Goals from Kevin Nolan and George McCartney gave West Ham United a 2-0 win away at Carling Cup runners up Cardiff City to keep up the pressure on league leaders Southampton, whilst Cardiff drop out of the play-off positions for the first time since November.
Cardiff started this game with only one change from the eleven that performed heroics at Wembley last week, with Tom Heaton dropping to the bench and being replaced by regular goalkeeper David Marshall. West Ham made 2 changes to the team that played Palace with Nolan and Henri Lansbury coming in for Reid and Faubert.
Cardiff started the game brighter. A Kenny Miller cross forced Robert Green to tip the ball over the bar. Then nice play between Miller and Rudy Gestede set up an opportunity for Don Cowie to volley goalwards, an attempt that was frighteningly reminiscent Charlie Adam’s penalty last weekend, in that it almost hit the roof. Another long range effort followed from Miller, just sliding wide of the goal.
The visitors settled down and had a few chances of their own. Ricardo Vaz Te, who looked lively on both flanks, found room on the edge of the area from some slack defending and fired over, followed by a volley from Nicky Maynard which had a similar outcome.
Cardiff were then forced into the first change of the afternoon after Gestede pulled up chasing down a through ball and had to be replaced by on loan midfielder Haris Vuckic.
There were chances for either side throughout the closing stages of the first half. Aron Gunnarsson fired a long range shot inches wide whilst West Ham, playing good counter-attacking football as they had all day, had a chance up the other end but Jack Collison’s flew over the bar.
Two minutes before half time, the deadlock was broken. Cardiff were caught in possession on the edge of their own area and some neat play between Maynard and Nolan set up a chance, which Nolan finished with a lovely curling sidefoot out of the reach of David Marshall into the right corner.
Cardiff would have been disappointed trailing at half time since there was nothing really to separate the two sides in the first half.
In the second half, West Ham had several chances to double their lead. Ricardo Vaz Te made use of another defensive lapse to find himself through on Marshall, tapping the ball past him only for a covering Mark Hudson to clear the danger. West Ham continued to press, with Marshall forced to make a great save from Maynard after a misjudged Kevin McNaughton back pass.
Maynard was replaced on the hour by Carlton Cole, which was followed by Cardiff’s first real attacking threat of the second half. Gunnarsson was felled on the edge of the area but the referee failed to give it, much to the bemusement of the home fans. Gunnarsson will be wondering what he did to referee Chris Foy, as he barely got a decision all day.
Cardiff followed that up with Hudson going very close with a header from a Gunnarsson long throw, then a trademark Peter Whittingham free kick flew past Robert Green and rattled the inside of post, bouncing tantalisingly along the goal-line before being cleared.
Another chance came for Cardiff when Miller received the ball from a direct Don Cowie run, and curled the ball wide past the far post. Lansbury was withdrawn by the visitors, being replaced by former Bluebird Gary O’Neil who got a warm reception from the home fans.
The second goal came after 77 minutes when left-back George McCartney got forward and capitalised on Cardiff’s poor clearence attempts, passing the ball into the far corner from close range.
That really killed the game off, although Cardiff kept trying with Joe Mason somehow managing to flick the ball over Green before the ball eventually got cleared, and a late Miller header deep into added time rattled the crossbar.
West Ham probably deserved to take 3 points and look a certainty to go up, it’ll just be a case of how they manage to seal it. They weren’t at their best today, but they didn’t need to be as Cardiff looked a shadow of the side that held Liverpool so well a week earlier. Confidence seemed low as maybe last week’s efforts took their toll, but Cardiff are still in a good position to push for promotion and even though the end product was not there today, they still showed they have the quality needed to make it to the Premier League.
Kevin Nolan, who was probably Man of the Match, described the return fixture which Cardiff won earlier in the season as “Cardiff’s Cup Final”. Well, two Cup Finals in the space of a week proved too big a task on this occassion