Cardiff 3 Pompey 0

Dion Donohue. Picture: Colin Farmery

New boy’s bitter-sweet Pompey experience

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It was a mere year ago when Ricardo Rocha left the Wembley pitch a Pompey hero following a show-stealing FA Cup display.

These days the classy defender departs the action accompanied by a red card rather than the applause of the crowd.

What’s more, his recent flurry of dismissals have ensured he won’t play again for the Blues this season.

That’s four matches. Meaningless matches, granted, considering Pompey’s season is effectively over.

Nonetheless, that is two dismissals in Rocha’s last three appearances and they have cost his side dear.

Considering the aftermath is the loss of such a talented defender for the remainder of the campaign, it will continue to wound Steve Cotterill’s side as the season reaches its conclusion.

And in truth, the punishment is fully warranted.

No complaints, no excuses, just a startling lack of discipline from a player who should know better.

The 32-year-old’s latest misdemeanour was 12 months after that famous Spurs triumph which clinched a place in the FA Cup final.

In the performance of his Pompey life, he conjured up a man-of-the-match display to inspire a 2-0 triumph over Harry Redknapp’s troops.

On the same day as this year’s FA Cup semi-finals kicked off he was on the receiving end of a red card at Cardiff.

Admittedly, referee Kevin Wright’s role in the proceedings can be debated.

How the bloody cut appeared on Rocha’s forehead is also up for discussion.

In addition, whether Jay Bothroyd should also have been given his marching orders for his role in the proceedings can be argued.

But there can be no disputing Rocha deserved to be sent off in the 18th minute of Saturday’s match.

And, as a result, he condemned his side to a third defeat in four matches which were meant to maintain a play-off push.

Unsurprisingly, in all of those losses, Pompey finished with 10 men.

On Saturday, the former Benfica defender scuffled with Bothroyd as both attempted to win a high ball, only to end up tumbling to the ground together.

Referee Wright awarded a free-kick in Cardiff’s favour, although by that stage Rocha had already angrily charged in Bothroyd’s direction.

Leading with his head appeared the seal his fate, the match official brandishing a red card sharpish.

As Pompey’s player made his way off the pitch, he indicated he had been elbowed, while blood on his face provided conclusive proof he had been wounded.

The fact remains, however, Rocha had been the aggressor and had to go, irrespective of whether sparring partner Bothroyd should have joined him.

Of course, by that stage the Blues were already one goal down courtesy of Seyi Olofinjana’s sixth-minute opener.

Craig Bellamy did the damage, collecting Bothroyd’s lay-off before delivering a magnificent ball at the far post for the towering midfielder to head home.

It was an unsettling early indication that the on-loan Manchester City star was going to have one of his good days.

Sure enough, Cardiff fans were not to be disappointed as he inspired their subsequent 3-0 victory.

Twelve minutes after the opener came that Rocha incident to leave Pompey one goal and one man down.

Just like at Reading a fortnight earlier – and just like against Coventry in the middle of last week – there was to be no coming back from such a numerical disadvantage.

Pompey’s effort, work-rate, team spirit and attitude during Cotterill’s regime can never be faulted.

Yet they need 11 players on the field of play if they are to give themselves any chance of victory, something they are sadly lacking at present.

Hayden Mullins was sidelined on Saturday as he served his one-match suspension following his red card for handball against Coventry.

Now Rocha has added to the dismissal he earned at Reading when he was adjudged to have tripped Shane Long as the last man.

Except on this occasion, there can not be a single complaint of the punishment which has robbed Cotterill of his star defender’s services for the remaining four matches.

Of course, it was always going to be an uphill task to fight back against Cardiff considering the damage that had been done by that 18th minute.

Sure enough, the result was sealed in first-half stoppage-time.

Bellamy won a debatable free-kick down the right which Peter Whittingham clipped into the penalty area to spark a melee.

Jamie Ashdown pulled off one stop but the Blues couldn’t clear and Bothroyd was on hand to force it home from close range.

Already without Rocha, Pompey’s defensive woes worsened at the break when Hermann Hreidarsson had to be substituted.

The Icelandic international had already received lengthy treatment on his left knee after blocking a Bellamy cross.

That stiffened up considerably at half-time, forcing him off with Aaron Mokoena coming on as a replacement.

It remains to be seen how long that knock keeps him out for as the season drags itself to its conclusion.

The visitors did rally after the break and continued to fight, putting Cardiff under pressure at times.

There was to be no goal glut as feared, with Greg Halford and Joel Ward both outstanding in the spine of the side with their energy and determination.

But it was that man Bellamy who created the third and final goal on 73 minutes when he galloped down the right flank and squared for Whittingham to tap home.

For Cardiff, the result was enough to lift them back into the second automatic promotion spot as they look to better last season’s play-off final finish.

For Pompey, it was a defeat which drops them further away from Cotterill’s aim of a top-half finish in the Championship.

In addition, that is now eight red cards for the season.

Still, the large visiting faithful had a lot to sing about.

After all, one little result is not going to wipe delicious memories of a triumph of yesteryear.

As they so sweetly reminded the Blues, when Sol went up to lift the FA Cup, we were there, we were there.