Cardiff City 1 Plymouth Argyle 0. Match Report

Cardiff started the New Year just as they finished the old one ... with 3 points thanks to a Joe Ledley winner. This time, a hard fought, unglamorous, gritty but fully deserved 1-0 against a poor Plymouth side who were physical, limited and had you wondering how they started the day in 6th place and a play-off spot.

The win rounded off an outstanding holiday programme where City collected 10 points out of 12 and only the incompetence of overtime played allowing Watford an equaliser on Boxing Day prevented it being a maximum. However it's a fantastic recovery by Dave Jones and his rejuvenated side who have a new found character and resilience about them as underlined by the stats.

Three successive home wins after City could only manage that many in the previous 8 months, 5 wins in the last 7 games after we could only manage a paltry 4 in the first 19, 2 defeats and 5 clean sheets in the past 11 matches and after 7 defeats and 1 clean sheet in the first 15 Championship fixtures.

Few could see this turnaround and transformation coming but Cardiff have miraculously turned themselves around from ominous relegation candidates to, dare I mention it?, play-off chances now standing 11th and only 3 points away from the top 6. Quite incredible but that's the Championship this season. It's average quality in truth - I already fear for whichever 3 get promoted out of this season's crop - extremely inconsistent and there is no outstanding side so any hard working team able to put a few results together - as City currently are - can fly and shine. It's been turmoil this term on and off the pitch at Parc Nin but, at last, Cardiff are starting to meet expectations and how good it all feels.

Dave Jones - serving a 2 match touchline ban - named an unchanged team which included Captain Steven McPhail of whom DJ caused so much confusion after suggesting he was suspended for this game after his 5th yellow card at the weekend (it will be served in the cup at Chasetown instead_. His selection also meant that Thommo. now available after a 3 match ban. started from the bench with Aaron Ramsey, now on a pro contract, making way. City therefore fielded Schmeicel, McNaughton-Johnson-Purse-Capaldi, Whittingham-Rae-McPhail-Ledley, Parry-Hasselbaink. Subs were Oakes, Blake, MacLean, Purse,Thompson.

Argyle always strike me as a mid-table side and certainly confirmed that impression in the corresponding fixture at Home Park shown live on Sky where City came away with a 2-2 draw fighting back only after their own ineptitude saw them go two behind. However they proudly took the 170 mile trip to South Wales in 6th spot. Manager Ian Holloway dumped them for Leicester recently but it saw old boss Paul Sturrock return.

They've got there with solid rather than spectacular runs of form but have pulled the odd eyebrow-raiser including previous away wins at Charlton and Watford. Christmas saw them collect 4 points from 2 homes games but lose at QPR before this one. Today's loss saw them pegged back to 7th and 2 points ahead of City.

Supported by a strong following of 1,400 who were as subdued as their team apart from baiting Tony Capaldi, which unlike the earlier fixture, seemed to inspire him this time. Plymouth were Larrieu, Connolly-Timar-Seip-Hodges, Norris-Halmosi-Martin- Abdou, Ebanks-Blake, Easter. David Norris is tipped for a move with rumours of Norwich about to offer £1.5M for him, he was outshone by Joe Ledley. Up font, Fairwater boy and Wales international Jermaine Easter partnered Ebanks-Blake and maybe he would have been better spending the afternoon in Fairwater.

The crowd was 14,965, many nursing hangovers to get there for a 1pm kick-off on a day with no public transport, but Canton pubs were still packed pre-game as it wasn't coffee or soft drinks being downed.

The game was a battle but City are in fighting mood these days and got the upper hand from the off. Playing good football, stopping Plymouth's breaks at source and easily looking the better side when they kept the ball down, their key problem was coming alive in the final third as they were struggling to create openings, the final ball was not quite good enough or in JFH's case, it was bloody awful..

The chances that did arrive in the opening half-hour were Steve McPhail having a crack, his shot was blocked but an attempted clearance hit him and rebounded inches over, Roger Johnson (who else?) got up at a corner and was blocked, another Johnson header across goal at the far post could not quite be turned home and Hasselbaink hit the roof of the Canton Stand with an effort as accurate as his woeful distribution all afternoon.

Plymouth offered little in response other than Ebanks-Blake appearing to think it was a WWF contest as he laid into Johnson and Loovens and three times, went through them as they were mid-air clearing headers. Dangerous but he earned no more than a talking as he did when he twice kick the ball away. Lee Martin, on loan form Man U, woke up everyone with a 25 yard hit that flew narrowly wide with Kasper scrambling.

On the half hour however, joy at last, all we need is a team of Joe Ledley's! Joe, showing power, energy and flair more than most who appeared to be showing signs of tiredness with the Xmas programme, motored down the left and, to his credit, Tony Capaldi advanced with him and created the overlap. Played in, Capaldi was now advancing on goal and for the first time in his CCFC career and against his old club, had a shot! Good one too low across goal which Larrieu could only Parry, the ball fell to JOE LEDLEY who purposely picked his spot and placed home between goalie and 2 defenders for his 4th City goal of the season but what turned out to be his second successive winner for the Bluebirds.

Ledley celebrating at the Canton Stand end with that "aeroplane wings" shuffle he's been doing for Wales and City. If Craig Revell-Horwood were there, I think it would score a 1 (or 0.1) as far as goalscoring celebrations go. What is that all about?

I think the script was that City would now go onto show their difference in quality but they appeared to relax and were almost hit from the restart when Norris' 20 yarder appeared to hit the inside of the post, strike Schmeicel on his back as it flew across goal and go out the other side for a corner. We are enjoying luck that we were missing earlier this term.

In another scare and escape, Ebanks-Blake pulled the trigger as he got behind City's defence but the inspirational Roger Johnson bravely put his face in the way to head behind and got a boot, treatment and several stitches for his troubles. City fought like tigers, Gavin Rae acting an emergency centre-half, until he returned and then Glenn Loovens spent the last couple of minutes hobbling badly after another challenge, our centre-halves were certainly in the wars but, to their credit, they always came back for more and dominated.

One brilliant Schmeicel placed goal kick beat the entire Plymouth back-line and set Parry free but City were unable to capitalise, his cross was just about cut out.

Plymouth fans raised their last chant of the afternoon - an anti-Hasslebaink tune with the same sentiments we had about Ebanks-Blake. Watching Jimmy's awful display which included failing to move for the ball, failing to jump for headers, no hold up play at any time and still moaning at others in top of his terrible distribution, I was wondering if any City fans joined in with them?

The only shock was, after a few stoppages, the ref only found 2 minutes of added time. If only we had him at Watford last week!

H/T: CITY 1 PLYMOUTH 0

If there was little telling action to write about in the first half, the second half produced even less. It was scrappy, ugly and a battle with both sides looking jaded but bottom line was Cardiff looked hungrier to hold onto what they had than Plymouth were to strike back and that won the day. I wish City could kill teams off, make they undoubted better football tell and take their chances more clinically when they arrive but they are failing to do that at present and, today, they missed three golden chances for the killer second goal which would have made life far easier.

City started well, Jimmy failed by a fraction to get a boot to the ball meeting a Rae lob which the keeper gratefully collected, Peter Whittingham narrowly failed to meet a super Parry cross but he didn't really show enough determination to get there first and Parry himself fired wide.

Plymouth made a double like for like sub on 55 with Doumbe replacing Timar who seemed to tweak his hamstring last 1st half and Nallis on for Man U loanee Lee Martin who was playing well and showed disgust coming off which included storming straight down the tunnel. Perhaps he was enraged he missed that infamous Man U Xmas party to be stuck in deepest Devon!

Cardiff had a major escape on the hour when Roger Johnson got wrong side of Easter - one of his bad habits which he is eradicating - lost out on a bounced header and Easter was away when he really shouldn't have been but Schmeicel came to the rescue spreading himself with his brilliant star jumps, the shot hitting his body and going behind for a corner. Many would have been beaten.

With Jimmy now at snail's pace and the ball coming back at us, his change was obvious. Bringing on MacLean instead of Thommo was not as we really needed someone to hold p play and give Plymouth's defence something else to think about. The bloke behind me shouted out, "Oh no, we're taking off someone who won't jump and bringing on another who's the same". Within moments, he was proved right.

However a few minutes later on came Thommo to a huge reception for Peter Whittingham who was very disappointing to partner MacLean with Parry switched wide. Whitts was thoroughly disappointing and did little today, he's either superb or not in it, this one was the latter. He's done very well recently but has to find better consistency. Thommo's more abrasive style was soon getting at Argyle who had their last throw of the dice with Nadjim Abdou replaced by Lucas Jutkiewicz - those Devon/Cornish names eh?

How City didn't finish them off, only MacLean can explain. Played through on goal by a truly outstanding Joe Ledley ball as he popped up on the right, it looked easy but he lacked all confidence but placed his effort right at Larrieu, he had to do far better than that. Parry was ext through but in attempting to replicate goals where he's cut inside ad blasted across goal, his effort was easily cut out then MacLean missed another sitter after, once again, Ledley did brilliantly to set him up, this time he blazed wide.

Joe was awarded man of the match and was a class apart once more but I would have given it to Kevin McNaughton the Magnificent who, second half especially, handed out a lecture in first class defending. How many headers did he win against guys bigger than him? How many times did he turn like a compass leaving opposition players floundering behind him? How many times did he knock the ball against Plymouth men to win throws and goal-kicks to relieve pressure? His passing was brilliant and he topped it all with a magic moment with an overhead dummy as, facing goal, he flicked the ball up over his and Ebanks-Blake's head, went around him and left him for dead.

It underlined the new found attitude in City that would have seen us unable to close out and win ugly in games like these only a few weeks ago. The spirit is immense, the work ethic is great as we chase and close down all over the field and our players are putting their bodies on the line as exemplified by skipper and much improved Steve McPhail who threw himself to block one shot, he's working so hard on top of the pretty stuff he does and even Tony Capaldi, it must be said, is much improved, this was probably his best outing for City.

Three minutes added time was all going to plan until a thrown level with our 6 yard box and everyone there. In it came, a header flicked it in and Jutkiewicz flicked an overhead kick at goal but through the melee, enter Schmeicel the hero to charge out spread himself again in the middle of everyone and block it. Brilliant, brilliant work.

Another good win, the celebrations on and off the pitch emphasising the joy and pleasure at how City have turned things around and are rescuing what had been a miserable and disastrous season. As we celebrated, Ali on the tannoy rushed out an announcement of thanks for Kasper Schmeicel as his official loan ended. Despite newspaper suggestions to the contrary, it did sound as if that was it and it will be a huge blow as, without question, Kasper has been one of the pivotal players in our resurrection and seen our back line improve immeasurably. If it was your last, thanks Kasper, you won't be forgotten here.



Report from FootyMad

Cardiff City failed to reach the standards of recent matches but still hung on to beat a Plymouth Argyle side that is battling for a play-off place.

Joe Ledley struck the all-important goal in the 30th minute but it was a backs-to-the-wall fight for City for most of the match.

The Bluebirds kept the side that won at Preston North End but Steven Thompson was back on the bench after serving his suspension.

A Plymouth free-kick in the seventh minute was headed clear by Glenn Loovens, but when the ball came back into the danger area Kasper Schmeichel had to move smartly to gather.

A loose header by Roger Johnson in the 18th minute went straight to Argyle's Lee Martin and he crashed in a shot that whistled past City's upright. In another attack the visitors' left midfielder Peter Halmosi lifted his shot over the bar when well-placed.

The Bluebirds' deserved goal came when Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink won the ball before sending Tony Capaldi away down the left flank. Capaldi's shot was pushed out to Ledley who side-footed home from close range.

The visitors almost hit back immediately when David Norris' shot took a deflection to wrong-foot Schmeichel before whistling past the post.

Two minutes later a brave diving header by Johnson saved City at the expense of a corner but the Cardiff star then had to leave the field for treatment to a mouth injury.

Argyle pressed the ten men back on to the defence but failed to find a breakthrough before the former Wycombe defender returned.

The Bluebirds had to withstand pressure in the second half and, on the hour, Wales international striker Jermaine Easter had a goal-bound shot charged down.

City seemed unable to hold onto the ball and it was no surprise when Steven MacLean replaced Hasselbaink in the 62nd minute.

But it was MacLean who wasted two glorious opportunities to make the game safe when firstly firing straight at Argyle keeper Romain Larrieu before firing well wide with only the keeper to beat.

In the closing minutes it was backs-to-the-wall stuff by the home defence, but with Johnson and Loovens in fine form City held firm to record another victory in their move up the table.


External Reports
The Independent
Western Mail