Cardiff 0 - 1 Wolves. Comment

Last updated : 07 April 2018 By Michael Morris

In my opinion, a myth grew out of Cardiff City’s 2-1 win at Molineux over Wolves back in August. The story goes that we “bullied” our way to that victory by kicking lumps out of the home players for ninety minutes and the game only ended as it did because an indulgent ref let us get away with what might not have been murder, but you know what I mean.

I’ll say here and now that some of our players (e.g. Lee Peltier) weren’t too particular about whether he played man or ball sometimes and we certainly weren’t shirking tackles. So, yes, we were physical and we’ve been physical all season, but you cannot get to where we have spent most of the season just by being a bunch of cloggers.

We received little or no credit for some of the very good football we played at times when beating the team who will surely be crowned Champions this season. Back in August, we were playing good football, but, because it was direct in nature and not overly concerned about what the possession stats looked like after ninety minutes, there has been a reluctance to accept that we can play some good stuff at times.

There was also composure in our play at Molineux, not in a let’s build up methodically and keep the ball at all costs manner, but in a way which said we are confident in what we are doing because we are pretty good at it. We deserved to win that day because we played a streetwise game which, admittedly, sailed close to the wind occasionally on the disciplinary front, but it was also effective.

We were able to move the ball at pace and with a decent degree of accuracy with the belief that we could succeed if we stuck to our script and showed no fear.

Sadly, I saw little of that early season certainty last night as Wolves gained what I thought was a deserved revenge for their early season loss to us on their own pitch.

I’ve not checked this, but I think the crowd of 29,317 might well have been the third largest home league attendance I’ve ever been in for a City game – there was the 35,000 plus for Hereford in 1976 and just over 30,000 against QPR in 1969, but I think they may be the only bigger gates we’ve had in home league games I’ve watched since 1963.

Certainly, based on what I heard coming out of the ground and what I’ve read on messageboards, it seems the large majority of City fans are judging our 1-0 loss as an unlucky one – I’m afraid I cannot agree with that point of view.

I mentioned the composure that we had at Molineux earlier, but, in a game which had so much riding on it, I was struck by the almost total lack of composure shown by those in blue.


Of course, it would be easy to just point the finger of blame for the lack of composure squarely at Gary Madine and Junior Hoilett for their penalty misses in a truly bizarre period of added time when the story should have been about how we had turned a 1-0 loss into a 1-1 draw for a second consecutive game with a goal past the ninety minute mark – perhaps I’m wrong, but if Madine scores his penalty, I don’t see us going straight up the pitch and getting the second one to give us a chance of what would have been a sensational win.

I’ll return to the penalties in more detail later, but what all of that late drama did do was push the paucity of effective attacking play from us in the second half in particular to one side. Wolves had a defensive wobble or two in the first half, notably when, in complete contrast to what we saw most of the time when we were in possession, Hoilett played a lovely ball through for Joe Bennett who seemed to not quite make up his mind  whether to pass or shoot and ended up not really doing either.

The closest City came in the first half though was when surprise starter Janic Wildschut hit a shot which drew a good diving save from John Ruddy, but it was telling that this came from a free kick, because, more and more as the game went on, dead ball situations represented the only way we could inconvenience Wolves.

A second half snap shot by Aron Gunnarsson, which Ruddy had given up on as it flashed about a yard wide, apart, all City had to offer for about the last hour of the match was a series of long throws, free kicks and corners launched with decreasing optimism and increasing desperation into the visitors penalty area and for the ninety minutes of “proper” time at least, Wolves dealt with the one dimensional aerial assault competently and with barely any alarms.

Maybe it’s me being over critical, but, for most of the game, City seemed to be in one of those occasional spells they have where they seem incapable of enjoying any controlled possession as the ball either flies straight back to the opposition after a tackle, interception or clearance or is hooked forward over someone’s shoulders in the the hope the ball will land at a team mate’s feet – in short, a total lack of composure.

Faced with such a limited attacking threat, Wolves were comfortable and, although they rather lost their way in an attacking sense after a bright start which saw Sean Morrison turn a centre just over his own crossbar in the first minute and Neil Etheridge make a couple of good diving saves from crisply hit shots, they always looked the more likely scorers of what was going to be a so important first goal to me.

Wolves may have carried more of a threat than us, but, certainly while it remained 0-0 it was a pretty muted one as, whatever else was going wrong for them, City at least showed their normal levels of resilience which make them such a tough team to break down.

In saying that, Wolves were still able to hit the post through Leo Bonatini and once they had taken the lead with a superb Ruben Neves free kick, they had the chances to add to their tally, notably when sub Costa did all of the hard work and then fired wastefully wide with only Etheridge to beat.

As I alluded to earlier, I feel that the way Wolves lost the admirable defensive discipline they had shown until the fourth official held up his board to tell us there was five minutes to play, rather gave City fans something to cling on to when, in reality, there was little in our display to engender hope about our trip to Villa Park on Tuesday.

Before the match, there had been some comment about the fact that Premier League ref Mike Dean was taking charge of proceedings. Mr Dean was described as having the sort of ego that is completely at home in the league he does most of his work in and that we would be talking about him at the end of the game, rather than the football.

Well, if we had managed to score twice in added time to turn defeat into famous victory, then I daresay the post match talk, certainly from Wolves supporters, would have been all about him, but I thought, for most of the match, he did a very good job – indeed, like all good refs, you barely noticed him.

Actually, if that previous paragraph hints at Mike Dean making blunders with those penalty awards, that wasn’t my intention – the first penalty, for a foul on sub Anthony Pilkington, looked a stonewaller from where I was sat and the only bone of contention about the second one was whether Gunnarsson had been fouled inside or outside the area and the near side linesman, who had an excellent view of the incident, was soon waving his flag to signal a penalty, so the decision was already made for Mr Dean with that one once he had decided a foul had been committed.

Just as against Sheffield United on Monday, City had the chance to turn an unconvincing display that looked set to end in a narrow defeat into a great point which would be a real boost for morale.

With the recent absence of Joe Ralls, I have wondered once or twice who would be our penalty taker given the chance. Well, as far I’m aware, Madine had a good record from the penalty spot at Bolton, so, it wasn’t a total surprise to see him step forward. I must say though that his short run up did little for my confidence and, sure enough, Ruddy dived to his left to make what looked to be a great diving save, albeit from what some of those with a better view than me were calling a poorly struck effort.

It was no surprise that Madine wasn’t a contender to take the second one, but I must admit that Hoilett was something of a surprise choice to me – like many other messageboard contributors, I thought Pilkington, who I believe has a one hundred per cent scoring record from the six or seven penalties he’s taken for us, was the obvious candidate.

An inch or two lower and the man who never gives the ball away according to the song would have been a hero on a night when it seemed to me that his team was giving the ball away all of the time, but instead, his shot bounced down and out off the underside of the crossbar – very fine margins yes, but, in the end, I’m afraid technique and composure went missing from two of our forwards at the very time those commodities were most needed.

Wolves survived a fraught few seconds as the ball bounced around close to their goal line, but the whistle soon sounded and their supporters could celebrate the fact that, barring a total collapse which I just don’t see happening, they will be playing Premier League football next season.

Can the same now be said of Cardiff City? Fulham will close to within two points of us if they win at Sheffield Wednesday today, while, with us having to go there in our next match, Villa will start fancying their chances again if they can win at Norwich. Defeat on Tuesday would mean Fulham would only have to win an easy looking home game with Reading to go above us – we’d still have that game in hand, but all of the momentum we had would have been lost.

It’s generally agreed that we played badly at Sheffield United and, although it looks like I may be in a minority, I didn’t think we played much better last night, but I’d say this Cardiff manager and team are a cussed bunch and there would be a real determination to prove those who were writing them off wrong. We do have a certain je ne sais croie about us and it would be somehow typical of this bunch if they regrouped and made a real burst for the line just as they were being discounted.

Even after the final whistle, the drama hadn’t ended as a row ensued between the two managers regarding Wolves boss Nuno Espirito Santo’s failure to shake Neil Warnock’s hand at the end of the game.

Given that Nuno had done the same at Middlesbrough a week ago,  upsetting their manager Tony Pulis in the process, after Wolves’ win there and the character of our manager, there were always going to be repercussions this time, but, for me at least, it all seemed like a bit of an irrelevant sideshow.

So, after turning it on in our first match with a big home crowd (Leeds) and being somewhat flat in front of 32,000 in the FA Cup tie with Manchester City, City followed the latter path when a third huge home crowd of the season turned up and are now in need of not just a result, but also a performance, at Villa – rediscover their composure and City can get the result they want against opponents for whom nothing but a win will do.