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.

Cardiff At Home 2015/16 – The Curse of October

Ah good, it’s October. My favourite month ever he typed in the non-existent sarcasm font. I love October the way I love Crystal Palace, brussel sprouts and being woken up at five in the morning by a vomiting child when I have a hangover.

It is starting to get cold in the mornings. Annoyingly we seem to be having summer now in the daytimes rather than during summer but that just makes the morning colder. Soon the storms will be back in from the Atlantic and my back fence will take a pounding for the next six months. Not a euphemism. It is starting to get dark. I am waking up in the dark and not even when my children are vomiting but just to get to work or go for a run. Leaves are dropping, mainly on to pavements already covered in dogshit, so that they create some kind of hideous, smelly, red and brown oil slick, primed to send you flying to your stinky doom. It is too cold to barbeque but not cold enough to stew. And the Albion never win. Never, ever, ever do we win in October. It’s become a greater quest than the sub two hour marathon and with just as much success. Yesterday was no different.

Of course this season has been different so far. It’s hard to abandon all hope when you’re top of the league and undefeated. Our crew at the back of the West Upper was much changed. Out went my regular travel partner to a holiday in Turkey. Out too were my friend’s three boys who were all on a Scout hike. In came Boy’s Oldest Friend and his dad. Whether it was this, the fact that we were top of the league, or the unseasonal warmth I don’t know but The Boy was VERY EXCITED INDEED. He showed this by talking non stop.

I should have seen the warning signs that morning when I came down to see him already up. He’d tuned himself in to Sky Sports (and there was me thinking all eight year olds watch Scooby Doo) and was merrily yelling at Alan Pardew. I’m not sure if this was a proud parenting moment or the instant I realised I’d created a monster.

By the time we got to Brighton I had fielded approximately six hundred and twenty three questions, mostly surrounding the thorny issue of if we would win. These I fielded in a rational way. On the one hand, I mused, we would be missing Lua Lua and Murphy and Cardiff would be very organised. On the other hand Hemed and Baldock would be back and Stephens and Kayal would start in midfield so we could be hopeful  that our key partnerships would fire. I should have just said “no chance son, it’s October”.

On arrival we checked the teams. Dunk had come in to the back four to deal with the aerial threat posed by Kenwyne Jones. March replaced Murphy with Manu on the bench. Hemed and Baldock were indeed up front. We went to our seats and The Boy launched a non-stop monologue covering everything from Stockdale’s gloves to Kenwyne Jones’ loan spell with Bournemouth.

As well as watching (and talking) he also plays football on Sundays for a team. I help out with the coaching. Recently he has been playing at right back and I thought I would both shut him up and help him by getting him to focus on how Bruno was playing. After all, he’s been fantastic this season. So, typically, after just five minutes, we got a display of how not to do it. Caught hopelessly out of position Cardiff launched an attack down our wide open right flank where there should have been a Bruno but there wasn’t. Scott Malone, in acres of space, sped down the wing and produced a perfect low cross for Joe Mason to tap in from close range. 1-0 them. It was to be the last time they went in to our half of the pitch in the first half.

We dominated the ball. We dominated the territory. We had a lot of shots, not many of them that dangerous admittedly. Cardiff sat on their lead, wasting time and punting it clear. No one panicked. Not the team. Not Chris Hughton. Not the fans (“it’s coming” the bloke behind me was saying and we all nodded sagely). Not The Boy who was now on a soliloquy about the ref that included repeated uses of the word “idiot”. Baldock went close twice, forcing a double save and putting a header just wide. Then, finally we scored, a cross from the right smartly hooked in by that man Dale Stephens. If you’d heard me on the Albion Roar you’d have heard a debate about who was the boss of midfield, Stephens or Kayal. I’d gone for Kayal but was about to admit defeat. Just at that moment Bong was caught as badly out of position as Bruno had been and Kayal made a twenty yard dash to cover and executed the perfect tackle. It summed up our dominance neatly. If only we hadn’t been so careless in the opening fifteen minutes or so.

The second half was more of the same. Albion created chance after chance, particularly through Solly March who was justifying his selection with some electric wing play, though, as ever, the final touch wasn’t quite there.  Baldock really should have given us the lead from one of the openings down the left, a free header from yards out, wastefully glanced wide. March himself went close with a shot before Cardiff really should have scored, the defence getting in a terrible muddle with Stockdale caught out of position, only for Dunk to clear off the line. We would miss an even worse one.

With time ticking down, Cardiff wasting more time and their fans celebrating a draw (and how far we have come in a year that away fans now celebrate draws at The Amex rather than expecting them) we had a set piece on the left. Up came the centre backs. I have lost in my mind’s eye exactly how the chance was set up (The Boy was on to a shouty rant about hats at this point) but I can still see the finish in mega slow motion with the word “NOOOOOOOOOO” being comically shouted over the top. The ball skidded across an open goal. There was no Cardiff player in sight. All we had to do was tap it in from one yard and yet Elvis, and then Greer, somehow managed to send it wide. I can only blame the curse of October.

1-1 it finished. On the way out I saw a boy in a brand new away shirt with 4 – Hünemeier printed on it. ‘I wonder if they charged extra for printing the umlaut?’ I thought.

Cardiff At Home Season 2014/15

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?