Despite trailing 1-0 to powerhouse Manchester City, just about everything that could go right did for Cardiff City on their Premier League home debut.
That’s not to say there was any luck involved in their unlikely comeback win. The Bluebirds had neutralised the classy Man City midfield and attack right up until Edin Dzeko squeezed a thunderbolt between two closing defenders. It rocketed past goalkeeper David Marshall and into the upper corner of the Cardiff net.
The valiant and impressive Cardiff defending had been almost faultless until then and could hardly be blamed for not preventing Dzeko from scoring with such a tremendous strike. Cardiff had been well worth the goalless half-time scoreline.
Yet it took just seven second half minutes for the visiting City to knock the legs out from under the home City and their fervent fan base. As it turned out though, not for long. Within eight minutes Aaron Gunnarsson arrived to slide the ball home after Joe Hart had saved Frazier Campbell’s close range effort. The impressive Kim Bo-Kyung’s run and pass had opened up the Man City rearguard with some aplomb.
Cardiff drew inspiration and heart from the leveling goal and grew in confidence as an unlikely point looked a distinct possibility as they continued to thwart the Man City attacks. Then with 20 minutes remaining in normal time they unbelievably took the lead as Frazier Campbell bundled home Peter Whittingham’s divine corner-kick. Man City goalkeeper Joe Hart was totally absent from the scene misjudging the flight and the danger of the whipped in kick.
A further eight minutes and it was 3-1 and the valleys around Cardiff were echoing with the hymns and arias of victory bellowing out of the Welsh capital. Frazier Campbell repeated the dose, this time heading home substitute Don Cowie’s corner-kick in similar fashion to his first, only this time from the opposite side. The crowd roar could be heard across the Severn Bridge and probably down to the Mumbles in Swansea.
Before Cardiff scored their second, Manuel Pellegrini had brought on James Milner and Alvaro Negredo to go for the win and while Milner proved ineffectual Negredo pulled one back in injury time to set up a tense final four minutes that Cardiff saw out to take the epic win and three precious points.
While Pellegrini bemoaned his teams defending at the corner-kicks, Malky Mackay can boast that he outcoached the former Real Madrid manager now tasked with returning the Premier League title to the Etihad Stadium.
Cardiff’s set-up of Gary Medel and Aaron Gunnarsson as defensive midfielders in front of the back four proved the master stroke. As the visitors probed ceaselessly through the middle of the field for the pockets of space and openings they wanted, their slick passing and movement was constantly thwarted as Medel and Gunnarsson plugged the gaps time after time. The other Cardiff players tracked runners and the now squeezed space in front of Bluebirds keeper David Marshall continued to deny Man City their usual routes to goal.
Frazier Campbell worked hard up top to disrupt the Man City center-backs and his pace was causing problems on the break along with the speed and industry of Craig Bellamy. Kim Bo-Kyung reveled in the space he was given and he showed what a class player he might become.
Where Cardiff were bad on the opening day at West Ham they were as good during their opening home game. Yet the reason for that was not so much Cardiff but their opponents. Sam Alladyce showed Cardiff respect by negating their strengths allowing the Hammers to then win the game by exploiting the Bluebird’s weakness on the flanks.
Cardiff full-back Matt Connolly was given a torrid time by West Ham as was the inexperienced Declan John if not quite so much. You have to believe that if the new Man City boss had to do it all again he would have widened the game and attacked from the flanks going over and behind the Cardiff full-backs.
Sunday in Cardiff, Pellegrini did not give Cardiff the respect they deserved. It was enough to cost him dearly when Icelandic international Gunnarsson netted from England international Frazier Campbell’s blocked shot, set up as it was by South Korean international Kim Bo-Kyung.
With Scottish international David Marshall, England international Steven Caulker, Chilean international Gary Medel and two internationals coming on from the bench in Danish striker Andreas Cornelius and veteran Scot Don Cowie, Pellegrini should have had good reason to be respectful.
And finally a word about the Cardiff center-back pairing of Caulker and Ben Turner. The two center-backs were exceptional and they should continue to grow together into a decent Premier League pairing. Calls for the return of Mark Hudson were premature and the former skipper looks set for a back-up role for now.
In the end maybe a lesson learned for Pellegrini but a lesson given by Malky Mackay’s masterclass.
By Ivor Castle.
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