Easter always makes promotion and relegation issues become clear-cut, City proved exactly that by finishing their hopes and lesser worries of getting either.
Derby County’s failure to win at West Ham in an early kick-off made it mathematically impossible for City to be relegated but the Bluebirds own failings in the afternoon in a do or die encounter saw them well below par as they crashed 2-0 to Crystal Palace. After a promising opening, City fell away badly and were clueless in falling to their 7th home defeat of the season and, disturbingly, the 5th in the last 10 league matches since Xmas at Ninian Park, nowhere near good enough.
For City fans, there were few highlights and mostly agonies. Tired and jaded, it all looked much too much for them. The four match unbeaten run, with the pressure off, had brought a flickering hope of a challenge but with too small a squad, injuries hampering them and the pressure back on, they collapsed again, something most of us hoped would not happen but always feared. The highlights? I’m really not sure that you call an average first half with City slightly better, only one serious effort at goal in the entire 90 minutes and ex-City loan player Julian Gray ayatollahing on request as highlights but that was as good as it got.
Palace played the classic away game. Defending in numbers, closing down City, they still found it surprisingly easy to soak up what little threat Cardiff offered leaving their midfield and attack to do the business and deservedly win the day.
The South Londoners were nothing special but they had a better balance in their side and devastating natural width and quality in Julian Gray and Wayne Routledge that usually decides these sort of encounters. A moment of magic from each created their only two clear chances all afternoon to clinically blow City away. They left South Wales having swapped places with City and an outside play-off chance whilst not even Carol Vorderman can calculate the odds of City making it.
With 5 games remaining, City need to win them all which is impossible really given the opposition and three away games against stronger play-off prospects. They may fluke it with 4 wins and a draw but there’s more chance of David Beckham not being in the news this week! The agony is a win would have brought City to within 2 points of the play-offs with 5 games left. Aaaargh, let’s not think about it anymore.
City have done well this season and in recent weeks but, let’s be entirely honest, being around 10th spot is exactly where we deserve to be because that is as good as we are. Simple as that. However for our first time back at this level in almost 20 years, it is better than expected and still something to applaud. A year ago, we were well beaten at Peterborough and then at home to Colchester. It’s massive progress.
The midweek draw at Millwall meant today was win or bust. The side picked itself, especially when shock of shocks, John Robinson made himself available to play at lunchtime following an acupuncturist visit after he was predicted to be absent for two weeks. That man is a legend. No sign of Kav or Thorne though and there was little doubt that both were badly missed today.
City therefore fielded Margetson, Croft-Gabbidon-Collins-Vidmar, Robinson-Langley-Whalley-Parry, Lee-Earnshaw. Margetson, it was revealed before the game, has been playing with a badly broken finger for a fortnight but will see the season out before having surgery. Langley did ok in central midfield and looks far more useful that than when used wide. He was awarded man of the match by showing some nice moments but not that many so I wouldn‘t get too carried away. The rest did ok although Parry, Lee and Earnie were well below their best. Not helped by poor service but they never produced a telling moment on the ball.
Crystal Palace started the day 1 point below City with a game in hand, a stark contrast to them looking relegation haunted at the time the Bluebirds visited Selhurst Park last Autumn, we lost that one too. Credit for their fantastic turnaround must go to new Manager Ian Dowie who undoubtedly is one of the best newer bosses around. This win saw Palace collect a fantastic 32 points in 16 league matches, with exactly the same players who were there before he took charge.
His side for this encounter were Vaesen - Butterfield-Hudson-Popovic-Granville, Hughes-Routledge-Riihilati-Gray, Shipperley-Johnson. No big names at the back although Danny Granville cost £500k, Michael Hughes is the type of influential midfielder that would improve City but there forwards and attacking midfielders were always likely to test us, or any side really.
There was a healthy, expectant crowd of 16,656 including almost 1,500 South Londoners making a good sight and sound at the start on a cloudy but mild day on the Easter Bank Holiday weekend. Palace added to the early summer feel but sporting Brazil-style yellow shirts and powder blue shorts.
The game was spoiled, but the result unaffected, by the over-fussy Trevor Parkes, a referee who loves to be seen and heard and was an annoyance to both teams and, as a result, barely kept control over proceedings. The game was hardly dirty but Parkes awarded 27 free-kicks, a couple brought forward 10 yards as players disagreed with him, booked 6 and in the last couple of minutes sent off Tony Vidmar, a little harshly, for his second yellow card. He was just plain annoying and partly spoiled things. There were some inconsistencies and it was hard to argue with many decisions but any sort of body contact was punished, he was that sort of ref.
As for the game, City opened brightly and won a corner kick in the first 10 seconds. They spent the first few minutes in Palace’s half without creating anything clear until Tony Vidmar met a Paul Parry cross but put over the bar. Palace showed how dangerous they are breaking when Andy Johnson - who missed the encounter at Selhurst Park due to his first child being born at the same time - burst clear only to be denied by a great Gabbidon tackle.
Shortly after, Johnson fired a speculative effort wide. Earnie did likewise for City twice in the half as he put on another way below performance in the Blue shirt. Debates will rage over whether he is jaded, out of luck or has his mind on other things with all the talk of moving to the Premiership, a massive boot deal and now apparently refusing to give his autograph to stop it being sole on e-bay and affecting the sale price of his own memorabilia. But all is not well, his efforts at goal always seem to be desperate, snatched and mishit and he infuriated team-mates on one great break with Lee and Parry being free and waiting on his right for Earnie to shoot harmlessly wide from 30 yards. Greed is a great attribute in strikers but Earnie’s got too greedy lately.
City were the better side but nothing to get excited about. James Collins was mastering Neil Shipperley and they were comfortable at the back but could not create anything with the possession they had. The crowd were getting a little restless so the Grange End called for Julian Gray to do the ayatollah. Amazingly he responded which fired up the City fans and annoyed his own manager and fans. Immediately, Dowie warmed up Dougie Freedman and there was speculation that Gray would be thrown off but it was Shipperley who departed instead on the half-hour with injury.
Just before that change came the most exciting footballing moment of the half as Langley took the ball centrally 40 yards out, strode on and unleashed a low dipping volley that was goalbound but Vaesen touched behind for a fruitless corner.
The half ended in controversy as Alan Lee was adjudged to have foul by Parkes when he was clearly the victim, his protests saw Parkes bring the ball forward 10 yards too, a pointless act when it is 80 yards from City’s goal. Then Vidmar was immediately booked for an innocuous challenge, the type that saw other players just spoken to or left alone.
Half-time: CITY 0 PALACE 0
Cardiff had their one and only opportunity of the second period within 2 minutes of the restart as Langley forced his way down the right and sent over a ball that was half-cleared for Earnie to turn and instantly shoot from 15 yards. The bulge of the net made some roar but it was the side netting, the big screen replay showed it was well wide. The rest of the half from a City viewpoint is totally forgettable and a complete blur so why agonise any longer over it? Here’s the Palace goals.
55 minutes - City set up a promising, quick break that had Alan Lee bursting through but he ran diagonally towards the Grange End corner and once he was dispossessed and Palace came away with the ball, City were out of shape and in trouble.
Michael Hughes, who was excellent as a controlling force for Palace, came away and chipped the ball forward. Langley tried to intercept but his head succeeded in the ball dropping right into he path of Johnson. A quick one-two between him and Julian Gray sent Gray into uncatchable clear space down City’s right, he hit a low first time ball that Margetson, Gabbidon and Freedman and converged on together and fell to the ground, the loose ball ran to ANDY JOHNSON who had the simple task of stroking into an empty net from 10 yards for his 22nd league goal, one more than Earnie. Breathtakingly simple but devastating.
The game was up for City. Their heads never dropped but they seemed resigned to defeat and totally unable to get back into contention. Lennie reacted by immediately bringing on Campbell for Parry who was quiet and ineffective. With three strikers, you expected City to change their style and game but they still never pumped anything forward and knocked the ball about never hurrying up the game. Campbell never got in the game and nor did Gordon who was thrown on late too but the service to the forwards was near non-existent which is why nobody should be too impressed with Langley being City’s man of the match.
It was almost curtains when Whalley hesitated on 65 minutes and was tackled by Freedman who off and clear on his way to goal. He took the ball around Margetson but went wide and Gabbidon tackled him.
The game was all over when Vidmar was red carded on 85 minutes. He was almost City’s furthest forward player but lost the ball wide left and tried to regain it but caught a Palace player instead. More tiredness than malice but Parkes had no commonsense and Vidmar walked before waiting to see the ref‘s card. City’s only ever present player - but who now won’t make that record for the season departed to a standing ovation - ironically the third City player (joining Boland and Campbell to be sent off against the Eagles this term).
Palace‘s second goal came on 87 minutes, a beauty as Cardiff were in disarray. Routledge, a highly promising player, showed fantastic skills and balance all afternoon but none more than when he beautifully played a one-two with Johnson to carve through City‘s left side and then place the ball low across Margetson into the opposite corner. That was class although not appreciated by half the City crowd who promptly left the ground in complete silence. It was his 6th of the season but two came against us and sealed a double over Cardiff, only Reading can match that record.
It was a sad end to a good run and left most fans feeling numb and disappointed but we all suspected it would end on a note like this and so it was. Cardiff are in 11th, their real target must now be to finish in the Top 10 and that will still be a success when we all reflect on the season.
Report from FootyMad
Cardiff City manager Lennie Lawrence was upset that his side's lingering play-off dreams had been put to bed with such a poor display.
"It was a great pity that we have ended all possibility of the play-offs with a performance like a damp squib," said Lawrence.
"I need to get one or two players back from injury very quickly to make sure we recover from this performance, starting at Wigan on Tuesday."After a fairly even first half it was the visitors who made the breakthrough in the 55th minute.
One time City loan player Julian Gray raced down the left wing and his low cross was turned in by Andrew Johnson for his 26th goal of the season.
Gray's performance all afternoon was excellent and he was roundly cheered throughout the game by both sets of supporters.
"I will look to sign Gray when he is out of contact at the end of the season," said Lawrence.
"But he is close to being a premier standard player and he may well hold out to see if any offers come from the Premiership."Tony Vidmar was sent off in the 84th minute after getting a second yellow card and the Eagles made the home side pay by using the space provided to set up another speedy break.
Johnson combined with Wayne Routledge, leaving the nippy winger the simple chance of drilling his shot into the corner of the net.
An elated Iain Dowie was full of praise for his players.
"We defended brilliantly and everyone worked really hard," he said.