Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Stoke 3-0 Cardiff

I paid my first visit to the Britannia Ground last night, and generally enjoyed the experience. I had last been to Stoke when they played at the Victoria Ground, and I saw Jimmy Greenhoff and his mates play against Clyde Best and his mates from West Ham in about 1976.

The evening was dominated in the main by my decision to play amber gambler with the fuel gauge. Nobody wants to stop for petrol on the way to the game, so I decided to carry on when the light flashed. I got stuck in a traffic jam, and I was running on fumes by the time I pulled into the fantastically convenient away fans car park, a Buchanan free-kick from the turnstiles.

The ground is another identikit affair that everyone is so desperate to have in Cardiff. It was OK, but they are ten-a-penny these days. It is suddenly fashionable for football people to wax lyrical about Ninian Park as an old skool ground, and it's not just Cardiff fans who are licking their lips at the idea of Schevchenko strutting around in front of a pulsating Grange End.

At Ninian Park, those in the Grandstand sit down to watch the game and rise to stretch their legs at half-time. Bizarrely, at away games the exact opposite is true. When we used to stand on terraces, at least the older fans could buy seats in the stand and watch the game in comfort. Unfortunately, now that everyone is lumped in together, it's a case of standing up whether you like it or not. It would be a good gesture wouldn't it, if people didn't stand until about five rows from the front so at least the kids and OAPs could see the game?

I get the impression that not many people at Ninian Park really believe that we can get promoted, which is a shame because I have yet to see a team that can outplay us.

On paper, a 3-0 defeat looks pretty comprehensive, but it wasn't like that. We strolled through the first half, with Stoke struggling to contain our quick passing game. We weren't on top form, but we still looked like winning the game with something to spare. And when Chopra somehow missed a free header on the edge of the six yard box, nobody worried too much because we were so much in control.

About five minutes into the second half, the whole momentum changed with a substitution. The Stoke fans were given a big lift when Fuller was brought on to play up front for the Potters. But you knew that if City could stay solid for ten minutes then the game would be ours.

The pitch reminded me of the Millennium Stadium. There was little depth to the Turf, and our players slipped five or six times during the first half. A change of studs at half time surely? But no, the unconvincing Roger Johnson slipped when in possession and let in Fuller to put Stoke in front.

The Stoke fans woke up and went full throat into their club song. So impressive was it, that Cardiff fans burst into spontaneous applause. I can only hope that it wasn't aimed sarcastically, as there is currently no better noise in football than Stoke's Delilah ringing round a stadium at full volume.

Another two shots in five minutes and we were 3-0 down. Game over, and a quick exit for me to find the nearest petrol station, thus missing the McPhail incident.

City currently have a lot of players who are not functioning at 100%. Chopra is low on confidence, Thompson is recovering from injury, Ledley needs a break, McPhail is off-colour, the full backs offer little attacking options, and Roger Johnson is a big problem.

But we all knew this would happen. We just need to stick around until we can be boosted by a few signings in January. I fully trust Dave Jones to bring in the right players, and there's no reason why we shouldn't feature in the play offs.

I was surprised to hear later that a supporters coach had lost a window after being attacked by some locals. The atmosphere around the game had been very relaxed, and well- policed, but it only takes one sociopathic twat to chuck a brick, so what can you do ?

I was interested to note how the demographic of Cardiff's away support has changed over the years. It's not exactly Norwich City's scarf-happy families, but there is little Burberry on show, (though this might be in protest at the factory closure in the Valleys). The average age last night seemed to be mid-thirties. With ticket prices at around £20, is the young traveller being priced out of the game as we rise through the Divisions?

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