Every game is “massive” or “huge” in the modern day Premier League of course, but some are massiver or huger than others. Yesterday’s 1-0 win for Cardiff City over West Bromwich Albion at Cardiff City Stadium eased the pressure on one of the managers involved (probably only temporarily mind), while the other one was sacked by his club within hours of the final whistle, so it’s reasonable to conclude that this was a game which actually deserved the massive/huge description.
Given what was at stake, it was never going to be a football classic – a strong, gusty wind and heavy rain during the second half didn’t help either. However, after the recent criticism of City’s alleged negative attitude, it was at least encouraging to see them go into the match with what looked like a more attack minded team and to have that impression confirmed within minutes of the start.
Yesterday marked the start of a new phase of our home programme for the season with West Brom being the first in a series of visiting sides that could probably be beaten with a good Cardiff performance – with the possible exception of the jacks, I believe it’s needed a very good City display to match, let alone beat, the teams we’d faced at home before yesterday. That said, I’m sure the Baggies felt exactly the same about us and so will the Sunderland’s, West Ham’s and Norwich’s of this world who are all due here in the next six weeks or so.
I’d like to be proved wrong, but I don’t see us turning on the style and thrashing any of the eleven teams yet to come here. instead, I can see many of the matches being like yesterday’s – tight, tense and taut. In such circumstances, it’s easy to revert to what feels comfortable and safe, but I honestly don’t believe City have that option in these home matches, that’s why it’s a promising sign that they were trying to win the match for the first sixty five minutes and then were chasing a second goal for the next quarter of an hour or so after they had scored.
It should come as a shock to no one who has watched much of our play this season that attacking intent doesn’t mean chances galore. The critics who argued that everything would be alright as soon as we switched to a 4-4-2 formation can point to the win as a justification for their views, but, in truth, there were very long stretches of the game where a City goal looked unlikely and, when it did arrive, it was somewhat out of the blue – it also came about through a midfield player making the sort of attacking runs needed when a side plays 4-5-1.
Just as against Palace, a quick start, which saw City come close when Odemwingie just beat Whittingham to a free kick (honest!), and forced Myhill into a flying save was not followed up with any sustained quality. However the team were showing more stomach for the fight than last week and it helped their cause that they were facing a side that looked very low on confidence and spent most of the first half concentrating on keeping their goal intact.
By and large, I reckon the sides at and around the bottom of the table (including us) are where they are because they are the weakest teams in the league. West Ham can point to the loss through injury of the striker they placed so much value on I suppose, but I’d say that West Brom are the closest thing to a team that is in a false position. Whereas, a few of the sides at the wrong end of the table have managed home wins over the top sides, the Baggies have come up with a win at Man United (and a superb performance) , while they were robbed of a victory at Chelsea and drew at Everton – they are a team capable of frightening the best on their own patch.
Something has gone wrong with West Brom recently though – like us they had a record of one win in nine going into yesterday’s game, but, unlike us, they showed little belief that they could end that run yesterday. True, they did exhibit a little quality after falling behind, but, they were poor when you consider the attacking talent they have in their squad. I’m too far away from the action at the Hawthorns to comment much on whether the Steve Clarke sacking was justified or not, but I can’t help thinking that, with the right appointment, they’ll get themselves clear of trouble and, hopefully, do us some favours in the process.
I’d say that overall they got what they deserved yesterday though. It’s nice, as well as rare, to be able to say that City won a game this season because they showed more self belief and attacking intent than their opponents, but it applied yesterday in my opinion. One of the reasons for the advantage we enjoyed in the confidence stakes was that, when he was given the opportunity, Craig Noone was able to engineer a bit of space for himself to knock in a series of crosses which represented our best chance of getting that all important first goal.
For me, Noone is a proper winger in a way that, say, Don Cowie and Peter Whittingham are not and, as such, there was no place for him as we made things like tracking back and tucking into to the centre of the pitch the priority over the first three months of the campaign. Whether yesterday’s good performance will be enough to earn him a start at Liverpool, I’m not sure. Maybe the challenge of a game against the side he was with as a kid and has always supported might prompt Malky Mackay to take a bit of a gamble on Noone, but, even if he doesn’t, the winger did himself no harm whatsoever yesterday (or when he came on against Man United) and I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of him over the coming weeks.
I’ve seen a stat which said that we won 85% of our tackles during the match and a lot of that can be put down to Gary Medel who turned in another good performance in a game we won. Medel doubled his number of bookings for the season with a rash tackle, but that was the only blemish really in a good all round showing which also saw him come as close to scoring for us as he has done so far when his early shot flew just over.
The defensive midfielder’s most important contribution however came when he cleared off the line from Gareth McAuley’s close range effort. This was one of just three occasions when the visitors might have scored, the second was from the penalty spot after Ben Turner looked to foul Shane Long, but Billy Jones’ tug on Odemwingie as they contested a loose ball just about a yard from the goal line cancelled that one out – Howard Webb (good overall, but a bit inconsistent in his handing out of yellow cards I thought) waved both of the appeals away.
The third time City almost conceded was when Long’s flicked header appeared to have wrong footed David Marshall, but the keeper has made such a habit of pulling off brilliant saves this season that no one should be too surprised that he was able to change direction and keep the ball out. For me, what made this save possibly his best of the season so far was that, unlike on most other occasions, he had little to do in the game until this moment and yet was still able to maintain his concentration and respond superbly when required.
So, having got themselves as close to the bottom three as at any time this season last week, City have managed to restore that little bit of breathing space between themselves and the relegation places. I still say that, given our fixture list until the end of November, this is some achievement. I waited fifty years to see us play at this level and so I believe the least I can do is show this manager and the team that got us here some faith.
City showed they have it in them to come out on top in the vital home matches which will decide our fate this season yesterday and I saw us beat West Brom at home for the first time in my life. Yet, after reading messagboards and listening to radio phone ins after the match, I found myself wondering if I had actually witnessed what I thought I had – the doom mongers really should get a grip, these are the times to be savoured and enjoyed (on the field anyway).
* pictures courtesy of http://www.walesonline.co.uk/