Even before a ball was kicked yesterday, there was more than a hint of pending fireworks.
Despite City’s season meandering to a fairly uneventful close, Cardiff were in desperate need of a win and with Neil Warnock and Kevin Blackwell in their technical area, there was almost a guarantee of controversy laced with a hint of menace.
How ironic therefore that Colin and his sidekick were, by their standards, on their best behaviour and it was instead the gentleman whose job it was to ensure fair play who lit the blue touch paper, with a bit of help from Warnock’s Warriors.
I’m never keen for MFW to be a platform for ref-baiting. They’re easy targets. We all love a good moan about a ref but, more often than not, in the cold light of day their decision-making is proven to be closer to being right than it appears in the heat of the moment.
Plus, I’m a sucker for an underdog – 25,000 v 1, has never struck me as a fair match-up – and I ignore those who play the ‘bent’ or biased cards with regard to the men in black (or green or purple). Nonsense. Am sure I’ll be shown the ‘naïve’ card by some but I refuse to believe it.
But Tim Robinson.
I wasn’t at Hull when he awarded the phantom penalty but have watched it many times since, and like everyone who’s re-watched it (including dear old Tim himself I suspect), a clearer error you’ll rarely see.
Yet, yesterday wasn’t as much about errors, although obviously there were a fair sprinkling (we all make mistakes); it was about inaction. Warnock’s team did exactly what we knew they would. What they always do. They niggle, they spoil, they disrupt, they make it bitty and disjointed.
But throw into that same unedifying mix some special attention for Josh Murphy and James Maddison – clearly singled out as the heartbeat of our attacking intentions – and the opening 30 minutes were so stop-start we may as well have been playing American Football.
Yet, other than missing some obvious ones – in Tim’s defence perhaps he was trying to give the game a chance to flow – he allowed the persistent fouling, tripping and tugging to go unpunished. And guess what? They kept doing it. Surprise, surprise.
Of course, being Colin’s boys they were actually very adept at it – skillfully sharing the responsibility for stopping Josh and Maddison in their tracks as to avoid an early yellow – but while Tim was content for it to continue without serious punishment the longer it continued. The slightest hint of a City attack was blunted by a minor infringement. Again and again.
It was awful to watch. Similarly Cardiff’s idea of football which, in truth, is everything some River Enders desire. Long, hopeful balls launched in the general direction of Gary Madine, with a desire to feed off the second ball. And that’s it. Oh… occasionally they give it to Junior Hoilett in the hope of him producing a piece of magic.
That it took most of the half, and a chat along the way with Cardiff captain Sean Morrison, for Robinson to finally take some action was, to put it politely, hard to comprehend. As it was to watch Neil Etheridge push Maddison to the ground with nothing more than a gentle slap on the wrist.
All of which shouldn’t detract from a composed City first-half performance. Faced with opposition whose style is our polar opposite, when afforded the chance to get the ball down and play, Farke’s men did it well. Prompted by the classy Moritz Leitner and Mario Vrancic’s range of passing, they asked question’s of Cardiff’s defence – something that hasn’t always been the case at home this season.
Alas, the closest City came to breaking down the resistance of Warnock’s back-four was when Dennis Sbreny saw his shot hit the foot of Etheridge’s post.
And the longer the game went on, the greater need for three points was always going to give the Bluebirds an edge that for the Canaries simply wasn’t there. No lack of desire or energy, but faced with opposition whose incentive is the ultimate prize, it was no surprise that Cardiff found strength and ‘a way’ when crunch time arrived.
We can get precious about playing styles but to be able to dig out a goal from nothing on 86 minutes is precisely why a route to the Premier League remains in Cardiff’s own hands. And if Zohore’s goal was the epitome of scrappy, Hoilett’s strike to seal it was quality personified.
Yet, oddly it was all a bit ‘meh’. Usually to concede a late winner is like a dagger through the heart but such is the feeling that accompanies mid-table nothingness, we find ourselves in that limbo-land where defeat equates to no-harm-done. And I’m not sure I like it.
In truth, thoughts have already turned to the summer and the work that needs doing to prevent next April being of a similar ilk. And it’s one mighty task.
That yesterday’s showing offered great promise has to be viewed in context, as the starting XI won’t be close to anything we witness next season. Take (potentially) Angus Gunn, Harrison Reed, Timm Klose, Mo Leitner, James Maddison and Alex Tettey out of the equation and rather than being in transition it smacks of starting again.
I trust Stuart Webber however and see no reason to disbelieve him when he talks so confidently of retaining a level of quality through shrewd buys and the promotion of talented youngsters, but it’s a big task and a big ask.
Self-funding is put forward as a philosophy but it’s simply one over which we have no choice given the owners’ point-blank refusal to relinquish even the slightest hint of control. Self-funding isn’t a choice for Webber and Stone. It’s the hand they’ve been dealt.
So… we sit tight, trust that the newly embedded scouting network unearths is a few gems and then leave it to Team Farke to polish them. And thank our lucky stars that Farke-ball is far removed from the Warnock equivalent 🙂