I managed to catch a live match courtesy of the Beeb for the first time this evening. Having missed out on their previous offerings for a variety of reasons, I made sure to be in for Cardiff’s late afternoon home game against Forest, and I thought that it was well worth it. Terrestrial TV is usually best avoided at 5pm on the Sabbath, but a bit of Championship football proved to be the perfect panacea for that Sunday feeling.
Two attacking-minded teams boasting an array of goalscoring midfielders promised an open and exciting game, and while it didn’t exactly reach the heights of Cardiff’s previous contest or Forest’s acrimonious win against Derby, it was entertaining stuff. Following a pre-game round up of emblematic clips from the two clubs’ past, which included this memorable effort from Nathan Blake, the game started with the away side in the ascendency. The pundits seemed to indicate that Forest resembled some agriculturally effective unit by labelling Cardiff as the footballing side in the build up, but it was the former who impressed in the opening 20 minutes. With Paul McKenna, Guy Moussi and Radoslaw Majewski pulling the strings in the centre, winger Paul Anderson was given a platform for several mazy runs that might well have resulted in a goal. He lacked a finishing touch, though, and when an opportunity knocked for lone striker David McGoldrick, the rangy target man took a split second too long before striking. This wasn’t an isolated incident, either — the ex-Saints man lacked sharpness throughout.
The match was end-to-end and it was noticeable that both keepers were obviously instructed to recycle the ball quickly with pacy overarm throws. And why not with four offensively-able full-backs on the pitch? A little surprisingly, such preoccupation with attack seemed to do little for the atmosphere and solo singers were heard more than once in the stands. Over 20,000 turned up, though, which, considering the game was being aired on national television on a Sunday, was rather impressive. It says a lot for the form that the Bluebirds have been in. Having already seen them chalk up six points in games against Plymouth and Reading, I can attest to their credentials and they have as good a chance as any of going up. Being something of a selling club over past seasons, they always seem to struggle to maintain momentum, but Dave Jones has still managed to put together a very capable squad.
Cardiff had their chances before the interval; most memorably when mouthy Forest goalie Lee Camp saved well from Peter Whittingham and Joe Ledley in quick succession, but the first goal didn’t arrive until midway through the second half when Jay Bothroyd cooly slotted home from his favoured left boot. It came minutes after the baby-faced Majewski was subbed off which, to me, was no coincidence. The little Pole is quality, and Forest looked disjointed after he left the pitch. Paul McKenna has quite rightly been rewarded with due credit for his lynchpin displays deep in midfield, but Majewski’s positioning between McKenna, Moussi and attack is key to Forest’s outside chances of a top-six finish, and his replacement by chugging journeyman Dele Adebola was mistimed.
With Forest lacking genuine invention, it looked as though Cardiff would see the game out and replace West Brom at the top, but the pressure told as the home side began to drop deep and gift possession to the opposition. After a few half chances from substitute Gareth McCleary throughballs were snuffed out, a long and hopeful punt fell to fellow replacement Lewis McGugan, who thwacked an equaliser in the first minute of injury time. It was an adequate reward for the Reds, who approached the game with admirable courage and made Cardiff look pretty normal — something that my own team had failed so dismally at back in August. The league is really starting to open up, but I’m going to stick my neck out and say that neither will end up in the top two. Plucky as they are, Forest are probably a season away from being real contenders, and Cardiff’s late nosebleed suggests that they still lack the nerve to go the distance. Meeting nine-game unbeaten Swansea without Michael Chopra next week suddenly looks a bit daunting.