We try to be at least a little bit objective in these match reports, but this is definitely one that would be radically different if I supported the other team. Were I a Cardiff fan, I’d tell of a tense but ultimately rewarding match taking the team one step nearer to a Premier League return, and of a raucous and joyous celebration as songs from the away corner filled a largely silent, even sullen, home stadium. From our recent history, watching the Cardiff team and fans put me in mind of our win at Derby as we bounced back to the top division only a couple of years ago.
But I’m not a Cardiff fan. The result meant little to me. For once in our recent history, City are running down the season with nothing left to play for. It would have been good to win, of course, but we’re not that good. It would have been acceptable to play a bit of decent, optimism-inducing football. But we’re not all that good.
Running down the season (and in many cases their careers in Hull) were:
Aina Dawson McDonald Kingsley
Wilson Keane Campbell Grosicki
Despite what manager Nigel Adkins said pre-match about picking a team with next season in mind, I reckon more than half of that 11 won’t be at the club next season. Noteworthy too was the absence even from the bench of multi-million pound striker Abel Hernández. Though of course without Abel up top, we had no one who looked like they could put the ball in the back of the net. Of the two ex-Bluebirds playing for City, Alan McGregor made some decent saves, but Fraizer Campbell looked a shadow of the cheeky and dangerous player who scored for Cardiff against City in that final day promotion game at the KC in 2013, when both teams went up.
Cardiff are a strange team. The table doesn’t lie. They’re obviously at the head of the not-Wolves ordinariness that is this season’s Championship. They don’t have the flamboyance of Fulham, even manager Neil Warnock was reported as calling his team ‘limited’ in his post-match interview, but they do the job. They’re a Warnock team —well-organised, good at ‘game management’, and a strong unit.
Within a couple of minutes of the kick-off, Nathaniel Mendez-Laing made a determined run down Cardiff’s right flank, heading towards the south-west corner at pace. City’s Scottish left-back Stephen Kingsley rugby-tackled him; literally put both arms round him and wrestled the fleet-footed winger to the ground, preferring to take the inevitable yellow card rather than let him past.
The first half was very bitty as a combination of lengthy injury breaks, and a ref who seemed to take an age to get anything organised meant that no one was surprised at the 8 added minutes by the end of it.
As for first-half highlights, well, let’s go with points of note, rather than highlights. In patches City weren’t that bad. On ten minutes there was a neat little one-two between the lively Ola Aina and young Harry Wilson, ending up with Wilson bursting into the box in front of the away fans. Trailing a leg, he fell to the ground and claimed a penalty, but the ref was having none of it…
A minute later came City’s best chance of the game, as another decent passing move, this time down our left flank, saw Kingsley cross the ball low and hard. It reached Campbell about ten yards out, but his scuffed shot was blocked. As the young lady sat next to me pointed out, on the odd occasion we were ‘nearly good’.
Within the first quarter of an hour both teams had lost a player through injury, Aron Gunnarsson (a rare survivor, along with David Meyler, of that promotion party game five years ago) went off for Cardiff, and then Angus McDonald limped away from lengthy treatment to be replaced by Ondrej Mazuch.
About midway through the first half though, Cardiff seemed to noticeably step it up a little. Both technical areas had seen agitated management trying to stir up their players. Andy Crosby rather than Adkins was to the fore in shouty arm-waving for City. Kevin Blackwell and Warnock took turns for the Bluebirds.. Cardiff’s pressure was archetypal Warnock in approach. When they had a throw-in on the half-way line in front of the West Stand, Warnock took their season’s (and this game’s) key man, Sean Morrison, by the arm and issued forceful instructions. After which Morrison put the ball under his shirt, gave it a good clean, and hurled it 30 yards down the wing, and off a City defender for a corner.
That corner came to nothing, but soon after, another Cardiff corner at the junction of the South and West Stands brought their opening goal. It was swung in expertly and that man Morrison met it with a strong and clean header to score, with McGregor hindered by bodies in front of him.
0-1. Cue Welsh revelry.
Half-time eventually arrived at nearly 4 o’clock. Some blokes came on and kicked the ball at the crossbar while Dean Windass watched on. Then Steve Jordan tried to interview some monosyllabic City youth players. It was the sort of half-hearted half-time effort that has become the norm at a club that has too often looked like it can’t be that arsed to try too hard this season.
When the teams came out again at just before quarter past four, Cardiff resumed where they’d left off; on the front foot. Danger-man Junior Hoilett came into the game increasingly, helped by the fact that we seemed to pass to him even more than his own teammates did. He was soon given loads of space to take the ball 30 yards out, advance a few strides and strike a decent shot just wide of McGregor’s right-hand post.
Just like in the first half, City did a bit of the ‘nearly good’ stuff, but never seriously threatened. Meyler, who had some decent moments, strode forward from the halfway line and unleashed an excellent shot just wide. The largely anonymous Will Keane produced a neat backheel into Wilson’s path, and the Liverpool loanee’s trademark curling left-foot shot was blocked by one of theirs.
‘Nearly good’ was the height of City’s achievement today, and even that was rarely reached.
In a repeat of the first 45 (make that first 53), these faint flickers of footballing flair were soon snuffed out, as our superior opposition went up a gear again. Some awful Mazuch defending saw the substantial but skilful Kenneth Zahore turn our Czech defender and shoot with such power that McGregor could only palm the ball away.
City, and the home crowd, were beginning to get a bit antsy with the ref, partly because he was slow to deal with Cardiff time-wasting, but also because a few decisions didn’t go our way…
Michael Dawson got more agitated at a meaningless throw-in being awarded to the opposition than I think I’ve ever seen. He was wrong and it was pointless. Then, on the back of another Meyler surge forward, both Kamil Grozicki and Campbell fell to the ground under Cardiff challenges in the penalty area. Nothing awarded. Again correctly to my eyes. A couple of minutes later Meyler pushed Cardiff’s Craig Bryson right in front of the East Stand. He got a yellow for that.
Cliché would have me say that at least this showed the team were up for it. Meh. I’d rather that they showed how up for it they were by playing some decent football.
Keane was replaced by Jarod Bowen, whose Leonid Slutsky-inspired success has melted away since Adkins took over. Then Jon Toral came on for the limping Grosicki. The occasional boo could be heard from those who think Grosicki’s attitude stinks.. The group of Polish City fans in front of me gave him a standing ovation. Kamil should soon be tormenting defences in the World Cup. Here’s hoping that his obvious injury doesn’t interfere with that.
The introduction of Toral represented a key turning point. Within minutes he had been instrumental in the build-up to the game’s second goal. A shame it went to Cardiff.
City won a corner in front of the West Stand. Toral took it, even though Bowen strikes a better corner. The Spaniard’s effort didn’t get past the first man. Thanks a lot, said Cardiff, and raced up the pitch. Our not-exactly-speedy defenders, having trundled upfield in anticipation of at least getting a go at heading the ball, were left in the Welsh wake. Within seconds of Toral’s corner, Cardiff were three against two and advancing on the City goal. No messing, they passed it quickly to the teammate with no defender near him. It was Morrison again, and he calmly and impressively shot past McGregor.
Cue even more Welsh celebration, bare chests, and choruses of Land of my Fathers. Like I said at the outset, if I’d been writing this report from the perspective of the north-east corner of the ground, it would have been very different. I might even have dabbed a tear from my eye. I’d have had this down as a massive game, marking a key moment in the fight to return to the top division.
As it was, I wrote ‘we are poor’ in my notes, placed the match reporter’s leather-bound notebook in my pocket, and put the lid back on my fountain pen..
After the match, and after a decent interval, City’s players and management came back onto the pitch to say thank you to the crowd. The vast majority of that crowd had long gone. To be honest, I was only still there because I take a long route round the stands on my way out. Still, I applauded the players down the tunnel. I took time to think that I’d likely not be seeing several of them again. Hernández was there, as was Seb Larsson. A few of them had their children with them. Those fans left in the South Stand clapped, those in the North Stand sang a few songs. Leaving today’s game aside, perhaps glad to see the back of this underwhelming season as a whole, we can acknowledge at least that the job of saving the club from a second successive relegation has been accomplished quietly and with occasional flashes of style and excitement. We’re no Sunderland, and I’ll leave you to decide how much consolation that is.
Ed Bacon (via Tiger Chat)