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Lancashire Red: Murphy’s Law

13 April 2013

For a first ever visit to the Welsh capital, it certainly won’t rank as the most enjoyable experience.

Let’s face it - it had been coming, hadn’t it? The only question really is which of the age-old cliché’s would be the most appropriate attribute to today’s dismal result?

Take your pick then. The unbeaten run had to end sometime? We were merely bit-part players in Cardiff’s run on the promotion home straight? Ideas above our station? Peaking too soon? The curse of Manager of the Month award? Was it our turn to slip up today for a change? Lack of cutting edge (again)? Inability to defend set pieces (again)? Poor refereeing decisions (again)?

If all those reasons seem familiar, it is probably because the answer to the question has to be ‘yes’ to ALL of them to varying degrees, and much food for thought if our agenda for the Play-Offs is not to be derailed at the critical moment.

Having missed the trip to the KC Stadium last month, I decided one further away fixture this season was warranted, and with Boro just not practical for a midweek and Millwall just making for too long a day and at the wrong time of the month finances-wise, the lure of visiting a new ground and the reasonable ticket price pointed everything to this game. Unfortunately, as regular readers of these reports will have gathered by now, my track record with attending away games is generally quite poor where results are concerned, with Wolves being the only League win recorded so far this season. I also seem to have a distinct knack of choosing games that turn into something of a horror show, and although this season overall is worlds away from the misery of last season, this year’s trips to Blackburn and Brum, coupled with today form something of a terrible trio, albeit today being different to the aforementioned. In short though, I really know how to pick ‘em!

In mitigation I reasoned that with Cardiff not yet home and dry (that’s a laugh given the weather there today) anything could happen. The only question was which Cardiff would entertain us today – would it be a jittery side on the cusp of glory haunted by so many late season collapses and so letting us take advantage like Barnsley did midweek, or would this be a dress rehearsal for a massive (and, let’s face it, deserved promotion party as early as Tuesday?

No doubt about the answer to that one, as it turned out, and with Craig Bellamy making a huge difference to the side we beat relatively easily earlier in the season. Today for us was one of those ‘Murphy’s Law’ days – whatever was capable of going against us would duly do so!

FLC, Saturday 13th April 2013, KO 1500hrs
Cardiff City 3 – 0 Nottingham Forest
The City of Cardiff Stadium
Steady rain – similar to Molineux, only warmer.
Away fan experience
Away parking distinctly less easy to find than the stadium itself, but helpful stewards to guide in and out. Route out a real maze and thanks to my decision to leave just before the final whistle it meant I avoided a very long wait to get out of the car park. Evidence of Cardiff’s charm offensive with the friendliest stewards at every turn and keen to advertise the fact with copies of letters from various visiting fans posted on the concourse walls.
450 mile round trip (at least from this neck of the woods) with Wembley-bound Wigan fans for company as far as Birmingham, replaced by Forest fans south of Worcester. Visitors end fenced off from rest of stadium and adjacent retail area, giving fans little to do except head straight inside. One of those stadiums where home support is on all four sides of the pitch apart from one corner infill, ensuring minimal presence of away fans – something that has to be addressed at City Ground. Likewise the question of persistent standing, or at least an area where fans choosing to sit are able to do so during play.
Will not look out of place in the Premiership next season (though just as well given the lack of attractions for visitors immediately outside the ground. Spacious concourse areas, toilets complete with hot water, friendly food kiosk with prompt service, and decent pies – front runner for Lancashire’s Away Pie of the Season.
Non-standard size – a decent small and compact publication crammed with adverts and local activities. Reasonable content about Forest and would have been a front runner for Away Programme of the Season had it not been for the extensive in-yer-face featuring of Craig Bellamy – a portent of what was to follow on the pitch, perhaps?
The Match
There was little else to note apart from a spectacular miss by Bellamy from close range which was lapped up by the Forest support as they traded banter with the home fans – the only real source of entertainment for the remainder of the game. With two minutes of play remaining and unable bear it any longer I cut my losses and left to prepare for a very long drive back to Preston whilst my phone bleeped with text messages with the inevitable news of results elsewhere going against us.
After this it was more a case of damage limitation, and Darlow made two spectacular saves to more than justify his run in the squad, but it was from yet another set piece a couple of minutes later (this time a corner) that the coup de grace was finally administered. In comes Bellamy’s kick and it was Gestede (again) who was there to say thank you very much with yet another free header to put Cardiff within a point of promotion and Forest (temporarily, we hope) out of the Play-Off places.
It was on the hour mark this duly happened. Another Bellamy free kick, initially hitting the woodwork, but eventually finding its way to Gestede (on for Helguson) who headed in. Game over.
Worse was to follow when Halford was stretchered off with the second period barely five minutes old, following what looked like a stray boot (Gestede’s, I think) to his head. Every bit a sending off offence if Henderson was dismissed for less, but referee Marriner was having none of it. Still we attacked, though without creating much in the way of clear-cut chances, more names entered Marriner’s book as decision after decision only riled the increasingly despondent fans. Forest did at least attempt to fight back (and we know there are times we certainly haven’t in the past), but it was only a matter of time before a rampant Cardiff were able to exploit the chinks in our armour and kill the game.
There was little time to get fired up and direct anger at Helguson as HT approached, and Malky Mackay obviously decided it a prudent move to withdraw him at the break. For us, it was a case of re-grouping and Radi was sacrificed in favour of Tudgay for his first appearance since December. It seemed a positive move by BD at the time, but in reality the damage was done.
Oh, well. We’ve done it before and come back from behind, but with Cardiff’s tails distinctly up, today was to be quite a different story. We were nearly level ten minutes later when Henderson had an apparently simple job of tapping in from a Lansbury Header – just about the only time all afternoon we had Cardiff’s defence completely spread-eagled. It proved a costly miss, and ten minutes later – as the game threatened to become quite a bad-tempered affair – Henderson’s (and Forest’s) afternoon went from bad to worse. A Forest free kick and Henderson’s arm flaps wildly as he goes for the ball, catching Helguson in the process. Having seen the replay I’m convinced Helguson made a meal of it. The ref (more of which later) bought it and amid storms of protests (not to mention a roar of delight from the home fans), Henderson was off.
Took some time to settle down, with Forest rather too content to play the long ball which had predictable results given Cardiff were allowing absolute zero time on the ball in all areas. Guedioura and Henderson came closest for us from half-chances (as did Craig Bellamy and Heidar Helguson for them), but just as we looked like we were starting to piece some decent play together (complete with some much-needed movement) just after 20 minutes, Cardiff then took the lead. A free kick conceded midway down the left, for which Halford became the first of many to be booked. Bellamy swept in a well-aimed ball towards the box which evaded everyone – except Helguson, a player we’ve struggled to contain for many years. It was of course a free header at the far post (a recurring failing of ours) which he managed to glance past Darlow to send the home fans into ecstasy as promotion took a massive step nearer.
None, from a Forest perspective. The first twenty minutes of the game was the nearest we had to an even contest.
The sending-off invariably changed the game, and it was downhill all the way from that moment on. Lack of penetration in the earlier stages cost us yet again. I don’t think I saw Dexter Blackstock pose a single threat all afternoon. Where is the composure we enjoyed just a few short weeks ago? Defending set pieces has become a distinct Achilles Heel as Bellamy demonstrated to the full today (reminders of the Brum game, anyone?). Elsewhere, what we feared would happen did, a fact I was reminded of by gleeful Bolton fans during a rest stop on the motorway en route home.
I don’t think there were any today.
Probably no-one either, though why the magic has disappeared all of a sudden is a mystery.
Andre Marriner – the latest in a line of shocking officials with staggering inconsistency the chief failing. BD’s post-match interview was a model of diplomacy, so it’s a good job that’s not necessary for fans. Never mind all the cynical shoving and diving (and that was just Bellamy!) - If Henderson’s stray arm was a sending off, then Gestede’s boot should’ve been likewise. Without even a yellow card, where’s the consistency? An out-and-out homer and one-eyed lunacy, and the disgusted Forest fans held nothing back with what they thought.
Entertainment Value3/10 – Games are meant to be contests, and thanks to Mr Marriner this ceased to be one after the 42nd minute.
Promotion Rating
3 – to reflect how we’re in danger of missing out altogether after looking rock solid this time last month.
One final point – amid the banter exchanged between both sets of fans, one chant (directed at the home fans) ‘You’re not fit to play in Red’ rang distinctly hollow. Bizarre it may still look, as The Reds (Forest) donned blue shirts against a Cardiff side(still known as The Bluebirds) now switched from blue to red shirts in their blue-seater stadium. But with them in the driving seat as their journey to The Promised Land nears its end I’d say they’re rather more justified to play in red (or whatever colour they choose) than we are right now?
We’re still only three points shy of 4th place (at the time of writing this) so anything is still possible as (realistically) six teams scrap for four Play-Off places. Wins against Boro and Barnsley are simply a must.
The lack of goals is worrying, and the longer we see zero punch from (especially) Cox, Blackstock and Sharp, the less credible our push for promotion becomes. Where has it gone wrong, or are we panicking unduly? Interesting to see Reidy drop to the bench today, although he too hasn’t fared particularly well since the international break. Any chance of turning the clock back to see where the magic got left behind, or is this season now fated to end like the 2005-06 campaign where we made the top six only to slip out again in the penultimate week?

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