A Cardiff City fan who did not watch today’s 2-1 win at Queens Park Rangers could read that both of the goals came from headers from corners and be forgiven for thinking that this was another typical late 2023 type victory with an element of luck to it, but they would be wrong.
While there were things that could be criticised about City’s display, this was a well deserved win and I think the last time I could truthfully say that would be following either the Huddersfield or Bristol City games in October.
Where we were lucky I suppose is that the home team were without influential performers such as Willock and Chair, but we did a good job of beating what was in front of us on a ground where we had lost on five out of our last six visits and we were able to climb five places in the mega competitive middle reaches of the Championship to ninth.
I’ll mention that this takes us to within three points of the Play Off positions even though I feel talk of finishing in the top six with the current squad is pie in the sky. However, I can remember talk during the autumn about how Vincent Tan might be persuaded to “have a go” by spending more than anticipated in January if we were sufficiently close to the action to make a top six finish a realistic possibility.
Well, I’m not going to be a hypocrite and conveniently forget I have been criticising the squad for being short on basic technical qualities when it comes to ball control and giving and receiving passes, but, despite these fundamental faults, we have been able to stay within contention and we’ve managed to reach the opening of the transfer window in a much healthier shape than I was expecting us to do about a fortnight ago.
Erol Bulut and his players should be applauded for this. Realistically, we will need to sign some excellent players in the next four weeks or so to be challenging for a top six place come May, but, in a way, you can say that the current players have kept their part in the bargain and now need the help in the shape of new players to take the next step.
I’m not aware of any news yet regarding how serious Karlan Grant’s injury which forced him off the pitch against Leicester, is, but he was missing today as City made a couple of changes from Friday with Rubin Colwill coming in for Grant and Yakou Meite for Josh Bowler.
With the home side having lost the momentum three successive wins in late November had given them and currently on a run of five winless matches where their only goal has come from an opposing player, this was the sort of game that even a struggling City side should be looking to win, especially as Rangers have the worst home record in the division.
The early minutes were encouraging from a City point of view as, rather than sit back and look to absorb pressure like they have been doing recently, they took the initiative and while they weren’t steamrolling the home side they were forcing them back with the ball being played forward in a pleasant change from recent weeks.
City’s superiority was built around the fact that our midfield three were in control – Joe Ralls after a below par showing against Leicester was back in more typical 23/24 form and was able to play the whole game, Manolis Siopis was much more like his old self as he turned in his best display in weeks and Ryan Wintle again showed that he’s a better player than he’s often given credit for – I’d still prefer to see someone else used in the number ten type role, but there was no doubt that Ralls, Siopis and Wintle were a trio that worked well on this occasion.
Ralls would soon show as well that his poor set piece delivery on Friday was just a blip when, on sixteen minutes, his inswinging corner was powerfully met by Dimitrios Goutas from ten yards and his header flew beyond Asmir Begovic and into the corner of the net.
What was most impressive about the Greek centreback’s fourth goal of the season was that two Rangers defenders had a hold of him at different times as the corner came over, but he was able to break clear of them to get his head on the ball.
Having been encouragingly positive in gaining a lead, we now come to the first of two aspects of the game that I found a bit disappointing. The first was that against opponents who were playing poorly and had the crowd beginning to get on their back, we could have put the game beyond Rangers if we’d been able to step things up a bit and chased a second goal.
I say that while recognising that this was the fourth match of a tough and unforgiving holiday programme and so there may not have been much left in the tank for many of the players, but we seemed to be content to just hold on to our lead, albeit against opponents who just could not get their attacking game going at all.
Rangers couldn’t keep on playing so badly though and in the five or ten minutes before half time there were signs of a change in the balance of power- rather like City, dominance did not equal chances galore for QPR, but there were little signs that the home team could be in business where previously there had been no hope for them.
The second disappointing aspect was how City started the second half. The word “passive” has been used quite a lot in recent weeks to criticise the team’s attitude and there was more of it here as the home side stepped up the intensity after the break and soon equalised when sub Rayan Kolli’s crossed to the far post where Paul Smyth got free of Jamilu Collins to jab a close range shot past Jak Alnwick.
The game was there for the winning for Rangers now, but they were unable to take the next step and it was soon City who were suggesting they had a second goal in them.
It was Colwill, again looking the City player most likely to “make something happen”, who was most responsible for the change as he, first, went on a surging run that ended with him getting away a shot that brought a fine save from Begovic as he tipped the ball around the post. From the resultant corner, it was good to see us trying something different as the ball was worked to Colwill whose first timer from twenty five yards had the keeper diving again to turn the ball aside.
Another player to improve on recent performances was Josh Bowler who came on for Kion Etete as Meite switched to centre forward and it was the winger who next forced Begovic into action as he made what might have been his best save from Bowler’s shot from the edge of the penalty area.
Around this time, there was some booing from the away fans when Colwill was taken off and replaced by Ollie Tanner, but, within seconds, Colwill was joining in with the celebrations as Begovic blundered this time by coming for, but missing, Wintle’s corner to leave Perry Ng with a simple far post header to record his fourth goal of the season.
Ebou Adams and Jonathan Panzo came on for Siopis and Collins as City looked to see out what was now a much more end to end game and this they largely did without alarms apart from when they got in a mess dealing with a long throw and Meite’s header fell to sub Sinclair Armstrong whose header from no more than five yards looked to be crossing the line only for Alnwick to claw it out with the save of the game.
One final thought, it strikes me that City are reverting to what they’ve been for three seasons now – strugglers at home who find it very hard to create chances and a more dangerous away team who have it in them to score goals more readily than at Cardiff City Stadium possibly because they are able to play on the break without the expectation which comes in home games..