Cardiff City 2 Plymouth Argyle 2. Match Report

Last updated : 29 January 2007 By Michael Morris
Thompson 47, 52

Norris 33, 59





Calm and grey but chilly

THE ‘You're The Man' AWARD to:
Has to go to Captain Purse but it says everything about Cardiff City at present that the centre-half trio of Purse, Johnson and Loovens seem to be coming up man of the match each week. Special mention to Riccy Scimeca for having to carry the entire midfield.

THE “You're Not Very Good” BOOT goes to:

Alan Wright - just not good enough City's first half performance - unacceptable


It's now 8 games without a win for City as, just like last home game, a winning lead was surrendered as The Bluebirds had to take a 2-2 result against Plymouth, a side they threw away a 3 goal lead against earlier in the season. Steve Thompson bagged a welcome brace for City, David Norris did likewise for the Pilgrims at put them ahead at the interval but then level things up on the hour after City transformed the match early in the 2nd half.

Cardiff put on a Jeckyll and Hyde show. Their first half display was appalling. Lacking fight and conviction, they were lucky to reach the interval one down only. However it was all change afterwards as they stormed back to take a 2-1 lead in thrilling fashion through a Steve Thompson five minute brace only to concede a soft equaliser and then miss chances to grab victory in an overall entertaining Christmas spectacle.

The joy of Christmas is increasingly soured by some managers and players moaning about the amount of football played but you can't deny, with most people off work, it pulls in the crowds. Plymouth's madcap personality manager Ian Holloway was one of those moaners commenting afterwards, "I still believe that football should close down over the Christmas period as everyone out there looked as though they wanted to be at home with their families." Balls to them, many in the crowd were grateful for the opportunity to get out of the house! 17,299 represented a 25%+ increase on recent attendances. If players and managers want to take wage cuts not to play at Xmas and lose this revenue, I'm all for it but I bet they wouldn't. That crowd included a strong zoider-zwilling away following but this is Plymouth's local derby! The 305 mile round trip is, by a short head over Southampton, their shortest trip of the season. Most came by coach as tractors aren't allowed on the motorway.

Pre-match rumours suggested everyone was fit enough after the trip to Leicester. Scimeca was indeed available after his collision and lung injury, McPhail's tight hamstring had been passed. Kerrea Gilbert's tight hamstring was also apparently ok only for the player to go down with flu and Glenn Loovens was a shock, unexpected absentee with a reported dead leg. That meant two changes with Roger Johnson and Alan Wright coming in, Wright's inclusion at left back pushed Kevin McNaughton to the opposite side.

That gave City a starting line-up of Alexander, McNaughton-Purse-Johnson-Wright, Parry-Scimeca-McPhail-Ledley, Thompson-Chopra. Subs were Howard-Blake-Campbell-Flood-Gunter.

Whilst the draw pushed City up from 6th to 5th, it dropped The Jolly Green Pilgrims from 12th to 13th, their league position summing up their inconsistencies. They were early season play-off placed but, like City, have found it tough to maintain that promising start although they are just 6 points behind us. Home form has held them back with only 4 wins from 13 emphasised by a recent home loss to Leeds and, 3 days ago, blowing a 2 goal lead over West Brom for a draw. On the road, form is good with 4 wins and 3 defeats in 12 trips but their last 2 awaydays saw three goal whippings at Birmingham and Preston.

Mr Showbiz's side were packed with a barrel-load of Devon names as you'll see. Larrieu, Connolly-Aljofree-Doumbe-Seip, Capaldi-Norris-Nalis-Buzsaky, Ebanks-Blake-Hayles. I suppose there are no stand out names and although it has more than a sprinkling of foreign talent, many of them have served some time with the green and white army.

And so to the game which started with Ali quipping about yesterday being a celebration of the birth of Christ and today being the rebirth of Cardiff
City. I suggest it's best we skip straight to the second half. None of us want to relive that opening 45 minutes in a hurry. City were woeful and some
aspects of their play were inexcusable. I thought Cardiff opened brightly in the first 5 minutes, both Ledley and Parry had runs but before 15 minutes had elapsed, Plymouth had had 5 attempts at goal, none bothering Alexander but a mould had been set.

Cardiff's effort was poor and thier play was poor, their mistakes were endless and Plymouth simply by buzzing around and in full control of midfield as our widemen never saw the ball, it all came through the centre. The passing was way off key and we even resorted to hoofball, wellying it upfield and hoping something would happen, it didn't. More concerning was our movement and
commitment. Plymouth often had two or three men swarming around the ball,
City's players were disjointed and isolated, we weren't in the battle at all. There were a couple of boos at our efforts. Up front, Chopra's movement was
non-existent whilst Thommo was terrible, he lost out time and again standing
still waiting for the ball to come to him and was doing little in the air either.

Two moments summed up our pitiful first half display. The first was when a number of City throw-ins were delayed forever as the taker had no player moving, running into space or offering anything. The other was when Darren Purse played a looping pass across the penalty box, Alan "making up the numbers" Wright was clueless what to do and nodded behind for a corner with nobody near him.

No surprise it was largely a procession towards City's goal but just about any Plymouth chance originated from a City error. I think the first-half corner count was 5-1 in Plymouth's favour, City's corner came in the very first minute. However a combination of City's strong defending and Plymouth's wayward shooting meant that Neil Alexander had no saves to make.

The telling moments of the half came around 20 minutes when Chopra headed a ball back to nobody in particular putting Plymouth on the break, Purse had to bring down Hayles for a yellow card as he was about to get away. The free-kick hit the wall. 10 minutes later, Purse put his body on the line to block a Hayles goalbound effort, that after a midfield move broke down, City scrambled away follow up attempts.

The opener came on 33 minutes and was smartly taken but take play back 70 yards and a few seconds and it will be observed the move started from a forward City pass to Steve Thompson. Thommo yet again never moved an inch waiting for the ball to roll to him, his marker stepped in front and Plymouth were away on the break. Once Darren Purse missed a tackle 40 yards out, it was ominous and Plymouth were clinical in sweeping the ball to Capaldi who slipped it inside to Barry Hayles peeling off Johnson, his first time flick behind our defence put in DAVID NORRIS who had no problem smashing past a helpless Alexander.

Within two minutes, Plymouth should have doubled their lead as another sweeping move down City's right saw Capaldi put a free header on a plate for Ebanks-Blake but he drifted it inches wide with Alexander completely exposed once more.

City tried to fight back but were frustrated with themselves and also the
"Premiership" refereeing of Philip Walton who did seem lenient to physical
Plymouth play and also turned down what looked like a strong penalty shout as
McNaughton was clipped bursting into the area. We had two token efforts, first
when the keeper flapped at a Parry cross-shot, Joe Ledley headed over and
then Thommo gave Larrieu a comfortable save with a diving effort.

Overall, City's first half effort was lamentable. Our best movement was Joe
Ledley's curious kangaroo-hops several times whenever play stopped - he seem
to be trying to stamp his feet as hard as possible into the ground. What
was that all about? Cardiff just didn't put themselves about which is shameful
really, I was seriously wondering what has gone wrong with the fitness of a
team who overwhelmed opponents early season. They were so far off the pace
and not even close to being second best. It defied belief at times.

Half-time: CITY 0 PLYMOUTH 1

It was at this point City must have found out what Boxing Day was all about
as Dave Jones got them in the dressing room and laid into them! Too often
on this poor run, excuses have been offered and players have been defended but
nobody could hide from the fact that City's first half showing was
unacceptable. It was a different attitude from the team in the second half.

Within 75 seconds, City had levelled. The build up play was a 'hoofer' - a
60 yard hit'n'hope smash by Purse - returning a Plymouth ball out with
interest but, for once, Chopra found his first touch to superbly bring the ball
down on the edge of the area and lay it off to Scimeca, his flick on the turn
got THOMMO behind the green and white defence and his finish was emphatic as he
smashed a screamer past Larrieu from 12 yards whilst falling to the ground
in its execution. Ninian Park Towers erupted, a sure combination of pure
relief and joy.

From the restart, Plymouth responded as Capaldi saw an effort blocked and
then brought a low save from Alexander, the subsequent corner scrambled away but
the tide had turned, City were starting to press, play expansive football
and were committed. The cheers that went up as City finally launched
themselves into challenges were almost as large as those for the goals.

Waking from their slumber, their fight at last shone though as City and
Steven Thompson scored their second goal in 5 minutes to turn the game completely
on its head. Chopra was off the pitch having been hit by another crunching
challenge but City were in the mood to go for it. A ball played from the
back, quick passing through midfield, a ball spread wide putting Paul Parry on
the burst and he looked up to see two City shirts - Ledley and Thommo -
running into space on the far post. His cross could, perhaps should, have been
blasted at goal by Joe but he lacked the confidence and conviction to hit it.

That produced a mild groan but he knocked the ball across goal until a
Plymouth defender scrambled away to Kevin McNaughton who was brilliant in bursting
through three challenges to get to the by-line and then knock the ball over
the massed defence to the far post for THOMMO to turn into a near empty net
from 6 yards. Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant, Cardiff are back!

Except we show signs of promise but still are not quite there. From the
kick-off, Plymouth got the ball to the edge of the area where Alan Wright missed
out on two challenge which saw Ebanks-Blake clear on goal but he smashed
wide with the goal at his mercy.

Plymouth were rattled and launched into a series of niggling and strong
challenges not always met with appropriate action by ref Walton. Having already
been booked in the first half, Barry Hayles was lucky to get away with a poor
challenge from behind but he barely earned a talking for it. It frustrated
the crowd but Ebanks-Blake was in a similar mood and got carded for dissent
as he had fouled and seemed to be doing his best to get a second card for more

It was all going well so trust City to mess it up. The ball got towards out
box, the excellent Barry Hayles managed to break inside, a challenge by
McPhail saw the ball loop in the air and drop wide of our goal then,
unbelievably, DAVID NORRIS drilled home from the tightest of angles. Alan Wright had
failed to challenge for the ball or get in the way of a shot, Neil Alexander was
beaten on his inside at the near post. Plymouth fans, who had been in great
banter with the Grange End all afternoon, gloated with a "2-1 and you ****ed
it up", I was so tempted to join in. Blew the lead at Home Park, blew the
lead at Ninian Park, I wonder if those 4 dropped points will count against us
come May?

It was now a game beautifully poised and it seemed set up for someone on
other side to grab all the glory and claim a 3-2 winner. The longer the game
went on, the more I was convinced that would happen but, in the event, City
created but missed good chances before it petered out into another draw.

Before that, Willo Flood was thrown on for the last half hour for the
disappointing Alan Wright. He has offered nothing much to City, he is targeted by
the opposition and he cannot get forward to support attacks (a reason Dave
Jones gives for not liking Chris Barker who does that far more and, as shown at
Colchester on-loan, offers so much more). It is almost with disbelief that
it appears Wright, told he can leave Sheffield United, looks set to be City's
first transfer window signing - presumably a short-term deal to May - whilst
Barker signs permanently for Col U. It must have something to do with
finances but there are surely better options for defensive cover, particularly
when it means McNaughton has to change sides to accommodate Wright.

The substitution was tactical, Flood went left and, at times, interchanged
with Parry, Joe Ledley dropped to left back for his third different position in
20 minutes.

Doumbe got a card for another hit on Chopra, the free-kick saw Hayles just
clear ahead of Johnson. A ball over the top sent Thommo away and he was on
for his hat-trick but he paused before shooting and saw his shot blocked for a
corner. Another move brought a corner which McPhail looked about to turn
home at the far post but he was blocked but he missed an outstanding chance as a
sweeping move saw the ball nodded down to him in the box with clear aim on
goal, he leant back and fired over, he should have hit target.

Set-pieces are a disaster at present. City have one tactic and one tactic
only with any free-kick with sight of goal, to try and place it over the wall
and hope for the best. No imagination, no variation and the results are
unspectacular. McPhail got one on target but it's pointless when it goes
straight to the keeper at 10 mph, same as a first half effort.

The final few minutes were hugely disappointing. The biggest drama was a
Plymouth player lying on the touchline with cramp, Paul Parry went on a
lung-bursting run but was taken out by a flying tackle which sent him flying into
the linesman. Far from a Grandstand finish, the game faded to obscurity.
Darcy Blake replaced Paul Parry who limped away after that crunching hit.
Plymouth, with the help of a lenient referee towards their robust approach, still
managed another two yellow cards taking their tally to 5. City managed
nothing more than an injury time Roger Johnson header over the bar, both teams
seemingly long decided that neither could win it, it was only there to lose.
Buzacky screaming like a girl when tackled in front of the Grandstand at least
gave us some light relief, wuss!

Another home draw, our 3rd on the spin at Ninian and our 5th overall in a
winless sequence now extended to 8 games. It's so bad, Leeds United's record
matches that! The only encouragement was, for the most part, our second half
performance was much brighter than we have seen for some time at Ninian but
it remains way below early season standards.

Hopefully Kerrea Gilbert will be back next game, Alan Wright really is no
option at all as far as I'm concerned. McNaughton had a strong game but did
get caught out of position too often but Purse and Johnson did well in the
centre. Purse is now very commanding and Johnson is an excellent buy but may
need to look at his part in that Plymouth opener. In central midfield, Scimeca
and McPhail are not performing to early season standards, indeed we're
starting to look lightweight there, we need a bit more bully and menace from the
boys. Joe Ledley continues to be unimpressive but Paul Parry seems to be
getting back in the swing, just hope he's not injured.

Thommo's diabolical first half show was redeemed by his 2nd half goals but
it was still ridiculous for the sponsors to declare him City's MoM and I just
wish Michael Chopra would wake up. Lack of form and confidence is one thing
but when he's not working and making the runs that he did early season, it's
unlikely to return any time soon either. Did his early season start - when
he couldn't stop "larging it" to the media about how he had put-off his
wedding for our promption charge, how he hopes to go back to Newcastle one day and
how he's hoping to play for England - go completely to his head? All our
strikers, including Kevin "what does he offer us?" Campbell could do worse than
take a look at Barry Hayles performance. The veteran was a constant nuisance
to City, his combo of flair, physical approach and movement around the box
are qualities we seem to be lacking at a time we need our boys to fight.

Unless we triumph over Palace at the weekend, it must be odds on that City,
who somehow rose a place to 5th, will find themselves, off the top, out of the
auto places and out of the play-offs at 2007 starts out. Nobody would ever
have believed that a few weeks ago.

Report from FootyMad

Cardiff City put aside a woeful first-half performance to earn a draw against Plymouth Argyle thanks to two quick-fire strikes from Steve Thompson.

The Pilgrims were ahead at the interval through David Norris and, after City had taken a surprise lead, Norris added his second to square the match.

City were forced to make two changes with Kerrea Gilbert and Glenn Loovens failing fitness tests and being replaced by Alan Wright and Roger Johnson.

Cardiff penned Plymouth in their own half in the opening minutes but it was Sylvan Ebanks-Blake who had the first strike on goal but his long-range shot drifted well wide.

A miscued headed back-pass by Wright gave away a needless corner in the 14th minute and the home defence struggled to clear the danger before an offside flag came to their rescue.

The Pilgrims scored the goal their early play deserved in the 34th minute when City's defence was split wide open and Norris crashed in an unstoppable shot from close range.

Two minutes later Riccardo Scimeca was beaten out wide down the Plymouth left and, when the cross came over, Ebanks-Blake rose high but his header went beyond the post with Neil Alexander beaten.

It was five minutes from the interval before Plymouth keeper Romain Larrieu was forced into a save and the half ended with the visitors well on top.

The interval message from City manager Dave Jones worked a treat as they levelled in their first attack in the 47th minute. Michael Chopra kept possession and released Scimeca who slid Thompson in on goal, and the former Rangers man struck a venomous shot into the net for his first goal in over two months.

Five minutes later the recovery was complete as a run and cross from Kevin McNaughton was headed in by the revitalised Thompson.

But Cardiff couldn't hang on and it was back to all square on the hour as Norris drilled into the net from a tight angle after once again the home defence had failed to clear their lines.

Willo Flood came on for Wright and Joe Ledley dropped back as the Bluebirds tried once again to regain the initiative. A knock-down by Thompson gave Stephen McPhail a shooting chance but he sent his shot high over the bar.

This was yet more home points dropped but, after that first-half performance, Jones may well consider this a point gained.