Silver linings aplenty as Bluebirds fly
For those of us who watched Cardiff play Leeds on the TV five days earlier, it didn’t take too long to realise that the Bluebirds do not really have any weaknesses in their team.
They not only came across at Elland Road as a side that are strong at the back, but that they are primarily a very attack-minded team that has goals spread across their entire midfield and forward line.
And that was essentially the case again on Saturday. Cardiff looked the part and they are a very good side. I’ll say that at the outset here.
However as far as the Canaries are concerned, if Cardiff do remain in one of the top two spots in the table come next May as many believe will be the case, then based on what we saw on Saturday, City shouldn’t exactly be a million miles away from them.
We had the abnormal situation at half-time on Saturday of City essentially having been the best team in the opening 45 minutes yet still being in the position of needing to chase the game on account of trailing 3-1.
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After a bright and positive start to the game in which both sides had looked to attack, City soon frustratingly fell a couple of goals behind.
And it will have disappointed the Canaries that both Jay Bothyroyd and Michael Chopra’s early strikes came without the home side really having to earn them.
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A headed tap in from a set piece for the opener followed by a basic route one kick downfield, a flick on and simple finish for the second provided the hosts with a dream start and Norwich with the proverbial mountain to climb.
But to their eternal credit, City didn’t allow it to faze them.
Indeed Norwich simply continued to take the game to Cardiff at every opportunity and they regularly had their opponents pinned back deep into their own half and on the back foot.
City enjoyed the lion’s share of possession, they played some excellent attacking football and they created chances.
It was particularly impressive. And when Wes Hoolahan dived bravely to head the Canaries back into the contest after 35 minutes it was the very least that City deserved in all fairness.
But then the game swung firmly back into Cardiff’s hands thanks to another contentious refereeing decision.
I think everyone inside the stadium knows that the ball did hit Elliott Ward’s arm. But when you have the situation whereby most of the Cardiff players and their supporters aren’t really appealing for a penalty kick, it’s safe to assume that, aside from the referee, everyone also feels that it was ball-to-hand and not deliberate handball.
That one decision effectively killed City’s chances of a comeback, because while they admirably continued to try to force their way back into the contest in the second half, the team wasn’t able to sufficiently build up the same amount of steam or attacking impetus that had seen them play so well in the first half.
Without the need to force the issue, Cardiff were able play the game at their own tempo in the second half and accordingly it drew the sting out of the Canaries’ momentum. And in fairness the hosts did create the better chances in the second period.
For my money Cardiff are a better equipped team than QPR to maintain their position at the top of the table all things considered – and QPR were running away with the division of course at one point.
And Cardiff are a good bet to be promoted this season if Dave Jones is fortunate enough in that he keeps his first choice XI fit and available for selection.
So there’s no reason to feel too downbeat at this defeat at all, because there are so many positives that City can take from the game.
And when all is said and done, we’re almost a third of the way into the campaign now, and the Canaries are still in a very healthy position.
• NEIL’S MAN OF THE MATCH – WES HOOLAHAN: Leon Barnett played very well again at the heart of the City defence while full-backs Russell Martin and Steven Smith can be particularly satisfied in that they kept two very good wide players – Chris Burke and Craig Bellamy – relatively quiet throughout the game.
But it’s Wes Hoolahan who gets my vote. When he had the ball at his feet you always felt that he could create something for City, and he twisted and turned the Cardiff midfielders and defenders silly at times.
Added to that, he deservedly put his name on the scoresheet courtesy of a brave – and rare – diving header.