RAMBLE: Wednesday 1-0 Cardiff City
Much of the pre-match build up was about Carlos.
Our most successful manager (in terms of win percentage) since the early sixties.
Our longest serving manager since Brian Laws.
The former point arguably due to the huge investment that our chairman has made, although as we know this doesn’t always guarantee such success.
The latter point perhaps one of the reasons why a growing vocal minority have been calling for his tenure to come to an end… we’ve grown used to the 15 month itch and inevitably turn on a manager when things aren’t quite going to plan.
Again, the fact that we’ve been sitting in the top-six since before Christmas being seen as ‘not going to plan’ is testament to how far we have come.
I’m firmly in the ‘Carlos in’ camp.
I am a patient person though.
I understand that things take time, things don’t always go to plan, mistakes are made and lessons learned.
An upturn in form has silenced some of the “he’s got no plan B” brigade, clearly happy that the only plan they naively believe Carlos to have is now working, culminating with a rousing, dominating, lethal display against the Toon.
So, Carlos went in to his anniversary game with the crowd largely behind him.
Carlos has little time to reflect on his 100 games
It also just so happened that in this landmark game he would come up against club nemesis Neil Warnock.
In the pub before the game we brought this up, and a friend of ours who is in no way a football fan (egg chasing West Yorkshire lad) showed that he knew something about the game:
“They’ll just sit deep, lump it up to a big lad, get one in front and then kill time,” he predicted.
Says a lot about Colin’s reputation in the game when someone who doesn’t even follow the sport knows precisely the game plan of manager… one who clearly only does have a ‘plan A’.
It was a big crowd.
Wednesday fans just about filling their three sides of the ground, but a very poor following from Wales meant an attendance of around 28000.
If they’d travelled in any kind of numbers then we’d have been close to our restricted capacity of 33k.
The game itself was as expected.
Wednesday lined up the same as they did against Newcastle, barring the enforced switch of Sasso in for Loovens, and immediately began trying to pick a way through a resolute Cardiff defence.
In comparison to the Newcastle game though, we failed to create any chances of note despite clearly dominating.
Reach and Pudil kept combining well on the left, however as the deliveries went into the box Fletcher wasn’t having as much success as in previous games.
Warnock’s penchant for big lumps at centre back meaning he was out-muscled and out-jumped, or just plain pushed over whenever the ball came his way.
Hooper was also finding it hard to find space beyond the last defender, mainly because there wasn’t any; Cardiff’s back line sitting so deep that one journalist joked that a player had just ordered a latte from Middlewood Road Costa.
A note on Hooper while he’s in our thoughts: We’ve seen in recent games just how much we’ve missed him while he’s been out.
His confidence on the ball, his vision and movement all bring a fluency to our build up play that has been missing with both he and Kieran Lee out of the side.
We’d been missing the one-touch link play and dummies around the area that can split defences in two (as we saw in the build up to both goals against Rotherham), his runs off the last man dragging defences out of shape and creating space.
I think having him back could be the difference between success and failure come the end of the season.
Half time approached with just about nothing to report, other than a Wallace effort that was palmed on to the post before bouncing agonisingly along the goal line and being cleared.
HALF TIME: Wednesday 0-0 Cardiff
Warnock’s predictable game plan was running its course.
Time wasting in abundance, arguing with officials, some petulant pushing and shoving when hit with a strong challenge… he really is a horrible manager, not just because he’s a blade, but because his brand of anti-football is just so awful to watch.
Cardiff actually probably had more of the chances in the first half, if not the possession, and on one occasion caused panic in the Wednesday box as the owls attempted to clear their lines repeatedly as the ball was shifted around the edge of the box, before finally being chested down by Sasso and hooked away by Bannan… I think.
Half time came and thoughts turned to how to unlock the defence.
Options on the bench
Hooper was probably going to be replaced by Rhodes on the hour mark, and as it was goalless you’d expect to see Forestieri come in to the mix after it had turned out that we didn’t need him against Newcastle
We found ourselves frustrated at Fletcher today, he really didn’t like the physical battle and spent much of his time tumbling to the deck and then sitting there with outstretched arms.
There was also McManaman on the bench if we needed a bit more zip and trickery, but Wallace’s excellent recent performances have kept him on the sidelines.
Not to forget Big Dave… the archetypal ‘plan B’ front man to launch it at and hope to feed off his scraps.
It was Hooper who made way for Rhodes first of all, having not had the desired impact at the start of the second half.
This was closely followed by the introduction of Forestieri for Jones who had taken a knock in the first half.
He had been excellent in deputising for Hutchinson and was a cool head in front of the back two.
It meant Reach was now tucking in to the deep centre midfield role.
Again Wednesday huffed and puffed but Warnock’s well drilled little pigs wouldn’t let us in.
Eventually Nuhiu was introduced for Fletcher and, for me, had an immediate impact; mainly because he stayed on his feet whenever the big centre back tried a rib crunching body check as the ball was pumped forward to him.
Atdhe clearly rattled Cardiff… maybe they hadn’t prepared for him… he certainly hasn’t been in the picture as far as matchday squads are concerned recently and so may have slipped under the homework radar.
He showed great strength, tricky feet and smart movement that had the Cardiff defence at sixes and sevens.
However, it looked as though Colin’s game plan of doing everything possible to deny the Owls full points was going to run its tedious course until some incisive play straight through the middle of the park led to the break through.
A ball pinged forward to Rhodes was chested into Forestieri’s path who then lofted a ball back in to the path of Jordan whose crisp right foot half volley was palmed into the air by McGregor.
Thankfully Nando had continued his run and looped a diving header into the roof of the net.
There was as much relief as there was joy in the crowd’s celebrations, and a new celebration from Forestieri too… not sure what all that was about.
Warnock’s face was priceless as loud choral taunts echoed around the ground.
He even tried a triple change and threatened to attack for the first time in the game, furiously tapping his watch at the officials, which must have worked because the ref managed to find six minutes of stoppage time from somewhere.
FULL TIME: Wednesday 1-0 Cardiff City
Wednesday saw it through though, sensibly running the clock down in the corners and keeping possession.
After the game the snarling Warnock claimed we were average… so average that he had set his team up to simply kill the game rather than try and win it themselves.
Luckily his plan hadn’t worked and we were one win closer to our goal.
It turns out though that Norwich and Newcastle hadn’t read the script and we still find ourselves level pegging it into the final four games with Leeds and Fulham neatly and tightly sandwiching us in 5th and 7th respectively.
I really hope it doesn’t go to the last game of the season, we tend not to do well when it comes down to that (2012 excepted)… especially when we only need a draw.
I’m hoping that the heartbreak of the playoffs last season will provide a bit of steel when it comes to getting a result in a high stakes winner-takes-all game… god knows we’re going to need it.
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