Norwich 0 - 2 Cardiff City. Comment

Last updated : 16 April 2018 By Michael Morris

One thing those three games where we took one point out of nine and dropped out of the automatic promotion positions should have told us was that we should expect, not be surprised by, late drama in our matches.

At Sheffield United, it worked in our favour as Anthony Pilkington’s late, late equaliser rescued a point which we did not deserve on the balance of play, Wolves were able to cling on to their 1-0 lead at Cardiff City Stadium because, incredibly, we missed twice from the penalty spot in added time and an eighty seventh minute stunner from Villa settled Tuesday’s game in their favour on a night where we found ourselves up against an in form keeper.


So, that should have been enough to teach us that the situation when a game is at, say, the eighty five minute mark is no indicator as to how it will finish up in this season’s Championship as it reaches it’s climax.

However, judging by messageboard comments at the time and post match remarks by some who were there, I wasn’t the only one who was resigned to the loosening of the grip  we had on one of the automatic promotion positions less than a fortnight ago continuing.

For much of this season, a 0-0 draw at Norwich would not have been too bad an outcome on a ground where our record is far from the best, but such a result would have left us level on points with Fulham with a worse goal difference and our game in hand on them, temporarily, used up before the Londoners entertained local rivals Brentford in an evening kick off.

In other words, while one point would have meant our losing sequence had been halted at two games, it wouldn’t really have been enough for us. It wouldn’t have meant we should give up on a top two place and focus on the Play Offs, as some were, remarkably, saying even before we traveled to Norwich, but it would have meant that a so important factor at this stage of any campaign, be it sporting or political, momentum, would be continuing to go against us.

To be fair, for those of us who were not there watching the game in the flesh or through the IFollow scheme on the club website, there had not been a great deal in the first 95 per cent of the match to suggest we would win, as our goal drought stretched well beyond the two hundred and fifty minute mark – Radio Wales’ coverage remained fairly downbeat in their assessment of how things were going, while the Sky reporter at the game couldn’t stop telling us how well Norwich were playing whenever she got the chance.

Also, the BBC’s stats were confirming something which was coming over loud and clear in their radio coverage – referee Tim Robinson was finding far more reasons to penalise us than he was the home team. Now, I’m not going to add Mr Robinson, who I’d not heard of before yesterday’s encounter, to what is a fairly long list of substandard officials we’ve had this season just because he awarded almost three times more fouls against us than he did Norwich (it ended up at 23-8) when I’ve not seen the game yet, but those figures do mean that, what was a tough task anyway was being made all the harder because the match officials were making far more decisions which favoured the home team than they were for us.

So, I suppose, there were grounds for the pessimism that was being felt and, speaking for myself, this had started even before the game when I saw the team Neil Warnock had picked. Of course, with ongoing problems with my Internet connection meaning I still haven’t got around to watching any of the Villa game yet, I’m not really in a position to assess how well or badly those selected to start on Tuesday did, but the decision to replace Marko Grujic and Callum Paterson with Craig Bryson and Loic Damour in our midfield disappointed me.

A midfield three of Aron Gunnarsson who, rightly or wrongly, has copped more stick than I can remember him receiving in the past three years after our last three games, Bryson and Damour looked ill equipped to end our chronic habit, which some tell me is all part of some sort of masterplan, of passing the ball to the opposition and also it seemed to be lacking in any tangible attacking threat, both in terms of creativity and goalscoring potential.

On the other hand, although I’ve been unconvinced by him so far in City colours, Gary Madine for Kenneth Zohore was a decision which I found hard to be too critical of – the latter was some way short of his best against Sheffield United and Wolves and, apparently, didn’t pull up any trees at Villa, while the latter, whatever I and others may think of his contribution up to now, should be given the opportunity to prove himself given what he did in a struggling Bolton side in the first half of the season.

There have been occasions this season where Neil Warnock’s team selections have been criticised before kick off by many, including myself, only for those critics to have to eat humble pie two hours later after another three points were added to our tally and I’m sure that given the way things panned out, there will be those who will claim the same thing happened yesterday, but I’m not so sure about that.

Certainly, the fact that it was Zohore who provided the late goal out of the blue (more on that shortly) which offered the first clue that yesterday may turn out much better than many of us had become convinced it was going to, offers some fuel to an argument which says he needs to be left out of the side from time to time to give him a bit of a wake up call.

Also, although I’ve not seen anyone else anywhere with much that is good to say about Madine’s performance, Neil Warnock singled him out after the game for praise by saying that he played a part in ensuring that there was space behind the centrebacks for Zohore to exploit when he replaced our January signing with just under twenty minutes to go – our manager figured that the home central defenders would have been able to handle Zohore quite easily if he had been in from the start.

However, did our manager really put on another selection and tactical masterclass yesterday? After all, his hand was forced with the swapping of Sol Bamba for Bruno Manga just past the half an hour mark. Bamba’s withdrawal was caused by an injury he has been playing with for most of the season apparently and our manager said he expected him to be okay for the Forest game next weekend, but he also admitted that he is lucky to have someone as good as Manga to fall back on – for my part, issues about concentration and his occasional struggles when asked to play right back notwithstanding, Bruno is too good to be left on the bench every week.

Also the introduction of Paterson for Damour at half time was hardly an endorsement of the original selection after a first period which our manager conceded the home team had edged, but it did show a positivity which had been lacking in our selection and approach in our previous two defeats.

It was the final substitution which made the biggest difference though – Zohore had already shot into the side netting when he moved on to a Sean Morrison header in the eighty sixth minute after a Gunnarsson long throw had only been half cleared by the home defence and nodded towards goal. Angus Gunn in the Norwich goal pushed the ball to one side, but the striker was able to fasten on to it and hit a scruffy looking shot towards goal which rolled in at the near post.

My first impression on watching it was that it was a bit of a fluke, but subsequent viewings have partially won me around to thinking that it might have been a clever bit of finishing by Zohore – whatever the truth on that, Gunn would not have been happy to have been beaten on his near post in the manner he was.

It might have been Zohore who ensured that our goal drought remained a mini rather than major one, but, after a few performances which suggested that the enormous workload Junior Hoilett has been subject to since last summer was finally catching up on him, the winger was back to something like his best yesterday and, if Zohore’s finish may or may not have been a good one, there could be no doubting the quality of his strike from twenty yards which confirmed our win in added time – it’s simple really, Hoilett plays well and our chances of three points go up exponentially.

It had been another of those wins which have typified City from about October onwards – not a performance to match what we were producing early season, but we found a way of getting the three points and this time we managed to do it while also making a bit of a dent in the advantage Fulham had been accumulating recently in terms of goal difference.

I had raised the possibility of us being back in second position by the time Fulham next played in my post Villa match piece and also mentioned that, in my opinion, with our trio of games against genuine top two and Play Off candidates over with, it was the Londoners who now had the tougher run in.

One of my reasons for saying this was that their next opponents, Brentford, were on a fine run and still challenging for a top six finish. It is my view that, on their good days, Brentford can play as well as anyone in this league and they showed this yesterday by taking the game to Fulham and looking more likely scorers for most of the ime. Also, just as Hull were denied a penalty for handball in their recent home goalless draw with Villa when Jack Grealish practically punched a free kick away, so Brentford missed out on a spot kick when a shot from a set piece clearly struck Stefan Johansen’s raised hand, but the set of officials, all imported from the Premier League apparently, either ignored or missed the offence.

For all of the nice things said about Fulham and their style of play, it seems to me that, lately at least, they have been doing just enough to win – on Tuesday they had beaten Reading 1-0 with Johnasen’s goal coming, according to BBC’s reports, against the run of play and it looked like being the same yesterday as their excellent loan signing Aleksandar Mitrovic scored again to put them ahead with only their second on target effort in the eightieth minute.

My problems with Internet connectivity are not the only unfortunate consequence of my recent house move I’m afraid, because one of my cats, Felix, the son of Allsorts my other one, has been missing for the last week. I’ve done the normal stuff like putting notices through neighbour’s letterboxes and last night a lady, who had been walking her dog fairly close by, knocked my door to show me a couple of photos she had taken of a cat which she thought could have been Felix.

Although I was far from coonvinced it was him, there was definitely a pretty strong resemblance in one of the pictures, so I jumped straight in my car to go to the place where she said she had seen the cat. As I started the car, the radio came on and the first thing I heard was Rob Phillips bringing his Radio Wales phone in programme to an end with the news that Mitrovic had broken the deadlock at Craven Cottage, but then, after a fruitless search for the cat, the first thing I heard when switching my, retuned, radio on was Jason Mohammed signing off on 606 by saying that Brentford had just equalised with three seconds of added time left – I’ve been a fan of Jason’s since he reacted so nicely to my dog jumping up on him while he was working when she was taking me for a walk in Llandaff Fields about three months ago and now I have more reason to like him!

More late drama then and, ironically, the man who did all City fans such a huge favour was Brentford sub Neal Maupay who was responsible for probably the worst miss I’ve seen in the flesh in my life last November during our 2-0 win at Cardiff City Stadium in November.

Would I swap Maupay’s goal yesterday for finding Felix? Of course I would, but Fulham dropping two points was not a bad consolation prize as I think the truth is that, despite the huge lead we had over third place not too long ago, we are now closer to promotion than we have been at any time this season – a point clear with a game in hand when your rivals only have nine points to play for is a very handy position to be in.

Villa, predictably, beat Leeds on Friday night (I’d be celebrating promotion already if our last four matches were all against this season’s Leeds side!) to keep their faint top two hopes alive, but the truth is that they and Fulham can win all of their remaining matches and it will make no difference as long as we come out on top in three of the four games we have left. Derby (who followed up their defeat at promoted Wolves in midweek with a 3-1 loss at Burton) away will have plenty riding on it, but yesterday’s results mean that Forest will be all but safe when we play them, likewise with Hull, and Reading are unlikely to have any relegation worries when we face them on the final day of the regular season, so the opportunity to take our points total into the nineties is certainly there and, with Fulham going to Millwall on Friday, that might well be enough for us.