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04/05: Reports:

Football League Division Two, 28/12/04, 3.00pm
Cardiff City
Here and Now
By Mike Smart

I reckon we're in with a chance, you know. I mean, obviously if Liverpool are at their best then the journey ends here, but I really can see us beating them. In fact, I have seen us beating them. Almost every night since the draw was made. Look, I've got it all worked out:

who? what? progress?
liverpool indifferent form achieved
liverpool three bigger priorities achieved
djibril cissé broken leg achieved
harry kewell doesn't give a toss achieved
chris kirkland permanently injured achieved
djimi traoré crap achieved
steven gerrard sold to chelselona imminent

So we'll see how things develop, but like I say, there's a chance…eh? Cardiff? Erm… dunno. I haven't really thought about that much. See, I've never been to Anfield before, and it's really exciting. The Bill Shankly gates, the Kop, You'll Never Walk Alone etc. And as far as I know, Heidar Helguson has never been to Anfield before. Or Lloyd Doyley. Or Sean Dyche. Or Gavin Mahon. Or…. Well, you get the idea.

And maybe, there is part of our current problem. Because, without a shadow of a doubt, we currently have a problem. Not a crisis, by any means, but a definite problem.

A couple of weeks ago, the form table could be interpreted in a variety of ways. We were unbeaten in eleven - promotion form! We had only won one league game in ten. Oh. But the results since then have rather left us without a positive spin to put on the stats. One point from our last four games. Three defeats in four. Six points from a possible twenty-seven. One win in sixteen league games!

Bloody hell.

This season promised so much more than this. We had twenty-three points in the bag by the end of October. Nearly the end of December - this is written before the 4-0 triumph / 0-3 debacle / 0-0 stalemate (seems most likely) at Reading - and we are still to reach thirty points. And it occurred to me that if I'm this excited about sitting in the away end at Anfield, how much more will the players have at least one eye on the Semi-Final? Not that I would accuse our players of deliberately taking it easy - that clearly hasn't been the case. But somewhere in their collective sub-conscious, our boys have probably spent several moments rehearsing their lap-of-honour for January 25th. And depressingly, in the last few weeks, we have got the results our performances deserved, which was not the case when our run of drawn games began. Wigan, Sunderland, Gillingham - we were the better team by some distance. West Ham, Stoke, Coventry - we were second best. As Ray has said repeatedly, there is no lack of effort from the players, but we badly need a boost if we are to keep looking towards the top of the table, rather than nervously peering over our shoulders.

Cue Cardiff, with their own less-than-impressive statistics: one win in eight, three wins in sixteen, six defeats in seven. Exactly what we need. And on our home ground, too, although that's perhaps not that much of a bonus - no home league win since August!

Ex-Millwall man Tony Warner will probably be in goal for City. He used to play for Liverpool, you know, but they now have Chris Kirkland and Jerzy Dudek competing for the… Oh. I did it again. Right, Cardiff. Warner appears to be hanging on to his first team place by a thread. Neil Alexander is the likely replacement should Lennie Lawrence opt for change. Martyn Margetson, amazingly only thirty-three years old, is another option.

In defence will be Jamie Carra…. sorry, Darren Williams - the ex-Sunderland midfielder-turned-defender. He's on the right of a fairly settled back four, with Chris Barker on the left, and Danny Gabbidon and James Collins in the centre. Robert Page, sadly, has not played since the Bluebirds' 3-0 defeat at home to the Golden Boys in September. Personally, I still harbour hopes of seeing him in a Watford shirt again in the future. Tony Vidmar, at thirty-five, is facing the realisation that his best years are behind him. A tough time ahead for the Aussie; he'll soon have to face England regaining the Ashes too. Rhys Weston usually makes the bench.

In their last match (other than Wolves on Boxing Day), against Sheffield United, Lawrence tried out a 4-3-3 formation. It was working pretty well by all accounts, as Cardiff led 1-0 approaching half time. Then, Graham Kavanagh (just back from a ban) got himself sent off, and Cardiff lost 2-1. Kavanagh serves a two-match ban against Wolves and Watford, so we won't be seeing him. For those not in the know, imagine Craig Ramage with grey hair and a captain's armband. Voilà, Graham Kavanagh.

From hereon in, the starting line-up is very hard to predict; perhaps Lennie Lawrence is thinking the same thing. Against the Blades, the midfield three consisted of Kavanagh, Willie Boland and youngster Joe Ledley. However, Kavanagh is unavailable, Richard Langley is close to a return from long-term injury and talented but unpredictable Jobi McAnuff has played in most games this season, but was dropped to the bench for the visit to Bramall Lane. Winger Paul Parry has also featured recently, as has Lee Bullock. At the time of writing, City are trying to seal a deal to bring in Junichi Inamoto on loan from West Brom. So, to sum up, the midfield will be any three or four from Boland, Ledley, Langley, McAnuff, Parry, Bullock and Inamoto. I'm starting to build up a picture of why Cardiff are struggling.

The forward positions are almost as mysterious; for the last three games, it's been Peter Thorne and youngster Cameron Jerome. In the last match, they were joined by the on-loan Neil Harris, who scored the Bluebirds' goal. Sadly (ha!) Harris was recalled from his loan so that Millwall could flog him to Forest, so that's one less option. Former Rotherham man Alan Lee is an option up front, and has featured recently. Andy Campbell, with no goals in thirteen appearances this season, will probably not be joining us, meaning we're looking at two or three from Thorne, Jerome and Lee. Teenager Stuart Fleetwood has played this season, so could be an option.

Things are very much in our favour for this one. We've brought in Paul Jones and Johnnie Jackson, in contrast to Cardiff's misfortune in the transfer market this week. And we are better than them! So if we can just put our thoughts of Liverpool to one side, in much the same way as Liverpool have to put aside thoughts of Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions' League (not champions, not a league), we really should have an enjoyable afternoon. Cardiff are here and now. They are our biggest and only priority.

Come on you Golden Boys.