The hype and the talking is over - and there's been plenty of both - now was the time for action and the reality of Championship football to take over, Cardiff fell at the first hurdle and left fans walking away with plenty more questions than they had on arrival.
The questions seem to be this;
1. After watching City finish in a sorry state with our "best ever" manager having no striker on the bench to bail them out, 4 wingers on the pitch and 2 subs brought on but played out of position, where was this much vaunted claim of a bigger, better and stronger squad that a rather smug Cpl Jones and Lt Ridsdale have been speaking about all summer and all week?
2. Has a summer's worth of rebuilding, to this point, really taken us to a position of not knowing who can score from City apart from Michael Chopra to just not knowing who can score for us at all?
It's early days, there's a very long way to go. The team will have better days, play badly and get results but Jones and Ridsdale had better live up to their promises of a couple more quality additions, target man striker an absolute must, and preferably, spend some of the £5M received for Chops as the evidence today was overwhelmingly clear - you spend nothing, you'll get nothing.
Stoke won courtesy of on loan Man United centre-half scoring a debut goal against the run of play just before half-hour after City were playing beautifully, albeit with a lack of cutting edge. If that was similar to last season, so was City's reaction to going behind. With the wind knocked out of Bluebird sails, City rarely threatened to hit and even managed to miss a late penalty.
It meant Dave Jones has now gone 10 games without a Championship win, 8 of those being defeats. Jonesy must be the only manager on the planet who can somehow be rewarded with an even bigger, better contract for performance like that and barely a few months after he last had a new contract anyway.
The day promised much. Glorious blue clear skies, the anticipation of the start of a new season, several new players to watch, Ridsdale and Jones talking up promotion (again), pubs packed in town let alone Canton and loads wearing the new City shirt, including some grown men, yes grown men, with the name Fowler or God printed on the back of theirs. Robbie Fowler, of course, was injured having missed most of pre-season and now suffering playing 'catch up'. We've been here before with a younger fitter Jason Koumas. It was inevitable but he captured the imagination of the glory-seekers and less committed fans that Ninian Park was sold out to home fans and with a fair red and white deckchair striped following from the Potteries, 18,840 were inside our ground. The new stadium is essential but a traditional ground like Ninian Park is still a mighty fine sight when full, we'll miss it when it's gone.
So to the teams and, ouch, came to mind when Cardiff City's was announced. Two small strikers and no reserve striker on the bench suggested we could have problems from the out. It also tells the likes of Matt Green and Jason Byrne they have no immediate future (the former) or future at all (the latter) when they are not considered in circumstances like this. A great £100k spent on Byrne then, almost as good value as the £75k spent on Feeney this year too. The three into two battle was a comparatively easy choice with Darren Purse struggling for form pre-season but Roger Johnson's display today should mean his absence is should not extend beyond this game. The central midfield battle was identical with Scimeca injured and kids not likely to be used. More squad strength and quality they say?
City lined up with Turnbull, McNaughton-Johnson-Loovens-Capaldi, Sinclair-Rae-McPhail-Ledley, Feeney-MacLean. Subs were Oakes (meaning David Forde has gone from 1st choice to 3rd choice), Parry, Whittingham, Gunter and Purse.
As for Stoke, Tony Pulis is nothing if not predictable. A big physical team who are very well organised who play to contain on the road and if they get ahead, they'll probably strangle you. Pulis also likes loans and experiences and his side were certainly that with Simonsen in goals, a defence of Dickinson-Shawcross-Matteo-Wright, Cresswell-Higginbotham-Delap-Lawrence and strikers Ricardo Fuller and ex-Jack Sidibe. While City struggle for strikers, Stoke started with 3 and also had man mountain Jon Parkin on the bench, a player we showed interest in but never bid for over the summer and who would have walked into our side today.
At 5'11", Liam Lawrence was the only visiting player under 6 foot tall. City had 7 of their 11 the same height or smaller than Stoke's smallest player and we played it right into the visitor's hands.
Cardiff, in fairness, made a blistering and exhilarating start Steve McPhail, Captain for the day and sporting a skinhead cut, was magical with his play, beautiful with his passing and orchestrating the game for the opening 25 minutes. With Rae and himself dominating midfield, Ledley and Sinclair lively on the flanks and Capaldi plus McNaughton supporting well, Stoke were doing all they could to hang on. Sinclair nearly provided an early opener blasting a far post ball back across goal which deflected off a defender only for the impressive Simonsen to react and fingertip away.
Cardiff were winning corner after corner and crosses were flying in but they Feeney and MacLean had little chance of getting them, Johnson and Loovens got forward at every chance but were well marshaled by the visitors towering presence. With a baying crowd behind them, City charged forward attacking the Grange End but had a couple of penalty appeals declined, Rae had tow or three shots outside the box but all were blocked whilst MacLean wasn't sharp enough to turn home another low powered Sinclair cross, the ball striking his leg close range but rebounding away. A couple of edge of area free-kicks were wasted too.
For all this domination, Cardiff looked blunt and simply far too lightweight up front. Stoke's attack provided infinitely more threat with the magnificent Ricardo Fuller (has he ever been less than brilliant against City?) and the powerhouse Sidibe giving our defence more problems and to Roger Johnson in particular. Johnson wasn't alert or sharp enough and frequently found strikers clipping his heels and a ref who didn't really help him but he didn't help himself either and Cardiff were lucky as Johnson spooned one clearance on the edge of his box straight in the air and loose follow up header misdirected across goal - a "trick" he later repeated too. City defenders twice had to scramble away and Turnbull had to save when Fuller weaved around a couple of challenges but his low shot lacked power.
Stoke were now trying to stop City playing and there were some bad challenges flying in, the ref somehow letting many go unpunished, one was damaging as McPhail was taken cynically late by Lawrence and never looked the same afterwards. Ledley and Sinclair were also victims of crunching tackles.
Having failed to make many opportunities or the most of their possession and territory, it was still a shock but, perhaps, no surprise when the visitors forged ahead due to a bad decision and then shocking defending. The shock decision first as the ball ran out of play by the Canton Stand/Bob Bank for a Cardiff goal kick but the lino standing 6 feet away bottled any decision and looked to the ref 25 yards away to help him out. Even though Stoke and Cardiff players were starting to turn and head upfield, the ref wrongly gave a corner.
Stoke, with their height, looked more imposing in these situations but we couldn't have helped them more if we tried. A whipped corner glanced off the top of Feeney's head to find SHAWCROSS standing unmarked by the penalty spot. You couldn't fault his finish though, swept home low tucked inside his far post. You could fault his reaction though, goading City fans in the Grandstand - he deserved a good smack, he didn't even get a card.
The travelling Stokies were bouncing singing Delilah and God Save The Queen (you what?) but another brilliant Simonsen save denied Joe Ledley equalising almost immediately from the restart as he teed an edge of area effort for the top corner. Play halted again as McPhail was caught again and so was Feeney but after seeing many Stoke challenges go unpunished, it was ironic that Glenn Loovens got a yellow card but it was just for a challenge in the Stoke half as he tried to get forward.
Half-time: CITY 0 STOKE 1
Ali, after fan protests, was back on the mic and quite right too. He also paid tribute to a number of City fans - young and old - who passed away over the summer. Jasper of Piss FM was left with pitch duties but ended up doing the best Norman Collier impression since Collier himself as his microphone kept cutting out every second word. Maybe next time, they can just mute him? We also had to endure two mascots as the new City mascot was joined by one trying to get kids to go to Glan Hafren college. Honestly, if our 16 yr olds need a bloke in a furry pigeon outfit to tempt them to stay in education, we're in big trouble!
There's really not a great deal to tell you about the second half as Stoke were content to play the game out and Cardiff weren't good or string enough to prevent that and power back into the match. Stoke nearly doubled their lead as Fuller showed a turn of pace we do not possess currently blistering through City's defence and only denied by a superb last gasp McNaughton challenge as Turnbull nervously advanced.
The big new keeper did little to show he is an adequate replacement for Neil Alexander. For many, that was regarded as a poor decision by Jones, it could embarrass him more if Turnbull does not develop. Today, his communication with his defence was non-existent, his kicking became more and more wayward (three went straight into touch) and he didn't command his area to the extent. When he advanced on a couple of occasions, he elected to punch instead of catch and the punches lacked any height or distance. On another day, he might not have got away with that but today he did. A lot of work ahead for him I fear.
Our balls into the box were not good enough quality and hardly ever varied - lofted to the far post time and again - and the City crowd were subdued to the point of being silent and there was so little to encourage in our forward play which was far short of that seen in the first half.
City were beginning to look sorry and desperate and it showed on the hour as the (again) ineffective Feeney was removed for Paul Parry to play as an emergency striker. It almost worked as Parry nearly broker through but denied by Higginbotham (the defender denied a £2M midweek move to Sunderland) and then he did get a shot off a smart Ledley ball which Simonsen stopped again, the keeper doing even better to turn away MacLean's shot after he twisted and turned several times before shooting.
The Scottish striker summed up City's toil as he twice went down with cramp in the 2nd period, McPhail was never as effective as those heavy challenges eventually limped out of action. His replacement in central midfield? Whittingham, a wide man.
Stoke probably couldn't believe their luck, I doubt they'll get many more comfortable afternoons on the road this season but to ensure victory, Tony Pulis removed Fuller and brought on another midfielder. They almost doubled their lead but Turnbull saved smartly low from a 15 yard goalbound bottom corner shot.
Many Cardiff fans had given up hope and left but with three minutes remaining, another tricky MacLean turn in the box saw him tugged back by Shawcross for a penalty award and a "Get Out of Jail" chance. In truth, City deserved a point overall and this was a gilt-edged chance. MacLean was taking it and had never missed a penalty before, scoring several last season for Sheffield Wednesday. Stoke made sure it was delayed as long as possible by playing up and protesting to the ref, Simonsen yellow carded for his display. MacLean just never looked confident and his penalty was best described later as Andy Campbell-esque. No power, no direction, simple Simonsen save but he had a second chance as he followed up with the keeper prostrate. Had MacLean smashed it, it would have still gone in but he purposely went for placement too but, even so, Simonsen's reflex reactions were astonishing and brilliant.
There was no way back after that. Stoke and their fans were jubilant, City's players trudged off long after many of the home fans had already gone. It left them in no doubt Jones and Ridsdale must act and spend but will they and when?
Never mind, there's always next season eh?
Report from FootyMad
Shot-shy Cardiff City missed a late penalty as they slipped to defeat after being out-muscled by a physical Stoke outfit.
Once the Potters had taken the lead midway through the first half the Bluebirds barely looked like getting back on terms.
Warren Feeney and Steve MacLean led the line in the absence of the injured Robbie Fowler and it was Stoke keeper Steve Simonsen who had to make the first save when he palmed away a Trevor Sinclair cross in the fourth minute.
The visitors took the lead in the 27th minute following a disputed corner. Liam Lawrence whipped the cross over and it was deflected on to the debut-making Ryan Shawcross who slammed the ball into the corner of the net from close range.
Joe Ledley and MacLean had shots blocked as the Bluebirds tried to get back on to level terms but the high balls delivered into the box were easily cut out by the Stoke defenders.
The visitors should have doubled their lead three minutes after the break but Ricardo Fuller was tackled by Roger Johnson just as he was lining up a shot with only Ross Turnbull to beat.
The Bluebirds were finding it hard to penetrate the Stoke rearguard and, with no striker on the bench, there seemed no way back. Paul Parry and Peter Whittingham were brought on in an effort to push the game Cardiff's way.
Whittingham replaced the injured Stephen McPhail and slotted into a central midfield position but Turnbull was the busier of the keepers, turning one shot from Mamady Sidibe round the post when the former Swansea striker should have extended his side's lead.
Cardiff were thrown a lifeline in the 87th minute when MacLean was pulled back in the penalty area but his weak spot-kick was saved by Simonsen who then palmed away the rebound.
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