51 years of wait came and went with a whimper. Cardiff City looked edgy and lacking in belief which allowed West Ham to take an early lead and put on a commanding performance, offering the Bluebirds no way back into the game once Joe Cole had scored his sublime opener.
The defeat was reminiscent of the two-legged play-off losses to West Ham two years ago. West Ham were a different class then and the gap does not seem to have closed on this latest evidence. Kevin Nolan, as he was then, was a thorn in the Cardiff side. The former Bolton midfielder put the game away in the second half as Cardiff tried in vain to muster any real threat on goal. Mackay and his men must be disheartened and deeply concerned with the way they performed at Upton Park yesterday.
The immediate signs are that Cardiff lack the speed of play required to compete in the Premier League and the pace needed to threaten. The two full-backs suffered for different reasons. Debutant 18 year-old Declan John was out of his depth without being truly punished, while the more experienced Mathew Connolly was indeed punished for his lack of pace.
At least central defenders Steven Caulker and Ben Turner were confident and solid with the impressive Gary Medal patrolling in front of them. The pairing should grow in stature and effectiveness as the season progresses.
In midfield Peter Whittingham and Kim Bo-Kyung looked promising but somewhat overawed on this occasion. Again, as with Caulker and Turner, this area should improve with time. Aaron Gunnarsson struggled and was anonymous, his lack of pace evident and a handicap he may be unable to overcome.
Craig Bellamy, the Cardiff-boy who sacrificed to help win promotion for his home town club may well have now played his best days when it comes to 90 minutes of football. He was poor by his standards and poor by the standards required of the Premier League. His may well be a season limited to appearance off the bench if Cardiff is to survive.
Fraizer Campbell looked sharp and made the most of what little good possession he was given. He needs help, hopefully in the form of the missing Andreas Cornelius. Substitute Nicky Maynard should have scored late on scooping a mishit Whittingham effort over the bar but he showed little else against his former team.
The full-back area needs strengthening, Cardiff do not have Premier League quality on their books in these positions. I’m sure Andrew Taylor will return at left-back after his suspension and possibly John Brayford will debut in place of the ragged Connolly. Neither will be a serious improvement and manager Mackay must strengthen here to give the Welsh team a fighting chance.
Another forward or attacking player would be handy and it must be one of high quality. Cardiff must up their speed of play, their thinking and decision making. It takes time to adjust to the Premier League but adjust they must before it is too late.
Mackay must also add real pace, true speed if his team is to create enough chances to convert into goals and points they will need more. I’m sure Saturday’s line-up was an away team selection and that Craig Noone and Craig Conway will be considered for the visit of Manchester City next Saturday, but it doesn’t look likely that these additions could make any serious difference.
The only form of solace on a bleak day for the Cardiff faithful was the 4-1 home thrashing given to Swansea City by champions Manchester United. It may be poor compensation for sure but at least a crumb of comfort for now.
By Ivor Castle.
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