CARDIFF CITY's mirror image of last season hit new highs as we're upto 7th, 1 point off the play-offs, unbeaten in 10 league and cup games, won 5 on the bounce at home, have collected a fantastic 23 points in their last 10 Championship matches and, watch out the rest, we're getting even better by the game.
Tonight, City were rampant and, playing their best home football of the season, pulverised a shell-shocked QPR into Ninian Park submission. To have done that just two days after playing at Hereford was astonishing, the players deserve all the praise. They were a class apart in every department - organisation, movement, pace, power, tenacity - this was brilliance.
A Joe Ledley double saw City two ahead by the interval but even the West Londoners must have been asking themselves how they weren't at least 5 behind with chances begging, sitters missed and Camp saving at least four one on one shots against him. Paul Parry superbly finished the contest after the break before City dropped a gear, understandable given their exertions of two games in three days, before Rangers grabbed a flukey late consolation.
With Cardiff playing less than 54 hours after final whistle at Hereford and a couple of players carrying knocks and Rangers enjoying the distinct advantage of a free weekend and 10 day break ahead of this encounter, this looked a tough hurdle but City were having none of it. Roger Johnson show his grit and heroic status amongst City fans as he made himself available despite suffering a bad injury at Hereford and limping there for a half. I salute him. Skipper Steve McPhail was absent however with an injury from the same encounter, 17 yr old hot prospect Aaron Ramsey took his place. The only other change was perhaps expected as Hasselbaink, rested at the weekend, started in place of Thommo. It meant City were Oakes, McNaughton-Johnson-Loovens-Capaldi, Whittingham-Rae-Ramsey-Ledley, Hasselbaink-Parry. Subs were Enckleman-Blake-Purse-Sinclair (making a welcome return)-Thompson.
The Hoops must have really fancied this one in advance. They looked relegation cert's earlier in the season but are now regarded as Britain's richest club with Lakshi Mittel, the world's 5th richest man worth double a Abramovich, in charge along with Formula One leading lights in Flavio Briatore and Bernie Ecclestone. Exciting times are clearly ahead.
With major money into the club comes a new manager and an influx of new players - I think it's 8 already in the transfer window - and, of course, it breathes new life into the club. Under Italian Luigi de Canio, Rangers are now upto 18th and 6 points clear of the drop zone, they came to Ninian Park only 7 points behind us. Recent form is much improved but they still have blips. They've taken an impressive 16 points from their last 8 Championship games but with defeats to Sheffield United and Plymouth in that run whilst it took a goalkeeping own goal for Chelsea to knock them out of the FA Cup in Round Three at Stamford Bridge.
Their side now containing a host of very familiar Championship names were Camp, Delaney-Stewart-Connolly-Hall, Mahon-Buzsaky-Rowlands-Leigertwood, Vine- Agyemang. There was no place in the 16 for City old boys Gareth Ainsworth, Chris Barker but he is recovering from a small hernia op last week and, arguably, our worst ever loan signing in Simon Walton who was, in fact, sent on loan again on the day of the game - this time to Hull.
A mild night with the lightest of drizzle in the air brought a big crowd to Ninian Park and even if there was only 250 or so Rangers followers, it was a shock to see the screen call it as 13,602. Most seasoned fans around me all had it in the 14,500-15,000 region.
Those inside, Londoners apart, were treated to a five star City display for an hour until Rangers were put out of sight. You did wonder if a strong front pairing of Rowan Vine and Patrick Agyemang would cause us problems, the answer was very few, Loovens and Johnson saw to that but Agyemang did threaten early on but the better and quality football was already coming from City who nearly opened their account inside 10 minutes, Hasslebaink perhaps should have done better with a free head but it created another chance as the clearance found Johnson who was a fraction away.
Rangers looked in disarray and disorganised, especially at the rear, with several players looking unsure of their jobs. Was it the effect of so many new faces getting used to each other? There was a huge gulf in belief, teamwork and movement and City sensed the kill. On 12 minutes, it was 1-0 with Rangers committing hari-kari. Paul Parry chased a Ramsey ball through the middle, keeper Camp charged out and just hacked it away, the left back took it on the touchline 35 yards out but, bizarrely, decided to turn back and stroke it towards his goal straight to Paul Parry jogging back. Parry turned charged down on goal, then squared it between two defenders to find JOE LEDLEY at the far post for the simplest of tap ins. Cue the aeroplane wings celebration and the QPR left back trying to beat himself up which was very funny.
Three times Camp rescued Rangers in quick succession after that to get his body in the way of point blank efforts from Parry, Loovens and Rae. A training ground set piece saw Loovens fractionally miss meeting Whittingham's stabbed cross. QPR looking such a mess at the back and limited to long punts going forward which were meat and drink to our defence that buoyant City fans were enjoying crooning at them, "you're rich but you're f**king sh*t" and "what a waste of money" but they have obvious quality and nearly levelled around the half-hour, a low strike across the box when behind off Loovens but could easily have gone in, the resultant corner saw a similar strike which somehow escaped everyone and missed the far post by a fraction.
It was temporary respite, back came City, Hasselbaink on the charge after bringing down a through ball, he passed across the area to Parry but he was also denied with a free shot at Camp. Then an absolutely
fantastic pass 40 yards down the line, quality stamped all over it, by Aaron Ramsey which matched by Hasslebaink turning his marker with superb trickery, his low ball this time caught a Ranger boot but diverted the ball straight to Peter Whittingham 5 yards out at the far post for another simple tap-in which he somehow turned wide. Hasselbaink was the next culprit, turning Rangers inside out but his effort blazed over, a corner being given but his shot looked wayward anyway.
It was so one-sided with City missing so many golden chances, everyone near me was expressing their fears that we would be punished later in the game but 5 minutes before the break, it was 2-0, a scoreline that was still scant reward for City's mesmerising football and demolition job but a superb goal it was with Ramsey again showing his undoubted quality - how great to see a central midfielder always looking ahead with his passes first - his chipped ball over Rangers' defence was perfection, Hasselbaink could have taken it down himself but showed vision and perfection to spot JOE LEDLEY on the run again, touched it across the box but purposely behind to keep Joe onside and it was simple-as-you-like for Joe to stroke home another one. They may have been tap-ins but Joe was there supporting both times, the second goal saw him coming in from the right, many players in his position cannot do that.
For a player who wants to stay with City, Joe seems to be doing a hell of a lot to be noticed in the transfer window! That was his 8th of the season, doubling his career league goals total, but his 5th in the last 7 games, he's also hit bars and posts but Joe is now a thoroughbred. You expect nothing less than excellence from him in every match. What a player.
City weren't finished either, Parry coming within a whisker of making it three just before the half-time whistle blasted, Rangers would have been glad of the relief from a terrible 5 minutes which was compounded by them losing two of their messed up defenders - Fitz Hall and Connolly - to injury in the closing minutes, Dexter Blackstock was one of the replacements. For City, they must have enjoyed that half and marching off to a triumphant standing ovation. QPR were unable to live with them, it was breathless standards.
Half-time: CITY 2 QPR 0
There was no way that the second period was going to live upto the standards of City's incredible first half blitz but any lingering doubts about the outcome were dispelled before the hour, Whittingham picked out Hasselbaink, he showed quality again to play in PARRY who ran at goal, had the benefit of a lucky deflection but showed excellence as he placed home low side-footed to leave Camp diving for thin air yet again. It was his 8th of the season, making him joint top scorer with Joe Ledley.
City remained in the ascendancy and making all the chances but their intensity and the pace were boiling down, they had declared which was understandable with their recent efforts. Paul Parry got behind them again, Camp raced outside of his box and clattered player but also got a piece of the ball, Loovens and City fans were clearly happy about it, thinking the keeper deserved a card. Parry recovered after treatment.
Peter Whittingham drove a howitzer at goal, a Rangers defender took it full on the chest but looked as if he'd experienced a Joe Calzaghe uppercut as twice he wobbled backwards about 5 yards trying to stay up. How funny was that?
With City easing their way home, Rangers were now seeing plenty of the ball and showed they have quality when allowed to play, City took that away from them completely tonight. However City were defending well and having few anxious moments, they still looked the more likely to score again.
That changed on 76 minutes, a low ball deep into City's box, Oakes was perhaps a tad slow to leave his line but got down for it buy somehow spilled it, Rangers Eprahim was running through and appeared to catch his head and unknowingly touch the ball in the same instant, the ball rolled in amongst the melee causing Ali to announce on the tannoy, "I haven't a clue who scored that one and I bet you haven't either". I thought it was an Oakes own goal but tv later clarified. Oakes was in a mess and concussed, didn't know where he was or who he was, maybe someone should have told him that he was Petr Cech!
Unable to continue after treatment, you almost imagined he was seeing stars and birds circling his head just like in old cartoons as he needed two to hold him up and walk off. It, however, produced a cameo for the eccentric looking Peter Enckleman. Coming on with his grandad monk hair, grey and straggly at its back, he was waving to the whole ground as he ran to goal, no doubt chuffed to be getting his first league action for almost 4 years (his last time being 15/5/2004 in Blackburn's 1-1 home draw with Birmingham). He was going to enjoy his 20 minutes of fame including 6 added minutes.
He would have enjoyed taking Blackstock's header which came at him but, pumped with adrenalin, then had the crowd in hysterics as he blasted balls downfield, his first kick was like a shot that Camp had to save up high. His next flew in Rangers box as well and City fans were now letting out "shooooooooot" cries anytime the ball went near him. If he can practise hitting the wings or corners with that kicking, it's a useful weapon. He then showed he has quality as R's poured forward, a late scramble in the box saw Roger Johnson's deflected head flying for an own goal but it was brilliant Enckleman reflexes that saw it somehow tipped onto the bar, he deserved his luck as the bounce fell kindly for City to clear. Those closing stages were nervy but Rangers never got close again despite a couple of corners and free-kicks, Thommo replaced Jimmy for the added time and City played possession football high up the field. This was another professional job very well done.
Maybe some of us have been disbelieving that this City side who looked relegation material until November could turn things around and were a good outfit but they are now starting to get close to the standards they set early last season. Last 16 of the Carling Cup, an excellent chance of progress to the FA Cup quarter-finals and,, now, very real play-off contenders. Somehow they have to stay injury free but I haven't seen a better footballing side in the Championship than the way City are currently playing. Time to give credit to Dave Jones, his team and the players, they each deserve it.
Report from FootyMad
Cardiff City put an end to cash rich Queens Park Rangers' good run with an emphatic victory to claim their first double of the season.
Joe Ledley struck twice in the first half and Paul Parry added a third early in the second period. Patrick Agyemang notched a consolation for the visitors who ended up well beaten.
Bluebirds skipper Stephen McPhail failed a late fitness test on his injured hip and so Aaron Ramsey slotted into midfield. The only other change from the side that won at Hereford was the return of Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink up front for Steve Thompson.
City made full use of the wings to press the visitors back on defence with Ledley and Parry causing problems with their direct running.
The goal they deserved came in the 12th minute when Damien Delaney hit a poor back pass. Parry raced on to the loose ball and crossed to the waiting Ledley, who slotted home from close range.
Visitors keeper Lee Camp produced tremendous saves midway through the half from both Peter Whittingham and Hasselbaink as City went looking to increase their lead.
The second goal arrived in the 39th minute with Ledley's second of the evening. Ramsey sent a pass out wide to Hasselbaink and he slipped the ball into Ledley who made no mistake.
It only took City 12 minutes into the second half to go further ahead.
Glenn Loovens flighted a ball down the middle, it was worked through to Parry and he easily beat Camp from 15 yards.
A rare Rangers attack in the 75th minute led to a goalmouth scramble and a consolation goal for the visitors.
Michael Oakes was laid out in the attack as Agyemang forced the ball home from in front of the posts.
Oakes had to leave the field and Peter Enckelman replaced him to make his Bluebirds debut.
City suffered some anxious moments as the game drew to a close and Roger Johnson hooked one goalbound strike off the line, but the Bluebirds ran out worthy winners.