Cardiff City at Home 2016/17 – Back to Earth

The Boy and (particularly) his younger sister will often ask why we cannot have the good things in their lives more often. In particular, just like Wizzard, they wish it could be Christmas every day. This extends though. “Why can’t it always be the weekend?”, “why can’t I have a party / sleepover every day”, “can we just have chocolate for breakfast every morning?” and so on. The answer we always give is the clichéd one, straight out of chapter one of the parenting manual (incidentally I lost mine somewhere around the time I took The Boy to his first away game at Charlton, so if anyone finds it I’d be grateful for its return). “If we did it all the time it wouldn’t be special”. So with football matches.

On Friday I worked from home. Yesterday in London. On Friday we were in the pub, then a very nice lounge with very nice food, then a monstrously padded seat halfway up the West Stand. Yesterday I was sitting alone, eating a supermarket cheese sandwich and monitoring Twitter whilst crossing my fingers that Southern weren’t about to leave me on the platform at Wivelsfield due to the train doors not closing. On Friday the game – or rather the second half – had everything. Last night? Not so much action. I’m struggling to come up with much to report, not because I can’t remember it this time, but because there really isn’t much to report.

At least the gang was back together, at the back of the WSU. We could sing without being stared at, the padding and legroom are more than adequate (as anyone who has stood in front of a seat at an old school ground made artificially all seater can attest) and the view first class. It was just a shame it was a view of a Cardiff team who parked the bus, a lorry and two Boing 737s before going about the task of cynically hiding footballs in each so that they could not actually be played with. Well metaphorically anyway. Did you come for a draw, Colin?

They were helped in their quest for pointdom by a series of questionable refereeing decisions that seemed to suggest holding a centre forward by the shirt was fine but not shoulder barging, that time wasting was now de rigueur and certainly not punishable by anything as vulgar as a yellow card and that the offside rule had been rewritten.

Nevertheless it was nearly an effective strategy by the twelve of them. The Albion created a couple of half chances early on, Murphy just failing to connect with a whipped in cross, before a great ball in the channel from Duffy led to an interchange between Hemed and March, playing in the number 10 role, with the former shooting just wide. Knockaert hit a cheeky free kick under the wall and just past the near post, to much Gallic shrugging.

But the goal tally was more threatened by Cardiff’s rare forays forward, and we were grateful to that man Stockdale again. A brilliant tip over from a Morrison header from a free kick out wide (possibly awarded for running on the pitch or kicking the ball in an unseemly manner, I can’t remember which) kept us in the game. Previously they had shot wide from 12 yards out after a good run down our right by Hoilett (Goldson tried manfully throughout the game and gave his all, but a right back he is not).    An even better save from Hoilett after a long throw from Halford (remember him?) caused chaos, though the ball had popped around and there was the suspicion of offside in the build up.

Other than that it was just time wasting. There were so many pauses I thought we might be live on NBC or CBS. “Third down and six to the Cardiff Dragons” as my mate Josh said when they took yet another long throw. “Colin ought to refund us half our ticket money” opined Mark. And Cardiff are certainly the only side to take the ball in to the corner after 35 minutes of the first half. Frustrating.

The second half was frustrating for different reasons entirely. We woke up and so did the referee.

Shortly after the restart Hemed should have given us the lead. March, for once, got free down the channel and played in a lovely low cross but Hemed could only slide wide from six yards and beat the turf in frustration. We started to be given free kicks and corners and Dunk and Duffy came close from each. On the right the delivery of Knockaert was excellent, but on the left we were missing Norwood, replaced here by Kayal. The latter is still recovering though and came off, for Norwood to run to take the corner that had provided the stoppage. How his delivery wasn’t converted I will never know. Nearly an assist with his first kick.

But then, finally, came the goal we’d been craving. It started unpromisingly with a throw on the left and a clumsy cross field ball that Stephens struggled with, yet this opened up the space. The ball was drilled to Hemed’s feet with his back to goal, but rather than laying it back he produced a delightful first touch and turn and drilled home a powerful shot. At that point there was nowhere else I’d rather have been than in the WSU, with my friends, going potty with relief.

That, largely, was that, though there was the comically ironic sight of Brighton now wasting time and Colin complaining about it like mad. What goes around, comes around.

Afterwards the busses seemed to be stuck in a jam forever, so we walked to the station, more in hope than expectation, and got straight on to a train. There I took a call from my Cardiff mate, magnanimously congratulating me and stating that they have to play like that with the squad they have, a fair point when Greg Halford is starting. You’ll stay up, Sam, but I’m glad I don’t have to watch that every week.

The Boy’s Ref Watch

He wasn’t there but I’m awarding minus ten billion on his behalf. Inept, frankly.

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Sheffield Wednesday At Home 2016/17

Questions:

  • Who put that axe in my head?
  • Which team holds the record for the shortest ever match report on this blog, due to nothing happening in said game?
  • How an earth was Stockdale not man of the match?
  • Who have we never done the double over in one season before?
  • Did YOU give up three points when they got the penalty?
  • How an EARTH did we win that?

Answers:

  • My friends, particularly three of them with the initials G, S and D.
  • Sheffield Wednesday, last season.
  • Because Knockaert (they should have shared it)
  • It’s er, um, erm, Sheff, um, no wait, it’ll come back to me……..
  • I did #badfan
  • Let’s try and explain that in under 1200 words

But first 1).

I’m feeling absolutely hanging a teensy weensy bit delicate today. The annual Brighton but Only at Home trip to 1901 Club hospitality was a swinging success. Four intrepid explorers set out from The Caxton on a Friday evening intent on making the most of seats that were even more padded, beer that tasted better because, goddamnit, it was served in a BRANDED glass and food that wasn’t just stacked under concourse heat lamps. The beer needed to be tested on several occasions.

This made for a convivial evening which was just as well as one of our number had accidentally dressed for a fashion show rather than a football match and therefore needed to apply a warm,  invisible beer coat. Those of us who were more sensibly dressed drained a last pint. At 7.40 pm, in our cups and having agreed it would be a return to form, there was nowhere else better to be. Well, perhaps our own seats, where I imagined the Cheese Eating Poker School, who had taken up temporary residence, were handing out correct score bets and having Voice Tablets and tickertape rained on them from behind. But our seats had a great view and lots of legroom.

The annual 1901 visit, as my regular reader will attest, is really code for annual piss up, which given the amount of times I mention the word “beer” on here is quite something. Luckily it was so flipping FREEZING that we all sobered up fairly quickly. The effect would be not dissimilar to emerging in to the night from a Russian vodka bar. Which was good because the first half needed concentrating on.

It wasn’t that the first half was particularly dull. In fact a makeshift Albion team, with the injured Baldock and Bruno replaced by Hemed and Goldson respectively, made the brighter start of the two teams. Though ostensibly lacking in pace it was a line up that was at least solid, with Stephens restored to midfield and Pocognoli in at left back. It was just that the second half had SO much more incident.

So – the main bits of the first half – two goals.

Ours was a delight. I don’t care how much beer (or Russian vodka) you’ve consumed, goals like that stick in the memory. As so often when we score the other team was on the attack. We broke it up on the edge of our area and went on the counter. Hemed put his head in where it hurts and received the ball back via a midfield interchange. Suddnely he was clear with Knockaert screaming for it on the right. The ball was well placed but slightly lacking in pace and the chance seemed to have gone with a chipped first touch. Somehow Knocky was first to it, went round the despairing Westwood, who should have done better, and smashed in past the defenders on the line. 1-0.

We were comfortable enough that we should have gone in one nil up but then disaster struck. Forestieri roasted Goldson on our right and put in a decent cross. Norwood attempted to head clear but Dunk stuck out a leg and deflected it past Stockdale for a calamitous own goal. 1-1.

Half time. Time for more beer.

Where to start after that? Three red cards, another goal and enough argy bargy for the game to officially be noted down as “bad tempered”. There was certainly enough entertainment to keep us warm (even if you were dressed for the opera). And, in the light of day, there wasn’t a decision I disagree with.

Firstly Wednesday had a corner which we failed to clear adequately. Loovens hammered a shot goalwards and Murray protected his face with his arms, which the ball hit. Hand to ball? Yes. Shot going in? Maybe. Sending off? Probably. Referee Attwell showed a red card. One all, down to ten men, with a penalty against us. “I’ll take a draw now” I said to anyone who would listen. Thank goodness the players didn’t listen.

A second penalty save of the month from Stockdale and we went mad. The reflex save of the follow up was even better and we went madder. Could we pull an unlikely draw out of this desperate moment?

No.

No, we would do better. Up the pitch we went on one of our rare forays, the team now deliberately hitting on the break. The ball came to Pocognoli on the left and his perfect cross was met by that man Knockaert again. The posh seats went doolally. God knows what was happening in the North and the WSU.

A backs to the wall effort then, or at least it was until some argy bargy on the edge of our area saw Fletcher headbutt one of our centre backs (yes I didn’t see which) and get a red card of his own. Then an appalling challenge on the halfway line by Hutchinson saw him get a second yellow, though a straight red would have been more appropriate. Suddenly we were massive favourites. You could feel the palpable despair in the away end.

And so the whistle went and we all hugged again and the players looked much as they did after Fulham, sheer delight at our win and escape.

More beer. A train queue. An abandoned train queue. A bus. A cold bus that wouldn’t leave Falmer for some reason not quite explained. A walk from darkest Porstlade. Another pub. Beer. Gin. Whisky. A certain someone (not me) passing out. A VERY COLD walk home. A hangover. All worth it. All would be done again in a heartbeat. This team, this team is a team of winners.

The eagle eyed among you may remember I was “doing dry January”. This weekend was always going to be an exemption. At this rate I’ll need a fridge full of champagne.

 

 

 

 

 

Fulham Away 2016/17 – Carbon Copy

A side that’s flying, a new year bank holiday and a chance for me to visit one of my favourite grounds in the country for (I think) the sixth time while the boys got to revisit the scene of Hemed’s iconic penalty last season. It doesn’t matter what the blog title is, we were off to Fulham and so were an estimated 6000 others.

Having been royally dicked around by the trains this season we’d decided to drive, safe in the knowledge that we had a reserved car parking space through Car Park Direct. An uneventful drive up became extremely eventful when it became clear that the car park we’d booked didn’t exist and was, in fact, being demolished. Instant karma kicked in as we found a street space and discovered that those parking charges and restrictions were suspended on bank holidays, so we left the car with no additional charges and wandered off to the Coat and Badge. There, over orange juice and lemonade since we’re both attempting Dry January, Steve extracted a refund out of the shysters while the boys and I watched bits of a deadly dull 0-0 between Boro and Leicester.

And so to the ground and one of the weirdest pre-match conversations I’ve yet had, thanks to that hardy perennial of the London away game, the massive pile of police horse shit.

The boys – “why do the police use horses?”

Us – general explanation of why

The boys – “but wouldn’t a cow be better? A cow would do a much better job”

Us – general explanation of why a police cow would not be such a good idea

The boys – “no, we want to see policemen riding cows”

And so on……

It was a relief to get to the ground where we promptly found, as ever with Fulham, that we had to be in our actual seats, which were in row ZZ. This, as you might gather, was right at the back. It made for a good view of the hordes of Brighton fans in front of us but not such a great view of the pitch. The boys, additionally, had a steward in front of them for much of the game, always handy when you’re ten years old and quite small.

 

The atmosphere in the away end built to a crescendo as the players came out. Fulham’s only noise appeared to be some kind of North Korean clapping routine using clackers, while the away end went through the full repertoire of songs, old and new. But if the performance in the stands was building nicely, out on the pitch we were flat as a pancake.

It’s quite possible that Hughton’s team selection had changed from what it might have been, given the postponement of the Cardiff game. In the end ten of the players who started against QPR carried on here, with March replaced by Skalak. This was a change that looked to severely unbalance the side. Fulham pressed us in midfield, kept the ball themselves with some lovely slick passing and attacked time and again down our left. Twice Fulham created chances from dangerous diagonal balls on that side of the field. Skalak didn’t look like he knew whether to stick or twist, drawing Bong and Dunk out of position. When we did get it back – which wasn’t often – Fulham’s quick organisation closed our options down, restricting us to long, hit and hope passes. The odd time a simple line ball was on we misplaced it anyway, Bruno and Bong both guilty of poor passes early on. We simply were not at the races.

Inevitably Fulham created chance after chance and Stockdale was already earning his corn with a series of clawing grabs. Fulham’s best chance, though, came from a chance that seemed to have gone. A deep cross saw Smith hustled out of a header and the ball bounced to Bruno who had time to clear. However, he inexplicably controlled the bouncing ball with an arm to give away a clear penalty. Head in hands moment for the travelling masses. All except Steve who called it. “Stockdale will save this” he confidently asserted and he was right, our keeper guessing correctly and Johansen putting the penalty at a saveable height and distance from the corner. Bedlam in the away end.

Fulham continued to dominate. We had two half chances, both further evidence of our first half wastefulness. Baldock had won the ball high up but had contrived to neither shoot nor find Murray, before the latter was even more frustrated. Knockaert pounced on a loose ball and was away but, with Murray in yards of free space and central, the ball to him was massively over hit. Neither could agree whose fault it was. Not exactly #together.

Half time. “I reckon they’ve had seventy percent of the ball” I said and then checked on the BBC, who confirmed that they had had sixty eight percent of the ball and we’d not had a single shot.

We couldn’t be as bad in the second half, and indeed we weren’t. We closed space better, passed better, and generally woke up. Of course Fulham finally scored. A neat series of interchanges saw them get in to the box but we initially had the shot covered. A clever backwards ball and a disguised pass forwards gave Lucas Piazon the space he needed and he curled a lovely low shot past Stockdale and in to the corner.

The away fans’ patience finally wore out as Bong, for once, played a beautiful through ball down the left line. Or it would have been a beautiful ball to Murphy or March. Skalak simply didn’t have the pace to reach it. The calls of “Solly, Solly March” echoed round the Putney End and Hughton finally obliged, removing Skalak who’d had a nightmare. Four minutes later Hemed also came on and Steve and I agreed we weren’t sure what he’d bring. Four minutes after that, the turning point.

We’d attacked with more verve since Solly came on. Now Knockaert moved inside off his wing, collected a pass and drove at the Fulham defence. He was brought down just outside the box but referee Attwell let play go on for a moment to see if advantage developed and Hemed collected the loose ball and was hauled down in the box. Penalty. Hemed and Murray argued over who would take it (not exactly #together) before Hemed came up with the ball and lashed it low in to the corner. The Putney End nearly took off.

One minute later and I swear it nearly collapsed. Fulham cleared to midfield where Dunk was first to the loose ball. He carried on his run before feeding Knockaert with the sort of pass any of our midfield would dream of. Knocky’s shot was powerful but straight at Button who couldn’t hold it. Dunk had continued his run and now headed the rebound in to an empty net. Bananas would be an insult as to how mad the away end went. I feared The Boy might explode. Steve and I hugged. Everyone hugged. Dunk did his best to dive on a steward and everyone else dived on Dunk. In the Fulham end bitterness mixed with indignant resignation. We’d done it again.

 

I said in my home report they looked better than us for most of that game, but we’d won 2-1. Now we’d done it again. We had to survive a couple of late burst and four minutes of additional time but then the final whistle went to more delirium. Newcastle had lost. We were top. The singing continued behind the Putney End as we left and in to the park where the smell of the Thames mixed with the horseshit and burger onions and the noise of the crowd. The drive home was smug. Our first double of the season and it was almost a carbon copy.

The Boy’s Ref Watch

Minus ten billion for Mr Attwell, a little harsh in retrospect given that both the decisions he complained about were given by the linesman (Skalak’s handball and Knockaert being denied a corner and getting booked for protesting).

For me, while there were some comedy moments in blocking the ball and falling over, the advantage for our first goal was the decision of the season. But then I don’t really write this bit.