A game without The Boy. A chance to have a proper pint in a proper pub with friends and notice that, well, it wasn’t that busy. Then to our seats to notice that, well, it wasn’t that busy. With the exception of League Cup and friendly games this might have been the emptiest the Amex looked since the final extensions were finished. The stay aways missed a night of true entertainment and they missed the die hards truly getting behind the team. It does have to be admitted that they also missed another draw.
We seem to be inventing new and even more improbable ways of dropping two points. Against Cardiff the way we did it was to pull off some spectacular passes, quick movement and excellent ball retention before making a simple mistake. We did the hard things well and the easy things badly. It made, as I said, for a thoroughly entertaining game but one you had to watch through your fingers.
Under Oscar we always seemed to start within ourselves, almost as if scoring early was one of the things he prohibited. Last night we started like the proverbial steam train. For the first twenty minutes we were unstoppable as the ball zipped round Cardiff who looked perplexed. Bennett made fine runs, Teixeira found space in behind the defenders and created plenty, the centre backs knocked it about handsomely, CMS contributed intelligent, lung busting movement and Lua Lua missed a sitter. One on one in acres of space he put it in Row Z. But if that demonstrated my point a little then minutes 20 and 21 would prove it beyond doubt.
Was it Saint and Greavsie who said football was a funny old game? No one could have predicted the next chain of events. A fabulous raking crossfield ball reached Bruno on the volley. Did he bring it down? Lay it off? No, a cushioned volley floated effortlessly in to the far corner of the net. The Amex went mad. Later he was to confirm that he was going for goal but not, perhaps in that way. So a deliberate fluke then. Never mind, we had a reward for our dominance.
You don’t need to have watched Cardiff much to know that their only tactic is to thump it at Kenwyne Jones. Falling foul of this immediately after scoring would have been criminal and yet that’s what we did. A high ball was pumped at the marked Jones on the edge of the area and Stockdale inexplicably rushed out to catch it and missed. Cue dribbly header in to open goal. 1-1 within a minute or so.
It seemed to knock the stuffing out of us for a while, but not forever. We slowly regained our composure while Cardiff, buoyed by the goal, pushed up on us more in an attempt to restrict Bruno and Bennett. They didn’t succeed all the time and with the score 1-1 at half time the feeling was of an opportunity missed.
The second half belonged to David Marshall. The Cardiff keeper was in outstanding form. He kept out a deflected Lua Lua shot, a brilliant header from Bennett and another header from Dunk from the resulting corners. The stats say we had eight shots on target. I make that one goal and seven great saves.
The theme of silly mistakes sadly persisted too though. Stockdale, having been at fault for the opener, then made a miracle save as we presented Cardiff with a golden opportunity to go ahead through our own defensive ineptitude. Later Lua Lua would earn applause for tracking back before giving it straight back to Cardiff in an even better position. Teixeira reinforced the impression that he is better when we are completely dominant and tends to try too hard for the spectacular when we are not.
But all in all this was a tale of two goalkeepers. That mistake aside Stockdale actually had a good game, claiming everything else, launching two fast breaks with rapid and accurate throws and keeping us in it with his close range save. But it’s “that mistake aside” we now need to cut out. And if Stockdale’s worth £1 million what price David Marshall?