Football is brilliant.
If you wanted a game over the opening weekend that defined ‘smash and grab’ then look no further than the Boleyn Ground, where City’s 1-0 win over West Ham (and our first win at BG since 1950) probably surprised most who have decided it’s their divine right to walk the league. Looking through Twitter beforehand it was 4-0 this, Cole hat-trick that etc.
The lineups before the game said it all about the gulf in class between the two squads. A West Ham side full of Premier League experience, a proven manager and even the odd England international or two flirting about before making inevitable moves back to the top flight. The Allardycian brand of football had been well and truly stamped with playing Frederic Piquionne on his own in a 4-5-1 formation; but then again in a midfield with the likes of Kevin Nolan and Scott Parker, who can blame him?
Malky Mackay’s new look City side had no less than 8 new players and it was always going to be interesting to see how the battle in midfield would play out in what was your Championship standard 4-4-2. With Peter Whittingham and Aron Gunnarsson occupying the middle I was assuring myself that the latter was going to have a hell of a job on his hands in keeping both Nolan and Parker quiet for 90 minutes. Seeing a team huddle before kickoff I couldn’t help but feel that maybe for once that there’s a team spirit and Mackay has got everyone working for each other. There’s no ‘us against the world’ mentality that’s been used to describe us by Dave ‘excuses’ Jones.
As expected a rocky first 20 minutes ensued with both Piquionne and Parker both given clear runs at goal only for blushes to be spared with a save from David Marshall and Anthony Gerrard getting a crucial block to stop an off the pace looking Parker. Whilst Nolan and Taylor posed a constant threat they still lacked any clinical edge and slowly City grew in confidence and making sure that any time on the ball was used effectively, Don Cowie’s header from Craig Conways cross and Whittingham’s free kick both giving Robert Green his first test of what was to come this season. Kenny Miller and Rob Earnshaw had little to work with up front and you couldn’t really fault them for a lack of trying.
Halftime arrived and relatively happy with what I saw against a decent looking West Ham outfit, it was only right to go and see what was on the messageboards. Unsurprisingly a character assassination of Miller had begun stating that he was sluggish and not at all interested in what was going on. To be fair that was about half an hour into the game, a new record for our already fickle supporters that last year would have probably gunned for him at around the ten minute mark for not being comfortably 3-0 up and embracing Total Football.
With West Ham starting brightly in the second half David Marshall was putting in a Man of the Match-esque performance, slowly beginning to frustrate the home crowd and making some excellent saves to the deny the likes of Taylor and Tomkins. His communication skills have come on leaps and bounds with most set pieces being dealt with comfortably (bar Whittingham’s crucial goal line clearance) and he should go on to inspire more confidence across the back four. Kevin McNaughton and new signing Andrew Taylor both looking comfortable as fullbacks and Hudson and Gerrard soaking up heavy pressure brilliantly.
Mackay’s tactical genius arrived with just over 20 minutes remaining, replacing an enthusiastic but ineffective Earnshaw for relative unknown striker Rudy Gestede. The difference in dynamic up front was instant and both Tomkins and Reid (who for the most part impressed me) had no idea how to deal with the 6ft 3 inch Frenchman’s aerial threat, strength and pace. His tenacity paid off in injury time, taking the ball from Herita Ilunga with relative ease, squaring the ball to an unmarked Miller who put it away in the top left corner and set 1200 odd Bluebirds into overdrive. Three points, job done etc. I still believe that Gestede’s intention was to square it to Whittingham who was approaching the box, but it’s still clever play from Miller to stretch out and get a shot in. Clinical.
Overall, an excellent performance that showed the rest of the league that we’re going to be a competitive side this season and against a very good West Ham team. Marshall obviously got the plaudits for MOTM, but it’s hard to single out anybody; it was a fantastic team effort and full credit to Mackay for instilling an excellent work ethic that clearly wasn’t there under Dave Jones. However Gunnarsson is worth a mention for being relatively quiet but effective in stomping out the threat of both Nolan and Parker which not many players in the league will be able to do, especially away from home. Fans still need to be patient with this team and especially Miller, he’s not a player that will come up with individual moments of brilliance or ooze class. He gets in the box and scores simple goals and that’s all that matters. There’s no doubt whatsoever that he’ll bag himself 15-20 goals easily given the service.
I’ll finish this with a small parting shot at Kevin Nolan who had the audacity to claim that it was our ‘cup final’, where’s the trophy then? It’d fit nicely in our cabinet, hey? Cheerio, Kev.
Written by Alex Wilson, We Are Going Up’s Cardiff City Blogger
Alex tweets at @alextwilson