Yesterday’s 1-1 draw with Bolton at Cardiff City Stadium was not going to be the main event for many of those who ensured another capacity crowd for the home support. Thinking about it, I’d include myself amongst those who thought that the attention was going to be centred one the presentation of the Championship trophy after a match, which from our perspective was meaningless wasn’t it.
Yet, it was the game I found myself thinking about as I left the ground – don’t get me wrong, watching your team be presented with a trophy for winning the league is always going to be a great experience, but, as I touched upon in my piece after the Charlton match, the ease with which we got promoted has meant that I’ve stayed far more grounded about what has happened over the past twelve days then I ever thought I’d be about what is the best achievement I’ve seen from a Cardiff City team.
The main reason why I found myself thinking more about the match I’d just seen than the celebrations which followed it was that I had such admiration for the team, and the manager, for the way they had approached it – or, to be more accurate, the way they approached the last half an hour of it. Until Craig Noone came on, the game had gone much as expected I would say. City started pretty well, with Kimbo showing some delightful touches in midfield, and it took a great save by Bogdan to stop us scoring inside a minute, but things “settled down” after that in much the same manner as they did at Burnley in the second half – I certainly wouldn’t say that the players were just going through the motions, but,completely understandably in my opinion, there wasn’t quite the same intensity about them as they’d had in their first forty three matches of the season.
After badly under achieving for about 70% of the season when you consider the talent they have available, Bolton have been one of the form sides of the Championship lately and they would have been a tough test for a City team playing to the maximum of their ability and commitment, so it wasn’t too much of a surprise to see them take the lead on eighteen minutes – you could criticise the left side of our defence I suppose and television pictures suggested that, possibly, David Marshall could have done better with Chris Eagles’ shot, but I’d prefer to praise the way the scorer and Sam Ricketts combined to set up the goal.
The rest of the first half saw the visitors holding on to their lead fairly comfortably and they should really have doubled it when they took advantage of a sloppy Craig Conway pass to break quickly and present Darren Pratley with a great opportunity which was kept out by a fine Marshall save. The opening minutes of the second half saw the game chug on as before with Rudy Gestede, despite doing quite well with flick on’s from long straight balls and better than normal when it was played into his feet, offering too static a target for players looking to cross – mind you, someone three times as mobile as our target man would have had trouble getting on the end of the variety of overhit or sliced efforts that were being played in from the flanks.
Apart from at Burnley, the two Craigs, Conway and Noone, have tended to alternate in the City team recently and, often, the introduction of one in place of the other has seen an improvement in our attacking play – that certainly happened after Noone replaced Conway yesterday. With Conway you get good, solid virtues like hard work and team play as well as a higher level of ability than he is often given credit for, but Noone is more mercurial (and flakey!) – I’ve said it before, but he’s a typical winger as far as I’m concerned, often frustrating and ineffective, but an entertainer and a match changer when he’s on his game.
Right from moment he came on, Noone’s ability to go either way when playing on the right caused Bolton’s left back Alonso problems and the first cross he put over was better than anything else City had produced up to then. The winger then created a marvellous chance for fellow sub Tommy Smith – Bogdan kept his side in front with another great save, but, from just six yards out, you had the feeling that Smith should have doubled his goal tally for the season. Noone wasn’t to be denied though and he leveled things up from a free kick after the increasingly impressive Aron Gunnarsson was brought down on the edge of the penalty area after going past a couple of opponents in a run from the halfway line.
Peter Whittingham and Craig Bellamy had scored excellent free kicks in successive home matches early in the season against Wolves, Leeds and Blackpool, but, in some ways, I would argue Noone’s goal yesterday was better than them. I say that because the general opinion around me was that Bogdan had been at fault in lining up his wall wrongly by leaving a gap on his near post for Noone to exploit, but television pictures show otherwise – the shot was judged beautifully as it was just high enough to clear the wall and, having done that, it was placed perfectly beyond the keeper who, for me, had no chance of saving it.
Although it would be wrong to say Noone transformed the game single handedly, he had been the main factor in City getting on terms, but it was the way the rest of the team reacted to the change in tempo and approach that our goalscorer prompted that impressed. City could have been content to rest on their laurels and sit back a little allowing Bolton (who needed the win a lot more than we did) to come on to us and then try and catch them on the break. Not a bit of it though, the desire shown to win the game in the last twenty minutes was as intense as it has been all season. Ever since Malky Mackay became manager his sides have risked losing home games they are level in going into the closing stages by chasing a winning goal and that desire was there again yesterday.
Bolton could have cashed in when sub Craig Davies shot inches wide and Ben Turner’s underhit back pass almost let Pratley in, but, for the most part, the visitors were forced back by opponents who nobody at Leicester or Forest could accuse of not doing their utmost to help their Play Off cause. If you could complain about some of the promising positions created not being taken advantage of because of a lack of precision which had been apparent all afternoon (this will certainly have to be addressed next season), then you certainly couldn’t fault the attitude which saw the team put so much into a match which meant nothing to them in the grand scheme of things – another clue was seen as to why this squad is so much different to the other Cardiff ones that have challenged for promotion to the top flight at various times in the past fifty one years.
This is a reason why I think Hull fans should be very concerned this week – they might be hoping that we turn up next week and let their side win at a canter, but I think they will be disappointed. There is also the fact that Malky Mackay will know that, by denying Hull a win next week, we will be doing his former club (for whom he still appears to have very positive feelings) a big favour. Hull are currently going through something similar to what happened to us in 2008/09. There was a depressing inevitability to what happened four years ago and none of the four sides we faced showed any sympathy whatsoever for what we were going through – I don’t think Hull will get any from us next week.
* courtesy of http://www.walesonline.co.uk/