AMEX ANYTHING BUT STALE IN STALEMATE
The last time the Albion had a league crowd as big as this, David Bowie was No.1 in the charts, Return of the Jedi was the smash hit film, our kids could not get enough of the Rubik’s cube and Margaret Thatcher was announcing a general election. League Champions Liverpool were the then visitors in an entertaining 2-2 midweek draw.
Step forward 29 years and a new AMEX attendance record of 25,518 was set. The result was the same, the score not. Gus Poyet had named an unchanged side from the one which was unlucky to lose away to Hull on Saturday which surprised a few, who had expected some changes to a more attacking option given home advantage ,however the cheer which met the announcement of Vicente’s inclusion as a sub set the scene for an entertaining evening. The history books will tell you this game ended as 0-0 draw, but our first home game of the season was far more entertaining than this scoreline suggests. From the moment Craig Mackail-Smith rose brilliantly to head away Mark Hudson’s goalbound header in the 7th minute, this game was an entertaining affair which you could not take your eyes off for a moment.
Cardiff had started the stronger side, unsurprising considering their billing as one of the championship favourites and it wasn’t until the 11th minute Albion carved out their first real opportunity. Gordon Greer sent Ashley Barnes clean through, only for Barnes to shoot tamely at the keeper. For the next 5 minutes, it was end to end, much like a Basketball game, each side attacking however without any end product until regular pantomime villain Craig Bellamy stepped forward. Bellamy is a challenged individual, one who is able to start a fight in an empty room with the light off but remaining an undoubted talent, loved by his own, whom the opposition fans love to hate. With recent history between Bellamy and the Albion faithful still fresh in the memory (Seasiders to you Mr Bellamy), this only added to the cauldron of boos which met his every touch. Bellamy however, beautifully released Andrew Taylor who sent in a perfect cross only for Heider Helguson to somehow send his effort over the bar from inside the six yard box.
Cardiff were in the ascendancy and Bellamy was suddenly seeing more of the ball and cutting in from the wing unleashed a 30 yard shot but it failed to trouble Kuszczak. Albion should have taken the lead on 22 minutes. Mackail-Smith, who was a constant thorn in the side of the Cardiff defence all night, shot from outside the box, which was deflected. From the resultant corner, Mackail-Smith shot again, only this time to see his effort excellently pushed away by Cardiff keeper Marshall. Frustratingly for Albion, there was no one chasing the rebound and the ball somehow squirmed to safety.
Albion continued to press, Barnes clean through once again, only this time he was unable to control the ball and Ben Turner was on hand to clear. A great advantage played by Ref Mark Halsey allowed Craig Noone to get to the byline and cross in a few minutes later, only for Barnes to this time head over from 9 yards out. The AMEX roar was now behind the Albion and great build up play from Gary Dicker & Craig Noone nearly led to the impressive Bruno netting his first league goal, however he was only able to shoot into the side netting from a tight angle.
It was obvious these were two well matched teams as the half continued to ebb & flow, neither side letting up, showing their intention to be the victors. Bellamy endeared himself further to home faithful by seeming to react as if he had been felled by a watching marksman following a clash with Andrew Crofts. Ref Halsey was perfectly placed to mouth “footballing collision” at the irate Bellamy who unsurprisingly continued his annoyance with both Crofts & Halsey once he had recovered from his “injury”
Cardiff made a substitution as they came out for the second half with the exciting youngster Joe Mason, replacing the injured Jordan Mutch. It certainly had an immediate effect as Cardiff started the second half the stronger with Peter Whittingham carving out a couple of chances in quick succession with that dangerous left foot, forcing Albion keeper Kuszczak to save well. Crofts then played in Noone following a neat interchange between the impressive Bridge and Mackail-Smith, but Marshall read it well rushing out and saving at Noone’s feet. Marshall was called into action again on 56 minutes as an Albion corner was not cleared properly and the ball fell to Bruno on the edge of the box. He shot through a crowd of players and an unsighted Marshall made a superb save, just managing to palm the ball to safety. Another Whittingham shot forced another great save from Kuszczak, showing why he was Cardiff’s best player of the night.
Albion brought on Lua Lua for Barnes on 62 and he had the chance for an immediate impact as his first touch was a free-kick in a dangerous area, but he was unable to deliver one of his trademark specials as the ball crashed into the wall. With Lua Lua on one wing and Nooney on the other, Albion were really troubling the Welshman, however for all their possession and build up play, it came to nothing.
Cardiff responded well with Don Cowie letting fly from outside the box with Kuszczak again saving well. Kuszczak then pulled off what might be the double save of the season by firstly saving from Mason and then more impressively getting down to deny the goal bound rebound from final substitute Velikonja.
To the delight of the crowd Vicente was brought on in the 81st minute and despite only having 9 minutes to try and change the game, it was obvious he has the talent and ability to do this and to show why he is so important to our season. Oh and in the same substitution Ryan Harley was also brought on and was as ineffective as Vicente effective. Cardiff were happy with the draw at this time and despite Vicente’s best efforts including a fantastic mazy run, beating 4 Cardiff defenders, no team could break the deadlock.
Albion Player Ratings: Kuszczak 9 (MOM), Bruno 8, Greer 7, El-Abd 7, Bridge 8, Bridcutt 7, Crofts 8, Barnes 6, Dicker 5, Noone 5, Mackail-Smith 7
Subs: Lua Lua 5, Vicente 7, Harley Taxi
Ref – Mark Halsey. Impressive by the fact you hardly noticed him. Great advantages played by him for both sides. Kept the whistle usage to a minimum. 9/10
Given the fact Cardiff will be in the promotion mix at the end of the season this was not a bad result. However, it remains a concern that we have yet to score this season, the only Championship team in this position and Gus needs a striker soon. It was disappointing that the attacking formation we adopted at the end could not have been shown at the outset – we were at home after all. But we remain unbeaten at home this season and look to build on this against Barnsley on Saturday.