Selhurst Park - Crystal Palace
Monday, February 4th, 2006
Vs Cardiff City, Championship League, 3pm
By John Bray
this was City's biggest match for some time but it seemed decidedly low
key from the outset. No big match build up and no fighting talk, coaches
mostly little more than half full and less than a thousand City fans made
the trip to South London. I can only assume the counter-attraction of
watching Wales get slaughtered by England in the egg chasing was deemed
more worthy to many Cardiff followers who criticise rugby and rugby fans
but want to be part of it - the big occasion - themselves when push comes
Both sides needed the win, although City seemed to plan not to lose. Palace are red-hot favourites to make the play-offs (they're now 7 points ahead of us in 5th plus a game in hand) but would have been relieved having lost midweek at Preston and drawn the previous three. They've never really been on fire but they key is that they rarely lose these days.
Iain Dowie's team for the day were Kiraly (the comedy keeper with the Primark jog pants), a back four of "One Size" Fitz Hall-Ward-Boyce-Leighterwood, midfield led by Michael Hughes with Riihilati (back after 5 months absent) Reich and former City glory boy Jobi McAnuff and "AJ" Andy Johnson plus Dougie Freedman up front.
In a week that saw Sol Campbell go through a crisis of confidence, City's Rhys Weston is having problems of his own as he was dropped after completely switching off against Millwall in midweek. DJ, as mentioned, opted for 4-5-1 that was more like 4-1-4-1 with Scimeca asked to play a deep holding role but surprisingly using Willie Boland instead of Jeff Whitley who was back in the 16 but unused on the bench. Has he been injured or is there a story? Up front, Steven Thompson was on the bench leaving Jerome to forge alone, Thompson also struggling slightly with fitness and a mystery hand injury.
City therefore went with Alexander, Ardley-Purse-Cox-Barker, Scimeca, Koumas-Boland-Ledley-Cooper, Jerome. On the bench were Margetson-Darlington- Nsumbu Ndungu-Thompson and Whitley.
The atmosphere, especially from the home support, was quiet and the crowd didn't look as good as the 17,962 later announced, the pitch was more like that we used to see in lower division football (rutted, brown, uneven in many areas), the weather was dull and grey and so, for the next 90 minutes, was the football.
All the key moments of the first half came in the first 20 minutes. Palace believe they were denied a decent penalty shout in the first 5 minutes when Neil Cox tangled with Johnson, it was at the opposite end of the pitch so tough for us to judge. 10 minutes later, an incredible let off as Palace, through Freedman, worked their way behind our back line, his cut back to the 6 yard box was somehow missed by an unmarked Johnson standing in front of goal but ran across to McAnuff who amazingly hit the bar from 8 yards with half or more of the goal gaping. Maybe he couldn't do it to us!
City were inviting pressure and whilst they were rarely in trouble, it didn't make for good viewing especially as Jerome was being left completely isolated and we were unable to put any moves or breaks together. They managed just two, both were close. The first saw Jerome, picked out by Koumas, beat Hall 25 yards out and superbly smash home. I, and the City end, went mental in celebration and then a different sort of mental as a goal that the ref was allowing became overruled by his linesman.
I saw nothing wrong with it, those level mentioned Jerome was shirt-pulling, having seen it on tv seen, it still looks a perfectly good goal, if anything Hall was offending in the incident rather than Jerome. Shortly after that, Ardley skipped a challenge out wide and Kiraly beat out his cross drive, Hall narrowly preventing Joe from turning home the rebound.
The rest of the half blurred away, not just because of the beer but because nothing really happened. Although it wasn't too clever of me to shout, "Come on Weston" as Rhys appeared to be strolling before realising it was Ardley in full flow, a girl in front delighted to put me right.
Johnson was lively and looked as though as he that little bit more quality than those around him. His decisive role in the winning goal underlined that. Like the rest of his team at this stage however, their pressure and territorial domination which City were allowing wasn't converting into any work for Neil Alexander, Cox and Purse were both doing a grand job out there.
Half-time: PALACE 0 CITY 0
The second half was very much in the same vein as the first half. With City now defending the half where we were located, it meant we got to see more of the game, not that we wanted that but Palace never really threatening to score, City defending very well and being greatly backed by ourselves just praying we could somehow nick a win.
Truly, nothing happened, until the goal arrived with 20 minutes left. We got excited when Koumas won himself a free-kick in prime position but his effort lacked power and gave Kiraly a comfortable save, that was more than Palace managed.
The goal, when it finally arrived, was a terrible one to concede. Palace won a free-kick 30 yards out, Purse making sure Johnson wasn't about to spin away from him. They initially took it short, Boland charged out to block but entered into WWF with McAnuff, both going to ground, the played was played wide to Johnson who ghosted past Joe then danced all the way around Barker to the by-line and being allowed to cut back across goal, the ball somehow going through Cox's legs before finding RIIHILATI completely unmarked 6 yards out, the task of turning home from there could have been completed by your mum.
That was game, set and match, rank bad defending lost City three points against Millwall and Palace.
Now behind, City finally showed some intent throwing on Thompson for Cooper and going 4-4-2 but, as is often the way, when you've spent almost an entire match playing cautiously and withdrawn, trying to transform yourself into an attacking beat just ain't easy. We never looked getting an equaliser, even with three minutes added on, Darlington and Nsumbu-Ndungu thrown on as last cards.
We went down narrowly, could have got a draw on another day and with better defending but would have needed luck to have won although if Jerome's effort was allowed, as I still think it should have, who's to say we wouldn't have closed that game out?
The players tried and nearly did what was asked, they got applauded off. It just felt a little empty as we went down to major rivals without having a real go at them. I cannot say Palace were that good, they weren't, I just like to see my Cardiff City sides making a game of it.
The buses took a while to get away, even longer to get back to the M25 but we motored back making it home to central Cardiff not long after 8:30. On the Severn Bridge, I decided to let those around me know the other results reading them from my mobile Jams Alexander-Gordon style. I read out Crystal Palace 1 (in the excited tone) Cardiff City 0 (depressed) but then laughed and told them my mobile claimed Fitz Hall was sent off.
Incredibly, to me, they confirmed he was indeed missing for the final 10 minutes for elbowing someone off the ball while I popped to toilet, Lloydey "forgot" to tell me when I got back, I can't say I heard any shouts when it happened. As he's waiting to see me mention this rather than cover it up, then I better had.
Bloody hell, I was back in Wales before I realised we were up against 10 men for the last 10 minutes! My punishment was to lose my jeans as a slight tear in them was ripped apart then Bev (The Lansdowne landlady) managed to tear the leg away. Can't beat a quiet journey home reflecting after a loss, can you?
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