant it was a penalty too.
City lined up with Kav and Langley over the ball on the far right of the area. Yet again City surprised us all with variation but, most of all, it stunned Sunderland as instead of the floating curler, hallelujah, KAVANAGH bent it low around the outside of the wall and squeezed it in off the foot of the near post past Poom who seemed to be slow getting across. It was Captain Kav’s 7th of the season.
Ninian Park went mental, the pretty full ground but with a crowd declared at 17,337 in full party mode. You felt already there was no way back for Sunderland and there wasn’t as City were ruthless, cutting them to shreds in a tidal wave of Blue shirted attacks.
A major feature of a magnificent first half showing were those players who, fairly or not, get most criticised were hitting their best form of the season. Rhys Weston was solid and pouring forward, Richard Langley was tormenting opponents with his skill and effort, Chris Barker looked strong too and, above all them, Willie Boland was awesome. Was it really Willie or someone else wearing his shirt? He was superb at West Brom but today he was different class.
His passing was excellent for a change, he showed vision with his range of them too which included many decisive forward balls, he was winning the ball all over midfield and he was bursting forward through the middle and on the sides. He was awarded Man of the Match, many in the crowd giving him a standing ovation. The question is now, whether he can contain that new standard he has set for himself which some of us, myself included, were seriously doubting that he had. Brilliant Willie!
On 29 minutes, it was 2-0 with a magical goal. A five man move saw Langley feed Weston on the right hand side. The defender burst past his man saw Thorne and Earnie taking up positions but covered around the 6 yard box but brilliantly pulled the ball back behind them to RICHARD LANGLEY who had continued his run, stole in unmarked and passed the ball into the top right corner, his 4th goal for City. Superb move, superb cross, superb finish - just superb.
Before half-time, the one-sided contest continued as Earnie was so close in another scramble but hit the side netting, Weston and Langley stung Poom’s hands, Thorne and Parry were just wide. City were in total control with fantastic movement and use of the extra man stretching Sunderland everywhere.
The visitors never tested Margetson other than him taking a couple of crosses and corners, Kyle - their beanpole of a striker - looking frustrated as a couple of crosses sailed over him. Their only efforts of the half were Marcus Stewart and Whitley from distance both hitting their efforts comfortably over the bar. Their passing moves looked neat but were ineffective.
Half-time: CITY 2 SUNDERLAND 0
Estonian Black Cats keeper Poom was back out a full 5 minutes before the 2nd half to face some shooting practice, he was clearly fearing the worst. McCarthy made two changes taking off Kyle and Stewart and replacing them with Byfield and Smith, it made no difference. Within 2 minutes of the restart, Pooms fears were proven as City made it 3-0 and put the contest beyond any doubt whatsoever.
Very first move of the 2nd half and Kav won a corner which he took, the inswinger just evaded everyone but Earnie tracked it as it was going away from goal and appeared to be going behind, managed to turn it back where DANNY GABBIDON came through the crowd, and flicked the ball, kung-fu style, off the outside of his left boot, the ball beating Poom, his crossbar and just bouncing over the line. McCarthy looked as if he wanted to get on the bus, the visiting support numbed by how inept their side were.
Thirty seconds later, it could and should have been 4-0 as Langley closed down a defender, stole a ball off him with ease, burst away and sent a low ball over that somehow Earnie failed to position himself correctly on as when it seemed formality to sweep it home from close range, the ball went through his legs.
Shortly afterwards, Jason McAteer departed as Sunderland made their final sub. As one fan commented, “that was the first time I even realised he was playing”. A few visiting players were anonymous on an afternoon where, to me, the only one who looked anything above ordinary was Welshman John Oster.
It was a massacre. If City had retained their intensity, we would probably have been celebrating a 6-0 or 7-0 victory, I was feeling embarrassed for Sunderland. However, and perhaps it’s only natural, City took their foot off the gas and although never in danger, there chances decreased - but remained the most dangerous - whilst Sunderland finally managed to get a few efforts in themselves.
For City, Earnie should have scored as he raced clear on goal but hit his effort straight at Poom who also his rebound attempt when a pass to Peter Thorne was perhaps the better option. The incisive through ball supplier? Willie Boland. Earnie also saw an effort blocked by a despairing challenge whilst Thorne went close too.
Sunderland had chances but their shooting was as woeful as their defending. Oster shot weakly, a quick break set Byfield clear to blast well wide to jeers, a rising Whitely drive tested Margetson and City‘s defence let themselves down by gifting Gary Breen a free header from the corner from close range but he put over. Lennie looked angry they allowed it to happen again.
The game now resembled a training exercise as Earnie, Parry and Kav were brought off for an early rest and to big ovations with Campbell, Lee and Captain Caveman replacing them to equal strong ovations. City were passing it around with the crowd now chanting “ole ole ole” and booing when Sunderland had the ball. “It’s just like watching Wales” they purred as events were a repeat of those seen at Millennium Stadium three days earlier and moments later, the scoreline was identical too.
Alan Lee, committed, strong and totally up for it, was 50/50 on a through ball but there would only be one winner as he checked with McCartney who almost bounced off him, LEE strode on and buried emphatically past Poom for his 2nd goal in a week as a late sub. The through ball supplier was Andy Campbell.
Moments later, Lee was so close to making it 5-0 as he met a Weston cross, cushioned a header over the helpless Poom who watched as it bounced off his bar and evaded Andy Campbell who also showed some rare passion.
Final whistle came as a huge relief to Sunderland fans although many had already gone, having left when the 4th went in. Their players went and acknowledged them, a good thing to say, because all too often ours disappear without any wave to travelling fans when they have lost away.
A great day and a great result. City climbed a place to 11th and within 3 points of 5th place and 4 points off 4th although they have played more than others. No doubt after a display and result like this, some will now start talking up the phrase “play-offs” again. I won’t though ... not unless we beat West Ham next week anyway!
Report from FootyMad
Cardiff City powered their way to a well deserved victory over promotion-chasing Sunderland, but the Black Cats were forced to play with ten men for most of the game.
Joachim Bjorklund was given a red card in the 16th minute after bringing down Richard Langley when the Bluebirds' Jamaican international was clean through on goal.
City's skipper Graham Kavanagh curled a low free-kick around the wall and in off Mart Poom's near post to give the Bluebirds a lead they never looked like losing.
Further goals by Langley, Danny Gabbidon and substitute Alan Lee sent City to their first victory of the season over top ten opponents.
Before the match started, there was a minute's silence in memory of Wales legend John Charles, who passed away at the age of 72.
The game exploded in the 16th minute when Bjorklund was sent off and Kavanagh made the visitors pay by netting direct from the free-kick.
It did not take long for the Bluebirds to double their lead with a superbly taken goal by Langley in the 27th minute. Kavanagh won a midfield tussle and flicked the ball out wide to Rhys Weston who was racing down the right flank.
Weston's low cross into the danger area was hammered into the roof of the net by Langley with Poom grasping thin air.
The Sunderland defence were guilty of giving the ball away too easily which kept them continually under pressure and they were playing a dangerous game by using the offside trap just inside their own half particularly when up against someone with the lightning pace of City's Welsh international Robert Earnshaw.
During the interval, Sunderland manager Mick McCarthy took off Kevin Kyle and Marcus Stewart and started the second half with Darren Byfield playing a lone role up front, while Tommy Smith bolstered an overworked midfield.
It all meant nothing however as the Bluebirds went three up two minutes after the restart when a cross from Earnshaw was hooked in by Gabbidon.
Jason McAteer and John Oster tried valiantly to get the Black Cats some reward, but the City midfield were well on top with Langley free to make a number of dangerous runs into the visitors' half.
Earnshaw had two chances on the hour but Poom saved well on both occasions.
Jeff Whitley had a snapshot turned over by Martyn Margetson and from the resulting Oster corner, Gary Breen headed high over the bar in one of Sunderland's few forays into the City half.
McAteer was surprisingly replaced by Paul Thirlwell after 66 minutes and then City boss Lawrence took off Earnshaw and Paul Parry for former Charlton midfielder John Robinson and Andy Campbell.
Sunderland's sub Byfield had a glorious opportunity of reducing the deficit 18 minutes from time, but his low shot was turned aside by Margetson and Tony Vidmar hacked the loose ball clear.
Just as Sunderland looked as though they may get a consolation score it was Cardiff who sent the ball the length of the field and Lee beat the offside trap to slam in the fourth goal just two minutes after taking the field.
The Football Echo
Wales On Sunday
Sunderland Sunday Sun