Much better, but where would we be without David Marshall?

CoymayThere was another poll in the local press during last week asking whether Russell Slade should continue as Cardiff City manager – predictably, given events in October and the first few days of November, the majority view was that he shouldn’t.
When asked about this, Mr Slade answered that these polls never seem to take place after his team had won a couple of games – it was a fair point, but I think the truth for this City boss is that he’ll never command the overwhelming backing of the fans.
For myself, I’d become much more critical of our manager after the Bristol City match, but, as I pointed out after the Leeds defeat, any criticism at this stage could only realistically be directed at the level of performance of the team because results, although not great in recent weeks, have been generally satisfactory so far this season.
I stick by what I said about the boring nature of so many of the home matches especially under Russell Slade’s management, but, this morning, he can take satisfaction both from a good 2-0 win over a Reading side who were above us in the table going into yesterday’s match at Cardiff City Stadium and the fact that his team went someway towards answering back the critics when it comes to the dull football people like me accuse them of playing.
In fact, I would go as far as to say that yesterday’s game was in the top two or three for entertainment value when to comes to home matches played under this manager. Now, it should be noted at this point, that, whereas under most managers who have been in charge at a club for over a year, that last sentence may read like high praise indeed, anyone who has seen all of the games in question will know that yesterday’s encounter didn’t need to be that good to get into the top two or three in the entertainment stakes.
Furthermore, one of the reasons why I found yesterday a more enjoyable experience than normal was that there were frequent reasons to applaud a Cardiff player showing a level of ability more suited to the Premier League than the Championship.
I don’t know if this still holds true, but, before the midweek round of matches a few days ago, Reading were the team who’d had the most goal attempts over the Championship season and Cardiff the least. This was reflected in a set of match stats which showed that the visitors had nineteen efforts at goal, compared to our ten, with them having double the number on target to us (ten to five).
While I believe that this was another of those games where the stats don’t tell the whole story, Reading probably headed back up the M4 believing they deserved something from the match and they would be putting the fact that they didn’t get anything down to the performance of one Cardiff player.
Goalkeeper is a strange position in that, unlike anywhere else on the pitch, praise for the individual concerned can often mean that you have problems elsewhere – if I were a manager, I wouldn’t want to be reading about how good my keeper was!
Nevertheless, David Marshall’s performance yesterday brought back memories from two years ago when many critics rated him as the best in his position in the Premier League. Back in 2013/14, there were times when it seemed like Marshall was playing the opposition on his own and, for a two minute spell in the second half yesterday, it felt like that again as he pulled off three great stops following Reading free kicks and corners.
There were other fine saves in the first half, not least the one from the division’s second top scorer Nick Blackman when Reading used their speed on the counter attack to create what was at one time a five on two raid.
Marshall kept on denying the visitors right up until the end and there can be few among the City faithful who would disagree with Russell Slade’s assessment that we have the best goalkeeper in the Championship.

The long, long wait for a goal is over and City players congratulate scorer Kenwyne Jones who has just given his team the lead with a powerful and well placed header from about ten yards out.*

The long, long wait for a goal is over and City players congratulate scorer Kenwyne Jones who has just given his team the lead with a powerful and well placed header from about ten yards out.*

As I mentioned before, when your goalkeepers having a brilliant game, it does ask questions of at least some of his team mates and, certainly, City’s defending from Reading corners during that inspired spell by Marshall, which had some in the crowd giving him a standing ovation, left something to be desired, but, overall, the back four did well as they made it just one goal conceded (and that was a long range stunner) in six matches.
It’s in the nature of things that problems at the sharp end of the pitch will always get more attention than what may be going right at the other end of it, but with the goal drought now ended, you would hope that the team would be given some credit for what has been a spell of outstanding defending in recent weeks.
If yesterday’s game had ended 0-0, then, no doubt, I would now be reeling out the number of minutes it was since we had scored and how long it had been since a City player had found the net. Therefore, it’s only right that I record that in the 582 minutes of Championship football we’ve played since Dale Stephens scored for Brighton on 3 October, we’ve only conceded that belter by Alex Mowatt at Leeds, so, congratulations to all of our players, manager and coaching staff for that record.
So, the back four and keeper certainly played their part in improvement in performance we saw yesterday, but a defensive record of twelve goals conceded in sixteen matches tells you that we can, to some degree at least, take their excellence for granted these days – no, the reason for the upturn in form and entertainment value yesterday tended to lie with the players in front of them.
In what was more of a traditional 4-4-2, Craig Noone had one his better matches since we were relegated – there still were the usual, and probably inevitable, frustrations you get with him, but there was a directness and confidence to his game that certainly came as a surprise to me given some of his recent performances. On the other flank Anthony Pilkington moved infield from time to time to show that the old lopsided midfield system had not entirely been abandoned –although his displays in the couple of matches he played before being dropped merited him being left out, I do think we generally look a better team with him in it.

Centrebacks Sean Morrison and Matt Connolly celebrate City's second goal. The latter's bullet header from around the penalty spot was his first goal for us since March 2014 - credit to Joe Ralls as well for his two dead ball assists on the day.*.

Centrebacks Sean Morrison and Matt Connolly celebrate City’s second goal. The latter’s bullet header from around the penalty spot was his first goal for us since March 2014 – credit to Joe Ralls as well for his two dead ball assists on the day.*.

It was in the central midfield area that the more interesting improvements came. Moving Joe Ralls into his favourite position in the middle of the park saw him more involved and authoritative – his willingness to accept responsibility, work hard for the cause and delivery of quality dead balls made him our best outfield player in my book (this was one game where there should be no argument as to who our man of the match was!).
As someone who has always had faith in him, Ralls’ excellence did not surprise, but the display of Aron Gunnarsson certainly did. For me, Iceland’s captain put in his best showing in a City shirt for months. True, he was the man who lost possession as City managed to turn what was a promising position deep in Reading’s half into the chance for Blackman I mentioned earlier, but, like one or two others, he seemed reinvigorated and it was great to see a central midfield player making a run beyond the strikers again – the second half move which ended with Gunnarsson shooting across goal and not too far wide was City’s best of the match for me.
Inevitably, after a match where the midfield looked more fluent and vibrant than it has been for weeks, there was as much discussion about the man who wasn’t playing as there was on those who were.
Peter Whittingham’s booking at Leeds was his fifth of the campaign, so that meant he had to miss yesterday’s match with suspension and, of course, now the question is should he come straight back into the team at Derby in a fortnight’s time after the latest international break ends?
Before I answer that, I’m going to give you a stat which I believe should be borne in mind when considering the question. Peter Whittingham has now missed four matches during Russell Slade’s time in charge and we’ve won all of them – of as much interest to that though is that we’ve scored ten times in doing so.
Now, I think that Whitts has generally played better this season than he did last, so I’m not quite as inclined to automatically answer the question by saying leave him out as I once was. However, if we are going to stick to 4-4-2 at Derby (I’m sure we will), I’d argue that yesterday’s midfield should be given another chance.
What I would say though is that, as someone who, in recent seasons, has always advocated us playing three central midfielders if we are going to use Whittingham in that area, I’d be inclined to play 4-5-1/4-3-3 with a single striker and two attacking wide men.
With Kagisho Dikgacoi back on the bench yesterday after his latest injury, it’s difficult to settle on personnel for the central midfield roles – for me, Joe Ralls has to be one of them and an Aron Gunnarsson back in the habit of making runs past the striker has to merit consideration, but, if I had to bet as to what our midfield will look like at Derby, I’d go for a return to the lopsided four with Whitts back in, Ralls shifted out to the left again for Pilkington and Gunnarsson retaining his place.
If we were to play with a single striker, then Kenwyne Jones has always seemed the most likely candidate to me. Regular readers of this blog and the comments my pieces attract will know that a few of the regulars on here (plus myself) as not as big Kenwyne fans as most of those who earn a living writing for the local press.
However, it was the big man who was there to score the header just before half time which gave the City fans in the bigger than I expected gate the chance to remember what your team scoring a goal felt like and his lovely flick in the passage of play that led to Gunnarsson’s chance was a reminder of what he can do with the ball at his feet.
Jones also managed to make a fool out of me by scoring about a minute after I said “Kenwyne looks like his afternoon siesta has begun”, but I still think the point is a fair one which reinforces the suggestion that, if he plays every week, then others are going to have to be prepared to do a lot of his running for him. If he was to play up by himself, then it becomes imperative that one of those central midfielders runs past him pretty regularly.
Whether we play with one or two strikers, there was a first look at someone who, hopefully, will become a realistic candidate to fill the role(s) as Idriss Saadi was surprisingly named on the bench and came on for Joe Mason for the last half an hour or so to make his first team debut.
Saadi wasted little time in firing away a well struck twenty yard effort which drew a diving save from Al Habsi in the Reading goal, but it was quite difficult for him to make a positive first impression because, hardly surprisingly I suppose given the match situation, the gap between the front two and the rest of the side got much bigger while he was on.
To finish, just a quick mention of City player’s contributions towards a series of results at youth level that keep up the general feelgood factor that’s around in Welsh football at the moment. Firstly, there was City representation in the Wales Under 17 squad that competed in a mini tournament held in Newport to determine who would qualify for a place in the Elite Group stage for the European Under 17s Championship.
Ibby Sosani was used as a substitute over the three matches, but fifteen year old striker Rabbi Matondo started each of them. Wales made a great start by beating the Netherlands 2-1, but then lost 1-0 to Switzerland which meant that they needed to beat Albania to secure an automatic qualifying space. Despite Matondo creating an equaliser with an eighty yard run down the left touchline, Wales could only draw 1-1, but they would later receive confirmation that they had qualified as one of the best third place finishers.

The Welsh Under 16s squad celebrate their triumph with coaching staff and the odd famous supporter.+

The Welsh Under 16s squad celebrate their triumph with coaching staff and the odd famous supporter.+

A week later, the venue was again Newport as defending Champions Wales hosted the Under 16s Victory Shield completion. England’s arrogant decision to stop taking part in this tournament for the Home Nations meant that, hardly surprisingly, Sky’s live coverage of all games in the competition disappeared and so a new format whereby the Republic of Ireland replaced England and all of the matches were played at the one venue over five days was brought in.
Wales made the worst possible start to their title defence by losing 2-1 to Scotland thanks to a goal scored in added time at the end of the game, but recovered to beat the Republic by the same score with Matondo getting the first goal. With Scotland and the Republic drawing 1-1, it meant that the tournament’s final match between Wales and Northern Ireland (who had drawn 0-0 with the Republic and beaten Scotland 1-0) was a shoot out for the title.
With ten minutes to go, it was 1-1 with City’s Sion Spence having scored the Welsh goal, and it looked like the team from Ulster would lift the trophy, but another goal by Matondo put Wales ahead and there was time for a third to be added before the end to ensure that the Welsh will be going for a hat trick of titles in a year’s time.

*photos courtesy of

+photo courtesy of

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10 Responses to Much better, but where would we be without David Marshall?

  1. An absolutely brilliant performance – no, not Cardiff’s, but Paul’s report. If the Cardiff team were one fraction as good we’d all be cheering with delight – but in fact, the result yesterday papered over the cracks. As Paul rightly points out, our goalkeeper saved us – which indicates that as good as our defence might have been, Reading were still able to provide much more of a goal threat than Cardiff ever did (or have under Mr Slade’s direction).
    Various individuals should nevertheless be mentioned. Pre-match comments in various media were hailing Kenwyne Jones as our likely saviour. Was he? Yes, he scored, thanks to some appalling defending, but overall he provided only a shadow of what I would regard as an effective centre-forward display. For instance, he on one occasion (only one) had an opportunity to make a run in on goal. He lumbered in that general direction but was easily dispossessed by defenders who found that they had plenty of time to get to him. What else could he have done, considering that he had no-one to support him? Taken a shot? Yes, he could have – except that he never seems to hit the ball “hard and true” – in other words, he tends to kick with the side of his foot rather than the instep. (He is not alone in this failing, which might also help explain why Cardiff as a team rarely seem to be able to conjure a goal-bound effort from distance).
    Paul also mentions Gunnarsson’s much improved display. Although he did slip on one occasion and allow Reading to build an attack from distance and force Marshall into yet another excellent save, who was back to finish the clearance? Yes, Gunnarsson who had sprinted more than half the length of the field to rectify his mistake. And I would argue that any player with that sort of commitment would not be much pleased by a colleague who habitually coasts through a game. Gunnarsson also showed a surprising bit of skill at one point which led to a shot just wide of the goal.
    Shots on goal (or rather, the hope thereof) seemed to infect much of Craig Noone’s work, too. Perhaps because he once scored a game-saving wonder goal coming in from the right and shooting with his left foot, he persistently and frustratingly did the same throughout the game, even when the situation was crying out for a cross from the wing with his right foot. Nevertheless, he showed commendable energy and enthusiasm, plus no little skill throughout the game.
    I thought the grossly underrated Pilkington also did very well at both ends of the field, showing skill and energy.
    Overall, however, Cardiff still lacked a real goal threat from open play, and it was not until the long awaited introduction of Saadi that we saw the value of someone with speed and determination to hassle defenders and shoot hard and accurately (with his instep, of course). Given an effective centre-forward alongside him he should be a major asset to the team.
    Finally, the idea of allowing season ticket holders to bring under-sixteens with them for free was a major success which added to the atmosphere. I brought two of my grand-daughters with me and to my delight they thoroughly enjoyed the occasion. So did I, in fact, but – to damn with faint praise -especially the result.

  2. Richard Holt says:

    Yes an excellent write up as ever Paul. As you know I had a feeling City would win yesterday and once I saw the colour of Reading’s strip I became almost certain. Whilst I thought it was so much better than the Bristol City game (having my finger jammed in a door for 90 minutes would have been better than that) we still seem a long way off from a team likely to make a serious challenge at the top. Joe Mason still seems a shadow of the player he was two or three years ago and our play in the final third shows little sense of any kind of cohesive strategy. On the plus side I agree that Ralls, Noone, Gunnarsson and of course Marshall did well yesterday but also thought that Sean Morrison had a very good game. He never seems to get a great press from City fans who obviously much prefer the more flamboyant Manga and there’s no doubt that we probably over-paid for him. However he’s a big part of our currently successful defensive formation and at the moment I think is worthy of rather greater recognition.

  3. russell says:

    Unfortunately I could not make the game,as a result had to resort to listening to Radio Wales on an internet connection,it appeared Connolly had a good game and I think he deserves a lot of praise for his determination to make the first team year on year.

  4. Dai Woosnam says:

    A really great report was that one Paul…even by YOUR high standards.
    You left no aspect uncovered.
    From my point of view, it was good to see Russell Slade’s team playing more positively. Wingers crossing the ball: attackers getting into the opponent’s penalty area. And playing FORWARD and being brave enough to LOSE the ball…and not insist on pointless square passing possession for the sake of possession.
    Great to see Norwich beat Swansea yesterday, despite having only 33% possession.
    Let nobody wilfully misunderstand that last sentence: I have long lost the dreadful TRIBALISM that once so infected me, and still does infect The Beautiful Game here in Britain…so much so that supporters have to be segregated. (What a contrast to the wonderful recent Rugby World Cup, where opposing fans sat together, often with plastic pint glasses of beer in their hands!)
    No…seeing Swansea lose does not give me pleasure. Au contraire.
    But I just want players to risk losing the ball, that is all.
    And Swansea’s triangles, whilst in some ways a commendable testimony to a plethora of training sessions, strike me as a bit lacking in COURAGE.
    I far prefer a defence-splitting pass from a Shelvey, not a “walk the ball into the net” via an elaborate minuet of one-twos and triangles, which when it comes off (as with the famous Wilshere goal a year or two back) is truly a thing of WONDER…but alas, it very rarely does come off.
    Man Utd fans have it just right. “Attack! Attack! Attack!” is their cry.
    And so it should be with Bluebirds fans.
    Keep three men on the halfway line whenever your opponent has a corner.
    Dear Mr Slade…courage, mon brave!
    Yes Kenwyne is good at defending corners…but he is just one more man to overcrowd the penalty box.
    How much better to keep him on the centre-spot? And clear it straight to his head/body, where he flicks either right or left to his two attacking comrades.
    And let us not think that such skills are not in his armoury: that flick-on yesterday, was quite sublime.
    And with three men up, the opponent will keep at least THREE men back.

    Last season Bournemouth were a breath-of-fresh air, with this approach.
    Poor old Eddie Howe’s courage this season seems to be deserting him. He only leaves one up at most, in the EPL…and look at the results !! (Yes I know, a shocking list of INJURIES has been a major factor in confidence diminishing.)

    Want to say one other thing re “confidence”: am I right in thinking that Joe Mason’s confidence is totally SHOT right now?
    I saw enough in Idriss Saadi’s cameo performance yesterday to think that the roles should be reversed for the next match with HIM starting, and Joe on the bench.

  5. Barry cole says:

    Excellent assessment of the game Paul and I cannot agree more in that the cracks are being papered over. Let’s face it slade has lost the fan base ( I don’t think he had most of it anyway)
    We are not going forward and having complained that he only got stick when we lost I can only say that having been forced into a crucial changes which he would not have contemplated It’s clear we will not be in the top six with him in charge.
    Without Marshall we would have lost the game but the performance was far more positive with out his silly lop sided midfield. It only needs a good manager to blend this team together with one or two additions we would make the premiership.
    So even with a win I cannot see slade as a positive for Cardiff and if the board had any semblance of football nous they would have relieved him of his duties after the Leeds match. They should at least have a succession plan in place now.
    With two of the more difficult games coming up and if we lose these the chasm between the top two and Cardiff is likely to be too big to pull back.
    Quite simply slade isn’t the man to take us forward, never was, and without the backing of the fans our team will continue to lose its heart.

  6. Stephen Fairhurst says:

    We may have a grumble about Cardiff being shot-shy and there was more than one occasion when an opportunity seemed to warrant belting the ball towards goal when instead the player moved the ball to the left wing for presumably a cross (Going through Noone’s and him crossing from the byline not his strong point) but it would be crowded out and the ball moved back and across. A tad frustrating. So in opposition to that and to Noone’s credit that whilst he cut in a similar fashion nearly every time at least he attempted to bend a shot into the goal. Maybe we need our support to the forwards to be in on those. I think a difference from other matches was the corners were put into the middle of the box with many players to hit not as seems to happen on a regular basis launched to the back of the goal for a single player to head back across which more than often doesn’t happen. I think we will understand how Russell Slade is thinking and deserves our support if Peter Whittingham comes straight back in. Russell said there must be a reason why Peter is in the side every week and my reply is because you flippin’ well keep picking him. Joe Ralls had an excellent game and deserves more than having a run out as the ‘go to’ team is forced to make a change.

  7. The other Bob Wilson says:

    As always, thanks to all of you for your replies. I’ve not got a great deal of time, so here’s just a few quick thoughts about some of the subjects raised.
    Very interesting stuff about shooting technique AMO. With regard to Craig Noone, I can remember him cutting in from the right after just a couple of minutes of one of his first home matches with Burnley and really putting his left foot through the ball as he hit a shot from about twenty five yards that hit the woodwork and rebounded for Joe Mason to net. Just before half time, Noone tried his luck from distance and made it 2-0 with another well struck effort that the keeper should have saved – the likelihood is that given the same opportunities now, we would see a couple of his curlers which look great when they occasionally come off, but fly harmlessly high or wide most of the time.
    Agree with you about Morrison Richard, I thought he was one of our more consistent players last year and he’s playing better this season – he makes the odd mistake, but I’m not sure why so many supporters seem to have a problem with him.
    Thinking about it Russell, Matt Connolly is the closest thing we have had to my favourite City defender, Danny Gabbidon (I liked his deliberate, but effective, backheeled pass on Saturday) – he needs to get out of a fairly recent habit of letting what should be regulation through balls to elude him, but I’m still not really sure why he’s never been trusted to play for a long period in the Premier League.
    I agree Barry – Derby and Burnley are very big games and, although I’d probably take a draw in both of them if it were offered now, we really need to win one of them if the top five especially are not to get further away from us.
    Dai, City left two players up (Mason and Noone I think) a few times when defending corners on Saturday. I think Kenwyne Jones it too good defensively to forsake his near post duties when our opponents have a corner, but I’d have no problem with us leaving two or three upfield – as it is, well done to Russell Slade for doing something different on Saturday.
    Stephen, I’ve noticed how Whittingham seems to aim his corners beyond the far post lately (he’s too good at dead ball deliveries for this to be an error on his part) and struggle to see what we are trying to achieve with them. Joe Ralls used to be very good with set pieces when he was playing for the Academy team, but I remember him producing some right ropey stuff when given those duties in early season League Cup matches last season. On Saturday, he was bang on the mark though – his free kicks and corners were so good that something which I would have argued beforehand would be a big reason for Whittingham to come straight back into the team (his dead ball delivery is a lot better than anyone else’s) no longer applies.

  8. Dai Woosnam says:

    Just a quick follow up to my posting above, Paul.
    I have just had two emails from friends expressing surprise that I was all this time a closet Man Utd fan.
    I am an ABMU* man till I die.
    But I once was a fan alright.
    I was 10 years old at the time of Munich.**
    It was half term holiday and I remember sitting by the wireless when John Snagge broke the news to the nation.
    Like all other kids my age, I immediately started a scrapbook with all the newspaper reports and pictures of the dead and injured, including Matt in his oxygen tent.
    Then filled the rest of the book with pictures of the amazing Cup run of the team, under our very Rhondda own, Jimmy Murphy.
    And when Nat Lofthouse brutally GBH-ed Harry Gregg over the line with the ball at Wembley…I cried bitter tears.
    And for the next 20 years, Man U became my second team. I was so proud when our Graham Moore became their number 8, with Bobby Charlton at no.9 and Denis Law at no. 10.
    But around the mid 70s something changed.
    I recall their team coming to Ninian circa 1974 (in their one season in Div 2) and being alarmed at the hooligans they brought with them…several urinating on the terraces. And then came a certain arrogance that came with being a supporter of that club.***
    And it got to me.
    And I began to want EVERY team to beat them.
    What an about-turn in one person, eh?
    But hey, I must cut them some slack now.
    LvG is a chap I like, even though I do not like his square and back passing which is the ruination of the Beautiful Game.
    And suddenly Man Utd fans are REHABILITATED in the Court of Public Opinion.
    Their shout of “attack! attack! attack!” is a crie de coeur to save our game from the ultra conservative! A cri de coeur to make it a game played by braveheart WARRIORS rather than effete trainspotters.
    Will sign off now.
    * ABMU = Anyone But Man U
    ** Munich of Red Star Belgrade, that is…not the Munich of Croydon Airport and that “piece of paper”!
    *** Q. How many Man Utd fans does it take to change a lightbulb at Old Trafford?
    A. Just the one…but you will have to wait for him to drive up from the South of England.

  9. Dai Woosnam says:

    Oh gosh…I cannot do anything right.
    Including my email address is a double-edged sword, methinks.
    I have just had an email from a total stranger that asks what I have against trainspotters!
    The answer is nowt.
    I am talking about GRICERS here, of course, not the Irving Welsh type of trainspotter!
    And I well know that trainspotters can be very macho and very athletic sorts.
    So Paul, let me breathe that sentence of mine back in. And let me put an adjective before the noun gricers, and say EFFETE trainspotters.

  10. The other Bob Wilson says:

    My Man United journey is quite like yours Dai – supporting them in the 1968 European Cup Final because my parents always wanted them to win after Munich. However, both of my parents went off the club after the break up of the Best/Law/Charlton team – I don’t think they were what would be called glory hunters these days, I believe it was more that, like you it sounds, they didn’t like what the club was becoming. I suppose I did follow my parents to some extent, but I think I’d already embarked on the journey which made me a confirmed ABMU for nearly forty years. I suppose the fact that I don’t class myself as an ABMU these days says that, certainly in the Ferguson years, my dislike of them had something to do with me not having much time for any side/person who makes a habit of winning things year on year.
    Even though that’s not a very nice trait to have and I daresay that I would return to be a Man U hater if they started to become as successful as they used to be, what I’ve always known about that club is that when supporters talk about expecting a certain type of football from their team, it isn’t the sort of romanticised rubbish you get from, say, Spurs fans with their superiority complex based on something which happened almost fifty dive years ago, it is a genuine need that is ingrained in the DNA of the club and those who follow it.
    This is why Van Gaal has always struck me as an odd appointment for Man United because he is the antithesis of what that club is – I can remember reading a book which said that when he was coach at Ajax, Van Gaal demanded of a dribbler like Marc Overmars that he only touch the ball a specified number of times (think it was three) and then he had to pass it. That’s not what Man United are about (it shouldn’t be what any club are about!) and Van Gaal is too much of a “blackboard/whiteboard” man for them – there are some clubs where such an approach might be welcomed, but it’s just not the Man United way.

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