After a hectic Christmas period, Cardiff City sat pretty at the top of the Championship going into their third round FA Cup meeting with Macclesfield Town.
Bluebird supporters were relishing the idea of a cup run after a much weakened side had lost in the first round of the Capitol One Cup.
However two days before the tie, manager Malky Mackay gave media interviews in which he said he was unwilling to flog his team to death and would be sending out a completely changed team. Quite how changed still came as a shock, as the development squad with the addition of the silver fox Kevin MacNaughton and former club captain Stephen McPhail took to the field.
Despite the much weakened team which the Bluebirds had turned out, Cardiff City kicked the game off with the large away following behind them or rather supporters had pre-booked their away trip with their team expecting to see a team that at included a few squad players in the place of key players, but nothing like the wholesale change that met them. Yes Macclesfield were eighty-one places below The Bluebirds, but FA Cup history dictates that it doesn’t mean they were going to show reverence and respect, simply rollover and die and that is exactly how the game panned out…
Malky Mackay’s side for long periods of the game looked like they didn’t know each other as pass after pass went astray. Hopes were raised for the Bluebirds when Filip Kiss was hacked down twenty-five yards from goal. Stephen McPhail stepped up to take the free kick, but his strike deflected off the wall straight into the hands of the Macclesfield ‘keeper.
City’s passing was sloppy, when yet another ball was delivered lacking the required pace Charlie Henry intercepted. He drove forward and fired a shot goalwards from just outside the penalty area, but Cardiff ‘keeper Joe Lewis was able to gather the ball with relative ease as the shot was struck straight down his throat.
Cardiff continued to push forward but they could not find the clinical touch in the final third. The Silkmen were not sitting back either and it was uncomfortable viewing for Cardiff City supporters, especially when It was the home side who almost broke the deadlock!
Macclesfield’s John Paul Kissock slotted the ball through the Cardiff defence looking for the onrushing Amari Morgan-Smith. Morgan-Smith looked to be one on one with the keeper, but a timely intervention from Adedeji Oshilaja saved the Bluebirds blushes for the time being at least.
Joe Ralls was lively for Cardiff City showing his class and underlining the mistake of leaving the entire first team at home! Ralls seemed to be the sole instigator of any attack City produced, the game screamed out for the likes of Mason or Noone.
On forty-one minutes Ralls went on a driving run from half way, thirty yards from goal he found Declan John ahead of him. John rode out a strong challenge that maybe a more experienced player would have gone down for, instead he stayed on his feet carrying the ball into the box. However his cross come shot was easily parried away by Macclesfield goalkeeper Cronin. With a minute left in the first half the home fans roared for a penalty. Oshilaja shoved Morgan-Smith off the ball the officials were unimpressed with the players and fans calls for a penalty and the whistle blew, for half time, the players and officials were promptly booed off the field.
The home side started the second half the brightest, Ben Nugent was forced to make an important block early and Town had a series of corners, but the City defence stood firm and weathered the storm. Suddenly on the hour mark, Cardiff City sprang into life, Velikonja made a darting run into the opposition half and played the ball to Declan John. John went on a run hugging the sideline, got to the by-line, squaring across to Nat Jarvis who slotted the ball home under Lance Cronin.
A flurry of substitutions ensued – Macclesfield Town: Jack Mackreth on for Charlie Henry , Cardiff City Substituted: Tommy O’Sullivan for Kadeem Harris And just a minute later Macclesfield brought on Peter Winn on for Carl Martin . The Silkmen pushed on looking for the equaliser. They forced a corner and started to unleash dangerous shots on goal at every open. Cardiff City were slowly starting to makes a few chances were too. A powerful shot from Filip Kiss cannoned off a defender and landed at the feet of Declan John, but his effort tamely ended up in the arms of the Macclesfield keeper.
They then had another penalty shout turned down when Craig Braham-Barrett dribbled in-between John and Oshilaja and was seemingly felled the referee held his arms out and signaled play on.The home side continued to throw men forward with most of their chances coming down the right flank. After one such move Jack Mackreth played a tantalising cross to the back post, the ball landed at the feet of Matthew Barnes Homer who gleefully placed the ball into the back of Joe Lewis’ goal.
Macclesfield were in no mood to settle for a replay and continued to push forward. With six minutes left they were awarded a free kick in the Cardiff half. Pablo Mills played a lofted ball into the area, and the referee blew up and pointed to the spot giving the penalty for a handball offence against Nat Jarvis. Barnes-Homer picked up the ball looking for his second of the evening. He confidently stepped up and unleashed a rocket of a shot into the bottom left corner.
Cardiff had nothing left to offer in the remaining minutes – their heads had gone down. The upset was complete. The big upset belonged embarrassingly to the championship leaders, who had either been over confident in fielding practically a youth team or had made the conscious decision to concentrate their season priorities solely on the Championship campaign.
Such a decision if it were so is an insult to the clubs history, the supporters of both teams and that too of the FA Cup – the jewel in the football crown for many supporters the world over. Cardiff city supporters were yet again this season, left divided – this time between the wisdom of ‘not really trying’ and being happy there can be now no distractions in the attempt to reach the promised land, and those who felt cheated.
Just two more experienced players in key positions would, in all probability, have sealed a victory and leaving out all the first team for fear of injury rang hollow, injuries are often picked up in training. More fringe and bench players could have been employed – where was the seemingly ever present Don Cowie? So ever present he had played Santa’s helper for The Bluebirds at their afternoon for disadvantaged children…..
All in all an embarrassing day for a club already widely deviled by many the world over for their abandonment of tradition and history this season….