Appreciate small mercies in the wake of this defeat. With all the furore about Craig Bellamy’s ‘homecoming’ this will be one of the few match reports you read concerning this fixture which actually looks at Rovers involvement in the match. From the moment you arrived in Cardiff, it was clear that this was Bellamy’s day. The night before his image had been projected onto the walls of Cardiff Castle, today his face was omnipresent the club ‘superstore’ not to mention on t-shirts being hawked on the sides of Sloper and Leckwith Road. CB39 is the new black in the Welsh capital.
For all the Bellamy fever it was easy to forget (or gloss over) that Rovers actually arrived at the Cardiff City Stadium as the higher ranked of the two sides. Like the Bluebirds Rovers had won one and drawn one from their opening two games and sat two places above City in the table, a goal to the good, coming into this match. For all the excitement from those in blue and yellow, there was an underlying nervousness before the game from the City fans I know that Rovers could be just the sort of team to make a drama into an anti-climax.
Once the game was underway, after a well observed minute’s applause for former Cardiff striker Brian Clark, there was a chance that the party might not live up to the hype as Bellamy’s eagerly anticipated first sight of the ball saw him play a long ball into the channel straight out of play. His second spell in possession was more productive though as a lay-off to Michael Chopra on the edge of the box say the forward fiercely tackled by Wayne Thomas and as the ground appealed for a free-kick the ball returned to Bellamy in behind the defence, but Neil Sullivan closed him quickly and City’s captain for the day could only put his shot over the bar.
For all the excitement about one side’s skipper it was the other Welsh captain on show who was exerting more influence on the game’s opening quarter as Brian Stock got Rovers ticking from the centre of the field with some effortlessly neat passing. Doncaster’s first bit of favoured good football saw Ryan Mason edge his way into the area, but the youngster could only fire over the bar. Mason had another chance minutes later, but his shot this time was blocked only for the ball to fall at the feet of Stock who was given space to hit a strike from long-range that was just off target.
Rovers were continuing to move the ball well and threatened again moments later this time Jamie Coppinger found Billy Sharp and the forward turned to get in a low shot from the edge of the area that David Marshall had to be at full stretch to turn behind. Two Rovers corners followed, but the spell on the attack ended as Coppinger, from a tight angle on the right, fired a shot into the side netting.
Cardiff began to edge their way back into things and though Bellamy, out on the left touchline, was quiet Rovers still looked fearful of him whenever he was in possession, repeatedly backing off the player with no member of the backline keen to take the responsibility of actually tackling him. Jay Bothroyd was being pressed more but was still proving a handful as he got to the byline and flashed a ball across the face of Sullivan’s goal. The ‘keeper was in action himself moments later as a mistake from Thomas allowed Chopra in but Sullivan did well to stick out a hand and swat away the forward’s effort.
Chopra was not to remain on the field much beyond that, as Cardiff, who had already made one sub twenty minutes in when Lee Naylor replaced Kevin McNaughton, were forced into another. Chopra limped off to be replaced by Chris Burke and having lost his place in the line-up to Bellamy the attacking midfielder would go on to make a point of his ability. At this point Rovers were still threatening to take the lead themselves as Coppinger got to the byline and put over a cross which Sharp nodded back across goal, but with no hooped shirts on hand City cleared the ball to the other flank. George Friend collected and crossed low to the near-post, but the ball was just out of reach from Sharp.
For all Rovers early endeavour it was City who broke the deadlock ten minutes before the break. Bellamy on the left rolled the ball towards Bothroyd’s feet and the forward attempted to dummy it with a step over only for it to come off Adam Lockwood’s shin and straight into his path. Not one to turn down such a gift the forward made no mistake in slotting the ball past Sullivan. A decent reward for Bothroyd who had already put the ball in the net once from close range twenty-five minutes in only to see it disallowed for a clear offside.
Rovers football was by now being stifled as they struggle to encroach into City’s defensive third, owing mostly to some impressive midfield play from Seyi Olofinjana and Danny Drinkwater, the pair sweeping up most things in front of the City back-line. With Rovers’ threat neutered Cardiff looked to add another before half time and would have done but for a good save from Sullivan. The Rovers keeper getting down to beat away a low angled strike from Chris Burke coming in from the right, with a strong right hand. An evenly matched half ended soon after with Rovers arguably unfortunate to be behind.
The second half began a little more subdued than the first had ended, but remained as even a contest as Rovers looked to find a way back into the game. Unlike the opening twenty minutes though Doncaster were now struggling to get the ball to and support Sharp and the forward was getting noticeably frustrated. Ten minutes in Coppinger swung a cross in from the right that had Mashall backpedaling and beaten but the ball came back off the face of the bar and it was as close as Rovers would come to changing the afternoon’s result.
Just after the hour mark Cardiff City doubled their lead and from then on a home victory never looked in doubt. The impressive Burke received the ball on the right and got away from Friend a little too easily to advance to the byline. From there the substitute stood up a cross into the middle and Bothroyd, unmarked, headed it back across goal into the corner of the net for his and City’s second goal. Rovers first half fluency and composure had gone and within minutes they would be undone again.
As we looked over Bellamy’s performance in the pub afterwards one City fan said, “what about his lay-off for Burke’s goal?” Bellamy may be good, but he’s not good enough to play a sixty yard “lay-off”. With Rovers pushing for a way back into the game City won the ball back in their defensive left corner and it came to Bellamy, who looked forward and hit a long ball forward in the vicinity of Burke on halfway. As it came out the sky Lockwood paused beneath the ball fatefully, like Wylie Coyote having just run off a cliff-edge and realised exactly where he was, and once it was past him Burke was always favourite to break onto it. That he did, and with Lockwood failing to close the ground behind him he advanced into the area and smashed the ball inside Sullivan’s near post for 3-0 and a goal that extinguished any already faint hope of a Rovers fight back.
Doncaster would engineer chances, but they never looked likely to find a way past Marshall who continued to thwart them right to the death as the keeper got down to turn away a low Dean Shiels strike in the closing minutes. At the other end Sullivan was now keeping the score down as twice in the closing quarter of an hour Bothroyd managed to let fly from just inside the area and twice the Rovers keeper did well to beat the ball away.
Of course what the crowd had come to see was a Bellamy goal, after all, they had already ticked off the petulance box of the Bellamy spotters guide when the forward picked up a caution for throwing the ball away after a foul on James O’Connor. Six minutes from time the people got what they had come for as Lockwood brought down Bothroyd as he turned to run at goal just beyond the centre-circle. Bellamy stole ten yards without anyone noticing (that’s the sort of ingenuity you get for £90k a week) to place the ball thirty-yards from goal and duly lashed an impressive strike in off Sullivan’s far post to wrap up a 4-0 win for Cardiff.
It’s hard to fathom why Rovers, who had looked so capable in the first half, fell away so meagerly in the second half. But this is the third league game in a row where Doncaster have looked much more accomplished in the first forty-five minutes than the second. If the season is to continue to amble toward its expected mid-table destination then its key that more of these first half chances become first half goals, especially if the team are going to continue to visibly tire and capitulate as they have done thus far.
There are folk who will no doubt moan and harshly criticise the defenders, even in the ground yesterday, the word ‘shit’ was being applied to Lockwood, Thomas and Friend as eagerly and as liberally as minor damage is applied to an insurance claim. These players are not ‘shit’, but it is certainly true that they are playing below their best. The one key factor lacking from the defence yesterday was the aspect that is at the core of Cardiff’s attack; pace. The return of James Chambers will arrest these concerns, in the mean time the side just need to find a way to adapt to this deficiency better than they did so yesterday.
So that’s us covered, what of the main man? Well there is no doubting what Bellamy has done for Cardiff City. The attendance, the excitement and the club’s turnover have all been increased drastically in the last few days, and I cannot name another player to club move that could generate quite such fervour. The atmosphere within the Cardiff City Stadium was also much higher than what it would have been for a regular game against The Likes Of Doncaster. But in terms of his actual impact on the field Bellamy’s presence was far from influential. He played well and he scored a cracking free-kick, but other City players impressed more. Seyi Olofinjana, Danny Drinkwater and Chris Burke were all more integral to the home side’s victory, perhaps mindful that they were now playing for their place. Assuming administration is avoided (and given the reported ticket and merchandise income this week it probably now will be) then the Bellamy bounce could well propel Cardiff into a more realistic promotion push. As good a player as he is, it won’t all be down to Bellamy’s ability, instead expect his marketability and his presence will play a more pivotal role in the club’s near future.
Man of the Match: If we were neutral then this would be one of the Cardiff City players mentioned in the paragraph above, but we’re not so we have to pick what we can from the Rovers set-up. The three central midfielders were perhaps the most effective members of Rovers squad and having controlled much of the first half play its Brian Stock who gets the nod. Good to see him impressing in front of a Welsh crowd before he travels to Montenegro with the national side in a fortnight.
Cardiff City line-up (4-4-2); David Marshall; Adam Matthews, Mark Hudson, Gabor Gypes, Kevin McNaughton (Lee Naylor); Peter Whittingham, Seyi Olofinjana, Danny Drinkwater, Craig Bellamy (Jason Koumas); Jay Bothroyd, Michael Chopra (Chris Burke)
subs not used: Tom Heaton, Gavin Rae, Anthony Gerrad, Ross McCormack
booked: Craig Bellamy (dissent)
Doncaster Rovers line-up (4-3-2-1); Neil Sullivan; James O’Connor, Adam Lockwood, Wayne Thomas, George Friend (Mustapha Dumbaya); Brian Stock, Simon Gillett (Steve Brooker), Martin Woods; Jamie Coppinger, Ryan Mason (Dean Shiels); Billy Sharp
subs not used: Gary Woods, Sam Hird, Mark Wilson, Waide Fairurst
booked: Adam Lockwood (clumsy foul on Jay Bothroyd)