Cardiff City 1 Stoke City 1 match report: Contentious Cardiff refuse to go quietly

Under Tan’s feudal ownership the Welsh club have alienated their own supporters as well as neutrals, but a soft penalty gives them continued hope of Premier League survival

Cardiff City Stadium

It’s not much of a secret, but it is worth sharing. Cardiff City retain a fighting chance of disappointing their detractors and surviving in the Premier League. Quite why anyone would indulge in intrigue to discover anything more substantial is another matter entirely.

Cardiff are not the doughty underdogs of football folklore. They evoke little sympathy, despite the admirable loyalty of their supporters. The absurdities of the so-called Spygate Scandal further undermine the credibility of their owner, Vincent Tan, who didn’t bother to turn up yesterday.

Two harsh penalties, successfully converted by Marko Arnau-  tovic and Peter Whittingham, punctuated a game of earnest endeavour, intermittent ferocity but little quality. Cardiff’s fate is likely to be decided by successive away games in six days, at Sunderland and Newcastle.

“As a Welshman, I’d like to see them stay in the League,” said Stoke’s manager, Mark Hughes. “It is important for the club, and the area, that they do so, but it will be difficult. This will go right down to the wire.”

 

Cardiff’s final home game, against Chelsea, may herald the start of a painful inquest. Irrespective of their ability to avoid relegation, their first season in the Premier League has been tainted. Innocence has been misplaced, even if defiance endures. The faith of supporters who had waited half a century for the reward of football at the highest level began to be compromised by Tan changing the club colours from blue to red because of what was, at best, an abstract marketing concept. It was a thoughtless attack on the identity of what had been a primarily working-class club with a passionate but knowledgeable fan base.

It hasn’t worked commercially, because the vast majority of yesterday’s crowd wore the old blue replica shirts. In homage to Cardiff’s 1927 FA Cup win, they chanted,: “We will always be blue” in the 19th and 27th minutes. The rejoinder from the travelling fans – “You’re not Bluebirds any more”– went down predictably badly.

Tan’s £74 million investment is in essence a loan, at advantageous interest rates. There is a sense that servitude is demanded. Following the owner’s feudal logic he is the club, rather than their custodian.

A corporate video, designed to highlight the work of “empowered staff and coaches with tools to help others”, was broadcast around the stadium in the build-up to yesterday’s game. Inevitably, it featured Tan handing out prizes. The script – “There must be no boundaries... achievement can be contentment” – was more redolent of North Korea than South Wales.

In the words of one alienated fan, who cared sufficiently to make contact through social media: “It doesn’t feel like my club any more. It is a Malaysian franchise that demands uncritical devotion. I refuse to go now, after a lifetime following them.”

Whatever their tangential business achievements, the men advising Tan are not football people. They fail to understand the protocols of the billionaire boys’ club. Even the hint of a threat that relegation could trigger legal activity is taken seriously. Cardiff are vulnerable to accusations of double standards. They are within their rights to complain about an allegedly leaked teamsheet, yet appear to be sanguine when the BBC mysteriously acquire access to a five-page letter written by their lawyers to the Premier League.

The demand that the 3-0 defeat by Crystal Palace be expunged because of the allegations levelled at Iain Moody, Cardiff’s former head of recruitment, is absurd. Regulations are conveniently ambiguous, but there is a sense that a line has been crossed.

Tan’s choice of manager, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, offers a modicum of protection because of his universal popularity. His first unchanged side was a reward for those who achieved an unlikely win at Southampton, rather than a ruse to throw inquisitive outsiders off the scent. They opted not to press, but relied on their ability to absorb pressure and break quickly, largely through Mats Daehli, the only one of Cardiff’s eight January signings to convince.

Peter Odemwingie, swapped for Kenwyne Jones in the last transfer window, won a soft penalty in the second minute of added time at the end of the first half. He was facing the wrong way, but instead of shepherding him out of the area, Kim Bo- Yeung lunged. Arnautovic drilled the penalty down the middle.

Cardiff equalised through the time-dishonoured levelling-up procedure when Howard Webb was equally generous in penalising Steven N’Zonzi’s challenge on Fraizer Campbell, who spent more time on the floor than was necessary. Whittingham scored confidently to the goalkeeper’s right.

Both managers seemed content, with Solskjaer admitting his relief at Stoke’s inability to take two late chances through substitutes Oussama Assaidi and Jonathan Walters, who hit the crossbar with a rising drive from outside the penalty area.

“Heigh-ho,” said Hughes. “We don’t need a miracle,” insisted Solskjaer, who feels two wins will be enough to stay up. The problem is that Cardiff appear to have outstayed their welcome.

Line-ups:

Cardiff City (4-5-1): Marshall; Théophile-Catherine, Cala, Caulker, Fabio (John, 84); Daehli (Jones, 81), Mutch, Medel, Whitingham, Kim (Zaha, 60); Campbell.

Stoke City (4-2-3-1): Begovic; Cameron, Shawcross, Wilson, Pieters (Muniesa, 29); Whelan, N’Zonzi; Odemwingie, Ireland (Walters, 85), Arnautovic (Assaidi, 78); Crouch.

Referee: Howard Webb.

Man of the match: Daehli (Cardiff)

Match rating: 5/10

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