Bluebirds Victorious as Forest and Freedman Feel Frustration

Dougie Freedman

Dougie Freedman

Cardiff City picked up a 2-1 win at the City Ground on Saturday afternoon, a result which saw manager Russell Slade celebrate 3 points for his team, and an 8th match unbeaten, in front of the travelling fans. Dougie Freedman, on the other hand, was left stewing over the fact that his side have won just once since mid-March.

Prior to the match, Derby County’s lunchtime encounter with Leeds United was closely followed by those around the City Ground, and news of a late Leeds winner was greeted by a cheer from some fans. As the club had just played a 1980s Bee Gees song, the stadium announcer said: “that was ‘You Win Again’ – unlike Derby County”.

The amusing pre-match incidents did not end there. An hour before kick-off, referee Oliver Langford was doing his pre-match run, along with his assistants. As Langford reached the side of the pitch, he blew an ironic kiss at the Nottingham Forest fans, as if half-knowing the wrath he would have to endure from those supporters later that day.

In many ways, the level of entertainment in the build-up to the game was not matched in the early stages of the game itself. Nottingham Forest spent a lot of the time passing the ball between their centre-backs, and their only method of getting the ball forward seemed to be to play slow, diagonal balls towards Michail Antonio. Starting the match on the left wing, Antonio was initially bottled up well by Lee Peltier and Anthony Pilkington, Cardiff’s right-sided duo.

Lee Peltier

Lee Peltier

Kenwyne Jones opened the scoring for Cardiff midway through the first half, when he headed home Peter Whittingham’s lofted ball into the box from deep. Since coming into the club, Russell Slade has in some quarters been criticized for his treatment of Jones. The Trinidad and Tobago international is a striker with a proven goalscoring record at the top level of English football, and some believe that Slade was wrong to leave him out of the team last season, and then send him out on loan to Bournemouth.

However, it is clear that Russell Slade demands that his strikers show a high level of work rate when out of possession. It says a lot about his tactical philosophy that Alex Revell, a forward who arguably does not offer an individual goal threat, played consistently in the second half of last season, largely due to his physicality and work rate. Surprisingly, Cardiff scored more goals as a team with Revell in the first eleven, than they did when natural finishers such as Adam Le Fondre and Federico Macheda started.

For that reason, Russell Slade has a right to expect Kenwyne Jones to work hard for the team, and on Saturday, he did that. When Nottingham Forest’s centre-backs had the ball, Jones was always alert and willing to close them down. Jones also won a number of high balls, which was vital given the direct style of football that Cardiff played, and the fact that his strike partner, Joe Mason, is not so aerially strong.

David Vaughan

David Vaughan

After the opening goal, the game assumed a quiet feel. Cardiff looked well-organized and unified without the ball, while Forest lacked penetration. The home side’s best performer in the first half was midfielder David Vaughan, who instigated the team’s most threatening attacking moves with some excellent long passes.

Just before half-time, the home fans began to grow frustrated at the man in black. Referee Langford, who was clearly not feeling as much love for the Nottingham Forest fans as he was before the match, gave the home team very few of the 50/50 decisions, and at times his calls invoked anger from seemingly every Forest supporter inside the stadium.

To make matters worse, Nottingham Forest conceded early in the second half. After a Peter Whittingham corner was only half-cleared, Anthony Pilkington’s shot from the edge of the box was headed in front close range by Joe Mason. The 24-year-old striker deserved his goal for a hardworking display, although he may be disappointed to have missed a very good chance from close range later on in the match.

Tyler Walker

Tyler Walker

It took Nottingham Forest around 10 minutes to show signs of life after Cardiff’s second goal, but they looked a threat in the final half hour. Michail Antonio improved after moving to a central role, rather than staying out on the left wing, where he was fairly ineffective in the first half. Ben Osborn, a half-time substitute, had more of an influence than the man he replaced, Kyle Ebilicio, who offered no creativity in the first half. Tyler Walker performed well when he was moved to the right side of the attack, and substitute Dexter Blackstock became the main striker. Walker often had the beating of the Cardiff defenders, such as Fabio Da Silva and Matthew Connolly, if not goalkeeper David Marshall, who denied him with a couple of excellent saves.

The key to Nottingham Forest’s improvement was that they began playing in a way that suited the likes of Antonio and Walker. For the first hour, they tended to play long, aimless balls forward, and Walker was isolated against Cardiff’s defence. However, when they started to get the ball down and play quick passes to feet, they looked more likely to unhinge the opposition back-line.

If Nottingham Forest can maintain the high tempo that they showed in the last half hour against Cardiff in future games, we may see an improvement from them. However, it is concerning that they have only scored 1 first half league goal since mid-April. It seems as though the quick players in this Forest team do well in the second half of games, when play becomes stretched, but lack the creativity to unlock tight defences.

marshall

David Marshall

For the first hour, the team’s only plan was to get the ball over to Michail Antonio as quickly as possible. Over time, opposition teams will gradually learn to negate the threat of Antonio, a player who relies largely on his pace. Cardiff had him marked out of the game for the first hour, and Antonio may not always be a viable option earlier on in games, when opposition defences are more disciplined and there is less space in advanced areas for him to run into.

Cardiff City on the other hand, deserved their win for a solid display. While Nottingham Forest performed poorly for the first hour, this was partly down to Cardiff’s organization. They denied Forest space in their own half and were always unified without the ball. Kagisho Dikgacoi showed his strength while midfielder Joe Ralls worked hard, attempting 5 tackles over the course of the match, more than any Cardiff player. The visiting side were given a few anxious moments late on, and had to rely on a few good saves from David Marshall, but they were the stronger team over the course of the match.