BLUE­BIRDS SHOW THE NEED TO BOX CLEVER

Wales On Sunday - - SPORT SUNDAY - DO­MINIC BOOTH Foot­ball writer do­minic.booth@waleson­line.co.uk

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.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.