Cardiff City 0-1 Hull City
📍 Cardiff City Stadium | Cardiff, Wales
🏆 Sky Bet Championship
⚽ England (Tier 2)
📅 Wed 24 Nov 21 | 7.45pm
🎟️ Season Ticket | Att: 17,180
Having attended the first competitive game at the Cardiff City Stadium in 2009, tonight’s visit is just the latest in a long list for me.
For many Cardiff fans, that match – a 4-0 victory against Scunthorpe – represents the beginning of something of a golden period for the club, a 4-year spell in which the Bluebirds lost a League Cup final to Liverpool on penalties, won the EFL Championship title, and spent an ill-fated but nonetheless gripping season in the Premier League.
In recent seasons, however, entertainment has been at a premium. The likes of Russell Slade, Neil Warnock, Neil Harris, and Mick McCarthy have all come and gone, and – despite another lone season in the Premier League under Warnock – the club’s constant short-termism has resulted in an insidious degree of apathy among the wider club’s support.
Under the Floodlights at the Cardiff City Stadium
In reality, this is likely the case for a number of EFL teams, saturated as we are by two-game weeks, financial imbalance, and the generally relentless, trudge-like nature of the league. Certainly it’s reflected in tonight’s low attendance of around 17,000, although the biting cold and ongoing reservations around COVID exposure may also have played a part.
Despite all of this, it’s difficult not to appreciate the romanticism of a midweek game under lights, evoking, as it does, adolescent memories of the old Ninian Park. Indeed, one of the criticisms often levelled at the CCS – especially by visiting fans – is that it’s not comparable to its predecessor. This seems slightly unfair to me; Ninian Park was, of course, the quintessential old-school ground, a characterful mosaic of flawed geniuses, last-gasp villains, and mythic headed winners against the might of Real Madrid.
But in the last 12 years, the CCS has produced its own iconic moments, too, from play-off semi finals and local derbies to the passion and colour of Wales’ international home games. It might not have the same aesthetic charm, and Ninian Park could no doubt rock with the best of them, but the CCS can certainly step up when needed – even if tonight isn’t one of those nights.
Cardiff’s Young Guns
Due to financial issues, the Bluebirds have relied heavily this season on academy graduates, although the remnants of mediocrity from Colin Wanker’s disastrous 2019 summer transfer window continue to stink the place out. Players like Leandro Bacuna (signed, inexplicably, on a 5-year contract for £4.5m), Aden Flint (£4m), and Will Vaulks (£2.5m) have offered nothing in their time here, with promising young guns such as Ruben Colwill, Isaak Davies, and Sam Bowen now needing to take up the slack.
The scale of this ask is magnified by the importance of tonight’s game, which in reality, is already a relegation six-pointer. Opponents Hull have struggled to reconsolidate at this level following last season’s promotion, although they – like Cardiff – have won their last two games, threatening a sudden but steady revival. Surely, then, tonight should be a draw?
Two Poor Sides
In the end, Hull win it through an early Keane Lewis-Potter header, settling what can only be described as a 90-minute vortex of anything resembling quality. Cardiff centre-back Curtis Nelson (yes, another Warnock signing) is often the centrepiece of this farce, repeatedly passing the ball to an imaginary teammate in the fifth row of the stand; as a fan behind me shrewdly observes, the former Oxford man not only has a 50p head, “but a 50p foot, too”.
Vaulks, meanwhile, patrols the field clapping his hands and geeing his teammates like a fifth-rate Jordan Henderson, never thinking to expend his energy by actually taking up a position in which he could conceivably receive the ball. Bacuna – his central midfield partner – manages to be totally anonymous in the busiest area of the pitch and is substituted early in the second half to cheers (not, it should be said, for the first time).
I’m aware that all of this can sound like the futile rantings of a disenfranchised supporter. But in a week in which I’ve watched Merthyr in the English 7th tier, and Nelson Cavaliers in the Welsh 6th, the inability of players at this level to do the very basics – take a ball on the half turn, play a pass in front of a teammate, or make an angle to receive the ball – is alarming. Interim manager Steve Morison remarks after the game that he “doesn’t understand” the negativity of the fans, but when semi-professional players are more comfortable on the ball than full internationals, it’s clear that Morison has a job on to raise the bar.
A disappointing night then (although not for the few hundred Hull fans that made the long journey down on a cold November night – kudos to them). The Tigers will try to make it four from four on Saturday as they host Millwall, while Cardiff travel to Luton.
Postscript: It was ultimately a season to forget for both clubs, with a flurry of January loan signings ensuring Cardiff ended the season some 16 points above the relegation zone. Hull finished just behind them in 19th place, although the summer takeover of Turkish media mogul Acun Ilıcalı suggests more successful times are on the horizon.