Cardiff 1 - 0 Saints. Comment

Last updated : 15 December 2018 By Michael Morris

During the summer as I waited for the start of our second stab at Premier League football, I often wondered if we did stay up, how would we do it? The answers I would come up with were always much the same and involved plenty of wins by single goal margins – in fact, the large majority of them would only contain a single goal.

My thinking was that our defence had been the most impressive part of our team as we earned our place in the top flight. After all, we shared the lowest goals against record in the Championship with title winners Wolves and, while there would obviously be a lot of teams with better defensive records than us this time around, we would be some way off being the worst – there be a fair few with more conceded than us.

The reality had proved to be different – after two 0-0 draws in our first three matches, we had failed to keep a clean sheet since late August. Worse than that, after our loss at West Ham on Tuesday, I bemoaned what was almost a complete inability to score the first goal in a game – it had only happened once and we just held on to our lead for twenty one minutes in a game which we eventually lost.

Well, now we have a second game where we can say we took a 1-0 lead – the time we had with that lead wasn’t as long as twenty one minutes, but it didn’t need to be, because Callum Paterson’s seventy fourth minute  goal only left us with sixteen minutes of the ninety and another three of added time for us to hang on.


In truth, we could probably have protected that precious lead for longer if we had needed to, because, despite weaving neat patterns in the middle of the park at times, Southampton showed a distinct lack of attacking punch after a lively start in which Charlie Austin threatened our goal on two or three occasions.

This fourth home win in our last five matches was the one that was most like the sort of triumphs I thought we could, possibly, build our survival on back in the summer. In saying that, the ones against Brighton and Wolves were along the same sort of lines, but they both included that ability to recover from 1-0 deficits which also occurred in the more convincing, and entertaining, win over Fulham.

To have three wins from our first fifteen matches (after having to wait eight games for our first one) while carrying this awful handicap of not scoring the first goal (unless we happened to be playing the conquerors of mighty Manchester City!) is, for me, the single most impressive thing about our season so far. It still is now we have four wins from sixteen, but, having rediscovered how to win 1-0, the task in front of us does feel a little more manageable.

Before describing the game in a bit more detail, a few words about the conditions – watching Southampton’s Matt Targett trying to take a first half corner right in front of me (at one time I thought he would have to call a team mate over to hold the ball like they used to sometimes for attempts at goal in rugby union!) convinced me that it was played in the windiest conditions seen so far at our new ground.

Probably the worst thing about the wind was that it was not consistent. If it had been, then you would expect Premier League players to make the necessary adjustments to compensate for the conditions, but this was a wind that gusted wildly and, as is often the case in such conditions, it was hard to tell who, if anyone, was having the benefit of the elements.

As is often the case when the wind is as unpredictable as this, there is also an accompaniment of torrential showers, but, actually,  the word “showers” does not do full justice to what was almost continuous rain throughout the ninety minutes.

In short, it was mid winter weather for a game that always had the look of an attritional affair to it before a ball was kicked anyway – it was going to be a tight and tense relegation struggle with not many goals.

This time last week, I was more convinced than I had been before any of our other thirteen Premier League games that this was a match we would win. Last Sunday I had been asked to a provide a piece to appear on a West Ham site about City’s season so far and what I expected from the rest of it. One of the questions I had been asked was, if Cardiff were to stay up, who do you think will go down? After a lot of thinking, I opted for Huddersfield, just, over Fulham as my third choice, but my first two came quite easily and quickly – Burnley and Southampton.

Although they won today, Burnley have been so poor in so many of their matches (they were hopeless against us and it remains, by some way, the worst of our defeats for me because there were three points there for the taking that day) – they have just looked like a relegation side for so much of the time.

However, I find it a lot harder to explain why I was so confident Southampton would be going down. This is because I think they’ve got some very good players and there have been times in recent seasons (e.g. when they came here and, inspired by Adam Lallana, walked all over us on Boxing Day 2013) when they have looked a side capable of being involved in the upper reaches of the league rather than the lower ones.

Perhaps that mention of Lallana provides the answer? I accept that teams like Southampton have to be selling clubs in a league like this one where the purchasing power of some is almost unmatched anywhere else in the world (we’ll be exactly the same if we ever reach a stage where we are as “established” as Southampton are in this league and have an Academy and scouting system as good as theirs have been at providing players that others are willing to pay a small fortune for).

However, to this outsider, it has seemed at times in the last three or four years that there has almost been an eagerness to sell their best players. Thinking about it, I was convinced relegation was coming for the jacks for a couple of seasons before it actually happened  because it just seemed an inevitable consequence of their transfer policy and the way that club had been run since the American “investment” came along – it seems to me that Southampton are now in serious danger of heading the same way.

As is nearly always the case this season, a comparison of players shows our upcoming opponents as having the better, and deeper, squad. Despite their results saying theirs is their weakest Premier League squad in a decade or more, Southampton still looked to have the stronger squad when it came to ability and technique, but, with just the one win, picked up back on September 1, did they match us in self belief and determination?

This was why I had been confident about our chances, but then Southampton went and sacked Mark Hughes! Hughes. one of the Welsh greats of the last half a century, had the feel of someone whose time in management had come and gone, but although his replacement is only four years younger at fifty one, Austrian Ralph Hasenhuttl looks to be someone who still has much to offer.

Hasenhuttl has earned a good reputation for himself in recent years on the back of steering unfancied Ingolstadt into the Bundesliga and RB Leipzig to a runners up spot in the same league. The former Austrian international striker, who, apparently, is not a big fan of the Klopp of the Alps nickname he has been given, may not have been as good a player as Hughes was, but he appears to have something about him – combine that with the “new manager effect” and I was doing a quick reverse job on my prediction of a City win by the middle of the week!

The evidence of the first half suggested that Hasenhuttl will find it hard to turn around Southampton’s fortunes in the short term though. After a misleadingly bright start, they were soon really struggling to cope with our pace on the flanks – Nathaniel Mendez-Laing can look devastating at times when he is on his game and, making a return from long term injury, he was near the form that made him the best player in the Championship for the first month of last season during much of time he was on the pitch.

On the other wing, Josh Murphy ran Yan Valery ragged with the yellow carded youngster being withdrawn at the interval before he was sent off in much the same manner as Fulham’s Callum Chambers had been when he endured a torrid afternoon as Murphy’s marker.

Unfortunately, Murphy’s finishing did not match his wing play as he squandered a couple of one on one chances and with the otherwise very impressive Harry Arter missing a great early chance from about six yards out, City’s lack of composure and accuracy when it comes to putting away chances was, again, apparent – Mendez-Laing ending an exhilarating run by hitting the last defender with his cross being another example of this. Despite this, Southampton’s occasional habit of conceding possession in very dangerous areas suggested that they could yet present City with the sort of opportunity that even they could not miss.

We really should have been ahead at the break, but with sub Jack Stephens handling Murphy better and Mendez-Laing’s lack of match fitness beginning to show, Southampton were not under the same threat in the second half. Indeed, from about the fifty minute mark onwards, they took a  sort of control of the game – a spell that only ended with City’s goal.

I say a form of control because, although it felt to me like they were dominating, looking back at it now, Neil Etheridge had little to do except show exemplary handling when catching a couple of corners in the very testing conditions. As mentioned earlier, Southampton were moving the ball around in the middle of the park quite nicely, but there was little or no end product.

A more confident side would surely have made a better fist of punishing City during a phase when they were second best in so many challenges and were finding it so hard to retain possession, but, instead, Southampton suddenly fell behind to the sort of goal that relegation sides concede.

I didn’t do a great deal of research into this, but I got the impression as I took in the occasional Saints site in the days leading up to the match that Southampton fans have not been too impressed by any of their centrebacks this season. Certainly, the two used today, Jannik Vestergaard and Jan Bednarek, often looked like they had a potentially crucial mistake in them and it was the former who provided it as the match was entering its final quarter of an hour.

First of all though, credit should be given to referee Jon Moss (who had done us few favours up to then) for playing an advantage when Victor Camarasa was taken out by Oriol Romeu on the halfway line after he had played a through ball. Camarasa’s pass was into a dangerous area, but Westergard had a few yards start on Callum Paterson and should have been in control of the situation. The Scot was able to put the Danish international under some pressure though and this resulted in him not getting enough on his back pass. Paterson took possession, drew keeper Alex McCarthy and rolled a shot beyond him which went into the net about as slowly as his goal against Fulham had done back in October.

I thought City’s makeshift centre forward had been showing his limitations in the role somewhat before this. He was being caught offside a lot and was on his heels when Mendez-Laing had presented him with a reasonable opportunity about twenty minutes earlier, but, once again, Paterson had showed his eye for a goal and that he is a decent finisher given the chance. Even if he doesn’t achieve much in our four remaining matches this month, he has done more than his fair share already to get us to January without the terrible damage to our prospects that our lack of fit and able specialist strikers may have caused.

Rather as against Wolves, I came out of the game feeling that City had won because they had that bit more self belief than their opponents. All of the flak that came their way early in the season (it was even before  a ball was kicked in Chris Sutton’s case!) must have had some sort of an effect on the squad and, as the wait for the first win went on, there must have been a degree of self doubt around, even if no one was prepared to admit it.

However, having now got a few wins behind them and backed up by support which appears to inspire them, the players are learning that they can, indeed, win these “winnable” home games – Man United and Spurs in our next two matches at Cardiff City Stadium may represent a couple of steps too far for that belief, but who seriously thought that we would be entertaining anyone this season having won four out of our previous five home games?

Having written so much on the first team, I’m afraid that I cannot really give the Under 18s the full credit they deserve for what was a very good performance in beating Charlton 5-1 at Leckwith Sports stadium at lunchtime.

Having lost 2-1 in very disappointing fashion to Hull in the FA Youth Cup in midweek to follow on from a rather lucky draw with Millwall last weekend, there may have been a few doubts occurring about their ability to stay at the top of their league, but they were in command from the first minute today.

That was all it took for the superb Dan Griffiths (playing easily the best game I’ve seen from him so far) to open the scoring with a side footed volleyed finish from a right wing cross. A lovely ball from the opposite flank by Ntazana Mayembe enabled Keiron Evans to get the second from close range and it was 3-0 on the half hour mark when Jac Davies’ cross sailed over Charlton keeper Harvey and into the net.

Eight minutes later, Evans had his second with a confident finish from another fine Mayembe cross and a 4-0 interval lead did not flatter an impressive City team in the slightest.

Almost inevitably, the second half was a little bit of an anti climax, but Griffiths was able to score a a very good second as he ran down the left, cut in and finished confidently, while Charlton then got a consolation with what was probably the goal of the game by Barton as his powerful effort from the corner of the penalty area flew in off the underside of the crossbar.

It was good to see last season’s top scorer Sion Spence make his return after three months out with injury when he came on at 5-0 for the last twenty five minutes or so. I’m sure it won’t take him long to get back to the standards which made him our most influential player at this level, but his most significant contribution today came when he failed to give a marvelous piece of skill and even better cross by the stylish Keenan Patten the finish it deserved as he fired wide with just the keeper to beat.

Millwall had a big win at Colchester to move up to second in the table, but City maintain their advantage at the top ahead of a home game against third placed Ipswich next weekend.

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