If we get a home draw in the Fourth Round of the Carling Cup, I wonder if the club will give any thought to moving the kick off time forward to, say, seven o clock so that people will be able to get away at their normal time for a night match once extra time and, probably, penalties have been completed? Beginning their journeys home at around half past ten has become the norm for City fans this season when it comes to League Cup matches as last night they saw their team edge through to the last sixteen of the competition with a penalty shoot out win over Leicester City following the extra time wins over Oxford United and Huddersfield Town.
With the sides level at 2-2 at the ninety minute mark and the thirty minutes of extra time unable to separate them, it was time for another penalty shoot out against Leicester and, just as on that never to be forgotten night just under seventeen months ago, it was City who prevailed – this time by a score of 7-6. The tension, drama and subsequent celebration that was witnessed in May 2010 may not have been present to the same degree, but it was still great to see City come through this test of skill and courage with flying colours. To be brutally honest though, much of what preceded the shoot out was pretty low key stuff – that’s not to say it was particularly boring, but, understandably I suppose, the intensity of that Play Off Semi Final was never present as two weakened, but pretty evenly matched, sides slugged it out in increasingly wet conditions which were in marked contrast to those of that glorious May evening last year.
A calf injury to Tom Heaton meant that it was just the seven changes from the Blackpool match with Marshall, Taylor, Cowie and Kiss surviving from the starting eleven at Bloomfield Road, while Sven kept only captain Matt Mills from the eleven which beat Brighton on Saturday and even he was withdrawn at half time with a minor injury. Therefore, City will be facing a Leicester team on Sunday which will have a fresh set of players, while some important members of our likely starting eleven will be trying to raise themselves again after a very gruelling one hundred and twenty minutes. Both Filip Kiss and Don Cowie played the full two hours as did Paul Quinn and Darcy Blake who are candidates, along with Lee Naylor, to replace Andrew Taylor who limped off around the hour mark with what looked like a hamstring injury that would sideline him for a fortnight at least.
Aron Gunnarsson was another of Sunday’s likely starting line up to get involved as he completed what was virtually a full ninety minutes after replacing the desperately unlucky Steve McPhail, who was making his first team debut for the season, around the thirty minute mark. McPhail seemed to tweak a groin muscle as he stretched to prevent the ball crossing the touchline and so his stop/start (make that mostly stop actually) campaign continues I’m afraid. Looking back, City probably played their best football of the night while he was on. Although, with Earnie and Joe Mason pretty anonymous, there was little to come in terms of chances from it, our midfield were winning the battle in that part of the pitch in the first half hour, but, from then on, I thought the visitors gained the whip hand – that’s not meant to denigrate Gunnarsson, who I thought was one of our best players, but much of his good work came in the form of fighting midfield fires started by increasingly shoddy play from some of his colleagues.
Before City went off the boil though, they had gone in front when their Mr Perpetual Motion Don Cowie reacted quickly and cleverly to score with a header on thirty three minutes from around the penalty spot after the visitors defence got in a mess trying to deal with another good cross by Taylor. This goal made Cowie our top scorer with four so far – it seems that there is some amazement that three of them have come from headers, but I must say that his goals at Blackpool and then last night suggest that he has some ability in that department. Apart from a lack of serious pace, it’s hard to spot too many weaknesses in Cowie’s game and when you also consider his tremendous stamina, I’d say our signing from Watford is someone who could get a starting birth in virtually every team in this division. It didn’t take Leicester long to level things up again though – Paul Quinn and Dekel Keinan showed early signs of rustiness and the latter was beaten very easily by the impressive young Leicester striker Jeff Schlupp who put over a low cross which that old warhorse Steve Howard nudged in from close range.
Quinn improved after a poor first half, – as did Keinan, but not to the same extent as his colleague as, possibly carrying a knock, he never looked like the player who was so impressive for much of the second half of last season. With Ben Turner having picked up what is described as a a none too serious injury in training this week, I’d say that Darcy Blake might well be the third choice centreback at the club at the moment. Last night, one important mistake aside, Blake did well as his pace was shown to good effect on occasions to deal with awkward looking situations. However, the poor pass he played out of defence halfway through the second half undid so much of his earlier good work as it was seized upon by Neil Danns who burst into the penalty area and looked odds on to score. A superb tackle by Gunnarsson appeared to have snuffed out the danger though, but, unfortunately, the ball landed at Lloyd Dyer’s feet and he drove low past the helpless Marshall.
Given that, Cowie’s goal apart, it was hard to think of too many times City had threatened to get on the scoresheet up to then, it was hard to see them getting back into the match from here. Leicester were comfortable and, without Peter Whittingham’s inventiveness, there was no sign of City putting a move together of sufficient quality to trouble them – it needed a mistake or a moment of inspiration if they were to draw level and it was the latter that was provided eight minutes from time. A few weeks ago I posted on one of the City messageboards that I could not see Rudy Gestede scoring too many goals for us, but he had other virtues that could still make him an asset. The Frenchman was still waiting for his first goal in a competitive match for City when he brought down a free kick, turned and planted a low right footed drive past Weale from twenty yards – in doing so, he didn’t exactly prove me wrong, but he did show that he is capable of scoring high quality goals at a time when they were most needed. Gestede’s fine goal was a just reward for not just a City man of the match performance last night, but also for what has been a very impressive first couple of months at Cardiff – there are times when he can look very raw, but he definitely has something.
In the way we have come to expect from this City team, Gestede was still full of selfless running in an extra time period which, unlike the previous two rounds, largely passed without incident. However, in the last minute or so he went down with cramp and yet he still had the resolve to put away a penalty in the shoot out which would have seen us go out if he had missed. Given that he must have still been hurting and that David Marshall had got much closer to some of the Leicester penalties (I wouldn’t be surprised if he felt he should have saved the very first one from Dyer) than Chris Weale had to any of ours, I was sure Rudy was going to miss. Instead of that though, he held his nerve superbly and calmly fired into the opposite corner to where his earlier shot had ended up to join Messrs Naylor (another improved performance from him when he replaced Taylor), Earnshaw, Cowie, Conway and Kiss as successful penalty takers. Next up was Leicester’s Swiss international Gelson Fenandes who took a long run up and ballooned his shot over the bar – it now only needed Paul Quinn (another cramp victim) to score and City were through and the skipper came up trumps as he found the corner of the net despite Weale diving the right way.
In his post match interview, Quinn said he had volunteered to take a penalty and was a bit surprised to be told by Malky Mackay that he could take the seventh one. To me this indicates that our manager was not having to look around to find candidates to take the penalties, there were plenty who were willing to do their bit for the team. I’m not sure that would have been the case in some City teams of the recent past and although I shouldn’t forget that we scored all of our spot kicks in the Play Off semi, the fact that we scored seven out of seven makes you think this group of players might have the mental fortitude that has been absent from sides which may have had bigger “stars”.