Cardiff held to goalless draw

malky-mackay-457280838It’s been a great week up here on Cloud Nine looking down at pundits, colleagues, mates and Jacks green about the gills after being force-fed huge slabs of humble pie.

‘Cardiff were absolutely remarkable. Their first half work-rate was inhuman.’ The Telegraph

‘I never thought I’d see the day when Cardiff City would beat Manchester City 3-2 in the Premier League. Certainly not this season. To be honest, I never thought Frazier Campbell would make my team of the week either. I think I owe both an apology.’ Garth Crooks

‘Hueeeeey’ ¬†Cyril The Swan

When the fixtures came out in June I spent a ridiculous amount of time that should have been spent on more constructive thought worrying about where the hell we were going to pick up 40 points. After Sunday’s epic I’ve rediscovered a sublime state of naive blind optimism not experienced for 40 years; from the time when ‘Davies was better than Yashin’ and Toshack & Clarke were Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid. It’s like the intervening 40 years of (mostly) hurt never happened.

The CCS is suddenly infused with a belief that we can compete against the very best. The atmosphere today was again electric – another sell out, record breaking crowd providing the extra edge and conviction clearly reflected in the performance on the pitch.

We started brightly, again showing no signs of being intimidated by stellar opposition. We know what to expect from a Martinez team but for all their possession, decoy runs and tactical nous they were rarely able to out-think or out-muscle a tight, well-organised back four and solid midfield. Only three games in and the influence of Caulker and Medel is very apparent.

The Chilean came with a reputation as an aggressive, ill-disciplined midfield enforcer. On the evidence of the first couple of games he’s much more than the moniker ‘El Pitbull’ might suggest – what Malky has bought is a solid, dependable, intelligent footballer who can play the holding role but can also get forward and create. In short, he’s unearthed a real gem. A City legend is born.

The first 30 minutes were pretty even. We comfortably snuffed out any threat and had plenty of play ourselves. A Whittingham corner found Tim Howard flapping inside the 6 yard box at one point and Campbell had opportunities to capitalise on some intricate work around the box but too often his first touch was found wanting or he was brushed aside by the man mountain Sylvain Distin.

Everton began to take control towards half-time and we were fortunate not to concede a penalty when Baines was taken out of his stride by a Medel challenge. Twice City gave away possession on the edge of the box, Connolly and Kimbo the guilty parties. That we survived was due to Marshall’s heroics, saving from Jelovic’s close range header with an athletic sinew-mangling last second adjustment, and the linesman’s flag.

Surprisingly for a man who last scored when Roberto Martinez was still serving tapas in the back streets of Barcelona, Jelovic was playing as a lone striker with the much-touted Fellaini anonymous, playing just ahead of a midfield controlled by 19 year old Ross Barkley who on this form will soon be given the opportunity to join the ranks of the pathologically mediocre with a full England debut.

So 0-0 at half time, and an appreciative and knowledgeable crowd rose to applaud another solid effort. To catch our attention before attempting to sell us stuff, the two mega-screens displayed the half-time scores from around the country confirming a definite paucity of Premiership goals as teams vied for the MOTD graveyard slot.

As far as I’m concerned the CCS with its new, distracting relentlessly flashing disorientating Orient-centric advertising could do with a digital detox. The hard sell at Ninian Park consisted of the fading image of Captain Morgan looking down at us from Canton End imploring us to buy his rum. Parochial advertising surely peaked with Ton Tan’s insistence that there’s ‘no need to go to town to get brown’ a top tag-line only equalled by ‘players run faster on Giovanni’s pasta’. What a shame that these home grown products have been denied the opportunity to be given access to the vast Asian market.

The second half pretty much followed the pattern of the first with a dominant opposition midfield frustrated by a cohesive and determined City defence which closed any gaps and out-muscled and out-thought a blunt and unimaginative Everton attack. Bill Shankly, whose 100th birthday will be celebrated on the red side of the Scouseville later today once famously said of Everton that ‘if they were playing at the bottom of my garden I’d pull the curtains’. That would be an unfair jibe to direct at today’s Toffees but early season form and activity in the transfer market suggests that Liverpool will comfortably retain the bragging rights this season.

City contributed to a fairly even half in terms of attacking opportunities and broke well with Kimbo a constant threat, if occasionally guilty of over-complicating matters. Neither he or Bellers were able to provide the incisive ball through to Campbell who was struggling to shake off the attentions of Distin. Shortly after he was flattened by Fellani (provoking the Canton End into a rousing ‘You’re getting sold in the morning’) Bellamy was given the opportunity to turn the game in our favour after being put through by Kimbo but his heavy first touch took him too wide of Howard with the goal at his mercy.

Everton made a couple of substitutions, replacing the ineffective Jelovic with Martinez favourite, former Wigan front man Kone who looked a far more potent force. We were looking tired and jaded and it was surprising that Malky didn’t call for reinforcements until the 80th minute. Bellamy was replaced by Cowie and the clearly exhausted Medel who now faces a crazy 15000 mile excursion to Central America and Spain on Chilean international duty before rejoining the Bluebirds for the trip to Hull was relieved of his duties as the clock ticked down.

Despite a couple of late scares and helped by Manchester-bound Leighton Baines deciding to keep his powder dry when given the opportunity to punish us from 25 yards we saw out the remaining seconds and the 27,344 crowd rose as one to hail another gutsy performance. A four point return before heading into the international break is as much as we might have hoped for. The manner in which we’ve achieved them is probably beyond our wildest imaginings. Next up big spending Spurs, shorn of Whitchurch’s finest, assumming Gareth has baled out by then… Bring ’em on!

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