Championship Analysis – Cardiff Suffer Carling Hangover as West Ham Ease to Victory
Cardiff City 0 West Ham United 2
West Ham maintained their four point lead over third place Reading in the race for automatic promotion to the Premier League with an all too easy win over Cardiff City.
The Bluebirds were looking to put the disappointment of last week’s Carling Cup Final defeat to Liverpool behind them, but were unable to rouse themselves or their support to the heights required in the ultra-competitive nPower Championship and allowed their visitors to control the match for long periods.
Cardiff kept faith with the side beaten at Wembley, the only change seeing David Marshall resume in goal in place of Tom Heaton, which is usual in league fixtures. They lined up in a modified 4-4-2 formation with Kenny Miller floating just behind target man Rudy Gestede.
Whilst Cardiff were suffering their Wembley heartache, West Ham had taken the opportunity to recharge their batteries with a short break in Dubai. They were also further invigorated by the return of skipper Kevin Nolan from his three match ban following his red card against Millwall. He joined Henri Lansbury, fresh from a double for England U-21’s in midweek. Mark Noble had the holding role in the midfield three whilst a pacy attacking front line featured Jack Collinson and Ricardo Vaz Te flanking Nicky Maynard.
The first half was a fairly pedestrian affair as Cardiff started slowly, allowing West Ham to settle into the match. With Cardiff failing to build any momentum, with only a mishit Kenny Miller cross causing any consternation to the Hammers defence, the visitors began to take control of the game. In a ten minute spell they created three half chances but as the half drew to a close, neither goalkeeper had been forced into a serious save.
With both sides seeing out time until the break, it was the first piece of class in the match which gave West Ham the lead. With Cardiff dithering on the ball 30 yards from their own goal, Collinson nicked possession away, feeding Maynard on the edge of the penalty area. The former Bristol City man instantly shifted the ball out to Nolan on the left hand side of the area, who coolly slotted the ball side footed across Marshall and into the net at the far post.
Cardiff would have been expected to come out with all guns blazing in the second half, but their failure to do so, coupled with an almost funereal atmosphere inside the stadium made life all too easy for the visitors.
Cardiff needed something to rouse both the fans, and a couple of decisions against them by referee Chris Foy seemed to have fanned the flames. For a ten minute period midway through the second half, the home side stepped up a gear. Peter Whittingham went close to levelling matters with a 30 yard free kick which came off the inside of the post, with Rob Green beaten.
Then with 13 minutes remaining West ham sealed the victory with a goal from an unlikely source. Full back George McCartney made an inspired run from inside his own half, and after his initial cross was blocked reacted to fire in the rebound with his right foot for his first goal in five years and giving West Ham their first win at Cardiff in 32 years.