Cardiff 1 - 0 Millwall. Comment

Last updated : 12 December 2023 By Paul Evans

I’ve always thought that the worst game I’ve had to write on in the almost fourteen and a half years of this ‘blog’s existence was a goalless draw at Cardiff City Stadium against Brighton. From memory, the match was played during Russell Slade’s first season in charge when we spent months in a lower mid table position hoping for a burst of form to tale us towards the Play Off places and dreading the more likely possibility that we would have a poor run that would see us fall towards the bottom three.


Brighton, who had Joe Bennett playing at left back, were having a bad season and left happy with an away point, but their then manager Chris Hughton was almost apologetic afterwards when he explained his team had to play in the manner they did given their lowly position. City had no excuse though for their part in a truly dismal spectacle , played in dry and clear conditions, that produced one on target effort apiece with ours being an Aron Gunnarsson effort which dribbled along the floor to give the Brighton goalkeeper one of the simplest saves of his life.

I mention all of this because the only reason that the first forty five minutes of today’s City v Millwall match on the same pitch might not qualify as the worst half of football in Mauve and Yellow Army’s existence is that the visitors were able to come up with a couple of efforts in the five minutes before half time which forced Alex Runnarson into action as he, first, dived to make a routine save to deny Kevin Nisbet and then easily held onto a half hit daisy cutter from twenty five yards by Brooke Norton-Cuffy.

All City had to offer in response was a deep corner from captain Ryan Wintle which visiting keeper Martija Sarkic punched clear just as it seemed bound for Mark McGuinness’ head.

If the first half was so bad, did the whole game stand a chance of taking the worst since 2009 crown from that Brighton match nearly nine years earlier?

Thankfully, the answer to that question is no. Although never reaching any great heights, the match improved in its second forty five minutes as both sides tried to win the game a bit more than make sure they didn’t lose it and so we did get to see a goal -albeit a scruffy one from a set piece totally in keeping with the fare on offer throughout.

Of course, it also helps that it was City who got the decisive late goal as they put to an end a bit of a concerning run of results which suggested they would go on dropping down the table towards the sort of position they occupied for much of last season.

That could still happen because we haven’t played well for a few weeks, but, for now, we’re seventh and only out of a Play Off position on goal difference. We’ve also hit the thirty point mark, so we’re averaging one and a half points a game which means we could average just a point a game from now on in and relegation, the avoidance of which was always the primary target this season, would never become an issue.

Returning to today’s match, there was a partial excuse for the woeful opening half as the morning rain had died away, but it had been replaced by a strengthening gusty wind. It only needed a few seconds after the kick off to get confirmation that the weather conditions would have a big effect on proceedings – I’ve always thought that the worst weather conditions to play football in are ones that have a strong wind somewhere in there as it invariably leads to a poorer spectacle and that was definitely the case today.

In saying that, I’d add that wind tests the technique of those involved and those of questionable technique are the ones with most to fear from such conditions. Too many of the highly paid pros involved today were embarrassed more than they should have been by the gusty wind.

Perhaps the improvement in the second half was down to the strength of the wind easing, but I doubt that’s true. I can’t really say that this happened with Millwall, but, as far as City were concerned, I thought the fact that our substitutes tended to be quite a bit better than the people they were replacing had a lot to do with it.

Erol Bulut was critical of his substitutes after the recent home loss to Norwich, but here he went out of his way to praise them and, after his loss of Brownie points among the supporters for his continued selection of Runnarson over Jak Alnwick, he’s due some credit as well for the timing of his changes today.

For example, Bulut reacted decisively by removing the anonymous Ike Ugbo (his selection in place of Yakou Meite was the one change from last week’s lifeless showing at Southampton) and the out of form Callum Robinson at half time for Yakou Meite and Rubin Colwill who was given his longest run out in a league game this season.

I’m not a big fan of Meite being used as a central striker and, to be honest, although he put himself about more than Ugbo did and picked up a yellow card in the process, it was Bulut’s next pair of substitutions which led to an improvement in the ex Reading man’s display.

 Before that though, Colwill helped things along just by looking to get forward with the ball under control. From one such venture he had what I think was our first goal attempt on the hour mark as he cut in from the right and hit a shot which flew well wide of goal.

Minutes later, Josh Bowler intercepted a throw out by Sarkic, fed Colwill who found Meite unmarked in a central position on the edge of the penalty area, but although the shot was well struck, it flew straight to the keeper.

While City were, at last, showing signs of attacking life, the visitors still looked marginally the more likely goalscorers – Zion Flemming was left unmarked to wastefully head over a corner and Nisbet’s free kick from the edge of the penalty area flew just wide, but City moved on to their best spell of the match when Joe Ralls replaced Wintle and Kion Etete came on for Bowler as Meite moved out to the right wing where he was much more effective.

In fact, it took all of five seconds for City to create maybe there best chance so far as Meite nodded on to Etete who took a good touch, but then fired well over from fifteen yards. The fact he was only just on probably offered some sort of excuse, but it didn’t look good from the young striker. However, I thought he then went on to look the best of the three centre forwards we used in the game.

Ralls came to the fore on seventy eight minutes when he maintained his dead ball quality in the difficult conditions to put a corner on to the edge of the six yard area where Dimitrios Goutas got in a firm header which should have been dealt with by Sarkic, but he got his limbs into a tangle and this produced limbs (that’s what the youngsters say these days isn’t it?) behind him in the Canton Stand as the ball squirmed almost apologetically into the net.

This was a game like so many between the two clubs in the last decade – they’ve tended to be the Championship teams that have respected possession the least in that time and this tended to lead to physical battles with plenty of long high balls and low scoring draws galore.

Millwall, who had only been beaten twice on their travels before today and owed their lowly position to a very poor home record, will have reason to feel hard done by tonight as they rallied after falling behind, but, Runnarson, who one bad kick when we tried to play out from the back apart, had a sound afternoon, saved from sub Duncan Watmore and there was a lively contribution from another sub Aidomo Emakhu who gave Perry Ng some awkward moments before the final whistle blew to confirm the sort of tight, scrappy and fortunate win that every team needs a few of every season in a league like the Championship.