What to say this time around? Well, The Valley had something of a seaside atmosphere tonight. As in Scarborough in March, without the rain. A lot of empty seats and no great expectations. Another four-goal thriller, with an identical plot to the previous game. But I have to say I was more annoyed on Saturday, when we gave back a victory against a team that did not deserve a draw. Tonight the opposition was better, wanted it more than Blackpool (for obvious reasons), and it seemed to me that we just ran out of steam in the last 20 minutes. We couldn’t hold the ball, gave away a string of free kicks in dangerous areas, made substitutions in a vain attempt to inject fresh legs, but ended up surrendering another two points at the death. But the real sin wasn’t the last gasp equaliser for Cardiff; it was failing to hold on to a two-goal advantage for more than a minute or so and letting them back in.
No surprises with the team; same as Saturday, but with Kandol replacing Wagstaff on the bench. The first half was fairly even, with both sides having half-chances but not creating a clear-cut opening. For us Youga got down the left side to good advantage and delivered some dangerous low crosses, but Sam on the right was well shackled, being regularly ushered inside. We might have shaded it on balance of play, but had Elliot to thank for two splendid saves, with Bothroyd not exactly mobile but always a handful and Chopra threatening. Cardiff lacked real pace, but had enough about them to look capable of scoring.
Instead we took the lead when after a corner the ball found its way out wide to Sam. As before he was forced inside, but this time a dipping cross to the far post beat the defender and Shelvey coming in late put it away. The only other incident that sticks in my mind was an announcement over the tannoy calling for the cleaning supervisor to contact the club. The inevitable chant in reply of ‘where’s your cleaners gone’, like all half-decent jokes, had an element of truth in light of our coming cutbacks.
So, a shade fortunate to be ahead at the break. And Cardiff, after probably something of a dressing-down by the manager, upped the pace in the second half and had us on the back foot. The surprise was that after being under pressure we had a great chance to increase the lead, when Shelvey found Zhi with a glorious through ball. Zhi took it on the chest to cut inside the defender but with just the keeper to beat hit the outside of the post. It didn’t seem to matter, as not long afterwards a corner was half-cleared and Bailey steaming in drilled a shot low into the net.
Cardiff seemed to lose some discipline once they had conceded in the first half and after a 6-0 drubbing at the weekend you thought that if we just kept it tight for 10 minutes we should be able to see out the game. Instead Burke, who had replaced Chopra, outmuscled Racon and took the ball on at pace and fired home what to a neutral must have looked like a good goal. That gave Cardiff the lift they needed – and you could tell all we wanted was the final whistle.
Parkinson brought on Kandol for Burton, then Spring for Sam, with Shelvey moving out wide and Zhi moved into the hole (although in the final stages he looked so knackered it was hard to tell what role he was playing). Then it was Holland on for Shelvey. Nothing seemed to have a positive impact and we just found it impossible to find red shirts with passes. The pressure wasn’t relentless, but we gave away possession and enough free kicks for them to have equalised well before they did. And just when you think we might get away with it, as the clock ticked towards 90 minutes, another corner broke to one of them in the box and it was the same end-result as Saturday. If it hurt less this time that was because it mattered less, but the common factor of being unable to hold a lead was all too obvious.
After the equaliser there were chants of ‘Parkinson out’, although they were by no means widespread and many had left by that stage in any event. So now, after a meaningless (for us) trip to Derby, there’s just the last hurrah against Norwich. If results go against them the final round of games could see nothing to play for at the top or the bottom, with us hosting a relegation party (one for which Norwich have apparently sold out their ticket allocation). I have a soft spot for Norwich and, while I would hope they stay up, if they join us there’s at least one decent away trip to look forward to next season.
If this review sounds tired that’s because it is. The players had nothing left in the tank towards the end tonight and I think for all of us the sooner this season is put to rest the better. No player ratings, not because they would have been bad but it’s getting late and there’s a large glass of cognac that’s got my name on it.