Palace 0 - 0 Cardiff. Comment

Last updated : 27 December 2018 By Michael Morris

Back in October 2013, Cardiff City helped to maintain the points cushion they had built up over the teams occupying the relegation places in the Premier League by going to Norwich and returning from Carrow Road with a point gained from a goalless draw.

This was no shutout by a defence which kept an iron grip on the home attack, this was something akin to the Alamo as Norwich bombarded us with thirty one goal attempts. Well, this afternoon at Selhurst Park, City extended their points cushion over the bottom three to three points with another 0-0 draw in which our opponents again fired off thirty one efforts at our goal.

However, while I’m sure the home fans will have left the ground scratching their heads as to how their side were unable to convert just one of those opportunities into the goal which would have won the match, I would say that there were differences between the two games which offer hope about the months to come after a couple of chastening losses against Watford and Manchester United in which the margin of defeat could have been higher.


True, Palace hit the woodwork twice and, generally, showed why their home scoring record was so poor before their recent wins over Burnley and Leicester with a lot of wayward and anxious finishing. However, while our point in East Anglia five years ago was ultimately down to a superb showing by David Marshall as he kept his former club at bay with a string of fine signs, Neil Etheridge had a relatively quiet time of it until the final few minutes when Palace were throwing everything bar the kitchen sink at us.

Neil Warnock had not lost in nine matches as manager of the visiting team at Selhurst Park and he was able to increase that run to ten as his side produced what I would call a typical Warnockian performance.

Those of us who had called for a more attacking approach as the number of consecutive away losses mounted must have known in reality that this was never going to happen – even if we get to the stage where we are going away needing nothing but wins to stay in the division, I would still expect an initially cautious approach with any real pushing for the three points only coming in the closing stages.

I’ve mentioned before on here that any manager who sends his side out with the sort of formation seen recently against Wolves is certainly not wholly preoccupied with defence, but that was a home game and, in this division at least, the Cardiff approach away from home is a very much more cautious one.

In that match with Wolves, we played with a back three, but, also, with a pair of wing backs whose experience of playing in the full back position was probably non existent. Today we went with the same three centrebacks (Sean Morrison, Sol Bamba and Bruno Manga), but with Lee Peltier and a blond haired Joe Bennett as the men outside them – this very much had the look of a back five with full backs, rather than a surprise attempt to “have a go” at Palace.

What actually happened though was that the two specialist full backs often roamed from their flanks into more central and, occasionally, advanced areas, but, nearly always, this was because the two opponents they were man marking (Andres Townsend in Peltier’s case and James McArthur in Bennett’s) had wandered into those areas.

As for defensive work in wide areas, this was mostly the responsibility of Junior Hoilett and Kadeem Harris – while they both were charged with getting forward when the opportunity presented itself like the wingers they are, I couldn’t help thinking that their selection was down to them being considered to be more defensively disciplined than the alternatives available to Neil Warnock.

Peltier, Harris and Bennett coming in were three of five changes to the team beaten on Saturday, with Joe Ralls returning to the midfield again alongside Victor Camarasa, while Callum Paterson and Kenneth Zohore’s absence from the match day squad meant that Bobby Decordova-Reid was given the lone striker role he filled in the opening day defeat by Bournemouth – Greg Cunningham, Harry Arter, Aron Gunnarsson and Josh Murphy were the others to miss out from the Manchester United selection.

Given City’s frame of mind following Saturday’s hammering, the way they were set up and Palace’s buoyancy following their brilliant win at Manchester City on the weekend, it was no surprise to see nearly all of the play in the first quarter of the match being centred around our goal. Indeed, what may well be hailed as a tactical masterclass from our veteran manager by some given the way the match finished would have, almost certainly, turned out to be nothing of the sort if Townsend, the scorer of a wonder goal at the Etihad, had been able to convert what was a much easier opportunity in the first few minutes, instead of lifting his shot on to the crossbar and over.

At this stage, It seemed that the miss would be of no great consequence because there appeared to be an inevitability about a home goal arriving sometime soon. However, further consideration brought something of a different conclusion – I mentioned earlier that Etheridge had little to do until the latter stages and among the reasons for this were some telling blocks and tackles by City defenders and a team stubbornness reminiscent of last season which has not always been present this time around.

Of course, any defensive plan to shackle Crystal Palace has to include something to deal with their talisman, Wilfried Zaha. Our former loanee has developed into one of the most influential attacking players in the league, but it seemed to me that he was not designated a man marker like one or two of his team mates were. Instead, it mostly fell to Bruno Manga to deal with Zaha because he happened to be the player in the areas where Zaha spent most time.

Although he is always a threat, It wasn’t quite happening for Zaha in the first half – some of the credit for that could be put down to Bruno, far more comfortable in his specialist position, but the Palace matchwinner was showing signs of frustration that were being shared by some of his team mates.

After all, the team which proved too good for Manchester City four days earlier must, surely, have expected a side that had conceded five in both of their home matches against the club’s from that city to have folded in the face of their confident start.

As it began to dawn on the home team and their supporters that the match would not be quite as easy as it looked like being early on, City began to come into the game more. Indeed, with Ralls and the impressive Camarasa passing the ball better than we normally do and Hoilett and Harris able to edge forward more, I would say that we edged the last quarter of an hour or so of the half. This “dominance” was not reflected through goal attempts raining in on the Palace goal, but Decordova-Reid might have made more of a headed opportunity after some neat passing down our left gave Harris a chance to cross.

Hardly surprisingly, Palace regained the initiative after half time and there was to be no gradual City improvement as the forty five minutes progressed this time. Indeed, if anything, Palace’s grip on proceedings grew stronger as the second period went on.

City were also more careless than they had been. For example, the nearest Palace came to winning the game came when captain Luka Milivojevic curled a free kick from twenty yards on to an upright with Etheridge beaten – the opportunity for this to happen coming from a foul committed after a Morrison long throw from near the corner flag was won by Palace and played into the area where our captain would have been normally. Not for the first time this season, a gap had been left in the area vacated by Morrison to take the throw – it cost us a goal against Burnley and so nearly did again here.

If I was to list all of the chances that came and went for Palace in the second period, then this would be a candidate for the longest ever posting I’ve made on here. Therefore, I’ll limit myself to a couple of points.

First, as Palace shots were missing by less and less and Etheridge was being called into action a lot more often, there were still examples of superb City defending – none more so than when Zaha, more and more of an influence as the game went on, burst clear from a counter attack started after one of City’s more promising forays forward of the half had broken down, but was foiled by an excellent Manga tackle.

This was an example of a defender making a contribution as valuable as any goal scorer and it would have been rendered even more important if Harris had capitalised on confusion in the home defence after the quietly impressive and generally effective Decordova-Reid had challenged for a high ball by Camarasa. For all of their attacking and promising situations, Palace never had a better scoring chance than the one Kadeem had and none of Etheridge’s saves were as impressive as the one Vincent Guaita produced to deny him his second goal of the season.

Even this obviously biased Cardiff fan is not going to claim that a win for my team would have been a deserved one and I won’t deny that there were times when we definitely rode our luck, but we drew at the ground of a team that beat Manchester City and Leicester in their previous two games – I mention Leicester there because they also beat Pep Guardiola’s team today, having also won at Chelsea on the weekend. Obviously, we face a daunting task against that same Leicester side on Saturday, but we will go there with, at long last, a second away point to our name after a performance of character and resolution.