Cardiff 2 - 1 Southampton. Comment

Last updated : 21 April 2024 By Paul Evans

The first thing to say about this amazing match at Cardiff City Stadium this afternoon where Cardiff City dealt a possibly fatal blow to Southampton’s automatic promotion hopes with a 2-1 win is that on another day, they could easily have conceded half a dozen goals.


Stuart Armstrong, a real class act at this level who was stretchered off in the dying minutes with what looked a serious injury, hit the post in five minutes to set the tone for a first half where the visitors had so many chances to add to the one goal they did get and the pattern continued through the third quarter of the game – there were fine saves by Ethan Horvarth and some great last ditch defending by City, but there was also a lot of poor, perhaps over confident, finishing by Southampton as well.

If you’re thinking this is beginning to read like another critical review of a home match which we won despite ourselves (e.g. Millwall and Huddersfield), then you’d be wrong – in many ways, I thought City were heroes to a man because their depleted side played with spirit, guts and no little skill.

Anyone who read my preamble to yesterday’s seven decades quiz on here will have read of the illness and injury crisis that has overtaken the club in the last week.

Sometimes, you hear managers talking of what sounds like a horrendous injury crisis in the days before a game, only for the team which takes the field to look very like the boss’ first choice eleven, but Erol Bulut was as good, or bad, as his word at Thursday’s media conference – he had so many of what he’d consider to be his strongest side missing.

City lined up with Horvarth in goal, a back four of Mahlon Romeo, Dimi Goutas, Nat Phillips and Ollie Tanner, Joe Ralls and Manolis Siopis were in front of them, then there were Cian Ashford, making his first league start, and Rubin Colwill on the flanks and David Turnbull at umber ten with Yakou Meite as the lone striker.

Now, I suppose you could argue that the starting line up wasn’t as weak as might have been expected, but it was when you looked at who was on the substitutes bench that the extent of our selection problems really hit home.

Young goalkeeper Matt Turner has been the back up for Horvarth for weeks now in Jak Alnwick’s continuing absence, Luey Giles and Dylan Lawlor, who were playing in the Euros for Wales under 17s last summer, were the defensive cover, Ryan Wintle was the only one of the players rated doubtful fit enough to be included and there were other midfield options in the experienced Romaine Sawyers, plus under 21 team regulars Joel Colwill and Cameron Antwi. Former QPR trainee Raheem Conte and Famara Diedhiou were the forwards alternatives for Bulut to consider – or so we thought!

I’d say the two names in the starting eleven that leap out as unusual are Tanner and Ashford. The first named has been a regular member of the squad this season, but, nearly always as a substitute and barely ever as a left back. Ashford has been in most City squads since the turn of the year, but, until recently, he has just been making up the numbers with no chance of being called upon.

However, it was these two who gave City hope after they’d conceded in the twelfth minute when Adam Armstrong, who’d scored twice in the first fifteen minutes of Southampton’s 2-0 win in . I first meeting of the teams back in December, cut inside Romeo and shot towards the far post, Horvarth was able to save, but knocked the ball out into a central area where Joe Aribo was able to net from fifteen yards.

I singled out Tanner for criticism last week at Millwall as he seemed to epitomise the couldn’t care less attitude shown in the second half, but here he couldn’t be accused of not being bothered. In fact, I think he paid for the effort he put in early on in the game and was clearly struggling before he picked up the injury (edit, it turned out to be cramp) that eventually forced him off in the seventy seventh minute.

Although Tanner’s inexperience at full back showed at times and there were some errors in his defensive play, he was very effective going forward in the first twenty minutes as he put over three really good crosses, one of which an unmarked Turnbull headed straight at keeper Alex McCarthy. Tanner also did well to create the space to get a shot in which didn’t trouble the goalkeeper. On the other flank, Ashford got the better of Ryan Manning a couple of times and knocked over a dangerous low cross that was scrambled behind for a corner.

City were causing their highly placed opponents problems, but it was hard to keep track of all of the escapes they had while doing so as, sometimes helped by home mistakes, the Southampton chances mounted up.

Che Adams had two good chances I can remember, both of the Armstrongs could have scored (should have in Adam’s case) and David Brooks should have done better from around the penalty spot before Horvarth remarkably recovered to knock the ball away just as it looked like the Welsh international was about to tap it into the net to double the visitors’ lead (pictured).


City’s early attacking promise soon faded and they were hanging on happy to be just 1-0 down by half time.

Southampton were unable to create as many chances for themselves after the break, but there was still another good one missed by Adams and Horvarth performed wonders to keep out an Adam Armstrong header from point blank range while Will Smallbone wastefully shot wide from fifteen yards.

City were certainly not laying themselves open to on the beach already accusations this week and there was much to admire in Ashford’s performance (I’m sure his manager was impressed by his defensive diligence and effectiveness), but, truthfully, the only thing offering hope of them getting anything from the match was a feeling that Southampton could yet pay for their profligacy.

In the end, it was the substitutions that decided the outcome. Southampton brought on an assortment of internationals, big money signings and established Championship names while City replaced Turnbull with Diedhiou, whose impact so far has been, to put it generously, limited, the injured Romeo with Conte and Tanner with Giles.

Remarkably, it was the City trio which had much the more positive impact. Conte, who I’ve only seen play as a winger or striker for the under 21s, was asked to play right back and his midfield support came from Meite who moved out to the flank as Diedhiou played through the middle. This meant that Ashford switched to the left where he and fellow teenager Giles had the responsibility of keeping Southampton’s right flank quiet – it was testament to how well the pair did that, by the end, it could be deemed the roles were reversed!

How it happened, I’ve no idea, but City now took charge of the game’s final quarter as, for the first time in his managerial career, Russell Martin, saw his side not in charge of proceedings against Cardiff as the game reached its closing stages.

I must admit to not being over impressed by Conte when he’s played for the under 21s, but here he was not looking the least bit phased as he was performing better out of position for the first team than he does in his specialist positions for the under 21s!

In fact, it was Conte who lit the touch paper for City’s win when, fed by Colwill, he got to the bye line and pulled back a cross which found Meite unmarked twelve yards out, but his shot would have gone wide were it not for Diedhiou’s jabbed finish from five yards for his second City goal.

It was a different game now, Southampton wilted and Cardiff, both on the pitch and in the stands sensed that they could actually win.

I think Meite was going for goal from out on the touch line when McCarthy was forced to tip over and the keeper was then brought into action by a Diedhiou header from a free kick – it looked certain that one of Goutas or Phillips would force the rebound home, but it was scraped out for a corner by a last ditch block.

Against the trend of the season, Ralls and Colwill stayed on throughout, with the former impressive all the way through. As for the latter, he almost presented Southampton with a goal early on with a poor back pass and struggled to get into the game when the visitors were dominant in the first half, but I think he proved a few preconceptions wrong today as he played for a hundred and six minutes and became more influential the longer the game went on.

Colwill helped turn the tide in City’s favour and he played a small part in the winning goal, but all of the credit goes to Ashford (Giles helped as well mind) as he cut in from the left and got lucky as his shot from twenty five yards took a deflection off Jan Bednarek and eluded McCarthy’s dive.

If Southampton needed proof it wasn’t their day, it came shortly afterwards when Stuart Armstrong’s close range shot was diverted out for a corner by a great Goutas block and the likely ligament problem the Scottish international picked up in the incident saw him being stretchered off with an injury which I suspect will cause him to miss this summer’s Euros.

City’s win meant little as far as they are concerned when it comes to the league table, but the celebrations on the pitch at the final whistle told you that the players knew they’d been part of something special. So much of the football played at Cardiff City Stadium by the home team has been turgid and unsuccessful in recent years, but this was a genuinely uplifting experience made all the more so by how Ashford, Conte and Giles all looked like naturals at this level against a team that may well be in the Premier Division next season.

With so many regulars needed for the first team, it was a very young under 21s team that travelled to Crewe for a Friday afternoon game which they won 3-1 after going 1-0 down – Freddy Cook, Tanatsawa Nyakhuwa and Fin Johnson were the scorers. Of course, there would be regulars missing from the Under 18 team as a consequence of the first team’s injury crisis as well and they were beaten 3-1 at Burnley today.