Cardiff City 1 Norwich City 2. Match Report
CARDIFF CITY's play-off dreams may be no more than that after their excellent run and free flowing football have both come to a grinding halt. The latest setback, a jarring 2-1 home defeat to a Norwich came thanks to Welsh U-21 loanee Ched Evans double, the winner a fantastic 88th minute 35 yard glorious piledriver fit to grace any game just as both sides looked to have cancelled each other out and settled for the point apiece with lethargic City, a spell before half-time apart, flatter than Posh Spice's figure..
Incredibly, a win would have taken the Bluebirds into the play-offs but while defeat leaves the Bluebirds just 2 points adrift, realistically, they now appear to be 1 of 9 sides battling for the sixth and final place, the gap between City and the top 5 now being 7 points with 15 games to go. With no league game next weekend due to FA Cup action and 4 of the next 5 matches on the road, they need to up their game considerably to stay in contention.
The maxim with Dave Jones at Cardiff City is that you either have good runs and happy times or bad runs and misery, there's rarely a middle ground. City's second successive defeat, both with well below par performances, sees all the old questions resurfacing. The key ones have to be;
- Has Dave Jones left us short-handed in goals? Oakes wasn't good enough to start the season, he's superglued to his line more than Alexander but he's now apparently the best we have. Enckleman must be poor if he is unable to challenge him. Oakes' record of 1 clean sheet in 7 games speaks for itself when compared to Schmeicel keeping 5 in his final 11 games. Oakes again wasn't to blame for the goals but we just don't look as safe or strong a back unit since his run, I don't believe that's just coincidence.
- Capaldi is a weak link and everyone knows it. His best football for City came recently but was moderate, he now looks limited again. Is our only idea winning any throw on the left from 25 yards or less out to rely on Capaldi's looped long throws? There's an increasing argument once more to move McNaughton to left and give Darcy Blake a run at right back.
- Johnson and Loovens are not convincing at present, they struggled at Stoke and they never really mastered Dion Dublin and Ched Evans today. They look uncertain.
- Steve McPhail was piss poor today and in such in a key position, the whole side gets dragged down with it. Every time he had the ball, he checked out, knocked it sideways or, most often, turned away and passed behind him, even when under no pressure. Maybe I missed some but I genuinely counted only 3 forward passes in the entire 90 minutes off him, that's not good enough coming from someone supposed to be such a quality operator. It's galled me last weekend and this weekend to think we have a playmaker like Aaron Ramsey on the bench who is able to change and influence games but ignored. I feel certain this is because Dave Jones wouldn't dare haul off his Captain for a kid..
- Are the Peter Whittingham and Paul Parry 'experiments' showing signs of running out of steam? Whitts. we know, is frustratingly inconsistent but he hasn't really offered a great deal for City for a few games now. He certainly owes us. Up front, Parry struggled last at Stoke and again today.
- Jimmy Floyd Hasslebaink is limited and fades from games after an hour so why do we keep him out there for so long?
- Dave Jones' tactics and substitutions (or lack of). Nobody can complain when we're winning but when we're struggling or losing, surely it's not too much to look for the manager to use his options? Unable to change of freshen the side in the transfer window and, so far, in the loan window too, is it too much to expect the pack to be shuffled in the meantime?
It's managerial painting-by-numbers watching our only change, injury apart, being Thommo for JFH (or vice versa) inside the final 10 minutes. I've al;ready mentioned Thommo should get more time and Ramsey should get a chance too, why aren't they? We could have altered personnel on the field. Today was another display where City needed a boost from the bench, a tactical shake up or just to try something different but Jones wouldn't/can't so we're left watching the same 11 for the entire 90 minutes (bar Thommo for Jimmy late on), no matter what the circumstances.
For the third weekend running, City had a lunchtime kick-off, I hate them. This one was ridiculous however as starting at midday with Wales v Scotland across town at 2pm. Whose bright idea was that? It meant anyone going to Ninian Park had to battle their way in with the 75,000 rugby crowd, meaning many less committed wouldn't bother, and it gave no chance really for anyone to watch both games, another reason for a number to stay away. Had we played Friday night, which seemed far more natural, I'm sure City could have got a 15,000 crowd, instead we had just 11,937 - 2,000 down on recent games - and that was boosted by 600 making the long (and very early) journey from East Anglia.
It was a beautiful day however, mild, bright and sunny and quite civilised having early brekky and a leisurely drink in Canton where the Jocks invading our City for the egg chasing weekend came up with the novel idea to get pub space by bringing a decorated ironing board, standing it in the middle of the pub and then using it as their own bar. How did they get it into their game?
No injuries, no suspensions = no changes with Dave Jones' Cardiff City so once again we had Oakes, McNaughton-Johnson-Loovens-Capaldi, Whittingham-Rae-McPhail-Ledley, Hasselbaink-Parry. Subs were the same too with Enckleman-Blake-Purse-Ramsey-Thompson
If City were recently transformed, then it has been even more dramatic for the Canaries. Looking nailed on relegation certainties not so long ago, new boss Glenn Roeder has now brought them to within 2 points of City and an unbeaten run which now extends to 26 points in 12 games.
The side has been overhauled, chiefly via loans, with the club currently having 7 Premiership loans on their books from Derby, Chelsea, Reading, Man City and Arsenal, 5 of them during the January transfer window. A sharp contrast to activity at Ninian Park.
Unusually playing in all red - why? - Norwich's side were Marshall, Bates-Shackell-Doherty-Camara, Croft-Russell-Fotheringham-Bertrand Dublin-Evans. Only 5 of the side played against City at Carrow Road early season, 8 of the Cardiff starters today played in that fixture.
"Thieves Raid Ninian Park" screamed the Echo headline walking up Ninian Park and, no, it wasn't Hammam or Langston stealing our January transfer monies (or have they as we haven't spent any of it?) but a gang breaking into the ground overnight and taking £40k worth of goods the club would probably struggle to sell at this stage of the season (loons) but Norwich stealing all three points was more damaging.
The writing was on the wall early after City opened brightly and nearly grabbed a lead in the first 30 seconds but they soon lacked tempo and urgency and allowed their opponents more space to play than they were enjoying. City were misfiring to the extent that a team who had gelled so well recently now looked like strangers to each other.
It was no surprise when The Canaries opened the scoring on just 14 minutes. They looked dangerous on the break and were causing problems but questions have to be asked about how easily they advanced down the right, on loan Chelsea man Bertrand was able to cut inside and then find CHED EVANS, fresh from his tow goal U21 blast for Wales in Malta, standing free and unmarked on the penalty spot, his finishing was lethal, low into the bottom corner with Oakes almost motionless.
City looked shocked and were ragged for a long time. Attacking the Canton Stand end were bright low sun into the of eyes of the Norwich defence, we were unable to capitalise. Norwich easily able to take what little we offered, Cardiff not helping themselves with misplaced passes all over the shop, play going nowhere as typified by McPhail's back passes and settling for the crude tactic of winning throws for Capaldi whose distribution of them was poor anyway.. Set pieces, corners and crosses were poor, even Joe Ledley was failing to beat the first defender, very unlikely him.
For a while, the only entertainment was a baiting match with City fans and Norwich sub Darren Huckerby. Warming up, Huckerby was signaling 1-0 to the Lower Grandstand so getting it back with interest, Norwich fans chanting his name.
However City did slowly gather some momentum and impetus and chances finally arrived in the final 15 minutes of the half although the closest we came were tow Norwich back headers, both forcing Marshall into saves. Other than that, Parry was unable to turn home a ball at the far post after a scramble across goal, Jimmy was narrowly wide of both post with smart shots on the turn .
Norwich should have doubled their lead on half-time as Cardiff failed to clear their lines, a game of head tennis went Norwich's way and found Ched Evans 4 yards out, thankfully he headed straight at Oakes, any direction on it and Norwich were out of sight.
There were four minutes of added time and City needed them as they finally levelled, deserved at that stage, in the final one. Joe Ledley, who had a quiet game overall, was found deep on the left, he jinked inside one challenge, fed JFH but he cleverly spotted the advancing GAVIN RAE bursting into the box and he placed into the corner of the net from 10 yards, a deflection neither helping or preventing it. It was his 3rd of the season but first at Ninian Park and a huge relief for City as they were poor in that opening half.
H/T: CITY 1 NORWICH 1
You hoped City would have kept that tempo and urgency going in the second half but, to the game's detriment, they never did at all. The game was drifting, low on quality, poor on thrills as the sides were nullifying each other. As the home side, the onus was entirely on City to do something about it but they never did. City were flatter than Posh Spice's stomach.
You looked to the bench hoping for some activity but Jones was stood there, arms folded, it was a forlorn hope. When changes came, it was the opposition - yet again who made the first move with Darren Huckerby given 20 minutes to run at us in place of the hard working Lee Crofts. It was tedious and frustrating to watch, let alone bum numbing. Little wonder many were already leaving, they'd seen enough and probably decided watching the egg chasing was a better option.
When City finally won a dangerous free-kick on the left edge of the box, they set it up for Peter Whittingham to come across and hit on his left side. That looked all wrong, Jimmy taking it on his right was obviously the more natural option. Whitts hit the first defender, a waste. Norwich had a similar free-kick moments later but blazed wide as the clash continued to degenerate. After 5 successive home wins, this was hauntingly familiar to some of those tepid nondescript Ninian Park displays from earlier in the season.
Jones finally changed Hasslebaink for Thommo but not until less than 10 minutes remained when City finally gave Marshall some work in a game where both goalkeepers could have done with a deckchair to help pass the time. Capaldi's cross was met by Parry's header by the penalty spot, Marshall's diving save saw it pushed around the post.
Then the hammer blow, CHED EVANS - a livewire in the Michael Chopra mould who was man of the match, picked up a loose ball inside his own half and strode forward unopposed. There was nothing on but nobody closing him down but nobody expected him to unleash from 35 yards, it was an incendiary of a shot that fired into Oakes' top corner, the keeper flying but still nowhere near it, beaten for pace and precision. What a hit, no wonder Evans charged the full length of the pitch back to his goal, shirt off and waved above his head, he won't have minded the game's second yellow card for that, the other going to a Norwich player as well.
It was one of those rare occasions where I wanted to applaud an opponent's goal but I was too gutted and sickened to do that. So annoyed by our display and Dave Jones refusal to change anything about it. Ah well, we can concentrate on the cup and Wem-ber-lee now!
Cardiff now have to respond massively at Coventry on Tuesday. They cannot feel sorry for themselves, it's now a game where not even a draw is good enough as the pack are there, ready and only too wilting to swallow us up. It's a real test of character as displays at Stoke last week and here today do make you wonder of City have it in them.
Report from FootyMad
A double blast from Wales Under-21 international Ched Evans sent Cardiff City spinning to their first home defeat since losing to Charlton in December.
He struck in the 15th and 88th minutes, while Gavin Rae levelled for an under-par Cardiff on the stroke of half-time.
All the Bluebirds came through the bruising encounter at Stoke unblemished so they were unchanged for the visit of Norwich, who were on an 11-match unbeaten run.
In the opening 30 seconds, Cardiff won a corner but in clearing the danger, Mo Camara was injured and the Canaries cleared their lines with a free-kick.
The visitors went ahead when the home defence failed to clear the ball after a run down the left flank by Ryan Bertrand.
He laid it back to Evans, who was waiting on the edge of the penalty area, and the youngster rifled a low shot into the far corner.
Only a sliding tackle by Glenn Loovens midway through the half prevented Norwich from increasing their lead as their quick breaks out of defence continued to give the Bluebirds problems.
Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink worked a rare opening in the 37th minute but he was off target with his shot, while then two minutes later he turned sharply inside the box but again dragged his shot wide.
City equalised on the stroke of half-time when Matthew Bates was caught in possession by Joe Ledley, who took the ball towards goal before slipping a pass inside to Hasselbaink.
The veteran striker fed Rae and the former Rangers midfielder struck his shot beyond two defenders and into the net to level the scores slightly against the run of play.
The Bluebirds were quicker to the ball at the start of the second half and the pinned the Canaries back for long periods, but were unable to prise out any openings.
A superb cross from Tony Capaldi was met with a Paul Parry header, but Canaries keeper David Marshall flung himself across to turn it round the post.
But Evans struck a dramatic winner for the Canaries when he gathered the ball just inside the Cardiff half before unleashing a tremendous shot from 35 yards that was good enough to win any game.
There was little time for the Bluebirds to regroup and their five-match winning home run came to a disappointing end.