I thought we could have tonked Cardiff before this game and, although the scoreline might suggest an even game, it was nothing of the sort. I’m not really into stats but we had 75% possession & apart from the 5 minute spell where Cardiff scored twice, we absolutely dominated this game. We played some great stuff too. Hughes, Dawkins, Wardy, Christie & even Eustace were excellent in that first half. But we didn’t score. There’s the rub.
Cardiff spent £17 million on new players in the summer – Le Fondre, Pilkington, Morrison and Manga. Aside from that they had Marshall, Noone, Jones & Whittingham in the side – all quality players with Premier League experience. They weren’t as shambolic as I rather naïvely expected & were pretty hard to break down. Having said that, they only had two shots on goal. And scored from them both.
We had a couple of great chances in that first half of total domination, an excellent shot from Wardy & close range dink from Martin. He really should have scored that. More on him later.. Marshall was the difference here, what a great goalkeeper he is. Shouldn’t really be wasting his time at this level with a club like Cardiff.
I have to say that, like McClaren, I wasn’t too concerned that we weren’t a few goals up at half time. We just needed to be patient & keep plugging plugging away, didn’t we? Just like we have in so many games in the past? Er… no. We can’t afford to do that in this division. Against teams with Premier League players. I was being complacent, as was McClaren & the team. If we’d scored in that first half, I’m certain Cardiff would have collapsed.
The signs at the start of the second half were a cause for concern. Whitbread, Keogh & Eustace (playing so deep he was almost a 3rd central defender) knocking the ball around to no great effect. Hughes had to come back to pick the ball up. Not good. And then it happened. A poorly defended corner. The old vulnerability. A needless goal conceded. Swiftly followed by another one, albeit from a brilliant strike by our bête noire, Mr Whittingham. We’ve got to defend better than that, time for some work on the training ground & perhaps allowing Shotton to play in his favoured position (i.e. not right back)?
Cardiff did a Millwall on us after that. They sat back. Everyone apart from Jones back in defence. Every player getting any kind of nudge falling poleaxed to the ground for a few minutes. Time wasting. Especially from a certain bizarrely bequiffed Mr Brayford (by the way, was he the only Cardiff player without any Premier League experience…?).
To our credit, we came back strong, not least because of the standard risk taking substitutions from McClaren. Ibe on for Dawkins (not a bad performance but still too tippy tappy for my liking), Best on for the now redundant Eustace & Russell on for the haphazardly effective Ward. Every change made us more direct, more dangerous.
Ibe was a revelation. That’s the first time I’ve seen him – what skill, what directness! He was a breath of fresh & has to start on Tuesday.
Keogh had a brilliant game, definitely my man of the match. That last ditch tackle near the end was amazing & it was so heartening to hear the crowd chanting his name after that. So many driving runs forward, such passion & commitment. Great to hear he’ll be signing that new contract too.
Martin? Well, some lovely neat touches outside the box but is he not the most frustrating, unlikable player we have? That miss in the first half was a bad one & he was generally ineffective in the box (if he managed to get in there). Also, the petulance he displays when he doesn’t get the pass that he wants is beginning to grate. If it annoys me, surely it annoys his teammates? Let’s try Mr Best on Tuesday night.
Another thing.. Are we going to use Mascarell or not? I’d be more content with someone more athletic & skilful in that holding role.
Despite some rumbling dissatisfaction, I’m still pretty content with how things have gone so far. We’ve still only lost once (and could have quite easily come away with a result from that game – I was there) & we’re keeping touch with Forest & Norwich. Who are not invincible, both drew yesterday against average sides. Like we did.
Onwards and upwards.