BLUEBIRDS SHOW THE NEED TO BOX CLEVER
ALMOST 80,000 people flocked to Cardiff from all over the world this weekend, eager to see one man land a knock-out punch.
That man is, of course, Anthony Joshua, the centre of attention at the Principality Stadium as another major sporting event rolls into the Welsh capital. His explosive ability to destroy opponents in one frenzied flurry is notorious. It is why broadcasters and supporters from around the world arrived in Cardiff.
But if you believe Neil Warnock, the more consistent thrill in this sporting city is provided by his Bluebirds side, as he told journalists in his pre-match press conference.
The veteran manager has been impressed by a city enraptured by blue riband events like Joshua’s world title fight and the Champions League final.
But he knows it is the performances of his team that will really get pulses racing in Cardiff.
“(The fight) is good for the city,” he said. It’s a very forward-looking, buzzing city.
“Everything, the entertainment, theatres, restaurants, everything is buzzing.
“At a time where money’s tight and there’s a lot of negative stories around the country but here I don’t see anything but plusses. I think it’s a wonderful place to be at the moment, exciting and vibrant - which fits in with how my football team are playing.”
Like ‘AJ’, Cardiff too are famed for their knock-out style, able to destroy teams with their power, pace and precision.
So often this season they have landed killer blows on illustrious opposition: Aston Villa, Wolves and Leeds United – all swept aside with consummate ease.
They have the necessary attacking weapons. Nathaniel Mendez-Laing is powerful the right hook, Junior Hoilett the crafty left jab and Kenneth Zohore the brutal uppercut that kills off any opponent who looks weak at the knees.
Above all, Cardiff are an enthral- ling side to watch. Not the most elegant in possession perhaps, but always compelling, which was why this 0-0 draw disappointed Warnock so much.
He directed much of his postmatch rage towards beleaguered referee Steve Martin, but was frustrated that his midfield failed to wrestle control of this bout.
Because even though the kingpin Zohore was an absentee this time, the 18,000 fans who chose the Bluebirds this weekend arrived – possibly for the first time this season – waiting to be entertained. Expecting to win.
They wanted value for money after Warnock had admitted in the matchday programme how following a football side these days is expensive.
Even Cardiff fans, who must feel they have been treated better than most in recent weeks, are quite within their rights to want their two pennies’ worth.
And why not? Even after this draw, which is a definite two points dropped rather than a point gained, the Bluebirds sit in third, two points off the top.
On this occasion however, they were jostling for position, looking for the opening, but unable to find the scoring zone against a dogged Millwall outfit.
The result means the Bluebirds have now failed to score from open play in their last four matches, the only strike coming courtesy of Joe Ralls’ Riverside penalty last week.
An area to improve? Most certainly.
Even the most staunch Cardiff supporter would not claim their side are the finished article at this stage.
Millwall were determined throughout. Their resilient, hard-nosed style was reflected in Neil Harris’ side on the pitch.
The Lions did, however, rely on an excellent goalkeeper in Jordan Archer and two totemic centre-backs in Jake Cooper and Shaun Hutchinson.
The three combined to snuff out Danny Ward – playing instead of the injured Zohore – a number of times in the first half.
And though the Bluebirds’ squad depth was evident in the introductions of Omar Bogle, Lee Tomlin and Callum Paterson from the bench, this one always looked like ending levelpegging as soon as those chances had eluded Ward.
The first was created by a Lee Peltier cross, but deflected by Ward straight at Archer. The second was curled too close to the goalkeeper’s out-stretched right hand by the striker.
Other chances came and went, Hoilett, Paterson and Sol Bamba all frustrated.
A boxing referee would have called this one for Cardiff on points, but in reality it was a different sort of challenge that the Bluebirds, ultimately, failed to overcome.
So often this season, sides have come to Cardiff City Stadium eager to pass and move – only to be floored by a sucker punch on the counter.
This time, Warnock’s astute observation that Joe Ralls and Craig Bryson never grasped control of the midfield was the key factor. It needed a foot on the ball and some composed forward play, but the frenetic 90 minutes we witnessed suited Millwall down to the ground.
They did what Cardiff sometimes do: ground it out, played to their strengths and rode the blows as they arrived.
No eye-catching knock-out here then, but if Cardiff learned anything from this draw – not disastrous by any stretch of the imagination – it would be to box clever.