2009/10 Season Review - Part Two
So, with Christmas firmly behind us, we entered the New Year full of renewed optimism that the reopening of the transfer window brings. Fans, myself included, spent the first half of the season screaming from the rooftops of Nelson Mandela House for a new left-winger to add much-needed balance to the squad and maybe, just maybe, we could make a late dash for the play-off's. Any hopes of that left-footed knight in shining armour arriving early on in January were dashed by the time we took the field for the FA Cup third round tie at home to Cardiff.
With the bitterly cold winter conditions causing the initial tie to be postponed, nearly half the month had gone before we played a competitive game and the only arrival was that of Barnsley right-winger Jamal Campbell-Ryce, a good signing on paper but not really what we needed. Anyway, the 7,289 hardy souls who braved the Baltic conditions and bubble trips alike were treated to another dismal showing as boyhood Cardiff fan Gavin Williams scored a last-gasp equaliser to ensure a replay and yet another game over the bridge.
Our return to league form was encouraging when Preston came to town though. Johnson chose to revert back to the 4-4-2 that had served him so well in the past with McAllister manning the left-wing position to good effect as we romped home 4-2. Just as we thought Johnson had cracked it though, the back-to-back games with our Welsh foes was to prove the final straw.
Firstly, the balance and fluidity from the Preston win was missing for the Cup replay as we surrendered for the third time this season with a meek 1- 0 defeat to all but end our hugely disappointing season but what was to follow was inexplicable.
Having seen Cardiff up close THREE times already, it was their turn to come to the Gate for the corresponding league fixture. Surely our luck would turn, I thought. Surely we couldn't perform any worse than the shoddy showing back in August, a mate said to me over a pint of Thatchers in the pub before hand. Without dwelling on it, Cardiff well and truly took the piss and won 6-0, four of which were scored before the break. Johnson HAD to go!
To many people's amazement, the cocky cockney was still in a job as we took to the field at Middlesbrough four days on but in truth he looked a beaten man a very long time ago. His comments in the press had blamed everyone but himself for our plight, regularly slating our fans only served to divide the supporters to the point where you were either with him or against him. People were sick of it and sick of him trotting the same automated excuses after every game. A relegation battle seriously looked on the cards if things didn't change.
Dreadful defeats at Watford and Sheffield United exacerbated the stale feeling further as the situation was allowed to drift. Sadly, so did our league position as we went on an alarming slide down the table. Johnson's latest answer to all our problems was to bring in Wolves striker Chris Iwelumo because we weren't scoring enough goals apparently! Had he said the lack of organisation and cohesion at the back was the problem, he'd have been closer to home. Iwelumo staggeringly became our TENTH striker of the season as he made his debut in that defeat at Bramhall Lane but he was a shrewd signing and played a key part in the defeat of promotion favourites West Brom, scoring one in the 2-1 win towards the end of February. That was followed up with a rare point at Ipswich the weekend after.
But when plucky Doncaster came to town nobody could be left in any doubt as to the dire predicament we were in. Played off the park by the Yorkshire outfit - a superb footballing team under Sean O'Driscoll - our defence would've let a double-decker bus through as Jay Emmanuel-Thomas and Billy Sharp tore us apart in another embarrassing 5-2 home thrashing. The pressure was untenable as rumours of player power began to surface on the back of bully-boy tactics allegedly being used behind closed doors.
Iwelumo scored the only goal of the game to secure a massively important 1-0 win at fellow strugglers Crystal Palace before City went to in-form Reading and lost 2-0, when another 6-0 wouldn't have flattered the hosts. The likeable Scot had returned to Molineux after being subbed that day at the Madejski, allegedly saying he would never play for the club again whilst Johnson was in charge.
The under-pressure gaffer reacted by ringing up his best pal Mick McCarthy and bagging Arnold Schwarzenegger, erm, I mean Stefan Maierhofer, on loan as yet another striker arrived to take the field for the crunch midweek away day 'derby` down in Devon. We simply could not afford to lose to Plymouth - but we did, 3-2 to another bloody stoppage time goal, but at least Nicky Maynard finally got back on the goal trail in that game at Home Park, with two more scorchers to add to the other beauties he'd already got this term.
Events that night weren't helped by the half-time altercation between Ivan Sproule, who was subbed at half-time, and Johnson. Hacked off at being 2-0 down at the interval, the beleaguered manager allegedly set upon the Northern Irish speedster in the dressing room, resulting in three senior players threatening to tear up their contracts if the once-popular figure remained. The chairman got wind of it and finally acted as Lansdown and Johnson 'mutually agreed' to end their five-year association.
Just as the shoots of spring started to sprout after the harsh winter, the same could be said for City by the time runaway leaders Newcastle arrived for the televised game in early March. With Keith Millen installed as caretaker manager, City produced a liberated performance, free from the shackles, to draw 2-2. The performance epitomised a new vigour about the players and how it showed as we pushed the millionaire barcodes in their vile yellow shirt all the way.
48-hours later we recorded our biggest win of the season, thumping Barnsley 5-3 at the Gate to give a bit of breathing space between us and those at the bottom. That was followed by another win - this time 1-0 at Peterborough - as David Clarkson's second-half header was enough to secure the points.
By now, the rumour mill was in overdrive about Johnson's successor and there was only really one contender. The bookies had stopped taking bets on Steve Coppell on the back of the ex-Palace and Reading supremo's application.
More wins came over Sheffield Wednesday and play-off chasing Swansea as even the most optimistic supporter started to dream of maybe sneaking into the play-off's ourselves whilst, as Vital readers knew some EIGHT days before being announced, Coppell was confirmed on a one-year rolling contract to take over from next season.
A Gary Hooper hat-trick ensured Scunthorpe's survival in a 3—0 away day defeat with a performance that surely makes him a genuine summer transfer target as Coppell starts the rebuild.
Millen signed off in style with a 2-1 defeat over an average Derby side and a credible 1-1 at play-off bound Blackpool as the City finished in 10th spot, two points better off than last year.