Tuesday 17th February 2015
Cardiff City 1-1 Blackburn Rovers
Cardiff City Stadium, Cardiff.
[ENGLISH PYRAMID WARNING: The match report and blog entry below is based on a football match that occurred in the English Pyramid, in Wales]
I remember that Sunday afternoon pretty vividly. A warm, early Summer afternoon in the Rhondda Valleys. I had just got out of the shower after playing a game of football on the Black Diamond field in Edmondstown with friends. I parked myself down on the settee with no intention of moving from my spot for the next three or four hours.
The date was Sunday 14th May 1995, I was thirteen years old and my family had been Sky Sports subscribers for just over two years, a fact made possible by my mother’s decision to go back to work in 1993 at a local factory after spending the first ten years of my life as a housewife. The new found relative financial security afforded by such a decision meant we were one of only a handful on our street to adorn large cream coloured (or the “posher” black) satellite dishes to the front of our houses.
How does this have any relevance I hear you ask? Well, Sunday 14th May 1995 was the first time Sky Sports were able to show off their much anticipated “Multi Channel” offering in the football realm. Without this first effort, it’s highly unlikely we would have enjoyed moments such as the infamous “AGUEROOOOOO” Manchester City finale to the 2012/13 Premier League season.
Blackburn Rovers, managed by Liverpool legend Kenny Dalgish, sat two points ahead of Manchester United on the last day season and would go to Anfield to face Liverpool. The Liverpudlians who were, and still are, arch enemies of Manchester United. Manchester United on the other hand faced an away day at Upton Park against West Ham.
The plot was a simple one, if Blackburn could go to Anfield and match or better Manchester United’s result at Upton Park, the title would be theirs. Manchester United, who had won the first two inaugral Premier League titles would need to beat West Ham at Upton Park, and still rely on Liverpool, their arch enemies, to do them a favour at Anfield. Manchester United’s superior goal difference meant that Blackburn could not simply play out for a draw at Anfield, in that scenario if United won at Upton Park, both sides would have ended the season on 90 points. Manchester United had a +8 goal difference on Blackburn Rovers, so it made things all the more exciting for any armchair football spectator on that Sunday afternoon.
As it turned out, Liverpool actually did Manchester United a favour, they won the game 2-1 with a sublime free kick from Jamie Redknapp in the dying minutes. This would turn out to be probably the least welcomed and celebrated Liverpool goal in the history of Anfield, as fans were desperate for Blackburn to at least take a point from the game and prevent their enemies from down the road romping home to a third title in a row. As it transpired, if United could grind out a win at Upton Park, Liverpool would have been gifting the title to their arch-rivals.
As it turned out, Liverpool fans actually had the best of both worlds that afternoon, as Manchester United were held to a 1-1 draw at Upton Park. Despite dominating proceedings in London, a near God-like performance from West Ham stopper Ludek Miklosko prevented United from scoring any more than a single Brian McClair equaliser early in the second half.
Manchester United figuratively abused the West Ham goal that afternoon, effort after effort was saved by the brave Hammers keeper. If you want to see an example of desperation on a football field, try and find a clip of the last ten minutes of that match on YouTube. How Andy Cole alone didn’t bag a hat trick in the last ten minutes I’ll never know!
All of this was played out on Sky Sports simultaneously in front of my eyes, which for a thirteen year old sugar-filled football addict like me was pure bliss. My recollection, although this may be incorrect, was that both matches were shown in split screen form on Sky Sports 1, the Blackburn match was shown on Sky Sports 2 and the United match was shown on Sky Sports 3. True multi-channel broadcasting was still in its infancy and this was a good three or four years before Sky Digital and its interactive broadcast features became available, but this feature was beautiful.
The image of Tim Sherwood, holding the Premier League trophy aloft at Anfield, cheered on by both sets of supporters is one that is so vivid in my mind, to this day. I find football memories, in particular the memories from my youth, are the glue that binds together parts of my life and the memories I have of them. I may not be able to tell you what I was doing on certain day, or even months of my life. But when I sit down on the settee and nothing is on, I find myself watching hour after hour of “Premier League Years” on Sky Sports and continually amaze my wife with my ability to recall scores from random Premier League matches over the years. Even if they were 21 years ago and involved Norwich City and Crystal Palace!
It’s my birthday today, my wife bought me a home brew kit, which is something I’ve been quite interested in having a go at, it seems like something men of my age tend to start doing when they get to 33, so I thought I’d give it a shot. Unfortunately, I’ve got to wait the best part of three weeks for the lager brew we made this morning to become anything remotely drinkable. So this afternoon I’m sitting in one of the three Starbucks on Cardiff’s Queen Street, sipping at a Caramel Macchiato, my preferred beverage of choice on the Starbucks menu. It’s my 33rd birthday, and I’m recalling what I was doing 20 years ago. Cardiff City were dire, Britpop dominated the front pages of both the music and the tabloid press and Blackburn Rovers and Manchester United were fighting out the most interesting Premier League title fight in years.
Blackburn Rovers fans, must have been through a lot since that sunny May afternoon in 1995. Changes on the board, relegation to the second tier – and worst of all, two years ago they slumped to a 4-1 mauling at the hands of Cardiff City at home, a team who were relegated into the fourth tier of English football the same weekend that they won their first ever Premier League title.
Being my birthday, we scoured Canton for a pub to get a bit of food before kick off, failing miserably as every pub offering meals was packed to the rafters with supporters and the associated twenty deep queues that follows us. We resigned ourselves to a Subway on Cowbridge Road, which was one of the best I’ve ever had. The Subway Veggie Patty is a simple thing, but so easy to mess up in the wrong hands.
The expectations of Cardiff City fans on the walk down to the stadium from Canton was noticeably dour. I’d heard others comment that Cardiff wouldn’t stand a chance against the strength of the Blackburn strike-force, in particular that of ex-Cardiff target man Rudy Gestede.
Gestede underwhelmed a little during his tenure with the Bluebirds, largely due to his perceived ineffectiveness in front of goal, but at Ewood Park he has undergone something of a rebirth, finding the back of the net 12 times in 26 outings this season.
Cardiff started brightly, for the first time in weeks, whether they were gee’d up by the arrival of new coach Paul Trollope is yet to be seen. They held on to the ball better than previous weeks and seemed to have a bit more width down the channels with Craig Noone and new boy Matthew Kennedy testing the Blackburn full backs several times in the opening minutes.
Blackburn came close also, working the ball intelligently through the midfield, but ex-Bluebird Gestede, was a little wasteful in front of goal. The first half was a far more exciting affair than last week’s Brighton encounter, both sides had efforts saved off the line in the first half.
Cardiff arguably showed more guile in the second half, but still looked a little lacklustre as the match went on. Relying more and more on their aerial threat through striker Kenwynne Jones, rather playing the ball to feet. Aron Gunnarsson’s long throws, although an impressive physical feat, rarely presented a threat to the Blackburn defence and quite often failed to beat the first man.
The deadlock is broken on 84 minutes, as Cardiff centre back Sean Morrison rises above all and heads a Peter Whittingham corner into the Blackburn goal. The relief and joy on the Cardiff players faces is clear for all to see, they’ve been feeling the pressure in the last few weeks.
One of the biggest problems with Cardiff City in recent years has been their inability to close games out efficiently. A running joke between my wife and I is that 2-1 is the official scoreline of Cardiff City. Cardiff always have a way of making you hang on to the edge of your seat going into stoppage time, regardless of how well they have played, or how much they may have dominated the match.
Today is no different, as the Bluebirds defence commit the sin of falling asleep and Rudy Gestede is presented with a chance from six yards out. Simon Malone blocks his initial effort off the line, but he is unable to stop Gestede’s second effort, which rolls into the back of the net at the very moment the stadium clock ticks over to 90 minutes.
Stoppage time is a non event, a couple of substitutions are made to steady the decks on both sides, and the teams happily take a point each from tonight’s game.
A more promising outing from the Bluebirds, but nothing has been shown yet to prove that the rot at the Cardiff City Stadium is indeed over. Despite tonight’s performance being a little better than last weeks Brighton horror show, the “19,057” crowd leaving the stadium tonight will take a lot more convincing that Russell Slade is indeed the right man to be at the Bluebirds helm.