Cardiff defeat will stand Norwich City in good stead
Talking to people within the game, the general feeling at the moment is that after they moved to the top of the Championship table by beating Canaries last Saturday, there’s a good chance that Cardiff just might stay there now.
On paper, the Bluebirds tick all the boxes.
They have two good goalkeepers to choose from, their two centre-backs are strong and solid and their full-backs are decent defenders and more than capable of contributing from an attacking perspective.
In midfield, Seyi Olofinjana has arguably been Cardiff’s best player to date this season and in Peter Whittingham they possess an attacking player who scored no fewer than 25 goals last term.
And ahead of all that, Dave Jones can name what is effectively a front four of Chris Burke, Michael Chopra, Jay Bothroyd and Craig Bellamy. Which, put bluntly, means that Cardiff aren’t going to struggle to score goals. The fact that someone as good as Jason Koumas can’t even get a place in their starting eleven says it all, really.
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It also means that if the Cardiff boss is fortunate with injuries and suspensions and can send out most of those players in the majority of their remaining games this season, the Bluebirds are looking pretty good for a return to the top flight.
Now then, if we can assume all of the above to be true, then City supporters ought to be quite content with how they are shaping up by comparison.
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Looking at how the game panned out at the Cardiff City Stadium last Saturday – I wonder how long it took them to come up with that name for their new ground, by the way – there was actually very little between the two sides. In the first half Norwich were easily the best side, for my money. And that’s a statement I don’t make lightly given that the Canaries were trailing 3-1 at the interval.
City outplayed their hosts, enjoyed the lion’s share of possession and dominated in terms of territory. At regular periods during that opening half, despite their team being 2-0 ahead, the Cardiff fans were voicing their frustration at the lack of impetus from their side on account of Norwich essentially being so in control.
Granted, the second half was a very different story. Cardiff were evidently now under orders not to take risks and they were happy to get men behind the ball at every opportunity in order to make themselves less open to counter-attacks.
And it worked because the tempo of the game dropped dramatically. Cardiff did have a few good chances near the end of the game to make the scoreline more emphatic, but there was enough from City over 90 minutes to suggest they had more than given a decent account of themselves.
And surely that can only stand them in good stead over the next few weeks, because games against Burnley, Millwall, Reading, Ipswich and Leeds this month will more than likely prove to be a big test for Norwich.
When the fixture list is announced you always have a feeling that certain groups of matches might prove to have a big bearing on shaping your season.
I’m sure that many City fans will have had one eye on November as being a big month.
Considering how well City played last Saturday though, and coupled with an equally impressive showing a few weeks earlier at the other Championship side tipped to earn automatic promotion this season, QPR, there’s no reason at all why we shouldn’t remain confident that City can continue to hold their own in this division.
• SCORING A GOAL CAN HELP HEALING PROCESS
There are much worse things that can happen to you on a football pitch, but it’s scant consolation at the time if you’re unfortunate enough to be on the receiving end of an uncompromising whack in the face.
What can dull the pain, though, is if it also means you scoring a goal.
Because then at least it’s been worth it . . . well, sort of.
And, of course, you can milk the applause from the crowd for all it’s worth when you eventually get back to your feet and stagger back to the halfway line for the kick-off as a hero.
Sometimes it doesn’t quite work out like that though. Like it didn’t for me one time when I was at Everton for example, when I dived in head first where the boots were flying (as incredulous as this sounds, I can assure you that it is perfectly true) to score a goal in first-half stoppage time. Not only did I break my nose – again – but my discomfort was also compounded firstly with the news from the physio that my “goal” had in fact been disallowed for offside, and secondly because as time was almost up, when I eventually staggered to my feet there wasn’t even solace to be taken from the adulation of the crowd, seeing as more or less everyone had gone off for a half-time pie.
And like it didn’t for Wes Hoolahan either at Cardiff last week, when, after receiving a size 10 boot flush in the kisser for his troubles when he bravely headed City back into the game, he was denied his moment of “gladiatorial hero worship” from the travelling City fans on account of Cardiff having scored again themselves before he had even returned to the pitch. Still, at least the mercurial Irishman was allowed to “keep” his goal.
• THE DAY I FINALLY GOT ONE OVER ON ‘BENNO’
So sad to hear that former City player and coach John Benson died over the weekend after a short illness.
“Benno” was an administrative assistant to John Deehan in 1994 and then assistant to caretaker Gary Megson a year later, and I got to know him well.
He was someone who it was just good to be around, someone who was intelligent and knew the game inside out, but who loved a laugh and a joke and a spot of mickey taking. And that’s how I’ll remember Benno. We had a friendly ongoing “battle” with each other.
He’d try to wind me up – and usually succeed – and I him, and usually fail. In terms of attrition he was undoubtedly way ahead, until I got hold of one of his scouting reports one day.
We were due to play Tranmere in a few weeks’ time and Benno had gone to watch them.
His scouting report was very thorough, as usual, with every player’s strengths and weaknesses being recorded down to the finest detail . . . all except one.
Because alongside the name of John Aldridge – Tranmere’s star player, goalscoring machine and with all due respects probably the one player that we needed to worry about – all he had written was: “His goalscoring record speaks for itself.”
I couldn’t wait for my chance to confront him. I got the opportunity about an hour and a half before the game, when Benno came into the dressing room as usual to wish us all the best and to issue any final reminders about the opposition.
I pretended to be reading his report and talking it through with the rest of the lads. “ . . . But don’t worry lads,” I quickly blurted out when I saw that he had entered the room, “ . . . I’m sure that Benno will have spotted how we can stop Aldridge in his tracks.”
I flipped the page. “Oh, here it is . . . Let’s see now . . . erm . . . it says ‘His . . . goalscoring . . . record . . . speaks . . . for . . . itself’. Well, I think we’re armed with more than enough information to keep him quiet now, eh lads?”
Benno knew I’d got him a treat.
“All right, all right, you b******,” he said, acknowledging with a rapidly reddening face. I couldn’t let him off the hook too easily. “That’s not bad that, Benno. Even by your standards.
“Almost a 600-mile round-trip, an overnight stay in a nice hotel, plus a nice little claim for travelling expenses, and yet all we’ve got to go on is ‘His goalscoring record speaks for itself’. Thanks. ******* marvellous that!”
A wonderful man.