After a game, I’ll usually have a read of the #bhafc tag on twitter, for some inspiration, or some content to ‘borrow’ for my report. This tweet pretty much nails it, to be honest – was tempted to just post this and take the afternoon off.
Strange build up to this one – a nagging doubt that we’d suffer a hangover from the drama of Friday night, both first choice strikers and both full backs missing, plus the knowledge of EXACTLY what to expect from Neil Warnock’s charges. Add in a hint of worry about the conditions and it didn’t feel a routine win would be the order of the day.
The weather, as it turns out, came to nothing – at the game at least – the 75 mile drive home, the most challenging of any night game in the last 10 years. Horrible. Almost as horrible as Cardiff’s tactics for the night – basically, to try to ensure that as little football was played as possible – spoiling tactics to the nth degree. Warnock claimed afterwards that Brighton would ‘”be glad not to have to play us again”. I’ll drink to that Neil.
It is difficult to knock ‘Colin’ for it, in fairness. His job is try to keep Cardiff in the Championship, not to entertain Brighton season ticket holders. The guy is a pragmatist, and whilst we’d love for his workmanlike team of Sol Bambas and Greg Halfords to have been tasked with taking on Kayal, Knockaert and March in a free-flowing open game, it was never, ever going to happen. Set up with two huge centre halves, with another centre half in front of them, and a holding midfielder in front of him, instructions were to stay compact, hope to win a few set-pieces, and prevent Brighton from playing.
If the ‘in-play’ tactics were frustrating, the ‘keep it out of play’ methods were so much more so – take 30 seconds over every goal kick, another 30 over every throw-in. Pretend to be unsure over who is going to take it – Peltier to pick up the ball and dry it every time, before ‘remembering’ that oh – actually its Halford rather than me that is the one with the long throw. Referee Keith Stroud – pretty decent in recent Amex appearances – ultimately to blame for not putting a stop to such nonsense, of course, rather than the Bluebirds’ / Dragons’ players for trying their luck.
As the visitors sat deep, the Albion were invited to make the early running – a teasing cross from March evading a touch – a long shot from Hemed – no huge scares. When Cardiff did break, a fine sliding tackle from Beram Kayal, in his first league start for months, stopped them dead – at the expense of stud-marks in his thigh – Hoilett into the book.
One interesting ploy adopted by Warnock, was to have big striker Zohore man-mark Lewis Dunk when the Albion had possession at the back. The thought process clearly to prevent Dunk carrying the ball out from the back, to start Albion moves. By contrast, they’d decided that Shane Duffy was not going to hurt them in (in a footballing sense at least!) and he was given the freedom of the park to carry and distribute the ball as he chose, as their defence backed off and built a solid wall around their goal.
The closest the Albion came to breaching it in a scrappy first period – no surprises here – a bit of clever thinking from Anthony Knockaert – the man even his team-mates refer to as the Little Magician. As the Cardiff wall jumped anticipating a Knockaert free kick from 20 yards, he side-footed under their feet – the ball rolling a foot wide of McGregor’s near post.
Perversely, given a lack of obvious intent, the away side twice came close to a half-time lead. David Stockdale tipping over Morrison’s header, then athletically repeating the trick from Hoilett’s well-struck volley
After the break the Albion began to dominate fully – a great chance spurned early on – terrific hold-up play from Hemed - feeding March to burst into the box – then meeting the latter’s low cross with a wasteful finish wide of the near post. As Hemed thumped the turf in frustration, Knockaert, who’d felt he was better placed, first screamed displeasure at his Israeli team-mate, before helping him up and giving him a quick hug. #together lads, remember.
Big Shane Duffy next to go close, glancing Knockaert’s free kick wide of an open goal after McGregor had come for the ball and failed to get there. Kudos to the Amex crowd tonight – as a frustrating evening dragged on, they stayed fully behind their team – not particularly raucous but unceasingly supportive – our collective anxiety kept within.
With no obvious striking options in reserve to change the game, Chris Hughton sent on Ollie Norwood in place of Beram Kayal, in a swap that was to bear almost immediate fruit. A quick pass round the corner from the sub fed Hemed outside the box. The Albion number 10 spun past Bamba in a flash and drilled an exocet past / through McGregor before he knew it. Relief all round – that the Albion led – also that we might now see 20 minutes of football before we trooped off to the bus queues. Terrific turn. Terrific strike. Lovely stuff.
A minute later, Jamie Murphy close to doubling the lead, after a great move down the right – McGregor smartly down to this one. Warnock now had to switch to plan B, and in a hurry. Turns out Cardiff actually DO have a couple of creative players, should they chose to play them – enter former Seagull Craig Noone and Bluebird legend Peter Whittingham – scorer of Amex belters in his time.
With new-found urgency the visitors now coming at the Albion – finally pressed into some defending. These lads, Duffy and Dunk in particular LOVE defending, mind. Pretty good at it too…
Noone came close to denting those stats - Stockdale beaten for the only time on the night - Duffy to the rescue, to a collective puff of the cheeks. With the boot now firmly on the other foot, the Cardiff bench earnt howls of derision for complaining of Albion time-wasting, with no hint of irony. As the substituted Solly March slow-jogged off, Warnock looked fit to burst. Calm down dear.
By the time Mr.Stroud put this one out of its misery, to relief all round, Neil had cooled down, and everyone seemed pretty content – the Albion with another crucial 3 points bagged, and the visitors with an ugly but creditable performance, to evidence their improvement under their new boss.
I must confess to being rather a fan of Mr Warnock himself, if not his teams. Very complimentary about the Albion post-match. Not many round these parts will contradict his views on last season, either;
Pray to God we have no such angst to deal with this season. The gap to third now 11 points after this win – ‘healthy’ no longer covers it really, but that’s as carried away as I can go. Hughton agreed that we’ve “done quite well, so far”. Brilliant. And quite right too.
Others all agree we are indeed doing ‘quite well’ as evidenced by my absolute favourite tweet of the night, from this clearly impressed Newcastle fan…