The latest under fire manager, Sam Allardyce, earned a stay of execution with a 2-0 win at Cardiff, seeing the clubs change places in the league and Cardiff drop into the bottom three for the first time since the opening day (also a 2-0 defeat to West Ham). Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was making his management debut in the Premier League and his side put in a decent performance, only for the superior finishing of West Ham to steal the points.
Cardiff lined up in a 4-1-4-1, with Noone and Odemwingie the wide midfielders behind Campbell. Mark Hudson made his first Premier League appearance replacing Ben Turner and Declan John again played at left back. Theophile-Catherine returned after injury at right back, while Mutch was not fit and was replaced by Kim.
West Ham used a tight midfield three, with Downing and Jarvis encouraged to cut in from the wings and advance in front of the physical Carlton Cole as lone striker. Andy Carroll was available on the bench following a lengthy injury and Roger Johnson made a return to his old club after his January signing.
Cardiff dominated possession in the opening fifteen minutes but chances were rare for both teams, West Ham coming close with an overhit Downing cross beating everyone in the Cardiff area and hitting the post. Cardiff themselves hit the woodwork when a nice effort from Kim struck the underside of the bar and just bounced the wrong side of the line. These two chances could quite easily have gone in, but the game remained cagily goal-less for much of the first half that had been fairly even in chances.
The opening goal came for West Ham as half-time approached , with Carlton Cole bundling a cross into the net. When Taylor received the ball outside the area, Caulker moved towards him (indicated with the black arrow in the top screenshot) but failed to return back to his position in the back four quickly enough. Jarvis’ quick first time cross (bottom screenshot) went into an area that Caulker should have been positioned in to clear (white arrow). While Theophile-Catherine had gone to sleep briefly to allow Cole the space in front of him, the ball should have been cut out before then had Caulker not been drawn towards the ball when he had no need to.
Cardiff began to look more effective after the break – while the opening team selection was not a million miles away from one that Mackay may have picked, substitutions look to be an important part of Solskjaer’s management style. As a Man Utd player he was known as a super sub, and Alex Ferguson noted that he was so effective from the bench as he could see how the game was developing and where the holes in the defence were for him to exploit. In his first match managing Cardiff, the FA Cup win at Newcastle, the two late goals came from substitutes and Cardiff were to hope that he could do the same again. Bellamy came on for the, yet again, poor Odemwingie and played across the breadth of the pitch rather than staying on the right flank, as can be seen from the respective heat maps below.
Bellamy’s movement allowed space for Kim to tend to drift towards the right flank vacated by Odemwingie, with Whittingham also able to get forward more often (although he saw less of the ball the further forward he went). Kim was Cardiff’s most involved player in the final third of the pitch, having more touches there and creating twice as many chances than any other player. Along with Bellamy, Kim looked most likely to be the source of an equaliser. As Cardiff pushed West Ham back, Noone was able to get forward more often, although this meant there was less space for him to exploit behind the deep-lying West Ham defence.
Other than their penalty claims for handball and holding at corners, the closest Cardiff came in the second half to scoring was a strong counterattack involving Kim finding Bellamy in space on the right and his cross being met by Campbell, only to be turned over the bar well by Adrian. What was most encouraging about this passage of play was that Whittingham and Noone had also got into the penalty area. The benefits of pace amongst the attack is clear and something that was sometimes shelved by Mackay in order to find more defensive stability. Time will tell if this is more successful in the long term, but it only can be if Cardiff take good chances like this one.
Further attacking changes
As Cardiff chased an equaliser, debutant Norwegian Eikrem came on for Medel and took up a more advanced position, before Cardiff became even more attacking following Tomkins’ deserved red card. Hudson left the pitch for Cornelius, as Cardiff moved into a 3-5-2 where two of the defenders were the still attacking full backs, T-C and John.
With the lead intact, West Ham were able to drop back and prevent Cardiff from space to create any excellent chances. Any that Cardiff did create were generally hit towards the goalkeeper who saved comfortably. With the fullbacks joining in with an almost all-out attack, it was with some inevitability that Cardiff would get caught out at the back, and they were in injury time when Carroll was released down the right flank (below). Caulker, as the sole defender, has no choice but to go towards him, leaving Noble (run indicated by white arrow) free to pick up Carroll’s pass and secure the win.
Cardiff’s next two matches are away to Man City and Man Utd. Despite having picked up four points from the two in the home encounters, Cardiff will view avoiding defeat in either match as a success. To do this, Cardiff will have to defend very well and the West Ham match possibly offered the only chance until February (in the league, at least) to see how Solskjaer will try to take a game to the opponent. Despite the result, he can be encouraged that Cardiff dominated possession and had plenty more shots. With a little more luck, whether keeping shots away from the goalkeeper or from decent penalty claims, the three points could have stayed in Cardiff. By the time of the next ‘winnable’ game (Norwich at home in February), Solskjaer may rely on success in the transfer or loan market to improve Cardiff’s shot conversion and start picking up points again.
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