As it was, City lost 2-1, a poor game and a disappointing performance but one in which we arguably deserved a point and, even not at our best, made Stoke look bland. Although they are ordinary, Route One football with a physical approach that City took too long to get to terms with, it knocked the Bluebirds out of their recent tempo and fluency. However in the excellent Ricardo Fuller, yet again taunting City and the best player on view with no runner-up, they had a match winner and today, Cardiff didn't.
City huffed and puffed but found themselves behind at the interval of an ultra poor soulless first half with Roger Johnson netting an own goal for the second successive away game - he's starting to give Darren Purse serious competition at those - then two behind just before the hour to a Fuller penalty but they fought back through Hasselbaink within 6 minutes. Jimmy was then immediately guilty of failing to convert a simple chance to level it while Cardiff were denied what, I remain convinced, was a perfectly good goal but unbeaten runs have to end sometime and it was always ominous when Dave Jones was made Manager of the Month the day before this one.
So it was an unusual journey to Stoke for me - M4 away from Reading, A34, M42, M6 - but the roads were quiet and not much to see. Unusual for a Cardiff fan to travel in the same direction as West Ham and Lincoln supporters, also saw the Wales egg chasing coach heading to London on the M4 (surely it was empty and the team were there the night before?) and Stafford services packed with ambulances, fire engines and police vehicles as two cars looked to have had a serious crash on the petrol forecourt.
Left it late to leave though and had to park a good 15 minutes walk from the ground so got into Britannia as the teams were kicking off. City were defending the goal in front of us as you can see in the pictures at http://nigelblues.blogspot.com/2008/02/stoke-city-2-cardiff-city-1-photos.html but made one change, it was expected but a little disappointing as skipper Steve McPhail replaced the immensely promising Aaron Ramsey who offered fantastic creativity in the midweek pasting of QPR, Michael Oakes had recovered from slight concussion in the game. City were Oakes, McNaughton-Johnson-Loovens-Capaldi, Whittingham-Rae-McPhail-Ledley, Hasselbaink-Parry. Subs were Enckleman-Blake-Purse-Thompson with Trevor Sinclair out of the 16, suggesting his midweek bench recall was probably a case of making up the numbers more than it was a sign he is ready again just yet..
Stoke are having a good season, they've always been there or thereabouts, Newport born Bluebird supporting boss Tony Pulis seems to be doing a very good job for them so it was a surprise to hear local radio pre-game full of unhappy Stoke fans, who want the manager out, staying away from games etc. Their football style isn't great even though they have some very good individuals but it has been effective. Maybe they were nervous by recent form of 4 successive draws, a win and defeat.
However it was evident that they aren't fully behind their team's cause. Just 15.045 with plenty of empty seats for City fans to sing about which included a disappointing 750 or so from Cardiff (that's a guess as it was hard to gauge inside) and there was a very poor atmosphere. Mind you, it didn't help that the game kicked off at 12:30 - Staffordshire police, again high in visibility and numbers, seem unable to accept the last time problems happened there was 8 yrs ago! - and it was bitterly cold. Just 3 degrees and with open sides to the ground, there were arctic style breezes inside out stand.
The Potters side were Simonsen, Griffin-Pugh-Shawcross-Cort, Lawrence-Cresswell-Diao-Delap, Sidibe- Fuller. Their bench included transfer deadline day signings in Glen Whelan (£500k from Sheff Weds) and Paul Gallagher on loan (again) from Blackburn.
City opened the brighter and more confident. Hasselbaink was through in the first couple of minutes but lack of pace told as he was caught and dispossessed but he won an edge of area free kick, McPhail tried his luck when it was tapped to him but his rising 20 yard drive cleared the bar by a couple of feet. Early frustration got Cresswell a yellow card for going through late on McNaughton. Stoke looked non-existent in midfield and were relying on belting balls forward for Sidibe or Fuller to do something and they did cause City problems. Both Johnson and Loovens needed early treatment, City's big fault of the first half was that they allowed themselves to be out-muscled.
Stoke started to win a couple of corners and were another side who identified attacking Capaldi on the left as a good option. Corners were won, long throws bombed into the area and City were guilty of allowing balls to bounce and not clearing their lines. Sidibe should have done better meeting one header on the bounce then Glenn Loovens, inexplicably, allowed a ball to bounce in front of him a try an overhead backwards clearance inside his 6 yard box in front of goal. Fuller blocked him, his free shot was right at Oakes who also had the luck as the rebound fell into his arms as he was on the floor. A major let off.
All the chanting was coming from City fans until Stoke showed they're a bunch of Welsh Wannabees bursting into song with Tom Jones' Delilah, greeted with ironic applause and a response of "we forgot that you were here". Joe Ledley really should have scored at least hit the target when played in at an angle by Peter Whittingham but he dragged his shot wide of the far post before Jimmy gave Simonsen his first save with a thumping 30 yarder but it was right at him.
This was a drab half of football but, twice more, Stoke got around Capaldi, the player started to get a little flak off City fans, which we scrambled away but, 7 minutes before the interval, it told. Fuller burst down our left, Capaldi was out of position forcing Johnson across but a hesitant defensive display was compounded as he somehow allow Fuller to go past him and then around him inside the box, his ball across the face of goal was put behind, Johnson smashing it away unhappy by his efforts at that moment. Worse, the corner came across, bounced, Ledley appeared to take an air shot in front of JOHNSON and the ball struck is ankle and freakily diverted to goal inside the 6 yard box leaving Oakes helpless. "One Roger Johnson, there's only one Roger Johnson" - that chant came from Stokies after hearing who their goalscorer was.
It was a ponderous first half display from City, plenty of the ball but a complete lack of creativity and cutting edge, recent sharpness was tempo was absent and they did allow themselves to be bullied. Time to retreat under the stand for general depression chat about that half and some temporary (relative) warmth.
Half-time: STOKE 1 CITY 0
The second half started pretty much in the same vein as the opening period with what limited football that was on offer coming from City who were backed the The Bluebirds support launching into a 25 minute non-stop toned down megamix of When The Blues Go Marching in but the only excitement coming from Fuller and the better chances falling to the home side. Shawcross, who scored Stoke's winner, on opening day at Ninian Park from a corner on opening day, yes from Capaldi's side almost replicated it but his header missed by a yard but it was temporary respite as that man Fuller doubled The Potter's lead 12 minutes after the restart.
Cardiff had a corner, got nowhere and play quickly moved up the other end but, when Fuller had the ball, 35 yards out, we still looked ok until he easily brushed aside the challenges of, I think, Capaldi then Johnson to charge into the area, McNaughton slid in and Fuller was always going to go down, penalty for Fuller, yellow card for Super Kev when Stoke's following were appealing for 'off, off, off'. I never had any inkling Oakes would get to the penalty and, sure enough, he dived to our left, FULLER rolled it right.
Cardiff were now in a desperate place, Sidibe could have made it three when set up in front of goal but the ex-Jack, getting the usual ridicule, earned some more by blazing wide but, from nowhere, City hit back, Joe Ledley skipped into the area (put down the skipping rope) and shot have shot/scored for himself but chose to pick out the innocuous, for once, Paul Parry whose shot falling backwards was pushed aside by Simonsen but, next attack, City were back in it.
A simple goal but very welcome. Whittingham's free-kick level with the edge of the area 30 yards out was looped to the far post, missed entirely by Stoke's defence, Parry got behind, his shot was flying across goal but in plunged JIMMY FLOYD-HASSLEBAINK to stab it home on the opposite post from close range for his 7th Cardiff City goal and 6th in the league.
Hasselbaink however just have got his 8th and 2nd of the game almost straight from the restart as a ball over the top from City's half sent him away with Stoke defenders stranded. Jimmy looked odds on to level it as he got into the box, Simonsen raced out but left one side of goal completely open. Incredibly. Hasslebaink, with the whole goal at his mercy, hit it straight at Simonsen at perfect height for him too. So disappointing, you really expected Jimmy to make his experience and quality count.
Stoke were starting to hang on and Cardiff were fully warmed to the task but despite the fans calling for changes and Thommo's name in particular being chanted, Dave Jones showed no urgency to do much different and instead became embroiled in problems with Stoke fans behind him. Hard to tell exactly what was taking place, Stoke fans are believed to have been abusing Jones, Paul Wilkinson seemed to react and next thing there were stewards and police everywhere, the stand invaded with them and either side of each dugout surrounded. Stoke fans looked animated and were pointing, the police removed a couple of Stokies.. What the hell was going on?
Then, controversy, a high ball in front of goal, Simonsen took it under a defender then dropped it, a scramble and Whittingham nudged it home only for Premiership ref Steve Bennett to have blown his whistle before the ball went in but why? Some say it was adjudged as a foul by Jimmy but Simonsen had no contact with any City player, only his own, and the scramble looked fait all around.
The closing stages were end to end as City threw more caution to the (chilly) wind while Stoke, now with an extra midfielder, and Fuller ploughing a lone furrow still able to cause problems, Fuller was for them anyway. He went close, so did Parry a couple of times at our end. Thommo finally came on for Jimmy but not until just 8 minutes remained, surely it has to be earlier to change in these situations Mr Jones? One last gamble then saw City go 3-4-3 with Johnson thrown up front, he had one weak late shot at Simonsen. It wasn't to be and almost ended 3-1 as Fuller broke away again with City having everyone committed forward, into the area he broke but McNaughton's challenge this time was thankfully exemplary.
And that was it, very disappointing, City far from their best and beaten by an ordinary Stoke side when they had enough of the ball and territory to have got some return but the spark was missing today with no man of the match as such and a few below par in Capaldi (looking as poor as he was a few weeks ago), neither centre half covering themselves in glory with Johnson particularly below par, Whittingham has been barren for a few games, Paul Parry struggled to make any headway against two pacy centre backs and Jimmy, despite his goal, continues to struggle in away games when City play more counter-attacking football than at Ninian Park.
Other results however weren't so bad so while City fell to 9th, they are only 2 points off those play-off spots but will need to make amends in next week's home game versus Norwich, the third successive weekend lunchtime kick-off. Stoke, meantime, are 4th and 2 points off automatic promotion, more food for those who say "Championship" and "poor quality" in the same breath ... it's pretty exciting though.
Report from FootyMad
icardo Fuller's second-half penalty proved decisive as Stoke ended Cardiff's nine-game unbeaten run and bolstered their own promotion bid.
The first real chance arrived out of the blue in the 20th minute when Mamady Sidibe should have crowned his return from the Africa Cup of Nations with his first goal of the season.
Rory Delap's long cross was nudged forward by Fuller and Sidibe blasted his eight-yard shot straight at the legs of Michael Oakes when it looked easier to score.
Steve Simonsen comfortably dealt with Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink's effort from distance just after the half hour as Cardiff attempted to make some inroads.
But Stoke were holding territorial advantage and took the lead when Cardiff defender Roger Johnson put the ball into his own net six minutes before the break.
Glenn Loovens missed his kick in an attempt to clear a right-wing corner from Liam Lawrence and the ball bounced in off the unfortunate Johnson's shin.
Stoke were within inches of going two up nine minutes after the break when Ryan Shawcross - called up to the England Under-21 squad for the first time this week - headed just wide from a Lawrence corner.
But they did double their lead from the penalty spot just three minutes later when Fuller, who was dumped to the floor by Kevin McNaughton, picked himself up to send Oakes the wrong way.
Sidibe missed another glorious chance from Fuller's lay-off on the hour and Cardiff took full advantage by reducing the arrears in the 63rd minute.
Peter Whittingham's free-kick was knocked back across goal by Paul Parry and Hasselbaink was perfectly placed to prod home at the far post.
Hasselbaink should have equalised less than a minute later when he tore clear only to be thwarted by a fine save from Simonsen.
But Stoke saw out the rest of the game with few alarms and Fuller should have added a third in stoppage time.