The only change to the starting 11 from the Blackpool match was, the now suspension free (for a while anyway!), Arter for MacDonald who dropped to the bench. Apart from the Pitman/Kermorgant rotation of the no 10 role this was our regular first team.
We started the match positively and had the majority of the ball. Pugh made an incisive run which resulted in a shot from the edge of the box that thudded against the bar. The rebound fell to Marc who was still off balance after his first effort and he could only slice his second attempt wide. Not long after, in the seventeenth minute, we were ahead. After some of the usual interplay between Francis and Ritchie on the right the ball was fed infield to Arter in a bit of space. Harry rolled the ball forward and then unleashed one of his trademark left foot shots which left Cardiff ‘keeper Moore flapping at fresh (well Welsh) air as it curled at pace into the top left corner. Does Harry know how to score an easy goal?
Despite being a goal down fairly early in the match Cardiff were no pushovers. Their play was bright and imaginative, if lacking the pace of our interplay, and they caused problems to our defence. This was especially so from set pieces. Boruc unconvincingly punched a corner clear only for the ball to be rotated to Noone who curled his shot just wide with Boruc watching anxiously on. A long clearance by Moore was flicked on and from that Revell crossed low forcing the pressurised Francis to put the ball behind for a corner. This missed the post by inches so it was either supreme judgment or luck, I suspect the latter. One up at half time was ju st about deserved.
We continued to have the bulk of the play at the start of the second half. Our usual good link up play, this time between Pugh and Daniels, resulted in a low cross which Wilson could only put against the post from a few yards although the presence of the ‘keeper and a number of defenders, plus a possible slight deflection off one of these no doubt played a big part of this. We were soon to rue this as a corner was not defended and Ecuele Manga thumped a header past Boruc. We continued to press forward but Cardiff were bright on the break. We were tending to over elaborate in the final third but this probably due to the better defensive capabilities of Cardiff and so not many clear chances were created.
With twenty minutes or so left the big talking point of the match occurred. Cardiff ‘keeper Moore had the ball in his hands to make a big kick upfield. As is our standard ploy Callum was loitering in his vicinity but not jumping around to obstruct the kick. As Moore kicked the ball Callum had turned his back and was about to start his trot back to get onside. The kick was straight at Callum and the ball ballooned onto the bar eighteen yards away and the striker reacted quickest to volley home. Referee Lee Mason, on the select list (i.e. he does premiership matches), not only disallowed the goal but booked Wilson. I’ll comment further on this matter in my assessment of the match later.
You now suspected that Cardiff were going to nick a late winner but they weren’t quite good enough to do so and we also continued to huff and puff. Indeed in the final minute of added on time a Cook long throw resulted in a bit of head tennis, all our heads, resulting in Wilson heading narrowly wide. The immediate final whistle saw a number of our players slump to the ground. 1 1 was less than we deserved for the amount of possession we had but the quality of our play was just not as high as it has been.
This match proved that there are three levels in this division. Blackpool and Fulham are in the bottom one of these, defensively especially, whilst Cardiff are the next level up. They now have a competent defence, with Ecuele Manga being a stand out and I would go so far to say that if we go up he is the sort of player that would strengthen our squad. His lack of experience would be the factor of doubt though.
Lee Mason’s refereeing was disappointing throughout. I had noticed that he was making all the decisions and not using his assistances for help at all. An example of this was when the ball was heading out for a throw to them but took a massive deflection off a Cardiff player took it over the goal line for a clear goalkick. No! corner given as Mason had not seen the deflection (I accept that if there is no noticeable change in the flight of the ball from where he was observing play this was a reasonable decision) whereas the assistant, admittedly on the other side of the pitch, must have had a better chance of making the correct call as he would have been looking along the line but seemed not allowed to suggest that an error had been made. The disallowing of the ‘goal’ was blatantly wrong, I overheard several groups of Cardiff fans discussing it as we walked away from the ground after the match and ALL of them were concluding that it was a perfectly good goal. Even if Mason did not like Callum being so close to the ‘keeper he was doing nothing wrong under the rules of the game as he was not trying to obstruct the clearance. As there were over 15 minutes left we cannot state that this cost us the win as it would have changed the way the rest of the match was played out but it is another example of a supposedly top level official making an horrendous error.
Our level of play was not of the usual very high standard although we still played well enough. Several players did have good matches and my man of the match is Charlie Daniels. A few weeks ago I was becoming concerned at his level of play, even thinking that he was now out of his depth. Being left out of a match for Smith appears to have refocused Charlie and his play against Cardiff both in defence and attack was superb, he looked better than Francis which is saying something!
AFCB: Boruc, Francis, Elphick, Cook, Daniels, Ritchie, Arter, Surman, Pugh, Pitman, Wilson
Subs: Camp, Ward, Fraser, MacDonald, Rantie, Smith (for Ritchie, 75 mins), Kermorgant (for Pitman, 75 mins)
Phil Nesbitt, Cockfosters