The first thing to say about yesterday’s 4-2 defeat to West Bromwich Albion in the FA Cup is that it broke the accepted wisdom of modern Third Round ties in that, although it’s almost expected that Football League clubs at all levels will make alterations to their side, these are as of nothing compared to the wholesale changes made by the Premiership teams facing them. At the Hawthorns however, the West Brom side, although not the strongest Roy Hodgson could field, was much more like what he would rate as his first eleven than the one Malky Mackay selected to represent Cardiff.
City made an amazing ten changes to the side that beat Reading on Monday and, if Kevin McNaughton shakes off his calf injury by Tuesday, it could well be that the team which starts at Palace in the First Leg of the Carling Cup Semi Final will not contain one of the players in the starting line up yesterday. Given that City made their second successive FA Cup Third Round exit yesterday, you might have expected there to be some criticism of Malky Mackay’s team selection and talk of how the away following of more than a thousand who travelled to the Midlands had been let down, but the virtually unanimous view of supporters would appear to be that the selection of what was, effectively, a City reserve team was not only understandable, but also, justified.
Even if it wasn’t the strongest Baggies team that they were facing, there was a risk that a real hiding for the shadow side might effect morale for the important games to come this month and there was certainly a danger of City taking a thumping when the home side went 2-0 up a little past the half an hour mark. While the second goal came courtesy of a header by Simon Cox from a fine Graham Shorey free kick that might have been defended better, first impressions were that City had been let down badly by the officials for the first one. Peter Odemwingie was seven to ten yards offside according to Radio Wales’ commentators when he scored – interestingly though, that distance had closed to two to three yards when it was mentioned in the second half and in his post match press conference, Malky Mackay admitted that Lee Naylor had, possibly, played the Nigerian International on side!
City had come up with little or nothing to suggest that they could cause the home side’s defence many problems up until Cox’s goal, but fine work by Filip Kiss to rob Shorey and cross for Earnie (making his first start in over three months) to score from close in was a boost for the team at just the right time and they gave as good as they got for the rest of the first half. After the break, City started the better and Earnie set up Joe Mason (on for the, once again, injured Rudy Gestede) for an equaliser finished with customary efficiency by the youngster. The weakened side had done outstandingly well to get back onto the game and, for a while, there seemed every chance that an upset was on the cards. One thing looked certain – with neither side wanting a replay, the game wasn’t going to end up 2-2 and there were close misses at either end before Cox scored again with a great twenty five yard effort.
After this, City, with young midfield player Theo Wharton on for his first team debut as Malky Mackay, yet again, showed his willingness to throw Academy youngsters into the fray in cup games, could have conceded more goals as they chased the game, but sloppy finishing and some fine goalkeeping from Tom Heaton meant that the home side just got the one as Cox tapped in his hat trick goal just as the game went into added time.
The shadow team came out of the game then with reputations intact having shown that, perhaps, perhaps our squad isn’t as weak as many believe it to be. Whether anyone did enough to earn selection for Tuesday has to be arguable – I can maybe see Kiss starting in front of Joe Ralls, but the fact that the teenager, who did so well against Reading, didn’t get on the pitch from the bench yesterday, suggests to me that Ralls was being saved for the Palace match. There has to be a chance as well I suppose that Malky Mackay might opt for the experience of Craig Conway over the youth of Joe Mason, but the ex-Plymouth player must be confident after scoring in successive matches and he has the knack of making things happen against Championship (and Premiership it would appear) defences.
Although it shouldn’t be ruled out completely I suppose given Gestede’s injury, one player unlikely to start on Tuesday is Rob Earnshaw who, despite a goal and a decent showing yesterday, finds himself our fourth choice striker currently. Indeed, there are Internet suggestions that Earnie was saying his goodbyes to supporters at the end of the game yesterday – although it’s common to add two and two and get five in situations like this, I must say that the idea of Earnie moving, either permanently or temporarily, to free up some wages to facilitate the arrival of new players does not seem too far fetched to me. Whoever it is, you have to think that there will be departures from Cardiff City Stadium this month – despite what Malky Mackay says about our squad size.
As for who we might be signing, it has been confirmed that we did make an enquiry about Brighton’s twenty four year old winger Craig Noone. City were seemingly willing to pay in the region of £400,000/£5000,000 for a player who Brighton signed from Plymouth for £250,000 around a year ago. However, as we’ve found out with Joe Mason, Plymouth’s financial plight last year meant that they were forced to sell players at below their true worth and the suggestion is that we would have to add on a couple of hundred more grand at least before Brighton would consider selling. With Brighton struggling for goals, I suppose it’s only to be expected that some would suggest that Earnie could be used in some sort of player exchange deal (it’s also been mooted that something similar could happen with Forest with Lewis McGugan coming here), but it’s all speculation at the moment with the only item that has any confirmed authenticity to it being our initial enquiry about Noone.
* Pictures from http://www.walesonline.co.uk/