Cardiff City v Crystal Palace: A view from both camps

It may be a great thing that the Championship will be represented in the League Cup final this year, but that’s a quirk of fate rather than the main focus as Crystal Palace travel to Cardiff City this evening. This is all about victory (there’s certainly a bit of spice to it) – and then winning at Wembley as well.

The Seventy Two asked regular contributor and Cardiff fan Joe Harrison of the excellent View from the Ninian and Crystal Palace supporter Ed Malyon of the equally superb FYP Fanzine and Valderramarama for their thoughts on the big clash.

Cardiff City by Joe Harrison

Walking away from Selhurst Park after the first leg, my mood was one shared by many Cardiff fans (I think!) — that of disappointment mixed with cautious optimism. Disappointment because frankly the Bluebirds didn’t turn up for the first 90 minutes of the semi-final, cautious optimism because despite that, I still felt that on the balance of the game we were somewhat unfortunate not to come away with a draw (thanks Mr Dean – the curse of the “Premier League” ref strikes again!).

Going into a home game, I am confident that Cardiff can turn it around, particularly considering our 2-0 win in the league fixture at the Cardiff City Stadium earlier in the season. That said, I’m certainly not expecting it to be easy. For one thing, Palace proved in the first leg that they are capable of stifling our talented attackers and defended a lead very stoutly. It’s also true that this is a situation The Eagles will feel is made for their style, having a lead allows them to defend deep, pack midfield and launch quick counter-attacks through their wide-players to pick us off if we commit too many men forward looking for the equaliser. They are also, of course, a threat from set-pieces — if Tom Heaton keeps his Carling Cup place (which I expect him to), he and his defence have to deal with the crosses better than they did for the only goal in London.

As for Cardiff, my primary hope is that they play calmly and intelligently. I expect us to start quickly, but it’s vital that we don’t panic if this doesn’t result in an early goal. Personally, if the game is still 0-0 going into the final 20 minutes I would still feel confident — the key thing is to be patient and not concede the first goal, which could end the tie. Compared to the first leg, we clearly need an improvement going forward. Craig Conway’s match-winning performance against Portsmouth this Saturday represented a welcome return to form for the burly Scotsman – he’s capable of providing the threat from wide positions that we sorely missed at Selhurst Park.

In addition to this, Kenny Miller needs to play better than he did in that first leg — normally he is able to occupy a back four on his own and is constant threat in and around the penalty area. As I’ve said on this site before, the other key to the game is Peter Whittingham. Palace did a very effective job of stifling him in the first leg and their success in doing this in South Wales could go a long way to deciding the shape of the game.

It was interesting to note the differing approaches the two sides took to their Championship fixtures this weekend. Cardiff fielded a full-strength side and eventually scored a 93rd minute winner against Portsmouth, while Crystal Palace made wholesale changes. One obvious reason is that while Palace are rooted safely in mid-table, promotion-chasing Cardiff can’t afford to prioritise above league fixtures at this stage. I’m pleased this is the case too, any extra tiredness should be compensated for by a combination of fervent home support and the adrenaline rush provided by the prospect of playing at. The manner of Cardiff’s victory should also not be underestimated, the spectacular late goal sparking wild celebrations amongst home fans and providing a real sense of momentum going in to this game and that difference in confidence could prove crucial.

Prediction: 2-0 Cardiff (possibly after extra-time, definitely after a lot of nerves!)

Crystal Palace by Ed Malyon

The prospect of a Wembley final has quite clearly become Crystal Palace’s principal ambition this season, and this was evidenced by the team put out at Bloomfield Road on Saturday. Nine changes from the side that drew with Leeds in unfortunate and somewhat questionable circumstances meant that the team to face Blackpool was principally made up from loanees, kids and out-of-favour pros.

Only fitness let them down as they led until the 85th minute, but the side that will face Cardiff will have had a full ten days since their last game. Defending a narrow lead will be the order of the day but that is something that this Palace side is set out to do. Dougie Freedman’s emphasis on solidity, expertly coached into the players by Tony Popovic, is something that has contributed to the overachievement of the Eagles this season although some fans are growing weary of an overly conservative approach. Such myopia, given the situation the club found itself in less than two years ago, is very disappointing, but the fact that Freedman is a club legend largely keeps the dissenting voices at bay.

He will set out once more with his favoured 4-2-3-1, a deep-lying counter-attacking unit that will be suited to this game at the Cardiff City Stadium. All of the pressure will be on the Bluebirds who have once again spent big to assemble a squad of some of the Championship’s best players, and would expect to overcome a Palace side made up of loans, free transfers and academy products in the most part.

It is these academy products that give them a great chance of progressing though with Nathaniel Clyne destined for a top Premier League side at the end of the season, but only after completing another remarkable campaign. The pace of Wilfried Zaha and Sean Scannell is absolutely key to the counter-attacking manner of Palace’s play – particularly on the road – and this will be very obvious come Tuesday night. Regrettably, Jonathan Williams will not have recovered from his leg fracture in time for the semi-final, but the ludicrously talented playmaker could make an appearance in the final should his team-mates complete the job in Wales.

The major fear for the Eagles must be centre-half duo Paddy McCarthy and Anthony Gardner. Both are experienced defenders who were outstanding in the first leg but on a larger surface at the CCS, Kenny Miller will be doing his best to pull McCarthy in particular out of position. The Irish stopper’s propensity for shirt-tugging is something that goes largely unpunished in the Championship, but a Premier League referee (like the one who gave a penalty against him at Old Trafford) may well view these incidents differently.

Progressing to Wembley would cap an incredible couple of years for Crystal Palace, and particularly their new owners who have made all of this possible with their brilliant and innovative management of the club.

90 minutes remains.

Prediction: 1-1

The Seventy Two
The Seventy Two published an outstanding series of articles about the Football League between 2010-12 and was the brainchild of Leicester City fan, David Bevan. As well as collaborating with The Two Unfortunates on the Football League Blog Network and a mammoth 2011-12 season preview, the site featured a host of leading bloggers and David was rewarded with a nomination in the 2011 Football Supporters’ Federation awards. Latterly, he was joined as co-editor by Joe Harrison and TTU is happy to present this archive of the site’s output.

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