Cardiff City – 0
Nottingham Forest – 2
Last week the Reds denied QPR the victory that would’ve kept them top of the league, and this week by taking all three points and giving Cardiff City nothing we’ve allowed the Londoners once again to ascend to top the table. We’ve snuck into a play-off spot ourselves as a result, too. I’ll admit it freely, I’m still rather surprised!
As we settled into another identikit stadium that might as well have been in Reading, Southampton, Leicester or Derby (or numerous other places!) it transpired that we’d got something of a minor injury and illness crisis going on – so not only did we have a rather altered starting eleven, the bench was looking a bit sparse too – only six people selected.
A four-four-two of sorts, with a few unfamiliar faces – certainly as members of our starting eleven, at least:
Gunter Morgan Chambers Bertrand
McCleary Moussi Cohen McGugan
It was a reasonably positive start too – Lewis found Bertrand bursting forward and his cross-shot through the area was pretty close to finding a lurking Earnie. That said, the Bluebirds showed some early hints of a threat too – Bellamy twice missed the target from range, and a Whittingham freekick curled a just off-target from the edge of the area too.
Probably the best chance Cardiff would manage for the whole game came early doors too – a good ball from Bellamy found an excellent run from Jay Bothroyd, who was clean through – got himself around Camp but was only able to hit the side-netting from a tight angle (we did have defenders getting back too). It was a bad miss for the recently capped England striker.
Moments later and we’d nicked the lead – a big kick from Camp was won in the air well by Adebola, controlled and fed to Lewis McGugan – and, well, we all know what he does, don’t we? He unleashed another lovely curling effort from range for his ninth entry into this season’s goal-of-the-season competition. It was hard to take in for us in the away end!
Forest really had their tails up now, the Moose did well to evade Whittingham but opted to cut onto his left foot rather than right, so had to be content with a corner when his attempt ricocheted away off a defender. Shortly after Earnie had the ball in the net with a neat finish – the offside flag was up, however – hard to tell from our angle, predictably the Football League Show would rather read emails and texts from idiots than show a decent level of highlights.
The remainder of the half was uncomfortably comfortable – if that makes sense. With their vast array of attacking talent, we were able to get to half time without Lee Camp having a save to make. It left us feeling nervous – surely the home side would come out and hit back in the second half?
As I tend to find in ‘new’ grounds, the atmosphere from the home fans was pretty lacking (I do, of course, acknowledge we can struggle in this regard at home sometimes). A lot of groaning at backpasses and shouting at the referee – who invariably obliged (more on him later). Pretty odd for a team who’ve such an exciting line-up and were at start of play topping the table.
The second half did see the home side making more pressure and achieved their only shot on target early doors. A cracking cross from Bellamy found Bothroyd unmarked in the area – he met the cross with a powerful header from very close range, luckily for us it was straight at Camp who I’m not sure knew a fat lot about it as the ball bounced to safety!
After the initial scare though the game resumed the previous pattern – a McGugan effort came close to finding Chambers at the back post. Robbie Earnshaw was our first player to be withdrawn, and he received a great reception from Forest and Cardiff fans alike (unlike poor old Gunts who’d been getting abuse from the home fans all afternoon!). Dex was the man to replace him.
Another opportunity for Bothroyd as he was put through, but before he could get a shot away Bertrand had managed to get in the way and concede a corner instead. At the other end, Dele had done well to get the ball down and shot from the edge of the area – he didn’t catch it well, but it did seem to catch out Tom Heaton in the Cardiff goal as he struggled to make the save at two attempts.
The second goal did come, of course – Lewis this time was provider – teasing and turning into the box before cutting the ball back perfectly for Dex in the channel, who looked to have taken a heavy touch but was able to slide the ball neatly into the corner before celebrating infront of the travelling Reds fans who’d been in great voice all afternoon.
Lynch was introduced for McCleary who’d earlier picked up a booking (which looked a little soft, I thought – but as noted above, more on the referee later!).
It was joy to agony for Dexter though, an awkward turn – a leg at an angle it shouldn’t be, a despairing arm in the air to call for the paramedics with Cardiff and Forest players alike stopped and looking horrified. He was carefully stretchered off with oxygen and a splint applied – latest reports suggest a cruciate ligament injury, which is a real pisser.
Naturally I extend my heartfelt good wishes to Dexter for as speedy recovery as possible, but the early prognosis would suggest months rather than weeks. Not exactly what we need at the moment. As a result of the lengthy stoppage, there were six minutes of added time – which I thought wasn’t really sufficient considering how long play had stopped, but I’m not complaining!
Nialle Rodney replaced Dexter, which at least gave us the silver lining of having a front pairing of Dele and Rodney (which has more than a whiff of ‘Only Fools and Horses’ about it). Rodney’s first action saw him get a sturdy challenge put in on him, unsurprising the referee (who we will mention later!) didn’t see anything wrong with it.
Cardiff did press to get something from the game, Bellamy blazed one over from close range and Camp closed him down again at source at the expense of a corner (whilst not a clear ‘shot on target’ – this was definitely a very good save by Camp!). The whistle came, and the Reds celebrated in the already more-than-half-empty stadium.
It should be noted though that a number of home fans had remained to applaud the Forest team and fans – always great to see, and very sporting. The players and Billy all made a point of coming to the away end and received – naturally – a great reception from the travelling fans who’d been in great voice for most of the afternoon.
Now, the referee – Mr C H Webster, who is presumably brother-in-law of Dave Jones and lifelong Cardiff City fan. Some of the decisions he was giving, oft in response to the dubious cries of the home crowd, were absolutely laughable. Almost every time the ball went near Dele a mysterious freekick to the home side was awarded, it was almost comical in the predictability of it.
I know that I often comment on refereeing performances – and I will also freely concede that I am as biased as any accusation I could level at a match official – but there has to be some way for these performances to be audited. When the whole away end is celebrating as if we had scored (almost) on the rare occasions that a decision went our way.
A penultimately-final word for Steve Claridge – he just said when asked about Lewis McGugan that he’d ‘only’ scored 3 or 4 fanastic goals. I suggest you review your highlights footage again, Mr Claridge. Mr McGugan has bagged nine goals this season so far, and they’ve all been crackers! The final word, of course, is to wish a speedy recovery to Dexter Blackstock.