Bristol City emphatically surrendered their unbeaten record at the fourth attempt in the Severnside derby against Cardiff.
With regulars like Lewin Nyatanga, Bradley Orr, Cole Skuse and Louis Carey all suffering with illness, City’s defence were found to be all at sea as the Welsh ran riot.
As a result, Johnson opted to change the formation from his customary 3-4-1-2 to a 4-3-1-2 handing unexpected starts to Lee Johnson and Brian Wilson.
Playing in their new spineless bowl, identical to those found in Leicester, Southampton and Middlesbrough, City actually started pretty well with Danny Haynes sprinting clear down the right, pulling the back for Maynard who was denied by a last-ditch Anthony Gerrard tackle.
It was to prove a false dawn for the 1,000 or so of us packed into a corner, as it was all Cardiff after that.
Former Rangers winger Chris Burke surged into the City box after nutmegging McCombe and rounding Gerken only to be denied by a goal line intervention from Liam Fontaine.
Joe Ledley tested Gerken from distance whilst David Clarkson was stopped from heading a Marvin Elliott cross on goal.
The referee was favouring the home side and Gerken was nearly the victim of a stupid decision from Kevin Friend.
A long hoof from the Cardiff defence found Chopra in an off-side position and the linesman duly raised his flag. But Gerken hadn’t seen it and sprinted from his line. The referee failed to blow his whistle and gave the advantage to the home side.
Left-back Paul Quinn nearly capitalised with a long range lob only for Gerken to just about scamper back in time to claw if off his line.
The home side’s pressure was rewarded on 35 when Gerken produced a gaff. Under no pressure to kick upfield, Gerken chose to roll the ball out to an unexpecting McAllister who was quickly hustled into conceding a throw in deep in the City half.
A well worked routine found right-back Aaron Matthews on the byline who’s cross was inexplicably turned into his own net by Jamie McCombe.
City nearly responded immediately. A Paul Hartley free-kick on the right found McCombe, who’s header was brilliantly palmed away by David Marshall.
The ball dropped to Elliott, all-be-it on his left-foot, who could only thump his effort against the post with the goal gaping.
Heads dropped as it seemed to sap the energy out of City who conceded again in first half stoppage time.
Galloping onto more Chris Burke magic, £4m-striker Michael Chopra superbly lofted the ball over Gerken with the outside of his right-boot for the second.
Expecting an improved effort from the lads after a traditional Gary Johnson half-time ‘hand grenade’, City came out and offered absolutely nothing in the second half.
Possession was easily squandered in the midfield and the defence could only come up with long punts up field searching for the head of substitute John Akinde, who replaced David Clarkson at the break.
The hosts continued second half in the same vein as they did in the first with Matthews and Whittingham causing problems.
They ended the game as a contest on 66 minutes when the game’s outstanding player, Chris Burke, slipped in the onrushing Gavin Rae who drilled his shot low into the net.
Gerken nearly conceded a penalty soon after, hauling down Bothroyd but luckily for us it was just outside the box.
City offered nothing going forward in response for the travelling fans, who will look for the team to bounce back when another of the early pace-setters Middlesbrough hit town on Saturday.
CARDIFF (4-4-2): Marshall; Matthews, Hudson, Gerrard, Quinn; Whittingham, Rae, Ledley, Burke; Chopra (Etuhu 80), Bothroyd (Magennis 89). Subs Not Used: Enckelman, Gyepes, McPhail, Blake, Comminges.
CITY (4-3-1-2): Gerken; Wilson, McCombe, Fontaine, McAllister; Elliott, Hartley (Sproule 75), Johnson (Williams 75); Haynes, Clarkson (Akinde 46), Maynard. Subs Not Used: Basso, Carey, Ribeiro, Blackman.
Referee: Kevin Friend (Leicester)
Dean Gerken 5
Made some excellent early saves but was responsible for the first goal. His throw led to us conceding possession deep in our half, which ultimately led to the goal.
Brian Wilson 3
Simply not good enough for this level. He struggled to make an impact and was physically weak. Was made to look very poor at right-back.
Jamie McAllister 5
Too many aimless long balls and didn’t provide enough width on the left. Produced a few good corners the occasional good cross but was another one who was found wanting.
Liam Fontaine 7
By far and away City’s best player. He was the only one interested in defending, or oven playing with any pride, but was let down by those around him. Couldn’t have done anything about the goals.
Jamie McCombe 3
Awful. Simply awful. Not just because of the own-goal, which he had little chance with, but his positioning was poor and he didn’t look like he knew how to kick a football when it was at his feet. Another one who isn’t good enough at this level.
Marvin Elliott 6
Marv battled hard in the middle but was out-hussled in a congested central midfield. He squandered City’s best chance and lost possession too many times, making some poor decisions in the process. The game could’ve really used one of his crunching tackles.
Paul Hartley 5
Worst game in a City shirt so far for the ex-Celtic man. Couldn’t get going asides from the occasional pinpoint diagnal long ball. Was sitting far too deep in centre midfield, but whether or not he was told to do that is another matter for debate.
Lee Johnson 3
I’m not a Lee Johnson basher but this lad is not to up to scratch for us any more, and hasn’t been for some time. He shirked challenges on a regular basis and worryingly slowed our tempo down, allowing Cardiff to fall back into position, whenever we tried to counter attack. Should’ve been taken off long before he was.
David Clarkson 4
Subbed at half-time because he couldn’t get into the game. Was often lost in behind the front two but on the limited occasions when he had the ball he looked our most likely scorer of a goal.
Danny Haynes 5
All the pace and power of a Champions League striker but the finishing and poise of a Conference footballer. Was a willing runner again but consistently made poor decisions when in a good position.
Nicky Maynard 6
Tough day for Maynard but I’ve given him this rating on the fact that he wasn’t afraid to put his foot in where it hurts. Had next to no chances or service and wasn’t in the game as a consequence.
John Akinde 6
Did well when he came on. Had a few powerful runs and the defence and won his fair share in the air. Still very raw but one of the pluses to come from an awful day.
Gavin Williams 5
Came on with 15 to go and couldn’t get going. Whether that was to do with the fact his a Cardiff fan or not, who knows.
Provided a little bit of width down the right when he came on but ran around in circles instead of using his brain.
Gary Johnson 4/10
Got it woefully wrong with his tactics and his team selection, though I doubt he will come out and admit it. Had his hand forced somewhat with the illness to four regulars but should’ve had his team motivated more than this. His substitutions left a lot to be desired too.
Dave Jones 8/10
His side were up for it and totally outclassed us in the midfield. Burke ran the show on the right wing for his side who didn’t look back once they got their noses in front.
Make no bones about it, depleted City were totally outclassed in Wales but that doesn’t detract for the fact this was a spineless, weak performance.
Injuries or not, the very least us fans expect is to compete and try your best for the shirt.
We created nothing. We gave away shocking goals. We played with no heart.
Liam Fontaine asides, the players and management let the fans down with this derby-day performance and should apologise for their lack of effort or passion for the red shirt.
Yesterday made my mind up that I don’t want us to leave the Gate if a plastic, half-empty stadium is what awaits us.
The Welsh made a decent noise but the whole place felt fake and souless. City should strive to avoid building anything like this if we can.