Cardiff City’s best day for for some time.

I daresay every club has them, but I’ve noticed that some Cardiff City’s fans’ default reaction to any win by their side is to comment on how poor the opposition was. You would have thought that when your side has lost their last four league matches there would be some delight at stopping the rot so to speak, but, no, first things first, lets get the obligatory dig at the other team out of the way before we consider anything like that.

Now, to try to be even handed about this, I need to record that I can’t help thinking that Sunderland are doomed to relegation if they play to the standard they showed in yesterday lunchtime’s televised 4-0 defeat.

In some ways, they reminded me of a worse version of the Norwich side we beat at Cardiff City Stadium early last month. Whereas Norwich carried something of a forward threat and could be said to have deserved their 1-0 interval lead, there was a brittleness about them even when they were enjoying their best periods in the match which suggested that City could blow them away if they could just up their game a little and, once our performance went up a little bit, we duly blew the Canaries away after the break,

For their part, Sunderland threatened a few times on the counter attack in the first half, but promising situations tended to come to nothing because of wayward shooting (the BBC stats show that none of their three goal attempts were on target) and it’s revealing that when they did hit the frame of our goal midway through the second period, it was courtesy of a sliced clearance by Bruno Manga who, that moment apart, looked a lot more like his usual self.

The visitors offered some stubborn defence up to half time, but, even when we were toiling somewhat and there was a bit of understandable tension around given recent results and performances, it seemed to me that, rather like against Norwich, if we could get one, then other goals could soon follow.

So, yes, Sunderland were one of the poorer teams to have played down here this season, but let’s remember that just over a month ago they were drawing 0-0 at Molineux against “the Manchester City of the Championship”. They also inflicted the only defeat suffered in their past seven Championship matches by a Fulham team which continued their ominous climb up the league with a 1-0 win at Middlesbrough yesterday.

Therefore, like every team in the Championship, Sunderland have it in them to surprise sides that are thinking in far more ambitious terms than merely avoiding relegation like they are. We were very much having a wobble going into yesterday’s match and I foresaw a grim struggle which would be decided by a single goal either way if it didn’t end 0-0. However, the fact that we were able to not only get the win, but to also scores four times without reply in doing so, deserves more praise from the curmudgeons than “yes, but Sunderland were shite”.

Neil Warnock had remarked in his pre game press conference on Friday that training had been a lot better during the week than it had been over our dreadful holiday period. My reaction on hearing that was to think that it was exactly the sort of thing a manager of a team which had struggled as much as we had done in our previous five games would say, but, in fairness to our manager, I would add that there was evidence, even in an opening half that wasn’t easy on the eye, of a renewed purpose and drive from City.

In the minutes leading up to half time, we stepped up the pressure and Sunderland were beginning to buckle in the face of a series of corners and free kicks, but, with some good saves from Robbin Ruiter, notably from Joe Ralls and Junior Hoilett, they were able to reach the interval at 0-0.

I must admit that I thought the half time whistle couldn’t have come at a worse time for a City team that had been building up a head of steam. As our manager said after the game, we just needed a scruffy, lucky, goal from somewhere to kick start us on the road to victory and, hopefully, recovery from the nosedive which began at Bolton two days before Christmas, but I felt much the same after forty five minutes of last week’s Cup tie with Mansfield and the second period then saw our opponents enjoy the better of things as what little attacking purpose we had shown faded away.

Yes, those heady days of early season when we would come out for the second forty five minutes of most of our home games really fired up and put our opponents to the sword seemed a long way away, but, not a bit of it as it turned out – within ten minutes, we were 2-0 up against opponents that had been reduced to ten men.

As you would expect, Sunderland manager Chris Coleman put his team’s horror start to the second period down to their own failings and you could see his point as they allowed Callum Paterson to get away a shot from the edge of the penalty area which Ruiter was forced to turn aside.

The Sunderland keeper had been doing well up until then, but he then got caught in no mans land from the resultant corner as an unmarked Paterson nodded down into the ground and then into the net via the underside of the crossbar.

It was only when I saw the highlights of the game that I realised that the keeper was claiming that his weak effort in dealing with Ralls’ corner was down him to being blocked off by Nathaniel Mendez-Laing as he came out to gather. As is mentioned in the video linked to above, there wasn’t enough in the incident to merit penalising us in my book, but, with referee Andy Madley far more disposed to award free kicks against us for fouls than he was Sunderland (as evidenced by a foul count of 23-14 against us), it would have been typical of how things had been going for us if a free kick had been given to our opponents.

So, we’d had that little bit of luck that our manager had talked about. Whether we needed the other one which followed so quickly afterwards is debatable, but, what was a difficult task for Sunderland was then made that much harder as they were reduced to ten men.

I don’t like seeing players trying to get a member of an opposing team sent off, but the reaction of the City players to Didier Ndong’s tackle on Junior Hoilett was a telling one. From where I was sat some fifty yards away, it was hard to tell how bad a challenge it was, but that reaction meant that I was not surprised to see Madley show the midfielder a red card.

Once again, the highlights tend to clear things up. It looks to me as if the decision was a slightly harsh one under the terms of how the foul law is interpreted these days, but I can understand why the ref would react like he did. What I would say though is that the current interpretation of what constitutes a red card offence should really be reassessed if challenges like Ndong’s are thought to be malicious and dangerous enough to warrant dismissal. It was a slightly mistimed tackle of a type which wouldn’t have warranted a second thought when I were a lad – if the sixties and seventies were a time when the pendulum had swung too much to one side in deciding what did or didn’t merit a sending off, then I must say that it’s gone too much in the other direction now.

Sunderland’s implosion was complete when City then doubled their lead with one of their best goals of the season. It all stemmed from a Manga clearance which Hoilett (sharper yesterday than he has been for a while) took down well and then delivered a ball which, unlike virtually every one that he has been given since returning from his injury, was designed to exploit the strongest parts of Kenneth Zohore’s game.

Finally given the sort of pass he thrives on, Zohore burnt off Jake Clarke-Salter’s challenge and squared the ball into the path of a colleague who stroked it home first time with a beautifully struck left footed effort from twenty yards.

It was counter attacking football at its best and reminiscent of so much of the stuff we were playing when the Hoilett, Zohore and Mendez-Laing attacking trio were as potent as any in the division, but it wasn’t one of those three who made the fifty or sixty yards up field so quickly to be able to apply the coup de grace, it was someone who is putting in an increasingly compelling case to be our Player of the season.

Besides providing the first half’s best goal attempt and coming up with an assist for the opening goal, Joe Ralls was generally the most influential player on the pitch up to then and he continued that standard right through to the last minute – he was a clear man of the match.

There’s one of those typically daft messageboard rows occurring on the one I use whereby grown men seem to be arguing not whether Ralls is better than Wolves’ Ruben Neves, but whether someone made such a claim in the first place!

I’m going to steer clear of that and stick to what Ralls means currently to Cardiff City. Although I think Loic Damour was doing well until our recent poor spell, the truth is that, with Aron Gunnarsson a virtual spectator for the past four months, our central midfield has tended to be a one man operation for much of this season – I dread to think how we would have fared without Ralls.

Because of the way we play and our manager’s apparent preference for workhorse type players in that area of the pitch, there is a perception among some supporters that Ralls is a limited type of player – I beg to differ.

No names, no pack drill, but we have some players who would struggle to get into the side at some of the clubs in the Championship who place far more store by possession of the football than we do. However, I would argue that Joe Ralls would be just as effective in a side using that approach as he is in ours with its more direct methods – for me, Ralls is good enough to go into a midfield like, say, Fulham’s and improve it.

2-0 up against struggling opponents who were a man light, it was now that Neil Warnock decided to unleash his team’s newest recruit. While he was still some way short of his early season form, Mendez-Laing, possibly boosted by a change to the asthma medication he has been using, had performed better than in recent weeks, but winger cum striker Yanic Wildschut, who has signed on loan from Norwich for the rest of the season, couldn’t have chosen a better set of circumstances in which to make his Cardiff bow as he replaced the former Rochdale man.

Wildschut didn’t disappoint as, operating in a more central position than expected, his speed and directness caused Sunderland problems – so many of City attacks in the closing half an hour carried the threat of further goals and, invariably, the Dutchman was at the heart of them.

When the third goal came though with ten minutes left to play, it did so without Wildschut’s help as Zohore’s shot from a free kick deflected off the wall into the path of Paterson who dispatched a low foot shot from ten yards past Ruiter and into the corner of the net with a minimum of fuss. Used in central midfield yesterday, it’s still not clear in which position the Scottish international will fare best for us, but, wherever he plays, he seems to have a habit of finding space for himself in the penalty area and, with four goals for us already, it’s easy to see why he scored so many times for Hearts.

City were able to clinch their biggest win of the season so far in the closing seconds as Sunderland gave the ball away deep in their own half and Manga slid a pass through to Wildschut who crossed for fellow sub Anthony Pilkington to tap in from close range.

There’s one other factor I’d like to mention about yesterday’s heartening win before I finish with it – I’m still not sure what formation we played!

I changed my mind about four times regarding what sort of system we were playing as I alternated between three centrebacks, five at the back or five in midfield before switching back again. In the end, I settled for a 4-4-2 with Manga at right back and Jazz Richards playing in a sort of left back role which saw him doing a man marking job on USA international Lyndon Gooch. Joe Bennett was pushed forward into a left midfield role thus freeing Hoilett to play in the more advanced central role he had filled at times last season.

However, I see Wales Online are saying that Richards played in central midfield and, thinking about it again, they might be right, so my 4-4-2 might actually have been 3-5-2 – suffice it to say, I can’t remember another occasion whereby I’m still not clear what formation I saw us use nearly twenty four hours after the event!

Finally, there was good news yesterday lunchtime from the Vale training centre as well as our Under 18s achieved what I would regard as their best result of the season up to now as Trystan Jones’ second goal in two games proved to be enough to beat top of the table Crystal Palace. Also, the Under 16s were able to follow this up with a 3-2 win over their Palace counterparts with Williams, Evans and Knott getting the goals,








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15 Responses to Cardiff City’s best day for for some time.

  1. CSB says:

    Can’t argue with any of your thoughts here, a very fair and accurate assessment.

    As a Sunderland fan I am very worried about our current plight and I don’t think Cardiff will have very many easier games than this. Not to take anything away from their performance, you took your chances and created a lot more while giving nothing away at the back.

    All the best for the future.

  2. Russell says:

    Thanks Paul , great news on the u16/18’s results its good to hear about them doing well , and your
    “spot on ” summary of yesterday first team enjo
    goal fest ,was a very welcome return to the start of 2018.

    I did think Sunderland were poor however it has to be balanced with the fact we were good in all departments, as you point out we appeared from the start ,hungry for the ball ,taking throw in’s and corners with urgency ,which for me shows a desire to want a win .

    The Sunderland side look devoid of interest which must be a huge worry for them and league one does beckon , unless something big happens.

    For me the change that worked well was the apperance of Morrison in the middle of the defence he does stabalise matters and strangely Etheridge plays better with him there, I presume Murphy wasnt injured ?

    With regards to Ralls and the silly post on CCMB I believe he is one of the best in the league, and support your view, of him easily slotting into Fulham side, I remember those footy expert views on Drinkwater ,whom I thought at the time was better than Ledley. He has single handedly propped our weakness part of our team ,yep let’s award him player of the season now I say.

    Still think the team needs addition as players are not in thier natural positions which weakens our squad and importantly the bench .

    Richards was close to MOM yesterday , Zohore looked fitter still prone to avoiding headers and not fully back to running players down that could be down to medical advise , to avoid over stretching himself so early on back from injury , I do wonder what the club would do faced , with a huge bid for him this January , difficult one.

    Onwards to “”Field Mill” or the sadly sponsored
    named “” One Call Stadium” where a win will bring the second best side in the UK after Wolverlona , to our shores ,rather be playing Bolton on the Saturday though as that fits nicely into our recovery and a winnable game , being stuffed by Man City doesn’t appeal, of course we have our normal weekly live Sky 5.30 game to contend with on Saturday against the Owls , that should be a real test of our recovery .

    Thanks Paul keep it going love your blog .

  3. HarryKirtley'sGhost says:

    You are right Paul…the Sunderland fellow owed his red card in no small measure due to the concerted attempt by City players to get him sent off, and this then setting the crowd off to chant “Off, off, off…”
    The fact that other teams would have done the same to us, is no excuse. Not a good day for our image.
    As Michael Gray said last night…”I doubt if it was even a yellow…”

    I sooo agree with you that the second City goal was a thing of beauty: up there with the Bryson goal in the reverse fixture as our Goal of the Season. Also agree so much re Wildschut…for a chap whose wife gave birth a few days ago – and thus a fellow who has been up all night with a crying baby most of the time since – his performance was an inspiration.

    Good to see Superman Callum show us a glimpse of the stunning performances he was delighting the Tynecastle faithful with.

    Last of all, I was disturbed to hear the crowd booing Etheridge’s distribution. Be careful what you wish for, Bluebirds fans. You could end up with a farcical short goal kick merchant…as practised by Huddersfield, two hours later…!!

  4. Clive Rymon says:

    Hi Paul good report as per,my son and a few of the friends I go with at half time we’re having shall we say a heated discussion on the merits of the formation that Warnock decided to play,and I was a lone voice inasmuch as I thought I could see his thinking that after the poor run at Christmas and our Manager saying we were a bit short in midfield that he needed to do something about it,whereas they thought why when were playing at home would we go so defensive,and now I understand why the man marking job by Richards as apparently he caused us a lot of problems up at their place,so for me it was a case of horses for courses,anyway it didn’t turn out to badly in the end even though they were down to ten men not to long into the second half.

    I hope that with a couple more additions we can consolidate our position,and from my own perspective we can beat Mansfield on Tuesday and set up a glamour tie which hopefully will rekindle more interest in the City and get a few more bums on seats for the run in.

  5. Colin Phillips says:

    Thanks, Paul.

    I know we shouldn’t denigrate any 4-0 win but it’s impossible to evaluate a performance without taking the strength of the opposition into account. I feel that our home win against Leeds would be regarded as a better performance than yesterday.

    I don’t like to criticise such a wholehearted performer as Joe Ralls but in my opinion he has two things stopping him becoming a really top player, he has no confidence in using his right foot (it amazes me that so many players that have made it into the professional game when they are totally reliant on one foot), Ralls also lacks composure when the ball is bouncing around the half-way line when I feel he should bring the ball and put his foot on it he prefers a flick-on or an over-the-shoulder hopeful punt.

    I see that some people on the forums are saying that Patterson was a candidate for man-of-the-match, that surprised me, I thought he looked a fish out of the water in the first half when he seemed to be unaware of his role, he got on the ball often enough but then proceeded to give it away. The two goals were nice but I am not convinced by him yet.

    Felt sorry for the player sent off, he was unlucky but in fairness to the ref he didn’t get the slow-motion replay that showed the boot hitting the top of the ball before being diverted onto Hoilett’s leg. We’ve certainly had worse refs but agreed that after the sending-off he gave us very little and the yellow card for Morrison was a joke.

    With all the talk of incoming strikers I get the feeling that Zohore may soon be leaving us, does anyone else feel the same?

  6. Anthony O'Brien says:

    As usual the MAYA site and its contributions are measured and informative. Like Colin Phillips, I am concerned at the way Ralls has to manoeuvre to his left foot in order to make a pass, and I also query his passing ability under pressure. David Silva he is not — but then, who is? I thought Ralls grew in strength and confidence as the game progressed, and like all fans I hope this trend continues. I’d also like to mention Etheridge. During the first half I noticed that he had changed his kicking technique, both when kicking the dead ball and kicking out of his hands. The dead ball did not gravitate to the right so often, and for a time his punts took a lower and more effective
    trajectory. As the game went on he seemed to revert to his old ways — but at least there were signs that he has been working on his technique, and this has to be good news. Wildschuk looks a great prospect — with the proviso that if he plays wide we need a blood and thunder forward to get on the end of his crosses.

  7. Jeff Blight says:

    All things considered I think Paterson grew into the game in yet another new more advanced central role and gave his most telling contribution to date. He was a nuisance throughout won a lot of the fifty fifty balls, yes his distribution isn’t the best but he is a whole hearted, athletic competitor something our midfield badly lacked throughout December. I would definitely persist with him in this role as he offers the energy and goal threat that has been missing.

    It is sad to see the demise of Sunderland and strange that both of their experienced strikers should leave the club during January.

  8. Huw Perry says:

    Thanks Paul for considered analysis and also delighted with a very welcome return to winning ways.
    We looked much more comfortable and confident after recent poor performances – even in the first half when we were all feeling a bit nervous!
    As all have mentioned, Ralls was excellent and finished expertly, but also wingers were more direct and less wasteful. Welcome return for Morrison helping us look more solid at the back.
    As others have stated, not sure of the exact system in operation, but midfield support was excellent from Richards and Patterson. The latter always looks like he has a goal in him and reacted well to score his second goal.
    Finally, an excellent debut by Wildschut who was not only direct but showed good close control on a couple of occasions. Did well to set up Pilks for what could be his final goal in City colours.
    Hopefully we are back on track, despite acknowledging the limitations of Sunderland, and can pick it up again on Tuesday night to maintain confidence and secure the plum FA cup tie against Man City.

  9. Russell says:

    Yes Colin I do agree with you about Zohore , looks like a tapped up fella, or the club feel its too much money to turn down , if it upwards of 15 million ,we’d be mad not to sell, as strikers come any go with form , or suffer long term injuries and never really get back to thier best .

    I feel the same about Gunnerson, I think he’s pushed forward this operation because of the world cup, which us sensible for him , I’d sell though , as he’s not staying is he, he didn’t sign his contract, trouble is selling an injured player isn’t easy .

    Hope I’m wrong, just a personal gut feeling .

  10. paul says:

    Great comments. A few of my own.

    Ralls – Guys take e a look at what e has contributed this season. He has never had a fully fit seasoned championship midfielder alongside him for an extended period. yet despite that he has kept us ticking over and we are still 3rd.
    Zahore – going or not, he needs that confidence of a few games to prove to himself he is back to pre=injury. He also needs the ball played to his feet or in Etheridges case clear to Zahore so that he runs toward the ball so that he is able to control it with his chest or feet. Not punt it so long that he must challenge with his head. Meat and drink to oshea.
    morrissons booking was a joke considering O shea blocked Hoillet a few minutes earlier and did not get booked. I heard people around me stating that O shea was reffing the game. At the final whistle refs usually stand still and players go to him Yesterday I was watching madley and as soon as he blew for full time he walked up to Oshea and shook his hand.
    Wildshutt – one word for yesterday. Wow.
    Richards. Wherever he plays he seems to excell.
    Patterson- what a bargain.
    Morrison – Please cut out the injuries we need you. He reminds me of hudson. Only noticed when he is not there.
    hoillet = Mr duracell
    Hopefullly we have turned the corner and can step up from here although i feel we still need 2 at leat or perhaps 3 signnings.

  11. Mike Herbert says:

    I don’t think we have been on tv so much since our last promotion so I am able to agree again with virtually all the comments! I too thought Ralls was really excellent and his performance brought back memories of the all-action of Peter King from a long time ago. There seemed to be lots of empty seats at the game but perhaps a few more goals will help to put that right. I had mixed feelings about the Mansfield replay but now think it could be more of a help than hindrance. I was similarly confused st times as to what system we were playing though I suppose that was understandable when they went down to 10 men. Sunderland were unlucky in that decision and I, also, don’t like the “modern” tactic of players trying to force referees to produce cards (but then I also don’t like booing of penalty takers in rugby). I wonder if Warnock hasn’t invented a new system – perhaps he could call it Total Football!!

  12. The other Bob Wilson says:

    Sorry, but I can only give a brief reply this time, so I’ll limit myself to some thoughts on a few of Saturday’s team. Firstly, Russell asks if Murphy was injured – he was on the bench, so, presumably he wasn’t and it was simply a question of Neil Warnock favouring Etheridge over him. That seems odd to me, given that I thought Murphy did pretty well against Mansfield after, perhaps, being at fault with QPR’s equaliser in his comeback match – Etheridge didn’t do anything wrong on Saturday and, as Anthony remarks, appears to have been trying to improve his kicking, so it’s hard to see why he should miss out tomorrow unless our manager has decided that Murphy will play in our Cup games this season (he was chosen for our two matches in the League Cup).
    As far as Ralls goes, I think Paul does a very good job of putting the case for him, but I would ask Colin and other doubters to try and find a video of the goal he scored at Fulham last season with his right foot = there is no doubt which is his stronger foot and he made a bit of a mess of a good first half chance on Saturday which he hit with his right peg, but, to quote that old line, it is for more than just standing on in Ralls’ case.
    I’m not wholly convinced by Paterson as a midfield player, but a good midfield unit should have a balance to it and, as long as others could compensate for his shortcomings, he could provide us with aspects of that role which we have lacked for some time. Speaking as someone who is always saying we have never replaced Jordon Mutch when it comes to running with the ball at the opposition from the middle of the park, Paterson could be effective at that part of the game and his eye for a goal makes me think we could rely on him getting into double figures over the course of a season and it#s a long time since we’ve had a central midfielder who could do that for us – Ralls may manage it mind this year.

  13. Lindsay Davies says:

    As a Bluebird living in Canary-ville, I’ll make a small contribution from here in the Far East. I’ve much enjoyed Wildschut’s appearances at Carrow Road this season – very strong, forceful, and pretty quick; as our Blogmeister says, “direct”.
    He didn’t seem to be a regular starter here, so, maybe that’s why he’s moved on loan.
    Very nice for us, I’d say.

  14. The other Bob Wilson says:

    Hello Lindsay, some interesting comments there from someone who has actually seen our newest signing play a bit and I was heartened by the fact that the view from Norwich fans, as posted on the messageboard I use, was positive with some bemusement as to why he had been allowed to go out on loan being expressed.

  15. The other Bob Wilson says:

    Apologies for not replying earlier CSB and thanks very much for your contribution – I always think it’s great when supporters of “the other team” give their feedback.

    As I said in my piece, I don’t fancy your chances of staying up if you perform like that every week. However, I can remember reading before the game that your injury list was so long that the side to play Cardiff was likely to be your weakest one on paper of the season and my mind goes back to our one season in the Premier League (13/14) when your team looked relegation certs for about 90 per cent of the campaign. The televised 2-2 draw down here when you scored twice in the last few minutes was a huge game in our season in my opinion – we may well have gone down anyway if we had won, but the way things played that evening represented a real kick in the guts for us and I can remember thinking that not winning when you were 2-0 up in the eighty fifth minute is the sort of thing that happens to relegation sides. As for your team, I can remember them losing 5-1 I think it was at Spurs with about a month of the season left and then thinking that we only had to worry about two of the relegation places, but, from somewhere, you discovered the will and belief to go to top four sides and pick up wins and draws as well as beating us 4-0 in a game which turned out uncannily like Saturdays!

    Although your situation looks bleak, its not as if you are miles adrift at the bottom, but I think you really need to discover the knack of winning at home again soon – that loss to Barnsley was a real shock to me. As for us, things are looking up a little after a very poor holiday period and I have a good feeling about the two loan signings we’ve made in the window so far – there is talk of Grabban joining us on a permanent deal, but, although he scoring rate for you was very good, I wouldn’t be too bothered if the speculation came to nothing.

    Best of luck for the rest of the season – I reckon we’ll be in the Championship in 18/19 and I think the same may be true about you, but the supporters of your club deserve much better than what they’ve seen for the last five years or so.

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