Cardiff 0 - 0 Newcastle. Comment

Last updated : 19 August 2018 By Michael Morris

By saving Kenedy’s penalty deep into added time in yesterday’s first home game of the season against Newcastle, Cardiff City goalkeeper Neil Etheridge became the first one to make spot kick saves in his first two Premier League matches. Okay, one of our forwards scoring hat tricks in successive matches to start his top flight career would, in all likelihood, have us at the top of the table at the moment and be a cause for more raucous celebration, but I’m happy enough to take the record Etheridge holds – especially because his late heroics ensured the match finished goalless and we had picked up our first point of the campaign.

Just as at Bournemouth when foiling Callum Wilson, our keeper dived to his left to make his save, but this time it was a more routine (if that word can ever be applied to a penalty save) stop, because the Newcastle player’s effort fell into the category which should be saved if the keeper goes the right way, whereas Wilson’s was low and to the corner. However, that is not to denigrate Etheridge’s achievement in any way and the Philippines international has certainly made a fine start to the challenge of being in competition with another very good goalkeeper in Alex Smithies.

Neil Etheridge rescues a point very late on by blocking Kenedy’s penalty – there was much talk of justice having been done after the Brazilian had avoided any punishment after kicking out at Victor Camarasa.*

The spot kick was given against captain Sean Morrison for handball as he slid to the ground in an effort to block a cross. My first reaction from my seat a hundred yards away was to say that it was a harsh decision by referee Craig Pawson, but I quickly changed my mind to a belief that it was an unlucky award against the centreback because the chances of the ball hitting his arm as he went to ground would have been very low. The thing is though, while Morrison’s head was about four feet from the ground, his hand was around twelve inches higher when the ball struck it, so that’s a penalty I’m afraid – if there was any doubting the award, it was, as Neil Warnock pointed out after the game, as to whether Morrison’s arm was within the confines of the penalty box when contact was made with the ball.

That incident apart, Morrison, for the second successive game, was sound at the back in what was an encouraging defensive performance by Cardiff. Sol Bamba looked so much more at home in his proper position after his travails in midfield last week and, although you wonder about Bruno Manga, in for Lee Peltier, at right back in the medium and long terms, he was sound enough yesterday, as was Joe Bennett who also linked up in encouraging fashion down the left with Josh Murphy.

So our keeper, who also had to make some smart stops in the first half, did well, as did our defence and it was great to be able to say the same about a reconstituted midfield trio which saw Bamba and Callum Paterson replaced by debutantes Harry Arter and Victor Camarasa.

I’ve sounded like a stuck record in recent months with my we’ve got no chance if we don’t pass the ball better refrain, well, yesterday we did pass the ball better – in fact, I would argue that we won the midfield battle over the ninety minutes and that is something I didn’t think I’d find myself saying this season!

While I don’t think any one of Arter, Camarsa and Joe Ralls would have been able to match the beautifully struck long, diagonal pass that Jonjo Shelvey hit to pick out Ayoze Perez (Etheridge produced one of those first half saves I mentioned to deny the Spaniard), the former Swansea man, playing in a very deep quarterback type role, was not as efficient as he can be with his use of the ball. For, much of the time, Shelvey, Mohamad Diame and the other members of the advanced midfield three Newcastle fielded behind lone striker Joselu were second best to our midfield three.

Arter, playing a bit further forward than I thought he would, brought ball winning ability, quick feet, a lot of energy, neat passing and, on one occasion, a reminder of his long range shooting ability to proceedings – in short, he provided what I hoped he would.

If Arter’s influential showing was hoped for, then Camarasa was a pleasant surprise. First, it was good, and somewhat surprising for me, to see him in from the start, second the Spanish Under 21 international on loan from Betis provided a dynamism and ability to move with the ball that City have lacked in the middle of the park for a while. Some are saying that he was caught in possession too often, but he comes from a background where possession of the ball is really appreciated and the hurly burly of yesterday’s game must have been something of a culture shock to him – in general, I thought he coped with it well and, anyway, he often showed a strength and determination which enabled him to quickly win the ball back again when he had lost it seconds earlier.

With one proviso, Joe Ralls again looked at home at this level and his all round competence was a big factor in helping provide a real balance to our midfield – the three players compliment each other well and, on this showing at least, the midfield is not going to be the real worry that I feared it would be.

Indeed, the BBC’s match stats showed that we actually won the possession battle 51/49 and Neil Warnock struck exactly the right note when told that his team had completed 314 passes to Newcastle’s 305 as he replied “bloody hell, we’ll have to change that, we’ll have to give a few rollickings out!”. Seriously, I find those pass completion figures very encouraging because they show that we managed to get a good balance between still playing in the manner which got us promoted and valuing possession of the ball – it’s a fine line between getting the balance between these two contrasting targets right and falling into the traps which lie in too much of one at the expense of the other, but, largely speaking, I thought we managed to avoid those traps yesterday.

So, if we did well in goal, at the back and in the middle of the park, the obvious question which occurs is why don’t we have three points to our name this morning as opposed to just the one? I’ll come to my thinking on that shortly, but, first I want to say something about an issue which is more of a discussion point than I realised it would be at the time – that is Mr Pawson’s decision refereeing.

One other thing Messrs Arter and Camarasa shared yesterday was a yellow card for what is called these days “taking one for the team”. I don’t like that description because it implies that there is some sort of honour behind it, whereas what it really consists of is a completely cynical infringing of the rules which often stems from an error on the offender’s part. Having got that off my chest, it is Arter’s yellow (the first of many for us if his previous record is anything to go by) which is the cause for discussion here – at the ground, I thought it was the correct punishment for what I call a professional foul, but I see that Sky pundits Craig Bellamy, Danny Gabbidon and Jamie Carragher were fairly united in saying that it could easily have been a red card, with the last named in particular being adamant that Arter should have marked his City debut with a sending off.

According to Carragher, it was the worst of three offences which took up a lot of the post match discussion in the television coverage which is saying something when you consider what happened with the other two.

For the first, Kenedy escaped punishment for kicking out at Camarasa as he lost possession (this is something the Brazilian became very used to in the first half because, apparently, he became the first player to ever play a half of Premier League football who did not complete a single successful pass. All in all, Newcastle’s loanee from Chelsea has had better days in his career than his first visit to Cardiff! I wouldn’t have thought he can escape retrospective punishment from the Premier League, with a three game ban the likely outcome.

Secondly, substitute Isaac Hayden was dismissed halfway through the second half when he went in from behind on Josh Murphy. Having seen both of the Newcastle challenges, I can only say that they were both worthy of red cards and if Arter’s challenge was really worse than those two, then he is a very lucky boy indeed, especially because if the rules are the same now as they have been in recent years, he cannot be the subject of the sort of post match review that Kenedy may will receive.. The yellow card Arter received means that the ref saw the offence and made a judgment on it, whereas the lack of punishment for the Newcastle player’s kick out at Camarasa implies that Mr Pawson did not see it.

Anyway, on to why we didn’t get the win we perhaps deserved. Well, having been positive about so much of our display, I have to end my review of how the different parts of the City team did, by saying that, just as at Bournemouth, we added more evidence for the army of critics who have decided we are going to be relegated because we aren’t going to score enough goals.

Going back to those BBC stats, they show that both sides had twelve goal attempts in what was certainly a better game of football than the previous league game played at the ground when we won promotion with a 0-0 draw, but, just as at Bournemouth, there was only the one effort on target from Cardiff (The Guardian even reported we didn’t have a single effort on target mind).

Certainly, Etheridge was the busier of the two keepers – I cannot remember Martin Bubrvka having to make a save, so I assume our on target attempt was the close in header from Kenneth Zohore that was blocked close to the line by a defender in the second half?

City’s first choice striker played the full ninety minutes after being absent at Bournemouth with a groin injury and it’s also true to say that he missed a fair portion of our pre season. Overall, I thought Zohore didn’t do too badly in many of the different aspects of the game for a lone striker. but his lack of ability and authority in the air is in danger of becoming an issue in this division in a way which I never thought it was in the Championship.

We weren’t great at creating  chances from open play in the Championship, but we weren’t terrible at it either – we were reliant on set pieces to a degree, but there were also a few chances in most matches from open play and, naturally, in a team which is set up to provide plenty of crosses, the majority of these would fall to the central striker.

Whether by chance or design, the majority of crosses we managed to put in against Newcastle were aerial ones and this is where the problem occurs because, if they are aimed at Zohore, the odds are that they will not result in a goal. The Dane made a mess of a cross by Ralls in the second half which left him with a more than reasonable opportunity and there were other occasions when his mistiming of or lack of conviction with headed opportunities cost us.

Perhaps it was a coincidence that the good crosses we managed to get over were in the air, but if there was a reason why we couldn’t come up with low crosses, then that’s bad news for us and for Zohore because he is so unconvincing when the ball is in the air.

That said, it would be wrong to make Zohore the main culprit here. Of more worry to me was the lack of quality shown in the delivery of crosses, be they in open play or from dead ball situations. I mentioned about there being one proviso in Joe Ralls’s display earlier, well that was the generally poor quality of his delivery from free kicks and corners. Again, to be fair to him, Ralls did produce the one good quality dead ball delivery we managed, but that was wasted as Sol Bamba didn’t get his header from a corner right and Perez was able to scramble clear.

On the wings, Junior Hoilett carried his pretty subdued Bournemouth form into a second game and Nathaniel Mendez-Laing offered endeavour, but little composure, when he came on, so it was left to Josh Murphy on his first start for the club  to offer hope of a breakthrough.

Now, I’ve seen Murphy described as our man of the match in some quarters – for me, he did well, but only up top a point. The former Norwich winger was up against a deputy for the injured right back DeAndre Yedlin in Javier Manquillo in the first half and did pretty well, but then when the Spaniard had to withdraw himself at the interval at the knock. there was an opportunity for him to really wreak havoc as he was faced first by midfield man Hayden and, then after his dismissal, by his twin brother Jacob. Again, Murphy threatened, but couldn’t quite deliver which was a shame, because his defensive work showed an evidence of having learned from his bad experience at Bournemouth where he was held by his manager as being culpable with the second goal and there was much to admire in his showing, but, just as with his team mates, there was a lack of conviction and quality with the final pass, often after the hard work had been done, and he also shared the general malaise when it came to dead ball delivery.

Briefly, just to mention that I watched the first half of the Under 18s match with Birmingham before heading to the stadium to watch the seniors and they were able to follow their opening day win over Colchester up with another victory against a Birmingham side that reached the Semi Finals of last season’s FA Youth Cup.

This was a much tighter affair than the 5-0 win last week. From what I saw, City always looked the more likely scorers, but chances were at a premium  – Dan Griffiths could have done better with a one on one with the visiting keeper, Sam Bowen wasn’t far away with a shot from distance and a mixture of speed and nifty footwork created a chance for Isaak Davies which he knocked jut wide. I’ll claim some credit for the game’s decisive moment though, because within about fifteen seconds of me saying I can’t see there being many goals here, Sion Spence had burst through the middle to play a perfect pass into Davies’ path and the winger calmly beat the keeper to score the goal which won the game. Nearby, the Under 16s got themselves into a 2-0 half time lead against the same opponents, but I don’t know how that match finished up.

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