Wednesday, 27 September 2017

City ease past Leeds

It's a simple rule of mine: never put Cardiff on an accumulator.

When we faced a woeful Rotherham last year - a game we eventually won 5-0 - I wasn't particularly comfortable with adding City to my weekend flutter. Likewise, if Cardiff ever ended up playing Barcelona and were nailed on to lose, I couldn't bring myself to bet against my own team.

However, for the first time in my life last night, I broke that rule.

I put Cardiff to win, and, in an even more surprising twist, I put them to win 4-0, such was my confidence.

Cardiff v Leeds United has been a fixture that has nearly always seemed to go our way. The Yorkshire side have only won here three times in 70 years, with two of those coming in the last two campaigns.

But, as we made our way through a massed pre-match Canton, I remarked to the group that there's no way Leeds can make it three victories on the bounce in south Wales.

I also mentioned that, despite being top and rightly getting some plaudits, Leeds were yet to face a team with genuine promotion credentials. They've had a relatively light start and, although there are no 'easy' games in the Championship, there are certainly teams that offer sterner tests, and places that are not quite as welcoming as others.

With little to compare in regards to Leeds v the Premier League hopefuls, the only game you could read into ahead of last night was their game at Millwall.

Leeds fans probably don't get much of a welcome anywhere but, at The Den and Cardiff City Stadium, the hospitality is arguably 'spikier' than most when the Whites are in town.

At Millwall, a physical side with a pressing style that makes them somewhat similar to Cardiff, Leeds failed to cope and succumbed to a 1-0 defeat. In a way that is very similar to Wolves, United have the possession and the passing stats, but, when they have it "up em", they struggle.

With our record against Leeds, the fact we were due a win against them at home, the Neil Warnock factor, and the predicted attendance despite the Sky broadcast, I could only see a Bluebirds win.

In true Cardiff City fashion, that optimism was spoiled at 18:45, a full hour before a ball was due to be kicked, when the club app revealed that our centre-midfield duo of Joe Ralls and Aron Gunnarsson were not only missing from the starting line-up, but not even on the bench.

Gunnarsson has always been a favourite of mine, but Ralls, who I regularly slated last year, has become one of the key components in this Cardiff machine.

Their replacements: Sol Bamba, Craig Bryson and Loic Damour had the makings of an industrious unit, but I struggled to see where our creativity would come from to break down a previously solid Leeds defence.

Through my time at university in northern England, I have a few mates who are Leeds fans (something I never thought I would say), and their line-up was as much of a surprise to them as it would have been to Warnock and co.

A lot was made of Pierre-Michel Lasogga in the build-up to the game, especially after the striker missed the birth of his child to play last Saturday, but he didn't make it off the bench. Samuel Saiz, who I've been led to believe is a better player than compatriot Pablo Hernandez, also missed out much to the dismay of said Leeds mates.

But my worry over the Cardiff midfield trio needn't exist.

They were impeccable from the first minute to the last, as was every other player in blue. Work is the least you expect from a Warnock side and that's something this team does to the point that it completely breaks the opposition.

From the very start Cardiff were hounding Leeds and that workrate eventually resulted in the first goal. With Damour pressuring Mateusz Klich's into a mistake, the Frenchman brilliantly played in Junior Hoilett who dazzled the defenders to set up Kenneth Zohore for a tap-in.

I forgot where I read it but someone remarked that, in the first few minutes of a game, you can tell whether Hoilett will be 'on it' or not. Yesterday, much to the dismay of Leeds, he was indeed 'on it'. Quick and silky, Hoilett had one of those games where he could beat four defenders in a telephone box. Every time he came close to being tackled, he found a way to create space and carry on his run.

It was no surprise to see his long range effort hit the back of the net for Cardiff's second, given his confidence and performance at that stage.

The game seemed pretty much done and dusted there. I've mentioned a few times on this blog that, under Warnock, the horrible, numbing feeling that Cardiff are still going to somehow drop points from a winning position has gone away.

Leeds, for all their passing and possession, hardly troubled Neil Etheridge. For the life of me I couldn't see how Leeds would score one let alone two or three. Their task was obviously made even more difficult when captain Liam Cooper, in a week where he recieved his first call-up for Scotland, was sent off.

At the time I thought the first foul was a straight red and, having seen it back a few times, I still think that's the case. A two-footed scissor tackle has to be deemed as dangerous play and Kevin Friend, who had a decent game otherwise, got that one wrong.

Fortuntely, Cooper didn't make the most of his reprieve. Moments after his first yellow, he took out Nathaniel Mendez-Laing (who made up some serious ground to even get there) leaving Friend with no option but to dismiss him.

In truth, Leeds were better with ten than they were at full-strength. Etheridge, who has had a few ropey games of late, produced a quality double-save to keep the Cardiff jitters away.

Now. This third goal.

Warnock was critical in the week of the how the 'Warnock way' is being portrayed. Our football is perceived to be from the dark ages, a myth that is perpetuated by the media.

There seems to more arrogance in the 17/18 Championship than in previous seasons when it comes to style of football. Fulham, Wolves, Leeds, Sheffield Wednesday, and a few more, all seem to be clambering over each other to be deemed the best 'footballing' side in this division.

Cardiff, to fans of those clubs at least, don't belong in the same bracket. We should be taking our 40-yard hoof-balls into lower mid-table and be made to stay there to let the pretty boys fight for the Premier League.

After all, City are 24th in the league when it comes to: number of passes, the success rate, the accuracy and the possession. But on points? 1st.

It's the hypocricy that amuses me. I'm only in my early twenties, but even I've seen how dirty and vicious Leeds teams have been, and that's nothing compared to what they were like in the 70s/80s. Wolves have also served up some turgid football in recent years. Suddenly, with foreign coaches and a few good results, they're now two footballing dynasties too good to be in this league.

Cardiff have beaten both already.

Hopefully, with the aid of the Sky cameras, people see Zohore's second goal, where he capped off a flowing team move (featuring the rhyming commentary of Hoilett..Zohore..Hoilett..Damour..) and realise that Cardiff are more than what they have been depicted as thus far.

I won't hold my breath on that, nor the fact that Cardiff will still be referred to as anything other than 'dark horses'.

If you were new to the league and watched the build-up last night, you could be forgiven for thinking that Leeds were 50 points clear with a game left. How would Cardiff cope against the mighty table-toppers? Yes, they were top. On goal difference.

I'm not one for claiming media bias against my club, I never cared for the running order of the highlight shows, but it's about time Cardiff, and Warnock, start getting the credit they deserve. Perhaps, having now beaten media darlings Leeds, Wolves and Aston Villa, that will start to happen.

Finally, a word on Bamba. Hoilett was Man of the Match, a decison I wouldn't argue with given that he was instrumental in everything Cardiff did attacking-wise, but I thought Bamba was absolutely immense.

In a defensive-midfield role, a position he has occupied a few times for us, he was magnificent. Important challenges, key interceptions and just by being a general nuisance, Bamba came back to haunt his old side and ensured that Ralls and Gunnarsson were seldom missed.

If he carries on displaying the sort of speed and footwork he did towards the end of the game as Leeds tired, he might find himself out on the wing for a game or two.

Despite my pre-match confidence, City still surprassed my expectations last night and made Leeds look very ordinary. It's only ten games in, and I'm reluctant to get ahead of myself, but based on what we've seen so far, there is nothing for Cardiff to fear in this league.