No question we would have taken this result before the game like a shot. Third consecutive clean sheet, two wins and a draw since the resumption. Sure, the others around us are picking up results too, but we focus on ourselves. And this was another disciplined and effective performance. Although the priority throughout was on defence, for a couple of spells in the first half we knocked it around very well and looked as if we could score; and early in the second half we almost had a tap-in but for an untimely intervention by their defender. Not surprisingly in the final period we were under the cosh, but we were really only opened up twice - Phillips pulled out another excellent stop for the first and their guy messed up the second - and emerged the more pleased with a point of the two teams, a decent return for another gritty display. The fact is they didn’t score and that always gave us something to hold on to.
You’d have got pretty good odds I suspect if you had predicted the starting line-up, with seven changes from Hull and QPR, only Phillips, Lockyer, Pearce and Cullen being retained. We switched to five at the back, with Lockyer, Pearce and Sarr in front of Phillips flanked by Doughty and Lapslie, a midfield trio of Cullen, Field and Forster-Caskey, Green providing the link and Aneke pretty much the lone striker. Hemed and Matthews didn’t make the bench. The suspicion when looking at the line-up might have been that we were viewing anything out of the game as a bonus, but that would be very unfair to those on the pitch, who came in and did a job, even if there were probably some tired legs at the end.
I thought if anything we edged the first half, in terms of good situations, with neither side fashioning a clear opening. Some shots, often from Cullen, Green and Aneke linking up for the former to get in one which was blocked, and Doughty troubling them with his running with the ball. At the other end our problems early on seemed to come down the left as Lapslie was caught out a couple of times, but before long we tightened up on that. In addition to the drinks break play was broken up by Field taking a knock and not long after him involved in a clash of heads which resulted in him leaving the scene early, replaced by Pratley (so much for his rest), and their forward following not long after.
There were real chances in the second half. What proved to be our best one of the game came when a ball half-cleared was turned back in by Doughty and it appeared that Forster-Caskey only had to knock it into the net but their defender somehow got in a blocking tackle. Just after the hour changes were made by both sides, with Bonne for Aneke and Oshilaja for Lapslie for us, followed by a couple of changes for Cardiff. And as the commentator noted their substitutions, especially Hoilett, threatened to turn the game.
They did work some space and got Hoilett free on the left side of our box but his effort across the face of the goal was superbly turned away by Philipps. Not long after half our defence played for offside and allowed Hoilett the space to control and turn in the penalty area, but he made a mess of the eventual shot and the danger passed. And Green’s final contribution was a challenged adjusted to be a push that saw their guy tumble in the box, only for it to be judged to have happened just outside.
Going into the final 10 or 15 minutes we made the last adjustments, with Morgan replacing Forster-Caskey and Purrington coming on for Green. By now, with the exception of Doughty running with the ball and an occasional set piece, we were pretty much done as an attacking threat. But we kept that discipline and with Phillips dealing well with a ball in from a free kick given unfairly against Oshilaja we were able to play out the game.
We know what’s coming up next and it will be interesting to see which combinations Bowyer opts for on Friday. What we can be confident of is that whichever players get the nod they will continue to give their all. Three games into the nine-game mini-season and it really couldn’t have gone much better.
Phillips – 9/10. Once again no other mark is possible as he pulled out the save when called on and otherwise dealt with balls into the box.
Doughty – 9/10. Excellent game, both covering and especially taking the ball out of defence (if we pass over the first time, when he misjudged where the touchline was).
Lockyer – 9/10. Another resolute performance at the heart of the defence.
Pearce – 9/10. Same from him. Seems to me he is playing better now than at any other stage of the season, immense work rate.
Sarr – 9/10. Any doubts about his ability to slot in after not being selected for the first two games soon disappeared. He stayed focused and disciplined throughout, sprayed one or two delightful passes.
Lapslie – 8/10. The early instances of being caught out might have cost us, but after that spell settled and played well.
Cullen – 9/10. My Man of the Match. Really outstanding, won and kept the ball, moved it well when required, and appeared in and around their goal with some threat.
Field – 8/10. Only lasted 35 minutes before having to go off after the clash of heads, unfortunate. But we were playing well when he was on the pitch.
Forster-Caskey – 8/10. Decent game, kept things ticking over, almost on hand to score the winner.
Green – 8/10. Worked hard and effective in possession, carried a threat, just didn’t manage to fashion a real opportunity.
Aneke – 8/10. Played well and while he was on we had an out ball.
Pratley – 9/10. Came on not long into the game and did what he does.
Oshilaja – 8/10. Helped to shore up the left flank when he came on, timely tackles, penalised unfairly when their guy ran into him.
Bonne – 7/10. No shortage of effort but playing as effectively a lone striker is not his game.
Purrington – 7/10. Not on for long, did make a poor choice going forward and ended up taking a yellow for a pull back.
Morgan – 7/10. Similarly only the final 10/15 minutes when we were content to run down the clock.