Sigourney Weaver gasps in horror, and retreats further, pressing her back hard against the wall of the ship.
The creature moves forward, remorseless. Acid drips from its gaping maw, its menacing cylindrical head rears up and sizes up its prey, a double set of slimy fangs prepares to feast.
But what’s this? The beast halts its advance. A look of alarm crosses its obsidian features. It groans. Its chest lurches, its flesh ripples … suddenly, with immense percussive force, its very body splits asunder, and out from the ghastly depths of its upper body emerges a man with a stupid lop-sided grin and ill-fitting false teeth, a bulbous nose and all of it topped off with the most absurdly unconvincing wig you’ve ever seen in your life.
Neil Warnock: Genesis.
The franchise now stretches to 17 outings, from ‘Scarborough: Warnock Rises’ through ‘Sheffield United: Evil Comes Home’ and ‘Palace: Premier League? you’re ‘aving a laff’, past ‘Leeds United: Dystopian Horror’, ‘QPR: My Last Job in Football’, ‘Palace: My Last Job in Football II’ and ‘Rotherham: My Last Job in Football III’, and here we are now in South Wales watching the early rushes of ‘Cardiff: can’t we ever get rid of this moron?’.
Warnock. Functional football, a man whose grim resistance to flair makes Sam Allardyce look like Beau Brummel. Strategic touchline tantrums, unleashed only when his team’s losing. Paddy Kenny. Joyless murderously dull teams. Clint Hill. Drool-mouthed sneering pundit. Warnock.
He also has a formidably good record in beating Hull City teams, and so it was again yesterday. This was a rotten game, for which the word ‘forgettable’ was minted, but Cardiff nicked it, and, as any admirer of the life and times of Neil Warnock would appreciate, they nicked it with a goal that should never have stood had the officials been doing their job properly. The black arts, the deployment of evil, the subversion of goodness, truth and beauty. Warnock. Yet again, Warnock.
A minute’s impeccably observed silence marks respect for Keith Chegwin. It’s tea-time in a sparsely filled and somnolent Cardiff City stadium, cold and getting colder as the last hints of the winter sun are extinguished in the west, and we line up just so:
Tomori Dawson Mazuch Aina
Toral Irvine Larsson Grosicki
Hector patrolling the area directly in front of the back four makes sturdy sense. Asking Dicko to run about hopefully on his own up front also makes sense, not least to ensure our Malian internationalist gets to keep warm. Grosicki, granted a roaming brief, is asked to do whatever it is he fancies doing today, which turns out to be precious little. But the overall impression is that this team is set up to defend and to grind out a point. Fair enough probably, given Cardiff’s elevated status in the League table, but it doesn’t hold out promise of much entertainment over the next ninety minutes.
So it proves.
15 minutes in, and we are all wondering what we’re doing here. It’s horrible. Nothing happens. Nothing. Anyone watching this on television who isn’t a committed supporter of either team will be long gone. In truth, anyone who supports either Cardiff City or Hull City would be forgiven for scanning the listings in search of a re-run of the Vicar of Dibley or maybe an old Doctor Who (the one where Tom Baker sends the Cybermen fleeing in terror by telling them he’s got Neil Warnock to come and coach their five-a-side team).
On 17 Grosicki serves up the first shot of the match, and it sails twenty yards over the crossbar. Dreadful stuff.
But it starts to improve. Dicko cuts in and drives a low shot, but it’s easily saved by home goalkeeper Etheridge. On 23 there’s a stramash in their box consequent on a free kick, and Hector, in space, screws a shot wide. He had more time than he knew. Dicko then fires across the face of the goal and the effort grazes the post. That’s been a mildly encouraging spell of admittedly unsystematic pressure.
Doesn’t last. Cardiff have shown nothing at all going forward so far, but it’s their turn to push on now. On 29 McGregor saves well. Our goalkeeper has been quietly excellent this season, and now looks as good as he used to before that gruesome kidney injury sustained at West Ham over three years ago which has so inhibited him mentally, if not physically. A few minutes later Cardiff poke the ball past McGregor, but the ‘scorer’ is trivially offside. More dangerous, on 39, Lee Tomlin is left in far too much vacant space near the penalty spot, but he helpfully blats his shot over the top. And then, as the minutes tick down
towards the break, McGregor offers up another good stop, this time with his knees.
Just the one added minute, just the zero moments of note during it, and the half comes to an end.
It’s scoreless, it’s drab, it’s charmless, it’s football to put a satisfied grin on the face of Neil Warnock.
If the first half was poor, the second half is plain dreadful. It’s hard (and thankless) to try to remember the last time a game was so sterile. Both teams cancel each other out. Had we extracted a point for our pains, we’d be just about satisfied. But we don’t, and it’s frustrating, as well as a long slog home afterwards for the travelling support of 300 or so.
On 47 one of theirs heads wide at the back post. He should have done better, but our inattentive defending is a source of concern. Then, on 57, the game is settled. Ball played in from the left, flicked on and Sol Bamba, arriving towards the back post, thunders a meaty header past the exposed McGregor. 1-0, and it immediately feels terminal.
The goal is scored up the far end from us, and it’s impossible to form any judgement on its validity. But texts and tweets quickly ping the dismal truth – Bamba was offside. Warnock grins, Warnock leers, Warnock sneers. Larceny and crookery, just the way he likes it.
Bah. We are heads down dismal now. Game’s gone, spirit’s weak, leaders are invisible. The bench, largely warmed by youngsters, offers little promise, but Mr Adkins makes the changes he can, more in desperate hope than expectation. Toral, anonymous throughout, is replaced by Bowen, and then Dicko comes off for the willing but o-so-limited Diomande.
Minutes tick by sloppily. Drudgery. Football without shape or flair. Warnock’s world. The home fans serenade Sol Bamba to the tune of Wham’s ‘Last Christmas’. They’ve had Bobby Gould and Sam Hamman, they’ve got Neil Warnock and Vincent Tan. They’re entitled to enjoy the glimpses of success they currently possess. Proper fans, Cardiff.
Our players offer up a brief flurry late on, but it’s not enough and it never looks remotely likely to be enough. Four added minutes tick by fruitlessly, and the points are gone.
Cardiff lie second in the table, so you might suppose that defeat here was always a likely outcome. True enough, but at no stage did Cardiff look even remotely like a side with pace, poise and purpose. They were well organised and physical, and ruthlessly basic. Neil Warnock, the orthodox routine. Mr Adkins seems to be imposing a better defensive shape on our players than the admirable and likeable Mr Slutsky ever managed, and that is doubtless essential if we are to plod our way into midtable and banish the fear of a second successive relegation. But the absence of references in this report to Irvine, Larsson and (his substitution aside) Toral are no accident. Cohesion and quality was there none, and our midfield was on the back foot pretty much throughout this fixture. In those circumstances a scoreless conclusion is only to be morosely expected.
I have now forgotten about this game entirely.
Stephen Weatherill (via Tiger Chat)