West Ham United 0 Cardiff City 1: A view from both sides
Cardiff City’s impressive 1-0 win at Upton Park caught a few people by surprise on the opening weekend of the Football League. West Ham supporter Stuart Fuller thinks lessons can be learned but it would be wrong to draw too many conclusions from a tricky first fixture of the season. Cardiff fan Joe Harrison, meanwhile, skipped back to the Valleys while clicking his heels together with glee, metaphorically speaking…
West Ham United 0
When Kenny Miller’s shot hit the back of the net in the 93rd minute at Upton Park, the West Ham fan in front of me turned around and rolled his eyes. Most West Ham fans know what that means. We didn’t boo, we didn’t shout abuse and we didn’t throw our season tickets on the pitch in disgust. We had just played 93 minutes against one of the (if not the) strongest teams in the Championship from the previous two seasons and had lost. No need to panic, but try telling that to some of the supporters venting their anger towards the bench.
West Ham still have at least another 4,050 minutes to put it right. The starting XI will undoubtedly also look very different by the end of August. John Carew, signed on Saturday, wasn’t able to play due to red tape, and it was obvious from the first few minutes that the 4-5-1 formation with Piquionne as the lone striker simply will not work. Whilst hindsight is a great art, we did say that after watching 60 minutes of the game versus FC Copenhagen two weeks ago.
The midfield of Noble, Nolan, Parker, Taylor and Sears looked strong for the majority of the game, but it became unclear as to who should push forward and who should hold between the midfield three. Taylor was the outstanding player and Allardyce must take a lot of credit in convincing the 30-year-old to drop down a division.
West Ham looked dangerous without actually creating many chances. In fact, Robert Green probably made the more important saves throughout the game. The back four looked unsure at times but Joey O’Brien, another new signing, linked up well with Taylor on the flank. The centre-back pairing of Winston Reid and James Tomkins dealt well with the threat of veterans Robert Earnshaw and Kenny Miller for 92 minutes, although Malky Mackay’s inspirational substitution of replacing Earnshaw with French striker Rudy Gestede changed the game.
Nobody wins the league at this stage and the team should not be judged on the opening day alone. In the words of any number of managers during pre-season: “It is not about the result, it is about the performance.”
One final note must be given to the ridiculous decision to allow just a few hundred Cardiff City fans into the stadium. Not only were numbers severely restricted but genuine West Ham fans were also denied their usual seats with the top tier of the Sir Trevor Brooking Stand closed (bar a few London-based Cardiff supporters). We are talking about a club that sold out games in the past decade against the biggest teams in England without any issues. Hopefully this will be the exception rather than the rule where West Ham’s attitude towards accommodating travelling Championship supporters is concerned.
Cardiff City 1
In some ways, it may not get any better than this. Winning away at the favourites for promotion. A team including England internationals and Premier League regulars, no less. Throw in that it was our first game under a new manager with six players making debuts (Robert Earnshaw’s second for the club) and it was nothing short of a fantastic start.
Mackay’s team largely picked itself, the main selection issues being at goalkeeper and centre-back.
David Marshall was selected in goal and fully justified the decision, making a number of solid saves and displaying comfortable handling, despite characteristically getting nowhere near one corner that was eventually cleared off the line.
Captain Mark Hudson was partnered in the centre of defence by Anthony Gerrard, returning from a season on loan at Hull. These two were flanked by the ever-reliable Kevin McNaughton and new-boy Andrew Taylor. The main threat to the defence came from its own terrible distribution – Hudson in particular developing an unfortunate habit of misplacing 20-yard passes straight to West Ham players. Fortunately, after an impressive first 20 minutes from the hosts, the Hammers’ attacking play became far less dangerous, contributing to (and perhaps because of) Cardiff’s backline growing impressively in confidence and solidity as the game went on.
The midfield was anchored by Aron Gunnarsson, while the three players ahead of him (Peter Whittingham, Don Cowie and Craig Conway) appeared to have freedom to rotate positions in search of space and possession. It was certainly a far more flexible tactical approach than that to which Cardiff fans became accustomed under Dave Jones.
Once again, West Ham’s strong start made it difficult – due to their extra man in a midfield setup of proven quality. Despite the fluidity, the midfield was well-organised defensively, nullifying West Ham’s stars. Often, though, the retention of possession was poor, particularly from Gunnarsson.
Former Dundee United winger Conway failed to get involved offensively aside from producing some disappointing crosses, while Cowie worked hard and looked tidy in possession. As is often the case, Whittingham was probably our best player, involved in most of our better moments, growing into the game and more than holding his own against England starter Scott Parker.
Miller and Earnshaw debuted up front together and did not generally pose much of a threat, probably largely due to Cardiff’s failure to control possession. Miller’s first touch in particular looked rusty and the duo need games and the support of a more dominant midfield to prove they can work as a pair.
The introduction of young French free-signing Rudy Gestede made a big impact. Gestede worried West Ham with his aerial threat, spurning a few decent headed chances before brilliantly chasing a lost cause to win the ball and tee up Miller’s winner. To give Miller his due, his first chance of the match was taken excellently through a tidy snap shot, admittedly with the help of some poor goalkeeping from Green.
So, an excellent start. While a win was perhaps slightly fortuitous, Mackay’s team were hardworking, well-drilled and tenacious. What also excites is the promise of things to come. We could have been far better in possession. That should come with time, while Miller’s clinical finish offers hopes of a successful season.