After succumbing to a late goal against Spurs, this time Cardiff scored at the death to beat Fulham, leaving the Londoners looking back six months to their previous home league win.
Fulham have struggled to play a settled team this season and this continued with the loss of Scott Parker in the opening minutes. The graphics below represent the average positions of the players, with Karagounis (Parker’s replacement) included as he played the majority of the match. Berbatov supported Bent and the two wide players, Kacaniklic and Kasami, both cut inside which should have given Fulham’s two fullbacks the chance to overlap. Richardson did try to do this, although his crossing was never successful, but Riether on the right was pegged back by Cardiff’s effective leftsided players – more of this later. Both centrebacks tended to move wide, leaving Sidwell to drop into the gap although it was Karagounis who was more of a playmaker.
The only change for Cardiff was Odemwingie replacing Bellamy on the right wing. This was not a surprise to see – Cardiff’s interest in the transfer market prior to Odemwingie’s signing was Tom Ince and Montero, both right wingers, so the signs pointed towards his use on that flank (although he can also perform a similar job to Campbell up front, as he did against Spurs). Bellamy has not offered a great deal so far this season and has been replaced in earlier games with the less attackminded Don Cowie. Odemwingie getting a start ahead of Cowie indicates that Mackay had identified Fulham as a team that could be beaten. The lineup was a little different to the 4-2-3-1 that Cardiff have used most often this season, with Gunnarsson pushing forward to make a 4-1-4-1.
Gary Medel’s performance in front of the back four was exceptional, as he kept the ball moving expertly (missing just one pass in the whole match), made the most interceptions and won more tackles than anyone else. This security allowed Gunnarsson to play box-to-box, which is something he prefers to the solely defensive side that he has had to employ for most of the season so far. His decent scoring record shows that he likes to come forward and, although he didn’t score this time, he was very often in front of Kim (who has been Cardiff’s number 10).
For the first time this season, as alluded to above, Cardiff’s left side was just as attacking than the right, despite having comparatively little pace. The pairings of Whittingham/Taylor and Odemwingie/T-C both made 23 successful passes in the opposition final third and both created six chances each. T-C was more attackminded than Taylor, despite the contrary evidence of the average postions above, but he was also required to track back and defend more (Taylor did not attempt a single tackle). This is partly because Taylor’s opposite number, Kasami, frequently cut inside, and also due to the danger of Brian Ruiz (coming on in the 41st minute for Kacaniklic on T-C’s side) being Fulham’s most dangerous player. Taylor simply didn’t need to defend and could happily come forward as he pleased.
The Ruiz change allowed Berbatov to get more involved centrally than he had been, though it came at the cost of Bent’s involvement – he became increasingly peripheral. Ruiz’s equalising goal, a stunning curling left foot effort, came from a long clearance to the right flank finding Riether. Taylor had been sucked out of position, although Medel should perhaps have been tracking Ruiz’s run. That the goal was struck from outside the box was something telling for Fulham – only Kasami was able to consistently get any touches inside the box and was wasteful.
Cardiff also seemed wasteful in their shooting, although perhaps hasty is a better word. Their 22 attempts at goal, with 13 inside the area, sounds impressive, but looking at the accuracy (red, below, is off target) tells a better story. Unsurprisingly, just under half of chances were from set pieces, including Caulker’s opening goal. Gunnarsson again took up a position in front of the goalkeeper, though not close enough to risk a goal being disallowed for a foul as against Spurs, and Fulham allowed Caulker a relatively clear header.
Mutch’s winner was similarly formed to Ruiz’s goal, with a clearance from the goalkeeper to the right flank not being dealt with by the defence. Mutch collected the ball from a wider angle than Ruiz had but found the same corner. Fulham had yet again lost the points.
Cardiff won this game through some relentless endeavour – although the stats governing possession, passes attempted, action zones, etc were very even, Cardiff were the team who wanted to have a go, which is evidenced in the only stat they dominate: number of shots. Mutch’s final minute effort, when Maynard had anticipated a throughball, epitomised this. Perhaps buoyed by Stockdale’s shaky performance against Chelsea, they tried to put the goalkeeper under pressure and eventually won out. In a short period of time in the division, Cardiff have already learnt how important three points are, and the signs are hopefully there that they’ll begin to push for wins rather than accept a point.
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