Against Wigan Athletic, City crashed and burned to a 3-0 defeat. They were as well beaten as the scoreline suggests. Wigan, I'm afraid, were vastly superior. The key difference was their strike pair of Jason Roberts and Nathan Ellington who were magnificent with flicks, touches, skills and near telepathci understanding that showed Alan Lee and Earnie's partnership up for what it is.
That wasn't the only difference though, Wigan's passing, movement and skills were way ahead of City and whilst they settled for "doing a Crystal Palace" for playing deep and in numbers trying to soak pressure and hit Wigan on the break, it played into the Latics hands. The home side on the night were bigger, stronger and far more determined too. City went for long ball, Wigan played football. Without hesitation, they got the ball down every time they won it, spread play and did everything at pace. Cardiff were never in the game as a result, half of them looked jaded, the rest seemed disinterested and dispirited. I suspect that's exactly how it was too.
Why Wigan on a Tuesday night when there seems little to play for? I can't answer for others but I've done Carlisle, Darlington, Rochdale and more on a Tuesday night so why not?
The offer of a lift from my workplace at 4pm made it too good to turn down though and we've all got morbid curiosity, it was a chance to witness the death rites over this season but knowing that a win (what a dreamer eh?) would somehow put City back into contention and one win away from the play-offs. For City, it was still more meaningful that anyone dared to suggest in public but whilst we know they're not ready, they showed again emphatically that they just don't have the consistency to be good enough either.
The fact that there was no belief in the rest of the season was probably underlined by The Echo's headline in their pre-match preview, "Will Mahon do the ayatollah?". Inspirational stuff and yes Alan Mahon half-heartedly did it three times in the 2nd half when the game was all over and a few bored City fans called for it, the rest of us don't really remember him as a player to celebrate so weren't really bothered.
Lennie claimed that City were now more streetwise and that players have grown up over the season. These ill thought comments seem only to have been based on the recent unbeaten run and those wins over Norwich, Sunderland and Sheffield United. Reality however says we've been no better at all, we've had worse results, collected fewer points and our league placing has deteriorated in the second half of the season. Not the first time Lennie has spoken without really thinking, surprising for an experienced manager.
The drive up was fantastic. Left Cardiff Gate at 4:10pm, hit Wigan - 190 miles on - just after 6:30pm with Mr Schumacher Hicks also driving over a pedestrian crossing on arrival to get us to the pub. I got his address if needed Mr Police Officer. The notorious M5/M6 northwards in the rush hour was clear with half-term Easter Holidays but there was an 8 mile traffic jam and complete misery on the other side with the southward route closed since mid-morning after a paint lorry overturned, tipping hundreds of gallons and re-painting all three lanes, the hard shoulder, surrounding verge and the fence of a local business yard next to it. Best gloss over that.
Both sides needed the win although the omens weren't good with 4 of the last 5 games and all of the last 3 between the Latics and the Bluebirds being draws. The only game
that bucked the trend, a 4-0 home Wigan win just over two years ago, saw Alan Cork sacked within an hour of the game with Lennie installed as his replacement (once we went three down within the hour, the thought did cross our minds of lightning striking twice, some quite enthusiastic for it too).
The club have matched each other since. Wigan have a new stadium, City are about to get one, Wigan won the Division Two Championship last term, City won the Division Two play-offs, Wigan got £22M of debts, we have £21M (at last count!), both have maverick (one name they get called amongst many) owners and both have performed exceedingly well in their first Division One season. The only differences is that Wigan have a much greater chance of the play-offs, a rugby league team too which they're welcome to and substantially less support. With over 1,000 City in attendance, the crowd was a laughable 8,052 - when you take away numbers out of the equation in match attendances this season, that is their standard support even through they've been in the promotion and play-off frame since the second month of the season.
Home form has been good with only 4 defeats all season but 2 game in the last 3 JIB games against Crewe and Wimbledon. Only 8 points in their last 8 matches had put pressure on them when they had looked play-off certainties for so long. Their side were Filan, Eadin-Breckin-DeVos-Baines, Liddell-Jarrett-Bullard-Mahon, Roberts-Ellington. A team best described as solid rather than spectcular but with good players and experience in just about every position.
There is talk of Boland, Thorne and Weston fit again but not match fit but Lennie decided to give the team that that well beaten at the weekend a chance to make amends but, yet again, it was too much to ask. If Boland and Thorne as a bare miniimum aren't in the side this weekend, something is seriously flawed with Lennie's thinking. The team were therefore Margetson, Croft-Gabbidon-Collins-Vidmar, Robinson-Langley-Whalley-Parry, Lee-Earnie.
JIB Stadium has been described in previous reports on the website but it is a great place to watch football (rugby league and whatever else they do there). 25,000 all seater (apart from the 1,000 City who stood), modern with great views and facilities including loads of car parking, all free around it. The away end - we had one side of the pitch to just over halfway - had a bookmaker, programme kiosks, catering points and bars which sold the cheapest pies and ales inside a ground this season. Surprisingly, JIB has no televisions under the stands or big screen around the pitch but it is impressive and, to be honest far too good a facility for the support they have.
The man with the hardest job in football must be their tannoy announcer who tried to whip the home crowd into a frenzy pre kick-off with loud, anthemic music but it was like trying to wake the dead. The only real first half home noise came in the family stand where Percy Thrower or someone similar would whistle out bird noises and the kids would bang their seats. Very intimidating. When Wigan fans at the "vocal" opposite end sung for the first time after about 25 minutes, they were serenaded by City with chants of "we forgot that you were here".
On the pitch, it was one way. Wigan didn't create major early chances but were camped inside City's half, we only got the ball over halfway once in the first 10 minutes. Wigan were patient and waiting for the moment to open us up, somehow we always got a body or opportune challenge in at the telling moment.
The difference in strikers was immediately noticeable, Roberts and Ellington may have been better supported but their link-up play was outstanding and they always ran at our defenders and caused problems. Lee and Earnie were feeding on scraps maybe but both waited for the ball to come to them rather than work greatly for it and never ever threatened to do anything once they had it. Both were dreadfully out of form, Lee looked a little unfit and has gone backwards at the moment.
I was tempted to bet on Langley for first scorer at 18/1 or Collins at 251/ but resisted (I'm pleased to say know) but they had City's only real opportunities of the opening period with free-kicks. Langley's curler missed Vidmar's haed by a fraction, it would have opened the scoring if there was contact. Collins venomous 35 yard strike, only travelled 8 yards before smashing a Wigan player on the way. Vidmar had the best chance when he ran at Wigan and the game opened up before him but he snatched his right-footed clear opportunity wide from the edge of the area having done the hard work. Our biggest danger came when the home keeper, Filan, had the ball as he didn't seem to know how to kick it properly but he just avoided trouble, more by luck than judgement.
The best touches came from Paul Parry but it was more to do with clever footwork rather than anything meaningful. He also came inside every single time though rather than take on a defender and has gone off the boil in the last couple of games since coming back from injury. Langley and Whalley also did reasonably well and worked hard in central midfield. Hard to criticise either but they are too lightweight as a duo.
City had a let off on 25 minutes as Roberts burst through Collins and Gabbidon, took the ball around Margetson, steered into an empty net and ran behind the goal to celebrate with the birdman and his menagerie of kids before realising he had been flagged offside from the moment he took the ball.
It was temporary respite though as Wigan's opener came 10 minutes later. A smart, fast paced move of the type that City were unable to match saw Mahon move left to right and put a ball wide to Ellington who with one touch got behind Croft and burst away, cut into the area and then squared a ball across goal that JASON ROBERTS turned home from 3 yards.
Wigan were now totally dominant, Roberts nearly doubled his and his team's tally with a smart, powerful shot in the turn that Margetson matched which a clenched fist to dive and punch away. Half-time was needed for City fans and players alike.
H/T: Wigan 1 City 0
Lennie made a change at half-time as Andy Campbell replaced Paul Parry and we adopted a 4-3-3 system except in a jumbled fashion as Lee, Earnie and Campbell never appeared to know who was supposed to be doing exactly what, it looked very disjointed. Still, to entertain us (well, me), we played the Ineffectual Andy Campbell. Next time you're bored, try it. Award Andy 1 point for every touch he has and deduct a point for every time he falls over and another if he gives the ball away. If he falls over and gives the ball away at the same time (something he managed twice tonight), then deduct 3 points. A day after Brain Lara hit his 400 not out World Test Cricket record, Andy Campbell broke his personal best too. He scored a mighty impressive +8 (mind you, all bar 4 of his touches came in City's own half).
Major controversy came two minutes after the restart as Earnie was sent well clear on halfway. Clearly onside when the ball was played, we had a wholly inadequate linesman (wearing bizarre outsized type trainers) who didn't understand the rules and gave him offside. City's players rightly went mental but it could change nothing. Had Earnie scored, it may just have been a completely different night.
The linesman lived to regret it as he was abused by City fans for the rest of the game. Everyone shouting offside every time City threatened to get over halfway and towards the end, the whole City section were chanting, "off-side, he's going flag offside" when we got forward. When he did exactly that to Gabbidon meeting a cross, it produced the biggest cheer of the night. Quite funny too when I shouted to the lino he was offside for stepping over halfway, he checked his feet position and jumped back!
The game was over as a contest by the hour but with more controversy. Wigan were now starting to pulverise us and Gabbidon/Collins were simply unable to cope with Ellington/Roberts. In a devastating minute of action, Margetson parried away from Roberts, the ball ran loose, Wigan put it back in, City scrambled clear, Bullard shot low first-time, Margetson pushed away but ELLINGTON tapped home at the far post as the ball ran across goal. He was clearly offside, and surely interfering, as the shot came in. Ref and linesman were not prepared to listen.
Four minutes later, on 58 minutes, Ellington flicked on, ROBERTS took it on his chest and then toyed with Gabs as he advanced on goal feinting right and left and once he completely wrong-footed him, stroked the ball past Margetson from 15 yards.
Game over, the final half-hour was reduced to little more than a training exercise and damage limitation. Gabbidon saved further embarrassment by twice pulling back Roberts who was about to race on goal from halfway, the second time earning a yellow card. Margetson again smartly saved from Roberts and watched Mahon blast wide twice but Wigan were just keeping things tidy. No point in show-boating especially when Liddell tried to flick the ball forward with his right leg coming around the back of his left but managed to kick and bruise himself instead.
City meanwhile were getting cheered by us every time they touched and passed the ball, Wigan getting booed when they did. We just had to make our own entertainment.
They created chances but spectacularly messed every one up. Alan Lee got around the back of the defence on the right but failed to get any height or power on his cross with Earnie waiting for the first defender to cut out, Campbell was clear on goal with a glorious Whalley through ball but went wide and then played the ball behind Earnie and Lee both in the middle waiting for the inevitable tap-in and Earnie got behind the defence and from an angle inside the area shot across Filan but also wide of his far post too. Bullock came on late.
Final whistle was a blessed relief. The players applauded us and were applauded back but they were clearly second best and whilst we must celebrate consolidation, this game conclusively proved - as if we doubted it - that we must build and develop our squad over the summer to get closer to the better teams in this division and match them with consistency. There are no excuses, we were just found out for not being good enough again.
It's a thankless task for the player who wins the sweep this week to go the media and say that "we can still make the play-offs". After each recent bad result, Robbo, Gabbs, Earnie, Langley and others have claimed we can do it even though it's increasingly obvious we won't and Kav has even said he will be fit for them if needed. No worries Kav, plan your summer holiday.
A bad night was made worse with an horrendous journey home. The paint spill was still causing a 6 mile traffic jam and BBC Radio Manchester refused to put me on air to speak to Dennis The Chemist for pick me up tips to deal with my depression at City losing and missing the play-offs despite somehow being convinced I was a genuine caller having called twice to check me out. Dennis' loss! It took 4 and a half hours to get back, I was grateful to see Cardiff at 2:45am, the coaches would have been later again. The things we do for City but the question is .... why???
Report from FootyMad
Two-goal Jason Roberts paid back another slice of the Â£1.4million transfer fee as his super show kept Wigan Athletic firmly in line for a Nationwide Division One play-off place.
The former West Brom hitman struck either side of half-time to shoot Wigan into fourth place in the first division against a weakened Cardiff City outfit, whose own play-offs hope were all but extinguished.
Fellow striker Nathan Ellington scored the other goal to reinforce the lethal partnership of he and Roberts as the home side coasted to victory against a Bluebirds side that could muster just two efforts on target in the entire 90 minutes.
Roberts and Ellington combined for the former to lash home at the near post nine minutes before the interval to break the deadlock.
Then after 54 minutes the duo struck again as Roberts saw his shot blocked by Cardiff keeper Martyn Margetson before Jimmy Bullard's follow-up effort was parried into the path of Ellington, who netted with ease.
Roberts added the third four minutes later with a clinical finish from Ellington's flick and as Cardiff wilted only a super save Margetson denied Roberts a deserved hat-trick.
Alan Mahon also went close late on as Paul Jewell's side re-ignited their challenge for a top-six finish and a crack at sealing a place in the Premiership for next season.