It is always going to be a bad day at the office when you realise the Man of the Match award will be going to the opposition goalkeeper. That the decision to make the award comes in the 25th minute – as it did yesterday – makes the ensuing 65 minutes even more painful.
In the Daffodil´s goal Marshall didn´t exactly perform miracles. He simply pulled off ten very good saves – none of them world class – the type of save you would expect Lloris to make week in week out, but Lloris only had to make one, and that was world class.
Denied protection from his back four, a wayward backpass from Naughton and hesitancy from Vertonghen, and Campbell was through. Where Friedal would have frozen and Gomez would have galloped out collecting all and sundry (except the ball) Lloris remained calm, waited until the ball reached the edge of the box and then pounced, driving the ball away with a hard right and barely touching the onrushing striker.
Was the ball inside or outside the area? Probably on reflection, and on watching numerous replays, it was both. Initial contact was inside while momentum meant he was still in contact as the ball moved outside. But without the aid of technology, the officials could only make one decision.
But enough of Lloris – back to Marshall. By the 25th minute he had already denied Soldado, Eriksen and Siggy. and he went to deny them all again and then made three late saves to deny Paulinho. He was beaten once, a crashing drive from Siggy which apparently burst the ball as it struck the bar.
Should we have been more clinical, taken extra time to ensure the shot was out of range of a slightly outstretched hand, been more precise in our final ball? In the heat of battle that is not always possible, in the cauldron of the City of Cardiff Stadium with dozens of male voice choirs baying at you it is even harder. With eight or nine defenders pressing you it is nigh impossible.
It was certainly looking like one of those games, where we enjoy the majority of the possession (around two thirds yesterday) more shots (29 against 6) yet come away with nothing as the home side somehow manage a final desperate fling and score at the death. But we kept our composure, we kept our shape even after three substitutions and, above all, we remained patient. Patient enough to know that we would get the ball in the right place at the right time and one of our players would be on the end of it to make sure Marshall could not get a hand on it.
And so it turned out to be. Lamela won a 50-50 aerial duel, the ball dropped to Holtby who fed Lamela on the right, a simple move of the ball and it was squared across goal where a gentle yet sublime backheel was all that was needed from Paulinho to finally break the deadlock.
Cue the celebrations.
And so we return to second place in the Premiership, just goal difference seperating us from top spot. With Le Arse, Chelski and Citeh all winning at home – much as expected – we were the only team in the top six to win away. Next weekend only us and Manure – of those six – will be at home and we face Chelski and we need to field the best possible eleven. No more tinkering and waiting for players to gel.
But before that, and in barely 36 hours, we have a CapOneCup fixture against AVillain. With injuries beginning to mount (Defoe apparently is the latest with a groin strain picked up in training on Saturday) the squad is getting stretched already. Will AVB make wholesale changes yet again – I do hope so.
Friedal should start, and if Kaboul is fit I would expect him to captain the side with Naughton, Chiriches (making his debut at last) and Fryers in defence. Sandro and Holtby to make up the defensive midfield duo, while we may have to field some of the youngsters up front in order to rest Eriksen, Siggy and Soldado.
Will Lamela be risked in what has to be our least important competition? If Lennon and Chadli are fit – are they fit enough to last 60/70 minutes? With the defence looking sound and without Benteke – his minor injury will surely not be risked – I cannot see AVillain making much impression on us so I may just go with a very young and inexperienced front line of Coulibaly, Coulthirst, Kane and Obika – just to see what they are capable of.
My team to face AVillain is therefore
Naughton – Kaboul – Chiriches – Fryers
Sandro – Holtby
Coulthirst – Kane – Coulibaly
We can always pack the bench with big hitters if we need extra impetus in the second half but we need to remember that should the game be level at 90 minutes, it will go to extra time and possibly penalties so even more reason why we cannot afford to have our superstars doing a full stint. With the team quoted I cannot see us conceding so expect yet another 1-0 away victory.
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