Sunday, September 19, 2010

Ipswich 2-0 Cardiff City

Cooper, Burley, Mills, Wark, Beattie, Hunter, Muhren, Thijssen, Mariner, Gates, Brazil. 

That classic Ipswich side will always stay with me. Kids these days will never be able to recite their own team's regular eleven, let alone a team from miles away that weren't even League Champions. But that Ipswich team from 78-81 were class. I'm sure I've amalgamated a couple of Bobby Robson's sides there. Wasn't there a young Terry Butcher involved? Did Ally Brazil play in the same team as Muhren? I don't really want to know. The Ipswich team of my memory is cultured, skillfull and refined, and full of everything I love about football.

So yesterday's trip to Portman Road was something of a pilgramage. I'd never been there before as Cardiff's only visits combined with my patchy boycotting of the club while Sam Hammam was involved, and my move to Gwynedd in 2002. I'd targetted this game as my long away trip this season and I'm not sure there is a ground further away in hours than this one. 

I expected Ipswich to be pleasant and I wasn't disappointed.  This is an easy-going place and the amble to the ground in warm sun had more of the feel of a cricket match. I don't think they sell Stone Island in Suffolk. Ipswich makes Norwich seem like Galatasaray.

There's a statue of Bobby Robson outside the ground. Fair enough I suppose. Ipswich was the one place where Robson wasn't villified before England's 1990 World Cup performance became bathed in an angelic light thanks to a succession of tournament failures this Century. Personally, I have a grudge against him. Annoyingly, I can't remember why, but I think he once complained about releasing Gary Speed for an "unimportant" Wales game while his England players went away with his best wishes.

The away fans at Portman Road are seated in the Upper tier of the Cobbold Stand. I guess there were about 600-700 in there, with more in the Family Section in the Lower Tier.

Yes. A Family Section! Ipswich are one of very few clubs that understand that away fans with kids dont want to expose them to Scott Thomas swearing at the ref than home fans do. I couldn't see the kids enclosure but I am assuming that the little ones (and OAPs) might even be able to sit down and see some of the game. The lack of a family area at away grounds needs addressing urgently, and I know that Cardiff City recognise that.

The game was odd, but not without precedent in that Cardiff had superior players and played the better football but always looked vulnerable to defeat.  The sides swapped ends after the toss and usually this is because the away team doesn't want to allow the home team to have everything their own way. Maybe Ipswich liked to attack their "end" in the second half, except that they didn't seem to have an "end". Portman Road is the quietest ground I've been to in years.

The City following was largely composed of the "seen-it-all"
weary traveller crowd and they were pretty subdued after a nightmare trip from Cardiff with closures on thd M4. Personally, my ridiculous nervous disposition means that any chanting and singing would induce retching, so I try to save it until absolutely necessary.

Cardiff were pretty much in control early on, until Connor Wickham went through on goal and it looked for all the World like Gabor Gyepes brought him down and would watch the resulting penalty on his way down the tunnel. A well-positioned ref indicated that Gyepes had played the ball, but television replays make me think we were very lucky.

New signing Andy Keogh was being asked to play wide left in a 4-5-1 / 4-3-3 system and while the midfield were able to compete well in this formation, he struggled to fit in. Shame to hear the fans on his back already though. He needs time to settle and, and a left midfielder he is not.

Darcy Blake did well enough first half to prompt me to suggest that he could possibly fill the Wales deep-midfield berth. (Does the term "berth" ever get used in any other walk of life apart from caravans & boats?"). However, Blake faded badly as the game went on & he finished with his socks rolled down. He was also guilty of trying to play too much football
when he should just have been feeding McPhail & Whittingham alongside. If we had'nt made two half-time substitutions he would have been replaced I'm sure.

In the end it was those two changes that killed us. Rae came on for McPhail and in a stroke our midfield became more prosaic. I don't mind Gavin Rae in certain circumstances but I don't think it strikes terror in the opposition to see him trundling towards Bothroyd's flick-ons as an attacking midfielder.

In defence the fragile McNaughton was replaced by 18 year old Adam Mathews, which didn't give great cause for concern. Well at least not for 15 minutes until he placed a header into his own goal as he tried to glance away a deep cross. Stupid, but it happens. 

Now you would think that a teenage player would be consoled by his team-mates after a mistake like that. But no, he took a right hammering from
his more experienced colleagues. My eagle-eyed neighbour is sure that his Captain Mark Hudson simply screamed the word "Twat!" at him. I'm no human resource expert, but I'm not sure that technique is given it's own chapter in any leadership manual. 

And the game was over then. City imploded in a spirit of self-pity and futility. Apart from a Whittingham header late on, they offered no reaction. Hudson, Gyepes and even Dave Jones blamed Mathews for the second goal, but I think our defenders were deflecting blame after another uninspiring performance. I don't agree with Jones publically berating the kid either. All the team made mistakes today, not just the 18 year old substitute. 

And finally a word about the players' reaction. Only two of them bothered to show any sort of recognition to the travelling fans. Darcy Blake was one. I don't usually care about this sort of thing, but I know that lots do. Yesterday was a shit of a trip for lots of people. This wasn't a nice little weekend booze-up in a pretty City, it was a long drive across the country to a ground that most people had visited several times before. If the team is happy to jig about taking plaudits for a happy win, they should also bloody well face up to those loyal supporters who don't have the luxury of a chartered flight. 

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