Going forward, City scored two goals within a glorious 2nd half minute to take control but will rue a sequence of missed chances before they scored and plenty more afterwards to have put the result beyond doubt. Defensively, City were in total control against a shot-shy poor looking home side showing exactly why they are in relegation trouble. Somehow however they went completely to sleep to gift Derby two completely unmarked free headers around the 6 yard box shortly after half time and, criminally, in the 90th minute. We were mugged but not by Derby, we mugged ourselves!
It was Cardiff City’s first visit to Derby since 1986. In those days, we went to the Baseball Ground but now it was Pride Park a modern new stadium on a business park on the outskirts of town. It was guaranteed to pull in even more City fans than usual, even with police bringing kick-off forward to 1pm for no good reason, so sure enough, about 2,400 Bluebirds were in the 20,958 - 12% of the crowd but 95% of the noise! 1,000 or so Rams went to the Rams, 700 by train and the rest by supporters club coaches and cars.
Derby is a straightforward motorway run M4/Monmouth/M50/M5/M42 to its connection with the M1 near Nottingham and 15 miles of A road into the town. Having got up far too early for such a short journey, we stopped at services en route and was in Kegworth, 12 miles away, for opening time where we had a good drink and chat with Coventry fans on their way to Nottingham Forest.
Pride Park is a good stadium, the type that used to be a novelty to us, but having visited so many during our rise of the past couple of years, it struck me as more functional than spectacular. It was akin to being a one tiered Millennium Stadium, the ground was fully enclosed with the stands wrapped around the pitch. Visiting fans, as usual, situated behind one of the goals with good bar, food and toilet facilities.
City were unchanged from the side who played a dismal 0-0 with Forest last weekend in even more dismal conditions. A formality really with no new players - other than Parry - signed before the transfer deadline, Kav fit enough after a knock last week, John Robinson held back a further week to recover from his 101 various injuries, Spencer Prior still getting ahead of James Collins on the bench (one of Lennie’s decisions that baffles just about every fan). During the week, those not in the 16, youngsters apart, were given their strongest hint yet in the week that their Bluebird futures may be limited with quotes by Lennie. That certainly applied to 6 or 7 whose contracts expire this summer and not yet offered terms.
Lennie’s line-up was therefore Margetson, Weston-Gabbidon-Vidmar-Barker, Langley-Kavanagh-Boland-Parry, Earnie-Thorne. The sub’s bench were Alexander-Whalley-Prior-Campbell-Lee.
Derby meantime are having a desperate season under George Burley. They started poorly, not winning their first game until late September, and life has rarely got better since for a side always featuring in or about the Division One drop zone. They were well beaten (3-1) at Reading last weekend but had won their previous two home games including a shock 2-0 victory over Sheffield United 10 days ago.
Their side were a complete mix. Burley employed an unadventurous 4-5-1 with Grant - Edwards-Vincent-Huddlestone-Johnson, Taylor-Costa-Mawene-Reich-Osman and Whelan. Homegrown keeper Grant was 21 but eclipsed by Tom Huddlestone whose immense physique and stature belie that he has just turned 17. Costa, Edwards and Osman are on loan from Porto, Villa and Everton respectively. Other foreigners were Frenchman Mawene, a £500k signing 4 years ago who hardly played for Derby until recently, and the German Reich (the First Reich???) who was in his 4th game. Main striker Noel Whelan recently signed from Millwall (the 30 yr old’s career in decline for some time (only 12 league goals in 4 years) was making his first starting appearance for The Rams.
The atmosphere was pretty good considering the early start, the weather was overcast and a little chilly but things heated up in the opening 30 seconds when the ref with the silly name - Mike Pike - yellow carded Kav for a poor, late challenge that went through Huddlestone.
The opening exchanges were quiet, Cardiff had a little more authority but nothing to be excited about. Which was good really as those of us who started drinking at 7.15am as we set off could get a few minutes sleep.
Cardiff had a little more authority in their work and chances eventually arrived. Derby had an early corner and their initial efforts at goal were easily blocked by Vidmar and Gabbidon but Langley and Kav both got shots away at goal, both firing over though.
City, attacking towards us, spurned their first good opportunity on 19 minutes as quick Richard Langley footwork and Paul Parry’s speed set the new winger charging clear on goal coming in from an angle. He found power in his shot but no real direction, Grant got down well to push away a shot that was closer to him than it should have been. Less than 2 minutes later, City wasted an even better chance as Earnie failed to connect cleanly to a Parry cross after he beat his marker inside and out. With the goal begging, Earnie stretched and managed only to loop the ball at a relieved keeper.
Derby then had their best period of the game causing a couple of moments of panic but, in truth, their football was going nowhere. Sideways, backwards, forwards, sideways again, opening but no shot, move it wide then back etc
- if it wasn’t for their white shirts, I could have felt it was Cardiff moving it about!!
Ian Taylor put two headers over showing his ability to ghost into space, some crosses and a Whelan effort were cut out, Reich and Osman weakly put wide and, when a little frustration set in, a 35 yard Huddlestone effort gave City fans a chance to practice basketball skills as they sailed into us. City nearly hit a decisive blow near half-time when Earnie made space 10 yards from goal but his effort wasn’t the best and blocked too, Thorne met a Kav free-kick but his knockdown header was cleared then Willie Boland showed why he’s only scored 1 league goal in 3 years by blasting wide when a corner kick fell his way.
The football was hardly pretty or effective but you felt City would be the more likely to break though. Derby had the spirit and fight you expect from a team fighting to stay up, Cardiff looked the more controlled and you felt they would convert a chance long before Derby did. How wrong I was.
Half-time: DERBY 0 CITY 0
In a dramatic second half opening, Cardiff’s ineptness and stupidity cost them dearly as they allowed Derby an opening goal with defending that belonged to the Third, not the First, Division. Chris Barker had the ball deep on the left and was under no pressure but kicked the ball straight along the ground for Osman to intercept and run straight at him, Barker then compounded his error by bringing the player down for a free-kick put behind for a corner.
Having survived that scare, you hoped City would settle and organise themselves but what followed was worse. Vincent sent the ball in. It was obvious that the threats were Taylor, Huddlestone and Whelan and we had enough bodies to deal with it. So how, exactly, do you account for TAYLOR managing to spin away, run to the near post totally unmarked and plant a firm downward header past Margetson with ease from a few yards, City’s near post corner cover having run out as the ball came over?
The Derby support, especially those immediately to our right, loved it. The City support going momentarily quiet just couldn’t believe it. The team however responded the right way, by trying to hit back and taking the game to the home side now quite happy to use their 4-5-1 even more defensively. Danny Gabbidon showed the spirit by climbing above everyone to meet a Kav corner but putting his header comfortably over the bar too but there was controversy too as Peter Thorne was brought down inside the area. It should have been a penalty but Mike Pike told him to take a hike on his bike and booked him.
On the hour came the most dramatic turnaround in a City match for some time as the game swung from 1-0 down to 2-1 in little more than 45 seconds of playing time. The equaliser was fantastic play. City made headway down the right, Langley slipped a defender than glided a cross to the far edge of the penalty area where Peter Thorne, in a style that only Peter Thorne does, beat his man and nodded the perfect cushioned forward down header towards the penalty spot. EARNIE instinctively knew to react, raced away to meet it and, from 10 yards, stabbed the ball past a stunned Grant into his top right corner. The keeper had no chance and stood motionless watching Earnie somersaulting away celebrating his 24th goal of the season which was hotly disputed by Derby defenders and their bench adamant he was offside, I hope they felt silly watching it on tv later.
City fans were still singing, hugging, jumping and dancing as the game restarted and before we had settled, there was a momentous moment as the ball was half-cleared, KAVANAGH pounced and smacked a first time 25 yard drive into the same top right corner where Earnie hit the net moments earlier.
The goal celebration can only be described as orgasmic! The City end was going completely mental - complete joy and disbelief in equal measures. Derby fans, taking the p only a minute earlier, were sit and stood in silence and getting mocked mercilessly themselves. Funny enough, 2-1 to the Sheep Shaggers was blaring. I love this game when we get it right!
The final half hour lacked real drama but gave nothing other than the impression that Cardiff were cruising to three deserved points, they were totally in control. The only Derby effort I can recall until the last moments was a 25 yarder that flew over.
Meantime, Cardiff had but crucially missed more chances to have put the match beyond any doubt whatsoever. The worst culprit was Earnie again who had the ball served almost literally on a plate in front of goal after Weston had done brilliantly to get behind Derby’s flagging defence and cut the ball back but he lazily put it wide.
With 10 minutes remaining, Peter Thorne - having a quiet game - shot wide from the edge of the area but Lennie then sprang a major surprise as he removed both of our strikers and replaced them with two more - Lee and Campbell. Now we’re all used to Lennie’s changes - always like for like but it’s nearly always make it more defensive when we’re losing, make it bolder if we’re losing or hold onto what we got if we’re drawing but changing both strikers when we’re winning for the last few minutes? Where did that come from?
For once, I could have understood if Whalley bolstered midfield as Derby were going to throw everything at us in those closing moments, maybe even Prior for an extra defender but this change, fresh legs or not, seemed to go against Lennie’s instincts. It should have been academic though as Alan Lee, looking massively impressive again, bulldozed Derby’s defenders and gave them more grief in 10 minutes than Earnie and Thorne combined in 80.
With 6 minutes to go, he burst through the tiring Rams back line and forced himself clear on goal. He looked certain to score but his angled effort was too close to Grant who again got down well to parry away. Moments later, Parry probably sealed man of the match for the home side as Paul Parry (again going quieter as he strives for professional fitness) hit an angled volley. On it went, Lee firing over meeting a Kav corner with a left footed drive and Parry going wide from 25 yards as many, if not most, of the home fans had drifted away early before Lee tested Grant again and Kav’s cross was cut out by him under pressure.
City’s professional pride should make them ask serious questions about these missed opportunities but, even so, we are second best scorers in the division so must be doing something right. At the other end, providing our defence showed average competence, we would be savoring three points but for huge chunks of the season and weeks on end recently, they have conceded calamitous goal after calamitous goal. Certain players have been more to blame than others but collectively, they’ve all been guilty.
Derby launched one desperate attack. All it required were our defenders and covering midfielders to cover an opponent and mark the area. The first cross was blocked by Parry but with the ball still inside the area albeit on the outside edge, we collectively stopped. Jackson was allowed the opportunity to cross again, the ball sailed over the near and middle of goal and to the back post where you’d expect, as a minimum, to see one central defender and our right back around. But there were nowhere and instead, City fans looked on in complete horror as LEE OSMAN came in unmarked and 6 yards out, nodded his free header inside Margetson’s post, the keeper again having no chance.
The players looked gutted and angry, the fans felt sick, Derby fans and players just couldn’t believe their luck at collecting a point even they must have thought was beyond them and one that could make all the difference between Division One and Division Two football next season.
Meantime, Cardiff fans were left to rue how the hell we can still talk about play-offs when we’ve only collected 8 points from 8 games and dropped 4 points in a week to two of the bottom four sides. As it is, City are 11th, in mid-table obscurity, 5 points away from the play-offs (which we’re not good enough or deserve to be in anyway) surrounded by other also rans like Crystal Palace, Stoke, Coventry, Millwall and Crewe - this sort of performance and result shows exactly why that is. However being where we are now is anything but a disgrace bearing in mind where we have come from.
It still leaves City unbeaten in the Midlands this season - having won at Nottingham Forest, Coventry and Stoke and drawn at Walsall and, now, Derby - but there is one final visit, the toughest yet. Cardiff go to West Brom next weekend - surprise, surprise, it’s an early kick-off! Let’s hope it brings the best out of them especially with their finishing and defending.
Report from FootyMad
A last-minute equaliser from Leon Osman earned Derby a vital point and dented Cardiff's play-off hopes.
Osman was left unmarked in the 90th minute to head in from six yards just when Cardiff had looked to be heading for a deserved victory.
But the visitors only had themselves to blame for wasting the chances that would have put the game out of Derby's reach before Osman punished slack defending.
Cardiff manager Lennie Lawrence admitted: "We had the chances to make it three but failed to put the game beyond Derby and we paid the price."Derby showed the spirit they will need to get out of relegation trouble by battling to the end but Cardiff will wonder how they let this one slip away.
The quality of their midfield had Derby stretched in the second half but the finishing did not match the approach work and the Rams hung on to earn what could be a very vital point.
It looked as if it might have been even better for George Burley's side when Ian Taylor headed Derby into a 48th minute lead from a right-wing corner by Candido Costa.
Taylor headed wide in the first half but this time he made no mistake putting the ball into the top left corner from six yards out.
Cardiff responded impressively and, on the hour, Derby's defence paid the price for looking to the linesman.
Rob Earnshaw was onside when strike partner Peter Thorne headed the ball down and the Wales striker made no mistake by beating Lee Grant from close range.
Burley said later: "For some reason, we looked for offside which is not the way that we defend and that was poor."Derby could do little about Cardiff's second which was a 20-yard drive from midfielder Graham Kavanagh that took a slight deflection off Michael Johnson before finding the top left-hand corner.