Followers of football politics may remember a row that rumbled on for several seasons, when Vincent Tan changed Cardiff City’s playing colours from blue to red and white as part of a comically entitled ‘rebrand’. That dispute was resolved in January 2015 when the Cardiff owner finally backed down. But when Cardiff emerged onto the Portman Road pitch on Saturday there were once again dressed in festive red and white; and apparently, imbued with lashings of seasonal Christmas spirit. For short of having some authentic elves to gift wrap open goals for boys in blue and white: what else could they have done to present Ipswich with 3 points? It was Cardiff who contrived to hit the post and not the net, with a cracking volleyed shot in the opening stages of the game.
A red Cardiff shirt helped to chest the ball past their own keeper, when Ipswich’s Varney equalised in the second half. They then conspired to go to ten men for the last 20 minutes via an utterly needless sending off: centre half Bamba having a touch line, nose to nose physical confrontation with his own manager following that dismissal. Over the course of what was in some ways a reasonably entertaining game they also handed Ipswich 66% possession of that small, white sphere we had all come to watch: the football. Oh and I nearly forgot. According to widely reported pre-match rumours, half the squad had the squits.
But the team in red must have all been very good boys for the rest of the year, or in another life, or at least under Neil Warnock’s nine games. And that Imodium is wonderful stuff. Because the truth is that despite this generosity towards their beleaguered hosts, Cardiff thoroughly deserved the point they smuggled back to Wales. They had as many shots and corners as Ipswich; and it was from one of those consistently threatening corners that they opened the scoring. Peter Whittingham has for years been one of the finest players to watch in England, Wales or anywhere else.
He may be in the career twilight but Peter has lost little of his glitz. Even the two yard run up he took for his first corner was more strictly-come-dancing than agricultural hoof; he stepped forward, backward and a little to the side in a cha-cha-cha before lancing the ball into the danger area, accompanied by wildly varying dips and swings. That first corner in the third minute was exquisite, dropping at great speed onto the edge of the six yard box. It actually did much to set up the Cardiff goal from a subsequent Whittingham corner on 37 minutes. The first corner had made such a big impression on Ipswich’s keeper Bart Bialkowski that, expecting something similar, he launched himself a fraction too early. Meanwhile Whittingham had somehow managed the even harder task of similar speed and delivery, whilst dropping a few yards further and nearly in front of the far post. Bialkowski found himself literally the wrong side of the ball and despite twisting desperately to retrieve could not keep hold. It squirmed out of his grasp and Gunnarsson slammed home.
To Ipswich’s credit they had played neatly for most of that half. Despite heavy drizzle greasing the grass, the ball was played often on the floor and mostly kept in possession. Lawrence made incisive, weaving runs into space, from both wings and the centre. McGoldrick tried three shots in as many minutes just before the Cardiff goal. Webster always looked threatening, bringing the ball forward from defence. Yet was 0-1 an unfair half time score? No. Cardiff had defended strongly, forced Ipswich into familiar lateral runs across midfield, had others shots saved and hit the post with a brilliant volley.
Coincidentally Ipswich’s equaliser just after half time, originated from the same corner spot as Whittingham’s whizzer. Ward won the corner for Ipswich with one of his stronger, but disappointingly infrequent runs towards the Cardiff penalty area. Lawrence hit the corner with pace, if not with as much guile as grandad Whittingham. It came back to Lawrence, who ran at speed towards the goal. Out it rebounded to Webster who cut it back to the edge of the Cardiff penalty area for Varney to slam home: via the obliging, if unlucky chest of Cardiff’s goal scorer Gunnarsson. I thought it was pretty close to an own goal, but it was a good shot from Varney.
Ipswich now had momentum; and it wasn’t long before they also had a one man advantage. Bamba, Cardiff’s physically imposing centre half, was felled in what appeared to be no more than a strong tackle by Douglas. In common with many of his team mates and most teams playing away, Bamba stayed on the floor for longer than seemed really necessary. But then galvanised perhaps by the famed wet sponge, or some swift acting hallucogenic drugs injected from Douglas’s studs, he literally went a bit bonkers. The referee, the fourth official, his own physio and manager were all on the receiving end of random shouting and various intimations of physical threat. It was baffling if hugely entertaining: and has since prompted a public apology to the manager, fans and referee although perhaps not to Mr. Tan.
Cue Pitman, Sears and a little later Bishop all coming on for Ipswich – who surely now would besiege and then slay the Welsh dragons? Not a bit of it. Cardiff played better with ten men and in the five minutes of added time (there was a good case for double that) had several half chances to win the game.
Meanwhile Ipswich, despite those attacking substitutions and persevering with starting the young wide men of Ward and Lawrence, made no clear cut chances throughout the game. Theirs was a story of frequent possession, occasional pressure and no killer Suffolk Punch. What would the Club give for a return of Daryl Murphy? Sadly not, offers Newcastle their three and a half million pounds back…
Report by Grant Bage