Monday, 12 May 2014

Cardiff City 1 Chelsea 2

It was time to be rebellious. Yes, mid-life crisis properly took hold and for the first time since my teens I got on a train that was slightly earlier than the one a ticket had been bought for. And I was prepared for the consequences. But even then there was a stroke of luck. The later train that I was to initially have taken was cancelled anyway so my ticket was actually valid! Due to engineering works, there were no direct trains from London to Cardiff. This resulted in a journey that was split into four parts: bus to Richmond, train to Reading, train to Newport and finally a bus to Cardiff.
There were several reasons for wanting to visit Cardiff. It was a stadium to cross off the list (91 to date where I have seen a live game) and there was still an outside chance we could finish in second place. On the way I visited the stadium where Newport County plays its games at the wonderfully named, “Rodney Parade” stadium. Two rugby clubs also share the same turf and the terraces were littered with empty plastic beer cups.
You wonder how many people base their first impressions of a place on what surrounds their city centre and train station. In Newport there were so many pubs closed. The River Usk was surrounded by muddy embankments with the odd shopping trolley thrown in for fun. The small, scenic, ruined Newport castle was picturesque but off limits to visitors. Wind and rain cut my visit short so off to Cardiff. The bus driver of the train replacement service took a less than scenic route via the city’s rubbish works before dumping us by the capital’s train station.
Time to do the anoraky thing and see if anything has been left of Ninian Park. It was a shame that there is a housing estate where the old ground was. Fears of a less than pleasant welcome were unfounded with locals friendly and in philosophical mood. The weather was still woeful with strong wind and rain being felt through four layers of clothing.
The game itself pretty much summarised our season. With no exaggeration, Chelsea had four or five clear-cut chances in the first half to score. Not random shots from 35 yards out but chances well inside the area. It was depressing to see the unpleasant Craig Bellamy score against us albeit with a large deflection. Early on Torres beat the ‘keeper with the goal at his mercy but could still not bury the ball in the back of the net – although the twenty blue balloons that surrounded him probably did not help. Yet again, our number nine left me scratching my head. “One-nil to the Championship,” sang the home fans into half-time while our lot sang songs taking the mick out of the home side’s relegation. That was not the only immature singing we had – perhaps many felt safe to be cocky knowing that a large minority of fans were getting a coach escort back to the Bridge after the game.
The second half was much the same as the first with Chelsea dominating. Schurrle finally came on – a player who is more than solid and for me a stronger choice on the field while Salah is developing. We finally equalised, and then came the winner from Torres. That is when my mood has never turned from happy to angry more fast. And not just because some Scot sitting next to me kept hugging me while getting the words wrong to every Chelsea song sung (“Have you ever seen Gerrard win the European Cup?” is not how it goes you moron). No, the most ire was the fact that Torres could not at least have run up and acknowledged supporters after scoring. Supporters who have given him more than the benefit of the doubt despite his woeful attitude that accompanies such undeniably brilliant skill. Instead, he bowed his head to face the ground and then his teammates to play the "too cool for school" game as he did when scoring against Atletico Madrid. There have been many players who have given far more on the field of play and received far less support.
It was a beautiful, sunny journey home and one reflects on what could have been this season for our club. What if the referee at Aston Villa had not sent off Willian? What if we had beaten West Ham at home? What if we had been better at taking our chances in front of goal? But then there are other questions… would we have beaten Liverpool if we had not lost to Sunderland?
Again, if we had been told of a top three finish in the league and a semi-final place in the European Cup at the beginning of the season we would have taken it. We are well positioned for next season with a solid defence and exciting midfield. Now to train, train and train more on converting the ample chances created during each game. And the good news is that some of our more promising players such as Willian and Matic will be available for European competition.

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