Gaolkeepers - The Curse Of The Dave Jones Era
Cardiff City have experienced the end of an era after the recent departure of long-serving manager Dave Jones following another near miss on promotion. Last season was seen by many, and evidently the board - as a failure as we capitulated with back to back 3-0 home defeats to end the season and exit the play-offs. The final nail in his coffin was the 3-0 defeat by Reading, a game in which we dominated the opening exchanges only for the entire game to change on a dismal piece of goalkeeping with Stephen Bywater rushing needlessly from his line and hit a clearance straight into Shane Long.
It was far from the first time we have been undone by poor goalkeeping and the entire 6-year Dave Jones reign is littered with disappointment in that area and a succession of failures have meant that no-one made the number one shirt his own. Ironically, the best of the lot was there when Dave Jones took over as former Livingstone shotstopper Neil Alexander was ever-present in Jones first (ship-steadying) season. Fans remember Alexander fondly but he had plenty of critics at the time. He was agile, and capable of pulling off some superb saves. However, he was not a commanding goalkeeper and was dubious under crosses while the least said about his penalty saving record the better! Alexander`s contract was to run out at the end of the 2006/07 season and despite wanting to stay, he became the first of several players (Purse, Thompson, Gyepes) to be frozen out by Jones - who steadfastly refused the improved contract Alexander wanted. He left to join Ipswich and then Rangers, always providing a steady and composed presence between the sticks.
Then started the procession of failure, and one that Dave Jones never managed to solve. Certainly, some criticism must go to the goalkeeping coach Martyn Margetson who would undoubtedly be involved in the recruitment of several of the flops and possibly the inability to improve others.
David Forde was the man Dave Jones turned to replace Alexander, the Irishman coming in for 7 appearances after the Scotsman fell out of favour. He failed to impress and was immediately shipped out. It was probably the right decision as he struggled for opportunities though a resurgence and subsequent promotion and Championship season with Millwall suggests he did have pedigree.
The 2007/08 season saw Michael Oakes, a former Jones play at Wolves and golfing partner brought in, while loan players were also required in their droves after Ross Turnbull endured a torrid and error-strewn time (how is now at Chelsea?!?) before the impressive Kasper Schmeichel steadied the ship. Kasper was on-loan only briefly (14 games), more was the pity, as he impressed in South Wales and pulled off some remarkable saves. One in particular, away at Leicester City in a 0-0 draw remains the best I can remember from a Bluebird as his star-jump at point blank range prevented a certain goal. Peter Enckelman then came in from Aston Villa and was steady at least, despite his calamitous reputation. He ended the season as number one and appeared a decent signing although he was certainly to blame for Kanu`s winner in the FA Cup final that season, even though the Finn insisted the mistake would not haunt him.
No-one could really blame Dave Jones for bringing Enckelman in permanently on a free transfer after his appearances on loan. He was to miss out on the number one shirt to young Manchester united prospect Tom Heaton but soon got his chance after injury to Heaton. Enckelman then played a significant part in a 2-month unbeaten spell for the Bluebirds as we looked to mount a promotion challenge. Unfortunately, injury was to strike again and Enckelman was then sidelined paving the way for Heaton to return, putting in a sublime performance despite a 4-0 hammering from Arsenal. The injury curse did not abate, however, and Heaton was once again struck down - this time with a torn thigh muscle. Although undoubtedly unfortunate with injuries, Dave Jones then made a calamitous error in recruiting Dimi Konstantopoulos - former Hartlepool Utd player unable to get into the Coventry City side. Dimi had played a couple of games for our rivals Swansea City and done very well, using his imposing and commanding figure impressively and catching the eye of Jones. However, his spell with the Bluebirds was disastrous culminating in a shocking performance against league leaders Wolves. City were flying high and took a 2-1 lead against Wolves only for the on-loan stopper to literally drop a clanger as he dropped a high and hopeful Kyel Reid cross into his own net under no pressure.
Although shaky, he retained his place for several more games until another shocker saw him fail to clear a long Norwich through ball and he was tackled by Mooney to gift Norwich a goal. Konstantopoulos then stayed down, feigning injury under the entirely fair challenge to hide his blatant mistake. The Bluebirds lost the plot and capitulated, now with former Arsenal man Stuart Taylor between the posts. Taylor was highly rated, but failed to impress though that was largely due to ineptitude and lack-of-belief shown by his new team-mates as we crashed out of the play-offs on the final day of the season. Taylor was the man in goal during the disastrous 6-0 rout away at Preston.
The 2009/10 season was one of real hope, and Dave Jones appeared to have learnt his goalkeeping lessons from previous seasons as he swooped in early in the close season to sign Scotsman David Marshall from recently relegated Norwich City. Marshall was virtually ever present as we mounted a serious play-off challenge all season and many felt he was the first dependable replacement for Neil Alexander all those years ago. Various comparisons could be drawn between the two, and they remain similar in style as both are good shot-stoppers, but remain hesitant under the high ball. Marshall enjoyed a fine first season, and was a major part in the team`s success in reaching the play-off final - not least due to his penalty heroics and the Yann Kermorgant debacle. Unfortunately, the Wembley showpiece ended in despair, and David Marshall produced the worst appearance of his City career to date looking bereft of confidence and unable to organise his errant defence.
This season gone past, Cardiff City turned to former loanee Tom Heaton - a somewhat surprising choice, but a cheap one and most fans felt he would be a useful understudy to number one David Marhsall. However, Marshall lost his way somewhat and in fact Heaton looked the more assured of the two - though both struggled with injuries once again. Marshall required elbow surgery and missed much of the season, while Heaton`s impressive form was halted by a succession of niggling hamstring problems. That necessitated further moves into the loan market, and few retained much trust in Dave Jones` ability to attract the right man to stabilise our talented but inconsistent team. And so it proved when Stephen Bywater arrived on loan from struggling Derby County and was indifferent at best and a liability to many. He gifted a late equaliser to Millwall when charging needlessly out and repeated the error in Dave Jones` final game in charge - on both occasions Kevin McNaughton was left looking bemused and baffled by the needless decisions. Jason Brown was also drafted in from Blackburn rovers, but failed to appear for City - how bad could he have been?!?
All-in-all, a nightmare 6 years in terms of the goalkeeping department for Dave Jones. He remains a good manager, but also has his faults and the inability to identify and solve problem positions remains a critical reason for his dismissal. When you compare Cardiff City`s record to that of our rivals, it`s clear we have paid a heavy price for never finding our Paddy Kenny, Kieran Westwood or Lee Camp - how many times over the past years have the likes of those players foiled us with spectacular performances? I can`t remember any man-of-the-match performances in the league for CCFC players, but plenty against us. All the top teams have a trusted and established goalkeeper at the heart of their defence and you only have to look at our rivals Swansea City to see that…. Whilst they build their promotion success on a great team spirit and fluid passing - they can always rely on the superb Dorus De Vries to make the difference and maintain his clean sheet wherever possible.