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Cardiff City v West Ham Utd: play-off semi final, first leg

Filed: Thursday, 3rd May 2012
By: Preview Percy

We inserted a clause into Preview Percy’s preview-writing contract entitling us to make him write stuff for the play-offs without us having to pay him any more. Not that we paid him anyway, unless you count the past their sell by date bags of Werthers Originals that we bring him. When we can be bothered.

I suppose if you pay peanuts you get monkeys, which is why we may be paying a visit to London Zoo’s primate house in the summer. In the meantime here’s the mad one’s look at the upcoming play-off semi final first leg at Cardiff. John Northcutt adds his usual statistical and historical background while we work out which one of us is brave enough to tell Percy he’s got to do it all over again in advance of the second leg...

And so we go into the unpaid overtime of the playoffs where we meet Cardiff City on their patch in the first leg. Kick-off for this international jaunt is 7.45pm though the usual police-inspired twaddle means that you’ll have to exchange vouchers for tickets at the Cardiff West service area which is at junction 33 of the M4.

I have two pieces of advice for anyone making the trip: Firstly, it may pay to get the services a bit earlier than the advertised 6pm kick-off for ticket distribution – when The Avram Grant Rest Home For The Bewildered care bus arrived there for our league visit, the local plod (or should that be pllodd) had a rare attack of common sense and started the ticket exchange a bit early. Secondly, and this is vitally important, no matter how long you are waiting there on no account should you buy any food. It is, after all, a motorway service area.

Our hosts finished in sixth spot (obviously), eleven points behind ourselves and five points clear of Boro’ who would have pipped them at the post for the final playoff spot had their respective results been reversed. For a while Welsh fingernails were being chewed as Palace took the lead over Cardiff at Selhurst Park and the Welshmen’s first half performance was described in various organs of record as “nervy” “edgy” and (for those of us whose lips don’t move as we read) “undistinguished”. Whittingham’s second half free-kick and Cowie’s volley sealed sixth spot, though Boro’s defeat at Watford meant that the result was, ultimately, irrelevant.

Reports suggest that they will have a full squad to select from for the first leg. However they are playing their cards close to their chest in terms of team selection. There are, apparently four players carrying knocks from the Palace match and, whilst all four are said to be ok, it is a bit weird that they’ve declined the opportunity to name them with the usual sources of information describing them only as “four unspecified players”.

Welsh supporters will be hoping that midfielder Peter Whittingham isn’t one of the four who may or may not be injured. Whittingham is useful with both dead and, er, alive balls and it was his free-kick at Palace that calmed them down at the weekend. Whittingham’s contract is designed to keep him in Wales until 2014 but the strength of that contract is likely to be tested should Cardiff’s season end next Monday. This time last year the likes of Burnley and Forest were sniffing around but he can expect attention from someone a bit better than that over the coming months.

Wittingham’s goal left him top scorer in the main season with 13, all but one of which came in the league. This is one ahead of Joe Mason on 12 (9 league 3 cups) and two ahead of Kenny Miller on 11 (10 League). Miller has been a bit out of sorts of late and Frenchman Rudy Gestede (which is French for “flicking the Vs”) may be hoping for a start instead of the Scotsman. They also have Robert Earnshaw available up front, though with eleven of his 19 league appearances this season coming as sub, he may be one more likely to be on the bench.

There has been a marked contrast between the approaches taken to the build-up by the two clubs. Our opponents seem to be treating the match as some sort of “event”. You can barely turn your computer on without tripping over some manager, player or ex-player announcing to the world exactly how much “pressure” we’re apparently under. Something called “Wales online” (no, really) was even stating as fact that Mr Allardyce was only two matches from the sack! One of their players even trotted out the tired old cliché about wanting the crowd to become the 12th man. They’d better get their act together then – as at Tuesday there were still about 10,000 seats left in the home sections (though no doubt they’ll have shifted more since they last updated their official site).

However, their boss, ex-Hammer Malky McKay, has now put his charges into some sort of lockdown. He’s banned twitter and facebook (which are, apparently, the computer equivalent of drinking cheap cans of cider down the local shopping precinct and swearing at passers-by) for the squad so they can “focus” on the days ahead. This worries me slightly. I mean if all their players are banned from using social networking sites who will be there to let us know we’re under pressure every few minutes? At this rate we’ll be left with Max Boyce and that woman who used to bang on about the “Olympic sized swimming pool” in unfunny sitcom Hi-De-Hi pontificating about how it’s better to be 6th than 3rd.

Refreshingly, it’s been relatively quiet from our side of things. “Pressure? I suppose there is a bit. Favourites? I suppose we are. Can’t say we’ve given it much thought old chap” seems to be the general tenor of what little noise there is coming out of the Boleyn.

Team news out of Chadwell Heath is that there is a full squad from which to choose. Unlike our opponents, we’ve actually named those over which there may have been some doubt – though the fact that Kevin Nolan was withdrawn with a dead leg on Saturday on live tv was a bit of a giveaway. I suppose they could have done that thing with the pixels to cover up his identity but, unlike Cardiff, I don’t suppose anyone thought it worth the effort, especially as you can always tell who it is if you squint.

Gary O’Neil’s ankle has recovered from the unacceptable assault on it by Hull’s Evans and, when news of the expected capitulation of Coventry at the Greg Louganis Stadium had filtered through, we had the luxury of being able to give rests to Cole and Vaz Te. This had the added benefit of being able to allow Linda to stretch his legs following his recent bash on the noggin. Talking of which neither Tomkins nor Reid appear to have suffered any ill effects from the elbows of Saturday’s opposition and both are ok for this match.

Saturday’s performance was as good as it had to be. As mentioned, as long as there was technically some sort of theoretical chance of going up we did what we had to. In the unlikely event that Coventry had been getting anything out of their match I’ve no doubt we’d have pushed on for the whole 90 with appropriate reward. Cole in particular was in devastating form and his second was as good a goal I’ve seen him get since that corker up at Wigan a few years back. Very much a confidence player, perhaps someone ought to have a quiet word with Carlton and point out that Cardiff let in three to Hull not that long ago.

Ok this is effectively a cup match and, as such, league form shouldn’t really come into it. However, despite this, it must have occurred to them that they were outplayed in both league matches against us (their win at the Boleyn was so one-sided we’d have been disappointed with a draw let alone the smash & grab defeat that came in the 90-somethingth minute). The fact that they seem to be trying to start some sort of psychological war of words – and the fact that we don’t appear to be biting - says a lot to me.

I think that we’ll prevail over the two legs but the nature of the event means that we may have to be content with a draw in the first leg. The whole of the “bail out the Avram Grant Rest Home For The Bewildered from all this bloody rain” fighting fund (£2.50) will therefore be going on a 2-2 draw with all to play for in the second leg.

Enjoy the game!

When Last We Met: Won 2-0. A first half effort from Kevin Nolan and Linda’s incredible second gave us all three points as the old “how **** must you be” was given an update with the concluding line of “we’re winning abroad”.

Referee: Neil Swarbrick. Forgot the law on unsporting behaviour in the nightmare that was Reading away. Still at least he’s not Mike Dean. Or Mike Jones.

Danger Man: Peter Whittingham. Still the biggest threat by far.

Daft Fact of the Week: Usually, when clubs go abroad for matches, the management takes the players out to the host country for a while to acclimatise. However, over the last week at no little expense, Messrs Gold & Sullivan have arranged with the Met Office for London to receive standard Welsh weather rather than the usual pleasant spring that one might have expected for late April/early May. Such attention to detail from the owners.

John NorthcuttStat man John: Northcutt's corner

Head to Head
Pld 49; West Ham Utd 25, Cardiff 9, Draws 15.

Biggest Win
24th March 1928: Cardiff City 1-5 West Ham Utd (Ninian Park, Division One)

Heaviest Defeat
12th March 1949: Cardiff City 4-0 West Ham Utd (Ninian Park, Division Two)

First Meeting
25th September 1920: Cardiff City 0-0 West Ham Utd (Ninian Park, Division Two)

Last Five Meetings
4th March 2012: Cardiff City 0-2 West Ham Utd (CC Stadium, Championship)
7th August 2011: West Ham Utd 0-1 Cardiff City (Boleyn Ground, Championship)
6th February 2005: West Ham Utd 1-0 Cardiff City (Boleyn Ground, Championship)
2nd November 2004: Cardiff City 1-4 West Ham Utd (Ninian Park, Championship)
28th February 2004: West Ham Utd 1-0 Cardiff City (Boleyn Ground, Football League Division One)

Memorable Match
23rd September 2003: Cardiff City 2-3 West Ham Utd (Ninian Park, Carling Cup)

A tale of two strikers - Robert Earnshaw vs Jermain Defoe. The Welsh international gave the home side the perfect start in this 2003/04 season Carling Cup encounter by scoring twice within the opening half-hour. However Defoe - who had been heavily criticised in the lead-up to this game for a perceived lack of commitment (four months before he was sold to Tottenham) sent West Ham, under the watchful eye of temporary manager Trevor Brooking through to the third round round with a hat-trick. Having reduced the deficit to one on the stroke of half time from the penalty spot (a bad decision by referee Andy D'Urso as David Connolly had simply slipped) Defoe levelled the scored on 64 minutes before pouncing in the 89th minute to win the game for the visitors. Brooking responded by telling the press "that's probably as satisfying as it gets as a caretaker manager".

Just the one: 17th August 1988. West Ham won 4-3 at Ninian Park through goals from Kelly (2), Slater and Keen.

They Played For Both
Clive Charles; Craig Bellamy; James Collins; John Burton; William Charlton; Ian Feuer; Danny Gabbidon; Jobi McAnuff; Keith Robson; Bill Stephens.

Please note that the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, nor should be attributed to, KUMB.com.

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