Sunday, April 06, 2008

The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Striker

Will there be a more poignant image taken this season than this one of Barnsley's Kayode Odejayi? With twenty minutes played in the second half of this afternoon's FA Cup semi-final between Barnsley and Cardiff City, he was put through on goal with a glorious chance to level things up. One can only imagine what went through his mind in those ten seconds. I'd be less than surprised if his entire life flashed before his eyes. It's likely that he had too much time. His shot flashed wide of the post, and with that miss went Barnsley's chance of making it to their first FA Cup final since 1912.

Prior to this, Cardiff's lead had seemed like a somewhat fortunate. Barnsley had reacted excellently to Joe Ledley's early goal for Cardiff, and had looked plenty capable of being able to drag themselves back into the match. Odejayi's miss, however, proved to be as good as it got for them. They continued to press forward for an equalizer, but left significant gaps at the back, and in the last ten minutes Cardiff looked more likely to double their lead than Barnsley looked like levelling things up.

A harsh reality now faces them. Having lost this match, their attention will now turn back to their battle against relegation from the Championship, where results over the weekend dropped them into the bottom three. For Kayode Odejayi, who gave the FA Cup one of its defining moments of the season when he out-jumped Petr Cech to head Chelsea out of the competition last month, there have been a series of rather unsavoury comments after it became public that Barnsley may not be renewing his contract. We may never know the exact extent to which this popped into Odejayi's head as he closed in on Peter Enckleman's goal, but his reaction to the final whistle (which was linger over for considerably too long by the Sky Sports cameras) indicated that he somehow knew that finding a new contract might prove to be more difficult to find than he was hoping it was.

Congratulations, then should go to Cardiff City, whose enormous support at Wembley thoroughly deserved a return trip there next month. They still have half a chance of making the play-offs for a place in the Premier League, and it will be interesting to see whether the diversion of an FA Cup final will propel them up the table on a sea of newly-found confidence, or whether it will prove to be a distraction from the business of hauling themselves up the table. Cardiff have flirted with the idea of entering into administration a couple of times over the last couple of seasons, and could do with the £50m that a year in the Premier League could net them, but I suspect that human nature might just overtake the need for extra cash.

It is somewhat ironic that the competition that has provided so many surprises should suddenly run dry at the semi-final stage, but Portsmouth tried their level best to help to cause one by playing absolutely terribly against West Bromwich Albion yesterday lunchtime. They scored the only goal of that match when Dean Kiely and Zoltan Gera got their knickers in a twist after Kiely blocked a shot, and Kanu nipped in to put the ball in from six yards. Portsmouth had been the second-best team before this, and continued to be afterwards, but West Bromwich Albion must have known that it wasn't going to be their day when Robert Koren hit the crossbar from twenty yards out and Ishmael Miller shot narrowly wide when he should have at least hit the target.

So, Cardiff City vs Portsmouth. The 2008 FA Cup Final. I don't think that any of us were expecting that.


Anonymous said...

Whilst I enjoy reading you blog I must say your summing up of the Portsmouth performance at Wembley by describing us as playing "absolutely terribly" is a little wide of the mark.

Pompey's game is based on counter attacking football, this is why we've had so many wins away from home this season whilst we struggled at home earlier on in the season. We've adapted and added to our game with the addition of Defoe, but he wasn't able to play leaving us in the half-way house of whether to stick with one up front or go 4-4-2. With Utaka unfit it pushed Redknapp into the 4-4-2 route which we've not been so used to playing. This showed in the first half as we were sloppy and disjointed.

West Brom had plenty of the ball but did nothing with it. With our excellent defence we were still quite comfortable without getting out of 1st gear. West Brom should be worried about their aspirations in the Premier League next season if their best still isn't as good as our worst.

Once we overcame our biggest problem on the day - scoring the opening goal (BTW it was handball - but in real time it would've been a tough one for the ref or lino to call - no one in the stadium saw it) we were able to settle the nerves of being favourites and went on to play some good stuff in the last half hour creating four very good chances to kill the game off - Baros, Sully and Nugent should've all done better in scoring situations.

So not a classic semi-final but then how many are? The prize is all too great at that stage and at the end of the day Pompey were professional and saw off WBA with some ease.

Let WBA have their plaudits for passing the ball around, but watch that game a gain and you'll see only one team was ever going to win it.

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