Watford 0 - 1 Cardiff. Comment

Last updated : 04 February 2024 By Paul Evans

Anyone mad enough to read through the last three months worth of match reaction pieces on here in one go would be ploughing their way through a tale of woe – it’s been grim stuff, but it needs to be said that the misery has, to a great extent, been down to what the fans at Cardiff City Stadium have had to endure.


The Christmas cracker that was Cardiff 2 Plymouth 2 on Boxing Day has been the sole reminder that football can be an enjoyable game to watch for those long suffering supporters who only get to watch City’s home matches – even the one match we have won since October, was a thoroughly miserable affair that had nothing to recommend it apart from the fact that it got us three points.

On the other hand, those fans who are able to attend away matches on a regular basis aren’t doing too badly. Although it’s been a gloomy winter for City, it’s worth noting that even a modest set of recent home results would have ensured it was nothing of the kind.

Today’s game at Watford saw another sold out away end to go with the one at Plymouth a fortnight ago and a very good turn out at Queens Park Rangers on New Year’s Day and the obvious question this prompts, given our slide down the table and generally poor level of performance, is “why?”. Why are supporters travelling in such numbers lately to watch us?

My slightly facetious answer is that if you want to watch Cardiff City win a game these days (and for much of the previous three seasons) you have to be prepared to make round trips of hundreds of miles to go and watch them play away. Similarly, your chances of catching a halfway decent display from City are greatly increased if you are willing, and able, to put the miles in for your team.

It may come as a shock to some to learn that while City have been stinking the place out at home while taking four points from a possible twenty one, today’s 1-0 win at Vicarage Road (our third straight win at that ground) was our fourth away victory in our last seven Championship matches. True, we were second best at Preston for long periods and the win at Sheffield Wednesday was a case of floodlight robbery, but, in both cases, the fact that we came from 1-0 down to win with a pair of late goals meant that there was a bit more than just the result to make the matches memorable.

The 2-1 win at QPR was deserved in my view and we played pretty well there, while today was somewhere in the middle I’d say – we played better than we did at Preston and Sheffield, but with a last twenty five minutes or so which resembled Rorke’s Drift at times, even this completely biased City fan is struggling to argue that we deserved three points.

That’s not to say that we rode our luck though – we were maybe the slightly better team in the first half, then got right on top in the game’s third quarter before coming under incessant pressure late on, but, even then, the defending, which has been quite well below the standard set earlier in the season lately, was resolute and unyielding.

There were strong performances all over the pitch as, in a team which did not include one of the five newcomers, or the fit again Aaron Ramsey, in the starting line up, centre backs Dimitri Goutas and Mark McGuinness were in their element against forwards they could physically dominate.

At right back, I though Perry Ng was brilliant as he looked like a player full of confidence who would be at home at the top end of this league or, possibly, higher. For some reason, I found myself appreciating how skilful Ng is more than I usually do. I suppose little things like the perfect nutmeg he performed just before our goal helped in that regard, but there was also his sheer dependability and authority when defending – Ng was City’s Player of the Year last season, but it seems to me that his game has come on quite a bit in 23/34 and, at the moment, he looks very well placed to retain his trophy.

I’d also like to mention six players who have been feeling the wrath of fans to varying degrees through our bad spell. Jak Alnwick could easily find himself left out again once the visa issue that prevented Ethan Horvath taking his place in the squad has been resolved, but, as he’s done so often this season, he made it hard for Erol Bulut to leave him out with a calm and competent showing in which his distribution was probably better than normal.

Jamilu Collins has had his critics lately and I thought he was struggling in the run up to Christmas, but I had him down as one of the few bright spots at Plymouth and he continued that improvement today.

Perhaps more than anyone else, Ryan Wintle has come to be associated with the sideways and backwards passing game which has characterised City in home games in particular lately, but I think that’s harsh and there was one incident today which I thought showed him in a very good light. David Turnbull came on for the last half an hour or so and, like the other three newcomers we saw, had little chance to impress when in possession. However, there was one mishit pass from him which could have caused his side real problems were it not for Wintle’s willingness to chase back forty yards to put in a great block to clear up a dangerous situation.

Rubin Colwill’s place in the side will come under pressure with the arrival of Turnbull and the return of Ramsey, but, today he responded to that challenge with a performance that, for a while in the second half, saw him taking charge of a game in a way I’d not seen him do before. It wasn’t perfect by any means because while we saw plenty of the eye catching footwork which can gain him space where there seems to be none, there were then too many wrong options or misplaced passes to give his display the complete picture you get from the very best.

Nevertheless, it was a very encouraging showing by Rubin – especially for those of us who have fought his corner for the last three years since he burst on to the scene. Until we scored, Colwill came closest to finding the net with a well struck left foot shot from over twenty yards out which flew not too far over and the chance was created for him by a very nice lay off to him by Kion Etete.

It was Etete’s best piece of target man play on an afternoon where his growing army of critics would probably have seen very little to make them question their opinions of him. However, I reckon Erol Bulut would have loved Etete’s performance as he worked so hard for the team and the manager who has this thing about players doing their bit when out of possession could not have had any complaints about his centre forward on that score as he was even filling in at right back at times when we were under really fierce pressure – the fact that Etete was still on the pitch with ten minutes to play rather tells a story I feel.

I mentioned the term centre forward earlier and, of course, there will be those who, quite reasonably, ask whether a player in that position should be as preoccupied with defending as Etete was? I suppose what I’m trying to get over here is that maybe some recognition should be given to the fact that playing as a target man for Cardiff City is a very hard job given the quality of service and lack of support they tend to get and that task is made even harder under a manager so intent on ensuring that his attacking players do their bit defensively.

There were those who would happily have cancelled Josh Bowler’s loan during the January window and it was hard to disagree for much of the first half, but he will be forgiven an awful lot if he can come up with a few more goals like todays match winner in the forty third minute.

One of those quality bits of play from Ng that so impressed me today provided a pass to Bowler which he received about thirty yards out. The winger still had a lot to do though as he beat a couple of opponents before curling a left footed shot from twenty yards well beyond the diving Ben Hamer for a goal which probably deserves to be in our top five for this season.

I’m probably going over the top about our performance today, but after what was a shameful capitulation against Leeds, it was so good to see City so united – every one, including newcomers Turnbull, Wilson-Esbrand, Phillips and Diedhiou, mucked in and protected our lead with an intensity which will have some (not me though!) saying that a top six finish is still on.