Despite dominating the second half and appearing to score a good goal in the first, City leave Ninian Park open-handed as the home side continue their run for the play-offs.
Cardiff City 1 City 1
They scored a messy goal, we scored a better one, so level at half-time, and then we dominated the second half as only a series of excellent saves from goalkeeper Alexander protected the point that the home side scarcely deserved.
That’s how it was in reality.
In the dismal parallel universe of footballing larceny, however, it goes down as
Cardiff City 1 City 0
Which we really didn’t deserve.
It’s been an odd week – one we’ll look back on with dismay come late April if we’re teetering on the abyss of relegation. Because we could have gathered seven, even nine, points beginning last Saturday, and yet we’ve taken just two. The bright side is that we’re playing well enough for it to seem inconceivable right now that we can’t find three teams (at least) to finish below us. And yet … it’s a lot of points dribbling away.
Thelwell Cort Delaney Rogers
Paynter Andrews Noble Ellison
Two debutants – the stocky Rogers and the nimble Noble – and a mythical beast at right-back. Unicorn? Wyvern? Minotaur? Nothing so humdrum, it is Alton Thelwell, and a splendidly sturdy addition to our squad he looks too.
Off we went on a clement Welsh afternoon. It was a modestly lively opening, though with little activity targeted on either goalmouth. On 15 Cardiff stuffed a header wastefully over the bar. Two minutes later across, a Cort header, a save by Alexander – and an offside flag.
The pace slackens. Do Cardiff have serious ambitions of gatecrashing the Play Offs? It doesn’t look like it, nor does it feel or sound like it as the crowd slumbers, and there is already a hint of the 0-0 that would suit us cosily enough. Whereupon we get slack and get punished.
Thomson, burly ex-Rangers frontman, finds space, meets a cross, and fires horribly high over the bar. But almost immediately a poor clearance from Myhill arrives invitingly with Jerome and he is able to fight clear of Delaney’s recovery attempt and lob the ball home. All a bit messy. Could Delaney have done more? Don’t think so. Was Myhill a bit hasty to race off his line? Maybe. It was at the far end, I don’t feel confident in commenting.
We equalise. In this I feel confident. And it’s a colourful move, initiated down the right by the Beast, who squares it to – I think – Andrews, who moves the play swiftly out to the left to Rogers who is able to advance into the area and shoot low. Alexander palms it away, the ball falls to the mighty Beast near the by-line, with the angle too acute for a first-time shot, but quick-thinking Jon Parkin cannily and calmly pulls the ball inside and smashes his shot goalwards. Over the line. A foot over the line. Two feet maybe. You English have ‘won’ a World Cup with a vastly more dubious goal. No! That’s a poor analogy. Parkin’s effort was a legitimate goal, no debate, not so Hurst’s. Alexander had gamely hurtled back inside his goal to shove the scoring shot back into play and, gruesomely, the celebrating City support began to realise that neither linesman nor referee had managed to get even close to keeping up with play. They weren’t going to give the goal. And they didn’t.
And so towards half-time, with a deep sense of injustice. For Cardiff, the powerful Cameron Jerome, much touted but deeply unimpressive in Hull back in December, now looked a proper centre-forward, and provided the focus for most of the home team’s play. For us, we came closest to making it 2-1 on 44 when the Beast again terrorised the wilting home defence and the ball ran free to Ellison who broke habit by crashing in a fine right-foot shot through defending legs, only to be foiled by Alexander saving to his left when presumably unsighted.
We were, by the way, standing on a covered terrace. Of this I approve. I like choice and I would far rather stand up than sit down at a football match. So far, so good. But every other club in this Division has been forced to spend money on eliminating terraces which they might otherwise have preferred to invest in the team. So how come Cardiff enjoy an unfair advantage by being allowed to let Ninian Park moulder and fester, barely a penny spent on it since I was present in a World Cup qualifying crowd of over 40,000 two decades ago?
But let me not wallow over long in my (preferred) pit of curmudgeon. Yesterday the locals were a good deal less aggressive than has been common in the past – and this despite the foolish provocation of a small knot of far right infiltrators among our support – and the stewarding was top notch, calm, efficient and well-balanced. Sturdy work by our old friends the Heddlu too.
Into the second half. In which we dominated possession but such chances as we created bit on the granite of the impressive Scot Neil Alexander in the Cardiff goal.
Paynter departed for Duffy on the hour, having offered nothing of note down the right. His 2006 has yet to take any useful shape. Fagan dropped into the position vacated by Paynter, so we maintained our 4-4-2. And then, only a few minutes later, Elliott and Green came on, replacing Ellison and Fagan, and leaving us light down the right. Ach, we were so much the better team by this stage, but we just couldn’t do damage in the penalty area. We needed a moment of shimmering midfield creativity, a slice of luck – or an attentive linesman back at the turning point during the first-half. On 75 the agile Beast, terrifying his adversaries, was hauled down on the edge of the box, allowing us a decent shooting opportunity from a free-kick twenty yards out. Noble took responsibility. And chipped feebly over the bar. I didn’t enjoy Noble much. He looks skilful enough, but lightweight. He’ll get some useful first-team experience playing for us, but on this evidence we’re not getting the bristling snarling experienced presence we could do with in central midfield in order to seal safety this season. I know, I know, Mr Taylor likes ‘em young and malleable. But couldn’t we just this once have made a short-term choice and signed Ian Ure or Romeo Benetti?
Cardiff offered almost nothing in attack. The only incidents which allowed Boaz a glimpse of the football involved comedy Koumas free-kicks. A harsh handball against Cort allowed him one go. He blatted it haplessly into the crowd. Another try followed a clumsy trip by Delaney, and this free-kick too sailed harmlessly high over the bar into the covered terraces. Our net was as safe from Koumas as a quail pursued by Dick Cheney. This Koumas has a lofty reputation, and may well be a decent plumber or perhaps gardener, but on the evidence of his 180 minutes against us this season he doesn’t deserve note for any ability as a footballer.
Into the last ten, and we get serious inside their box, in search of the equaliser that is the very minimum we deserve. A ball in from the left is headed back square across the face of the goal, a shot, a wonderful – and deeply frustrating – point-blank stop by Alexander. Cardiff are well inside the top half of the table, edging close to the Play Offs, where we’d like to be in a couple of seasons – but on this evidence we’re good enough to get there much more quickly. We are superior to Cardiff City NOW. There are four added minutes and we almost score twice, first when a move initiated by a long Beast throw-in results in a deft chip which reaches Elliott at the back post but his header is directed tamely at a nice height for Alexander to save and then soon after when a wild melee forces an amazing twisting leaping stop from the despicably able home netster.
And then it was time to go home for our tea.
Thelwell, if he stays fit, is a welcome addition to the squad. Rogers will, on this evidence, provide helpful cover in the short-term. Andrews is better off in midfield with Welsh along side him while Stuart Green’s cameo appearances must surely soon disappear. A no-impact player. The Beast is tremendous, and Delaney a hero for his uncomplaining willingness to keep filling different positions. Overall, then, we didn’t play particularly well yesterday, but we didn’t deserve to lose. And we didn’t. Sort of.
HULL CITY (4-4-2): Myhill; Thelwell, Cort, Delaney, Rogers; Paynter, Andrews, Noble, Ellison; Parkin, Fagan. Subs: Duffy (for Paynter, 59), Elliott (for Ellison, 63), Green (for Fagan, 63), Stockdale, Duke.
Sent Off: None
CARDIFF CITY: Alexander, Barker, Purse, Cox, Scimeca, Whitley, Ardley, Koumas, Ledley, Thompson, Jerome. Subs: Weston (for Jerome, 83), Margetson, Boland, Mulryne, Ndumbu-Nsungu.
Goals: Jerome 22
Sent Off: None
REFEREE: B Curson