I think we’d have settled for that before the game: three goals, another clean sheet, JFH substituted after a virtuoso performance of ineptitude, and back up to second in the table (at least ahead of the West Brom game). It wasn’t perfect, but it was good enough.
Approaching half-time I thought the game was pretty much level on points. Cardiff had had a good chance blocked and a shot from a well-worked free kick saved splendidly by Weaver. We had had a Chris Iwelumo effort just over and the ball in the net (disallowed for a push or for offside, I wasn’t sure). We were doing OK without dominating against a Cardiff team that looked competent but short of pace (how could it be otherwise Jimmy?). Then came the few minutes that decided the outcome.
Many moons ago I was involved in a (very) small music publishing and independent record label business. One piece of advice we had was: ‘and when you get a number one, the best thing is to follow it up with another, and then another’. Hard to disagree. So after Sam Sodje had put away a poor defensive header to put us one up, the next minute or so saw Iwelumo running on to another poor defensive header to shoot home from outside the box.
It wasn’t exactly game over, but in the second half we were able to showboat a little and avoided having to chase the game. Cardiff had some half-chances – and as in the first half some magnificent blocks were put in by the defence. But they didn’t really threaten consistently and we looked capable of scoring again. We duly did when Zhi was allowed to head home from a corner. Cue extended singing and happy chappies going home (with the exception of what looked like some rather charmless Cardiff supporters).
Weaver – 8. May seem a little high but perhaps I was unfair after QPR if it was after all a foul on him for their goal. Had little to do but was decisive and safe on crosses and made one an excellent save.
Mills – 7. Looked sound and given the scoreline wasn’t under pressure to do much in the second half. Surprisingly enough he seemed to rankle their supporters (can’t believe he did anything untoward).
Sodje – 8. The defence with him in doesn’t suddenly look rock-solid, but maybe he’s just lucky. Nudged up from a 7 because of the goal.
Fortune – 7. No obvious mistakes or major contributions, but I’m not going to criticise defenders after three successive clean sheets.
Basey – 6. Gave away a free kick in a dangerous position in the first half. Sound thereafter, but like Mills didn’t get forward much in the second half (presumably under instructions as there was no need to).
Semedo – 7. Overall another good game, but one error (air kick in our own area) could have been punished and the game would have been very different if they had scored first.
Reid – 7. Mixed performance. Some sublime moments but some wayward passes and shots too. Remains central to what we are doing.
Zhi – 7. Though he was having an indifferent game, not really playing in the hole and not influential, but then he did score.
Sam – 6. A little disappointing. Struggled to have an impact. Looked dangerous when he had the ball, but too often was unable to create space and make himself available. No decent crosses I can remember.
Iwelumo – 8. Battled manfully again and took his goal well. Deserves a good rating for the week he has had.
Thomas – 8. I’m pleased to say my man of the match. Until recently I though he’s been letting us down. At this level he should be a shoo-in and be a key element of the extra quality that Pardew talks about to help us get back up. But he has looked distracted, churlish and uncommitted. I didn’t see him at Southampton or Bristol but the reviews were better and I thought today he was lively, dangerous, and up for the challenge. In the first half he was blocked off in a good position and I thought should have had the free kick. But the referee waved play on and this time he got up and got on with the game. I hope this is a sign of renewed application because if he plays to his potential he will be a big factor in whether we go back up.
Subs: Couldn’t really rate them. Ambrose came on for Sam but the game was won by then; Varney and McLeod were late replacements for Iwelumo and Zhi.
A word for the ref. I thought he had an excellent game. One or two decisions were wrong (ie they went against us) but he was consistent with his application of yellow cards for professional fouls and let the game flow. The big criticism of the officiating was not really his fault (I assume). He applied the letter of the law to players leaving the pitch after treatment and this nearly cost us dear when Cardiff had set pieces. In the second half they had a corner and Sodje and Iwelumo had to leave the pitch, along with one Cardiff player. It was 2-0 at the time and the game would have changed if they had pulled one back because we were short of numbers/height through no fault of our own. The rule of making players leave the pitch after treatment has run its time and needs to be scrapped (or amended).
Overall impressions? It was in the end another game that was heavily influenced by who scored first. I can’t say that we were bossing it before we went in front; clearly we did through most of the second half with a two-goal cushion. If I was in the mood to be overly-critical (which my bloody toothache inclines me to be) I still have the impression that we are one-paced. With Sam and Thomas there should be greater verve about our play. And a Reid-Zhi-Semedo trio in central midfield was not entirely convincing. Zhi too often was playing as a second forward, while Semedo was doing the defensive donkey work. A midfield trio in a 4-5-1 should work as a unit, going forward and back, and there was no real evidence that the players were on the same wavelength. And the defence still panics in the absence of an effective leader in the pack.
But ha ha. We won. WBA have lost Kevin Phillips. I can watch the highlights, read the papers. Basically I’m a happy bunny.