A heartbreaking loss against Tottenham last Saturday was a harsh lesson in Premier League life. Spurs thoroughly deserved the win despite the many pundits who thought Cardiff unlucky.
The most honest summing up of the game came from Andre Villas-Boas the Spurs manager who said on Sky Sports that, “…it was the right reward for the amount of things [chances] created…” and going on to say that Cardiff goalkeeper David Marshall ‘…was absolutely outstanding … probably the key to [having] kept [Cardiff] in the game so late”. Who could argue?
I don’t have to go into the stats for proof of that, surely it is evident to all. In the cold light of day and some 48 hours after the fact it’s difficult to believe Cardiff deserved better.
Yet Cardiff did have chances, four in all. In the first few minutes striker Fraizer Campbell latched onto a poor backpass but failed to round the Spurs keeper Hugo Lloris and although it looked from video evidence that the French stopper had handled outside the penalty area, the refereeing team missed it.
Ben Turner did have the ball in the net from a corner-kick but Aron Gunnarsson was apparently adjudged to have fouled Lloris. If there was a foul it looked more likely that Turner had fouled Michael Dawson as he headed home. Either way it didn’t matter the whistle had already gone.
Another chance fell to substitute and debut maker Peter Odemwingie after good work to open up a shooting angle for himself but his cute shot curled wide.
The killer chance Cardiff needed arrived inside the last 10 minutes when Gunnarsson was again involved. The Icelandic international was presented with a rare opportunity from close range needing only to divert Odemwingie’s cut-back into a gaping net with Lloris surely beaten. Gunnarsson unfortunately blew his lines and lifted the ball over the crossbar to the horror of his teammates and the Cardiff faithful all round him.
Paulinho’s back heel followed and Cardiff hearts were broken.
The team has to pick itself up for Fulham next Saturday and this will be another titanic struggle just as every Premier League game will be this season.
There’s the small matter of facing West Ham in the Capital One Cup in London on Tuesday but I’m sure Malky Mackay will use that game to give much needed playing time to other squad members and fringe players. Perhaps Odemwingie will get a start and a decent run to help him towards match fitness but he will probably be the only one to appear following Saturday’s exertions against Spurs.
The Fulham game will take on such significant importance, not just for the three points at stake but to keep the Cottagers below the Bluebirds in the table and also to get what could prove to be one of those very elusive Premier League away wins. The sooner Mackay’s men can get a road win the better.
Expect Mackay to ignore all calls for an attack focused team, a more expansive style and to go for a typical point holding formation of two defensive midfielders and one forward. He will hope to catch Fulham on the break as the home team faces incredible pressure to win this game.
The Fulham fans will be impatient if their team does not start well and the anxiety coming from the supporters in the stands will surely drift onto the field. Mackay will not want to concede first and especially early on.
With the way the Bluebirds have defended so far this season you cannot blame him for putting his trust in his back-line and midfield of Gary Medel and co., once again. The biggest danger could be that it is Cardiff who takes the Fulham team too lightly. After phenomenal performances of concentration, focus and determination it is almost understandable if the Bluebird players are a little more relaxed about Saturday.
The fear then is a West Ham style performance as we witnessed on the opening day, where the home team simply dominates possession and away from the friendly confines of the Cardiff City Stadium the visiting Bluebirds fail to hit the heights of recent games.
The hope is that Cardiff comes away with all three points. It is very possible and I think the introduction of Peter Odemwingie whether starting or from the bench could prove decisive. He showed in what little time and possession he had against Spurs that he is still a danger.
The single most critical factor will be Cardiff’s ability to turn possession into chances and chances into goals. Right now they are feeding off scraps. Of course Fulham is not Spurs, Everton or Manchester City but Cardiff is not at home either.
At West Ham on day one and at Hull more recently we needed to establish more possession in the final third and this will be a crucial element and a key to any success at Craven Cottage.
By Ivor Castle.
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