By Jonny Moulds
He was in danger of being upstaged on what was an emotional debut, and he was having none of that. Seven minutes from the end of the normal 90, with the crowd singing the praises of others, Craig Bellamy stepped forward and thrashed a 25-yard free-kick in off Neil Sullivan’s left-hand post to apply the finishing touches to the 4-0 drubbing of Doncaster Rovers with which Cardiff City welcomed him home. After assists for two of the other goals, and an unsurprising booking, the Championship’s biggest name was the star of the show after all.
“It has been an incredible couple of days, and to finish it like this is unbelievable.”
Craig Bellamy lost for words? Referees everywhere won’t believe it, least of all Neil Swarbrick, who booked him for throwing the ball away at a free-kick, and endured a taxing dialogue with Cardiff’s new captain throughout.
It was a close call for man of the match honours, with the supporters giving their award to Jay Bothroyd. Leading the line in the accomplished style that has attracted Premier League interest, he took his tally for the season to four with two smart finishes.
Another obvious contender was Chris Burke, who, fired up by his omission from the starting line-up after scoring the winner at Derby last week, supplied the most inviting of crosses for Bothroyd’s classic centre-forward’s header, before contributing Cardiff’s third with a spectacular shot on the run.
In the end, however, it was Bellamy’s day, as expected, and when he was substituted, after 87 minutes, it was to allow a standing ovation. The Cardiff manager, Dave Jones, said: “He deserved that applause, that’s why I brought him off.”
Bellamy deserves to be judged on what he achieves, not set against the success of others, but there is one reservation. Cardiff are £30m in debt and pulled off their coup while still owing transfer money to an impoverished club much in need of the cash. They are manipulating the system, to the chagrin of their creditors, by signing players on loan. Apart from Bellamy, they have borrowed Jason Koumas from Wigan, Seyi Olofinjana [Hull] and Daniel Drinkwater [Manchester United] at a time when the wages they are paying them should really have gone to Motherwell, as final settlement for Paul Quinn. The Football League were right to demand full details, before agreeing to approve Bellamy’s registration.
With his latest acquisition, Jones has a plethora of attacking talent, and it was going to be interesting to see how he could squeeze Bellamy, Michael Chopra, Bothroyd, Burke, Koumas, Ross McCormack, and Peter Whittingham into the 4-4-2 formation he has always favoured. Whittingham, Chopra, Bothroyd and Burke scored 56 goals between them in the Championship last season, but something, or someone, had to give. The ones to miss out from the original 11 were Burke, Koumas and McCormack, all of whom started on the bench, with Bellamy operating on the left side of a four-man midfield.
Cardiff began nervously, none more so than their new captain, and Doncaster, who enjoy a deserved reputation as one of the best passing teams in the division, had much the better of the first half hour. The script was in danger of being torn up completely when Chopra, injured early by what looked suspiciously like an over-the-top tackle by Adam Lockwood, had to limp off after 32 minutes. Welsh spirits took a downward turn with the departure of the striker who scored twice in the play-off final, but the consequent change turned the match in their favour.
The replacement, Burke, can rarely have played better than he did here. As pacy as Bellamy but more direct, he was instantly a major threat on the right flank in the new 4-3-3 deployment. That said, it was Bellamy who set up the first goal to settle Cardiff’s nerves, playing in Bothroyd, who took advantage of a mistake by Wayne Thomas, turning and shooting into Sullivan’s left-hand corner.
Burke might have doubled the margin before his cross from the byline enabled Bothroyd to do so with a firm nod of his increasingly productive forehead. Enter the man of the moment again. Midway through the second half, Bellamy’s long clearance from the left-back position fell obligingly for Burke, who sprinted away before scoring with the sort of rising drive that brooks no argument. “Easy, Easy, Easy” chorused the ecstatic home fans, whose mood soared to new heights when Lockwood’s foul on Bothroyd provided Bellamy with the goal he craved.
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