CARDIFF CITY fell back into the worst habits which have dogged them all season and fell to defeat at Brentford in a game they looked certain to win at half-time. It emphasised the same old problems that make those of us who follow them every week know exactly why they stand amongst Division Two's also rans instead of being in the play-off/promotion positions.A cliche it maybe but this really was the typical game of two halfs. But it's something we've seen more often than a competent management and team should expect to have provided. Cardiff's first half 'results' are Championship form, the second halves are relegation form. That doesn't happen over 32 league games because of bad luck. It goes a lot deeper and all should take a look at themselves. City appeared to have put it right recently but we were haunted by old ways again.
Following a dominant first half performance, The Bluebirds were arguably worth more than their one goal lead but fell apart after the interval. It was poor Cardiff tactics, they were unable to deal wiith a switch by Brentford, defended sloppily to gift Brentford an equaliser and although the winner was undoubtedly offside, it had been coming for a long time.
Denied both wing backs, Andy Legg and Des Hamilton, through suspension and injury and leading scorer Rob Earnshaw through injury, Cork and his tactical gurus decided to pesevere with the system that has served them well recently. Problem was, they didn't really have the players to do it. We may have a big squad but it has become increasingly obvious there is not suifficent depth or quality in key areas. Leo Fortune-West returned to attack to partner emergency striker Jason Bowen, Josh Low and Michael Simpkins were given the wing back duties.
There was a superb City following, making up a third of the crowd. It was amazing that Brentford were only able to attract 4,500 of their own fans for such a big game when they are in the play-offs. But if you saw their ground and lighting system, it was perhaps understandable why they don't turn up.
I can't remember the last time I saw such poor floodlighting at a football ground. Each archaic pylon had a dozen lights but only half glowed brightly. Some appeared to have shifted so were facing away from the pitch! The end result watching from from the away terrace more birghtlly lit by the floodlights than the half in front of us due to those bulbs facing the wrong direction was similar to when we used to play games under the lamp-posts at night as kids. The pitch was dimly lit, our end especially.
As for the rest of the ground, it's passable for Division Two. Cardiff fans, after using the double decker stand behind one goal for their last couple of visits, returned to a sizeable open terrace at the open end which we previously occupied and a small section in one of the side stands. Amongst fans in the City end were Super Kevin Nugent, now at Orient but always a Bluebird, and Super Furry lead singer Gruff (wearing the tackiest plastic mesh type baseball cap - maybe he kept his ticket fromthe Swindon game and got it at HyperValue with 10% off!!). For Brentford fans, the double decker stand has terracing downstairs, the average sized stands at the sides of the pitch are all seated.
The game started slowly but once it got going, City were in control. Defence was solid, Josh caused problems wide, midfield ran the show even Leo was winning the battle in the air and on the floor against Powell, a marker of similar height and physique. A major weakness was Michael Simpkins who was lost and didn't know what to do in his role, he neither supported defnce much or helped create moving forward and probably had 6 or 7 times in possession all game. Four times, he had the ball in space during the opening 15 minutes, each time, all he did was play it back, losing valuable attacking momentum. He never took on his man all night, he never tried and he had one average second half cross.
Chances came and all fell for Jason Bowen. On 7 minutes, his weak effort was easily saved by Smith. Ten minutes later, Leo got up superbly to beat Powell and flick on for Jason to race clear, his hard angled drive from 12 yards was beaten away for an unproductive corner. But City weren't to be denied and took the lead on 18 minutes with what appeared to be a well worked training ground routine.
City won a free kick on the right, level with the edge of the area as their pressure was telling. Everyone concentrated on the big men were in the centre, there was endless shoving and pushing with Leo, Gabbi, Young ad their counter-parts but Kav hit to the near post, JASON BOWEN ghosted into space and buried a low header inside Smith and the corner. The City faithful went mental to salue Bowen's 5th goal of the season but 3rd in 3 games as a stand-in striker.
A couple of Brentford followers went mental too. Someone charged down from their directors/sponsors area high in the stand to go ballistic on the touchline. The 4th official had to intervene and police had to speak to him too before he returned to his seat in isolation. On the opposite side, a Brentford fan was being held down on the touchline by half a dozen stewards while play continued before he was led away. I really haven't a clue what it was about. But I guess we won't be holding our breath to see if the Brentford official gets banned and there's an inquiry into the pitch invasion during play.
The Bees were reeling and seemed helpless to stop City hitting and hurting them. Leo caused them immense problems. City fans latched onto his unique kangaroo hopping with his arms held in a 'suurender-type' pose waiting for corners or free-kicks so 2,200+ of us all jumped up and down with our arms up singing "Let's all do a Leo". The big guy ayatollahed.
It was total domination and possession. Kav was effective, Boland and Bonner worked, worked, worked and were all over the place. Smith had to save edge of area drives from Kav and Simpkins, watch a Leo effort sail over the away end and into the back garden of a house behind us and just prevent Simpkins make it 2-0 as his low drive across goal was just touched away for a corner, it almost sneaked in. That was Simpkins last noticeable contribution to the game.
City weren't at their most fluent but it was the third successive 45 minutes that Cardiff outplayed their opponents in league action this season looking by far the better side. The only Brentford threats provided were a late Paul Evans free-kick that flew narrowly wide and a fluffed cross that saw Neil Alexander react smartly to tip over as it almost dropped in for a complete fluke. Their mountain man, Burgess, was very quiet, Owusu livelier but nobody really causing problems. All very comfortable.
City came out looking determined to kill of the game, carving outstanding chance in the opening 40 seconds with Low driving forward and finding Bowen who fed Leo with a clear opportunity 15 yards out. Leo showed he is just not a predatory striker with the ball at his feet and he blazed his effort over the bar, the target had to be hit as a minimum. No City fan would have believed that would be their last meaningful effort of the game, other than a quickly taken Kavanagh free-kick, but it was.
It was pancake day but City fans who made the trip didn't really miss out ... we had plenty of tossers! Brentford used 4-4-2 first half but they switched to 3-5-2 and matched Cardiff. The tide turned with that simple change, their forwards were more direct, their wide men more able. It should have been simple enough to combat but the combined brains of Cork, Butterworth and Lawrence had no answers at all. There was a staggering ineptitude about it all.
It seemed that Cardiff's sole strategy was to absorb whatever Brentford offered and try to catch them on the break. It may have worked against Swindon, a side with no outstanding attacking threat, but asked for trouble against a much better team on their own patch. City were promptly battered and disintegrated before us.
What followed was as inevitable as the Heathrow bound planes flying overhead every minute (they had better lights than Griffin Park, shame they didn't hang around!). Brentford had width and were able to play directly through our central defence. Kavanagh sat deep, Boland and Bonner were dragged back too. Leo and Bowen were left totally isolated and outnumbered, waiting for support on the few occasions they saw the ball which always came from right, we had nothing at all to offer on the left. All far too predictable and we got what we deserved.
Brentford caused trouble every time they hit us. Powell planted a free header wide from a corner, City survived a couple of scrambles, sometimes defending on instinct. The equaliser was still a shock but not as shocking as the defence which, after recent solid performances, went totally to sleep.
There was nothing on as Brentford played a ball through the centre but Ijah flicked a header just outside the area and their midget, HUNT, was totally unmarked with a free shot at Neil Alexander from 12 yards which he gleefully smashed home to make it 1-1 on 54 minutes. Gabbidon, Young, Weston and Low all argued amongst themselves over who should have provided cover.
The Cardiff support went quiet, Brentford's woke up, they knew the game was theirs for the taking. Bluebird followers were reduced to watching the tacky clock on the opposite stand hoping the 90 minutes would appear fast but Brentofrd had plenty of time. City made a change on 63 minutes as Peter Thorne, with a cheer as loud as the goal, came on for Leo but without Leggy providing ammo on the left and Low running hard but never firing in a cross all night, just winning the odd corner and throw ins, he never had much of a chance or any influence.
The pressure on the Cardiff goal was relentless. Kavanagh cleared off the line, Weston got injured winning a brave header as Burgess was about to nod home and Alexander made a smart save from a flicked Owusu header. City were rocking, it was all emphasised when the normally ultra-reliable Gabbidon made a complete mess trying to get the ball back to Neil Alexander, Burgess nipped in and charged to goal. Alexander made a smart save with his legs when a goal looked certain and a follow up opportunity was just about scrambled away.
It really was no surpise when Brentford finally scored what proved to be the winner on 78 minutes but the goal left a very bitter taste in the mouths of the Bluebirds faithful. West London had seen two multi-million robberies of dollar bills and mobile phones the day before the game but City were robbed this time by a disgraceful officiating decision.
Under more pressure, Scott Young headed away. City ran out leaving at least two, and probably three, Brentford players trailing behind as they were slower to react. As it fell to Mahon just inside City's half, he nodded back. "Offfside!", shouted City's defenders, the whole away following and probably a few Brenford fans too in the stand nearest to us but the whistle or flag but neither came. The offside Owusu played on to the more offside BEN BURGESS who drilled home from close range. I know offsides can look deceptive with defences charging out but there wasn't the slightest doubt that Brentofrd players inolved in the goal (therefore interfering wioth play) were offside when the ball came back to them. The anger wasn't helped by Owusu and Burgess winding up City fans with their celebration pulling faces at us.
Premiership ref, Steve Bennett, stared at the linesman with a "help me out, put your flag up" stare but the linsmen didn't. Bennett had no choice but to award a controversial goal even though it was obvious that he was not convinced himself. I still can't help feeling however that if that was disallowed, Brentford would still have snatched a winner.
City tried in vain to equalise but a few runs never resulted in any efforts at goal. The closest was that quickly taken Kav free-kick which narrowly missed the far post with Smith nowhere. Kav also needlessly got his 10th booking of the season and a 2 match suspension for kicking the ball away in frustration after a free-kick was awarded against City. He's competitive but so many of those yellow cards have been as unecessary as this one was. Brentford has another good chance but Alexander saved well for a corner.
There were late changes as Brasyon and Maxwell were thrust into the action, at least one of them should have come on far, far earlier. City must also reflect on the wisdom of rigidly sticking to the 3-5-2 system when they really have the players to suit it form the very start (SImpkins an attacking wing back? yeah right!) but, more than that, their complete failure to do anything when the game was running away from them. It was a huge let down.
It was a night where a win would have taken City above Brentford and into the play-offs, a draw wouldn't have been the worst result for this game but defeat was not really an option. But as it has happened, City dropped a place and are right back in the pack with the also rans. We now stand 5 points behind the play-offs, in 9th palce, with 14 games left and time fast running out. The good good work of the last 5 games has gone out of the window after losing this proverbial '6 pointer'. Even the last of the optimists must surely forget about auto-promotion, we definitely haven't deserved it anyway.
There are too many reasons to list why Cardiff continue to fall short but how they must envy Brentford's magnificent home record of 12 wins, 3 draws and 1 defeat, just 9 points dropped on home turf compared to our 21. How Cardiff must also wish they could win 3 successive games at this level as we all hoped for tonght, the fact that we've only managed 2 successive wins 3 times this season also demonstrates that we really haven't been good enough and found wanting when it comes to the crunch. All is not lost but Wigan away this weekend has to be a must win followed by two "bankers!" home games against Bury and Cmabridge next week is now the only way we can haul ourselves back into contention again.