A Cardiff City side playing some superb attacking football ease into a 3-0 lead around the half hour mark only for most of the good work to be undone as the opposition come back with a couple of goals of their own, a nerve jangling period where an equaliser looks inevitable ensues as City wobble badly, only for them to make sure of the win with a scrappy goal in the closing stages – sound familiar?
It should do, because that’s exactly what happened at Scunthorpe just over two months ago and the parallels between that game and yesterday’s thriller with Watford are almost eerie. At Scunthorpe, the accusation could be made that City “declared” at 3-0, allowed their outplayed opponents back into the game and almost paid the penalty for what some claimed was arrogance. There were certainly echoes of that yesterday as Watford, who an early chance gifted to them by Lee Naylor apart, had barely threatened were given a lifeline back into the game just two minutes after the returning Jay Bothroyd’s fine finish through dozy defending as the extremely impressive Will Buckley was allowed to score at his leisure.
The game changed at that point and there were ominous signs before half time that it was not going to be the stroll in the park that it had threatened to be. At the interval, I said that I would be reading the riot act to my team now if I were Dave Jones because they were in real danger of throwing away a game which should have been in the bag. With hindsight though, that was said very much as a one eyed supporter who only sees what his own team is doing – against Scunthorpe we got careless against a struggling side with an appalling home record, but, that poor goal apart, the opposition’s revival yesterday had more to do with them being a very good side than any relaxing of intent on our part.
In all of the worrying about City throwing it away again (one of the blokes behind me said “don’t forget Peterborough” as soon as we went 3-0 up), it was easy to forget that we were up against the team with the best current form in the country yesterday and from the thirty minute mark onwards, Watford showed why that was as they looked anything but a team shorn of three of the midfield four present in their 4-1 beating of us at Vicarage Road on 28 December. The last hour of the game saw their players running through our midfield too easily as it was hard to avoid the impression at times that they were that bit fitter than our team.
The excellent Marvin Sordell reduced the arrears to one early in the second half. At the ground, I thought his cross cum shot would have gone in even if Tom Heaton hadn’t slipped, but, having now seen television pictures of the incident, I’m not so sure of that – as an aside, I can remember Heaton letting in a couple of goals early in his loan spell with us in 08/09 where his feet gave way as he dived to his right and, although to a layman like me that just seems like a coincidence, perhaps a goalkeeping coach would identify it as a weakness that needs working on?
When Buckley had a goal, correctly, disallowed for offside soon after that and then hit the post a minute or two later, a Watford equaliser looked inevitable, but, from then on, although they continued to pour forward, the Watford storm began to blow itself out. Although never looking too comfortable, City began to restore a little of their earlier authority. The substitution of Gavin Rae for Peter Whittingham helped shore things up (Whittingham’s performance underlining the dilemma of using him in central midfield – superb, as evidenced by the great ball to Craig Bellamy for our first goal, when we were on top, but ineffective when we were under the cosh) and with Watford now leaving gaps as they sought to get on terms, the game had the feeling that there was another goal in it with City now looking slightly more likely to get it.
Gabor Gyepes’ scruffy, but oh so important goal eight minutes from time as he forced a Jay Emmanuel-Thomas cross following a short corner (will that count as a goal scored from one with the critics who claim that this never happens with City?) gave us the breathing space we needed. It had been the sort of game though where you almost expected Watford to strike back immediately again, but, in truth, it was fairly comfortable after that as City, with the injured Kevin McNaughton a virtual passenger, as substitute Chris Burke filled in at right back, held on to secure what was an excellent and priceless win.
Over a two month period starting with the Swansea game, it had become easy to knock the team and manager (I should know I did it as much as the next supporter!) and, to be honest, I was dreading our next three games after the tame surrender at Ashton Gate on New Year’s Day. However, great credit should go to the players and Dave Jones for what we have achieved against Leeds, Norwich and Watford – in each game we were up against a team in fine form and, although there were periods in all three matches where we looked uncomfortable, a return of seven points out of nine is an outstanding achievement which ensures that we can go into February with confidence levels higher than we could have imagined possible only three weeks ago.
Although yesterday’s win in what was probably the best match seen at Cardiff City Stadium this season was more of a team effort for me with no outstanding individual performances, I would like to mention a couple of players. Firstly, Mark Hudson has had his share of critics during his time with us and I am sure he will do again in the future, but, for me, he is enjoying a run of very good form currently. At a time, when the need for defensive improvement is still apparent (it’s just one clean sheet in seventeen matches now), he has become a reassuring presence at the back – I’d love to see stats for the Championship defenders who get their head to the ball first most often when it is played into their penalty area because I reckon Hudson would be pretty near the top of that list.
The burst Jay Emmanuel-Thomas made as he got clear of Martin Taylor in the first few minutes turned out to be misleading if the performance he gave on his City debut was typical of him. It’s easy to look at him and imagine he will be powerful, strong and imposing, but the Arsenal message boards I read after we signed him tended to suggest this was not the case and I can see what they meant. To use a boxing term, it seems to me that our new player does not “punch his weight” – despite winning one good header towards the end of the match, he didn’t look strong in the air, he seemed to lack power at times and there was a lack of urgency to some of his play.
However, having got the negative stuff out of the way, I’ve got to say that the overall impression I got of Jay Emmanuel- Thomas was a positive one as his Arsenal upbringing shone through and the lack of urgency I referred to earlier could just as easily be interpreted as being a knowledge of how much possession of the ball is to be cherished rather than given away through speculative and hurried passing (something City tend to be guilty of at times). He is obviously a very talented footballer and, if he can make the adjustment to the hurly burly of Championship football (his loan spells at Blackpool and, in particular, Doncaster last season suggest that he can), I reckon he can become an important member of the team in the coming months.