The new year hasn’t been a particularly inspiring period thus far for Cardiff City, on the pitch at least. Kicking off with a feeble loss away to Gillingham in the FA Cup and some highly frustrating six-pointers going begging, it was a difficult January.
Of course, the Bluebirds poor run of results quickly paled into insignificance. Whilst a stream of terrible news about Emiliano Sala and David Ibbotson’s disappearance permeated through the Twittersphere, the club really handled itself with magnanimity. Through a mire of disbelief and heartbreak, Cardiff City – players, board, fans – stood shoulder to shoulder, and the unity of this brilliant club was something to hold on to dearly during our darkest hour.
Yet whilst the footballing world stood still for a moment, it’s now begun to turn again. Sala’s death will stay fresh in our memory for some time, and it may seem futile to return to such inconsequential things as football when lives have been lost, but that’s how it is. The world doesn’t wait, and so collectively Cardiff City must beat on, boats against the current, and face up to the daunting task of keeping themselves in the Premier League.
February did bring two outstanding performances from the Bluebirds. Some of the best we’ve seen all season, for different reasons. Two goals from Bobby Reid sealed a stoic win against Bournemouth, followed by a limbs-o’clock, last-minute winner at Southampton that proved that Cardiff are far from a beaten side.
Teetering around that final relegation spot, do we dare to dream? How many pundits did you hear saying we’d be down and out by Christmas? Indeed, how many of our own fans?
But inevitably, cynicism and football often come hand-in-hand. This is especially true if you don’t support one of the super clubs, although a quick glance at Arsenal over the recent years suggests that even the biggest teams aren’t immune. It’s a different kettle of fish for those teams who struggle against the financial tide of modern football though.
One of my biggest issues with the expectations of football fans in general is their quickness to condemn teams that are incapable of ploughing inordinate amounts of money into their transfer pot. Fulham are an embarrassing manifestation of such a policy being championed, demonstrating accordingly that money can’t always get you out of the muck.
Now on their third manager of the season, they’re getting off lightly criticism-wise, as far as I’m concerned, especially when there have been countless cries that Cardiff aren’t good enough and don’t belong here in the top tier. But we are good enough, and certainly were good enough last season. We got more points than 22 other teams in the Championship. That’s… how it works?
For all of that, City fans are getting their hair off at the moment. Fair enough, too, considering the recent couple of showings which saw us leak eight goals at home, with just the one in reply. This may be more acceptable against the top clubs, where it can often be a case of damage limitation, but Watford and Everton?
Fair enough, they’re both good sides with some world-class players. Nevertheless, both of our performances were a little embarrassing at times. Honestly, we looked Championship at best.
There’s a way to go yet, but there are no easy games left. We could survive, or we could come away with no more points for the rest of the season. The question is, how should we, as fans, react to a bad performance?
I sat in the Ninian watching the Everton fans having a right old time as Sigurdsson put them 2-0 up, and everyone around me either dropped their heads, shrugged their shoulders or spat obscenities at our players. It’s a horrid feeling, resigning yourself to the fact that you’ve spent your time and money to come away from a game feeling entirely miserable.
Warnock’s repeated adages about the character of the players, and how the ‘lads are giving their all’ are wearing thin, especially as the business-end of the season bares its teeth. Sean Morrison made several mistakes in the opening ten minutes of the Everton game which prompted several fans around me to shout things like “Get him off!” and “Fucking useless!”
Gunnarsson, for all of his hard work, might as well have been wearing a pair of industrial Dr Martens at times, and Manga can’t help but look like a rabbit in the headlights as a right back. These are the players who have given us one of the finest spells we’ve ever had as a club, but they really did get it in the neck on Tuesday night.
I missed the previous game against Watford, but when I saw the team-sheet pop up on Twitter an hour before kick-off, I actively winced. Two wins on the bounce without our captain, yet he was slotted straight back into the starting eleven. I know Peltier was injured, but wasn’t that why we signed Bacuna? I know I’m not the only one.
Like many others, I have my issues with Warnock’s decision making at times. I have my issues with a lot of things on the pitch, too, especially of late. But the social media world doesn’t seem to take too kindly to criticism of your own these days. Some home truths about the team selection or performance now warrant accusations of turning on the club, when ultimately these complaints are often wholly justified and valid.
It’s true to say that the Cardiff players have had a rougher ride than most this season, but like in any other profession, a boot up the arse every now and then isn’t the worst thing in the world. I also think there’s a lot to be said for the relationship between our club and its fans.
Warnock, for all of his Brexit-y flaws, brought together a totally dismantled club and we’ve already had some absolutely golden moments this season that fully eclipse our 2013/14 efforts. So dissatisfaction with our performances is one thing, but no one is spray painting the ‘Warnock Out!’ banners. Far from it.
Things would be different if we were out of it by now, rock bottom with 10 points. But we’re not. We’ve got a fighting chance, and if the boys don’t show up, they need to be made aware of it. Football’s fickle and there’s no time for sentimentality on Warnock’s part. Morrison might be our captain, he might well have been the difference last season, but if he’s not playing well enough, you’ve got to take him out of the side.
What the manager and players have achieved so far this season really should command our respect. It’s been a joy to see us competing and scoring some important goals, but we can’t allow complacency to creep in. There’s a fine line between criticising the players and understanding our limitations, but it’s too late in the day for us to be talking about how lucky we are to be here.
Personally, I have no intention of seeing Cardiff City go gently into that good night and I trust the players can regroup once more after some shoddy performances. All I ask is this; even if we go down, it must be with a rage, with a fight. A bit of criticism is part and parcel of football, but the roars from the stands are by no means fading. Cardiff fans know better than that.