Cardiff City 0 Sheffield United 1. Match Report
The Blades played well within themselves, simply determined not to lose. There was little quality and less to enthuse about. Compared to Reading who put us to the sword and proved they were worthy Champions, United gave every impression that without major investment, they will be Premiership cannon fodder to rival Sunderland's efforts this season but good luck to them. City fans cheekily sang, "Premiership, you're having a laugh" and you felt some justification in that. More justification that the optimistic Blades followers who chanted, "we'll never see you again" anyway.
As for City, they played better than recently but are ready for the beaches. They given their all and there's nothing really left. The fans are ready for this season to be over and although they won't admit, I'm sure Dave Jones and his team feel the same way.
They didn't deserve to lose. For an hour, City more than matched Sheffield and were the better side. In all honesty however, it was another sterile, dull, limited entertainment Ninian Park clash. The damning City fact is that we didn't manage a meaningful effort on goal and hardly threatened. Neil Warnock's men, meantime, scored with their only attempt on target and were gifted that. Only Jason Koumas made the game rise above bland, The Blades ugly win was a City habit but it's been lost recently.
If a team like Sheffield United can get promoted with some ease, the play-off and relegation places are all decided by Easter and City lose three on the trot but stay 8th as nobody below really gained any ground on us in that time, doesn't it underline what a poor Championship season it has been. It doesn't detract from City's achievement but it has been far from the best.
City, unusually playing at 3pm on Good Friday thanks to Sky tv, would have wanted to do themselves justice after last weekend's self-inflicted heavy loss to runaway leaders Reading. Thier cause wasn't helped by injuries. Neil Ardley joined Ferretti on the sidelines. Koumas, Thompson and Loovens were all rumoured to be playing with knocks. By half-time, we'd lost Boland and Purse and Weston finished the game as a passenger. It may be barebones at Crewe on Monday, take your boots.
For the record, Rhys Weston got a chance with Ardley absent but it was otherwise the same staring personnel used against Reading with Boland preferred to Whitley in that disjointed midfield, Joe Ledley continuing as left back. Alexander, Weston-Purse-Loovens-Ledley, Koumas-Scimeca-Boland-Cooper, Thomson-Jerome. The bench, again without a reserve keeper, contained Barker-Cox-Nsungu-Parry-Whitley.
Just as Cardiff and Wolves eventually proved nowhere near good enough to see out a play-off challenge, Sheffield United have limped to promotion in recent times. Despite recent struggles - a meagre 13 points in their last 11 games ahead of City - none of the play-off teams got to them. Again, what does that say about quality in this season's Championship? Jangly nerves were eased by recent wins including last week's 3-2 90th win comeback win over Hull so, in truth, The Blades came to Ninian knowing they could probably lose all their final games and still claim second spot.
Differences between City and The Blades were obvious. Sheffield has used 45 players this season, we haven't used half that number and look to the same 11 players game after game. Their squad is 31 compared to our 23 and it reflects itself in the options and quality on the substitute bench. No wonder we look burned out. Warnock's team were Kenny,
Neil Warnock selected Kenny, Unsworth-Short-Morgan-Kozluk, Montgomery-Jagielka-Tonge-Armstrong, Shipperley-Webber. On the bench were Akinbiyi-Geary-Ifill-Kabba and Lucketti.
After a downpour early morning, the weather had changed to a mild and sunny afternoon. The crowd was just 11,006. Sheffield United making a mockery of those City fans protesting they should been given the whole Grange End on messageboards, they had a good 1,500 support but it was quite shocking to see they couldn't sell out what they had. If City were one step from the Prem, Sky tv or not, we know we'd have been there on the road. The Blades have never brought great support down here so why be surprised?
If you judge your football by goalmouth action, the first half was as poor as it gets. Sheffield United saw Montgomery head comfortably wide. That was their sole effort. For Cardiff, Cooper had the best chance when put clear by Koumas but wasted it as he blasted well over the bar. Koumas hit the roof of the Canton Stand, Thompson glanced a header wide from a Koumas cross, Loovens shot trickled to Kenny in United's goal.
Cardiff were more than competitive, playing reasonable football at times and had most of the possession and territory but were going nowhere. They won a series of corners but wasted the lot. Koumas putting everyone in the 6 yard box towards the far post, Kenny dominated that area and took every catch with no challenge. The one time Koumas varied it, he did a Kavanagh - failing to beat the first defender.
By half-time, they were rocked with two injury blows. Firstly before the half-hour, Willie Boland who had been performing well was following a ball out of play but pulled up in front of the dugout with a hamstring pull. Jeff Whitley replaced him, some wondered if that's the last we'll ever see of Willie, now Cardiff's longest serving player, in a City shirt.
Closer to half-time, Darren Purse, who had returned to customary service and standards after his Reading shocker, won a block tackle but jarred his leg. He hobbled for the closing minutes of the half, hoping to be sorted at the interval, but it was clear that he was fighting a losing battle.
Cardiff were clapped off but there was no mistaking it was a poor affair. It was a game which commenced with reasonable tempo and promise but soon became dour and predictable.
Half-time: CARDIFF CITY 0 SHEFFIELD UNITED 0
Thanks to Ali for playing a long but worthy half-time dedication to Mike Morris who is the Big 40 on Monday and a blast of AC/DC's Whole Lotta Rosie did sound good over the tannoy. It turned out to be more memorable than the game.
City returned with Neil Cox replacing Purse, Sheffield made a change themselves as Ade Akinibiyi was on for Neil Shipperley was barely had a touch in the first half, well bossed by City's defence. The Blades went into a pitch huddle and grope, bless'em, but it was City who seemed to find another gear and applied early pressure.
Two promising moves were intercepted before a big chance arrived on 50 minutes, Steven Thomson glanced a perfectly controlled header on halfway past two defenders, Koumas burst through and looked away on goal. Just as he shot on the edge of the area, with the crowd willing him home, David Unsworth got a last gasp touch, the ball rolled to Kenny and our moment was gone.
Neil Warnock had his only loss of temper of the day, feeling the pressure, as City cleanly won a ball and possession in front of him. Warnock, surely frustration more than anything, argued with the ref, 4th official and then some in the crowd behind. It's panto, isn't it?
Sheffield United came back as Armstorng and Webber both had chances but missed them, Webber closest as he hit the side netting with his shot seemingly covered by Alexander. With 25 to go, Sheffield brought on their second substitute striker as Steve Kabba replaced Armstrong and gave City's defence some different problems. Oh to be able to do that and vary things.
Two minutes later, the normal substitute cautious Dave Jones went for broke too as Paul Parry replaced the Cooper who seems to have returned to his anonymous ways which meant City has used all three subs for the first time in living memory under Jones (has there been another times) but also with quarter of the game to go. It was in the script that would somehow haunt us.
That haunting arrived on 76 minutes as Rhys Weston flew into a challenge on halfway and let out a full throated "f***" to the bench. He was suffering with cramp. Sheffield attacked down his side and he got back but went down in the area for treatment as The Blades won a corner. His cramp was extreme but this was neither a hard game or a hot day, just how do our players suffer with cramp after 75 minutes???
The corner was cleared and Rhys flew into another big challenge near the touchline to prevent United winning second phase possession. It won a big ovation but the challenge sent him down with cramp again level with the Canton Stand area near the Grandstand. It was fatal as it played United's players onside, they stayed up and City's defenders had to hold back. Then a moment of craziness as Cameron Jerome on halfway, oblivious to Rhys sitting on the pitch flexing his foot, played a pass in the general direction of where Rhys should have been.
DANNY WEBBER who was barely seen in the game took the ball with ease, ate up the big hole and gap left on the right and as he reached the edge of the box, angled the perfect low curling shot into the far corner. Unbelievable stuff.
The Blades fans went mad and started their Promotion celebrations, the players went to the dugout and mobbed with Warnock.
That was pretty much your lot. United were never going to concede, Cardiff were effectively down to 10 men with Weston limping through the closing minutes in midfield and Scimeca dropped to right back which may be a better role for him? Parry and Whitley had efforts blocked but it was going through the motions.
Final whistle saw Cardiff fans drift silently away, if they hadn't already gone, quite a few
clapping Sheffield. United players and bench all went to the Grange corner to celebrate with their fans. They knew it was job done.
It is disappointing that a previous excellent home record with only 3 Championship defeats all season was now being spoiled by two home losses inside a week but City are flat and it emphasises there's a lot of work and rebuilding to be done over the summer if we're not to fall backwards fast, let alone stagnate. Recent form has been 11 points off 10 games, that's not good.
The problem areas are very defined. Ask fans who should be a first teamer for next season and, almost without exception, the only names that will feature are likely to be Alexander, Loovens, Purse, Koumas and Jerome. Two of those names are loan players. Barker and Weston's features must be in some doubt, Ledley is doing well at left back but I hope that doesn't become his position, that midfield needs drastic overhaul and we need a new first team striker and options on the bench.
What happens over the summer is infinitely more important that what happens in the last of our Championship matches for this season. In full honesty, the season this season is over, the better for all - fans, players and management.
The highlight of the day was a post match bevvy, a bus trip to town with a David Essex City supporting lookalike belting out his hits to a bus crew who joined in and an evening that became a blur ... just like the game.
The Cost of Being A City Fan: (costs are for two)
Programme: £ 3
Transport: £ 7
Club shop goodies: £10
Total for game: £71
Total for Season to date: £3,192
Report from FootyMad
Cardiff City slumped to a third loss in a row but they made high-flying Sheffield United work hard for their narrow victory.
The goal came midway through the second half from Danny Webber, but by then City were struggling with Darren Purse already off injured and Rhys Weston a passenger in midfield.
The Bluebirds made just one change from the side beaten by Reading, with Weston taking over at full-back from the injured Neil Ardley.
The Blades were looking for the victory that could clinch Premiership football for next season and they used the flanks in the opening minutes to put the home goal under pressure.
City started to work themselves into the game and Steven Thompson fired over a couple of crosses that Paddy Kenny gathered safely.
Thompson was lively up front and he almost reached a Kevin Cooper cross before heading a Jason Koumas corner wide of the post midway through the half.
Two minutes before the break a run by Koumas put Cooper through but he sent his shot high over the bar.
By now City had already lost Willie Boland through injury and Jeff Whitley took his place in central midfield.
Purse failed to come out for the second half and Neil Cox took over in the centre of defence, while Ade Akinbiyi went up front in place of Neil Shipperley for United.
The impressive Thompson sent Koumas steaming through the middle but he scuffed his shot and Kenny made an easy save.
Steven Kabba joined Akinbiyi and Webber up front as the Blades went looking for the all important goal, but Glenn Loovens and Cox stood up well.
A mis-placed pass by Cameron Jerome in the 76th minute led to the Blades going ahead. The ball was worked down the left to Webber and his low shot curled in at the far post.
There were then loud appeals for a penalty as a Paul Parry shot struck Chris Morgan on the arm, but the referee waved play on and the Blades held on to take the points.