Cardiff City 0-1 Tottenham Hotspur: Paulinho Strikes Late to Hand Spurs a Narrow Victory

Cardiff City 0-1 Tottenham HotspurNewly promoted Cardiff City hosted Tottenham in their 5th Premier League fixture of the season. Cardiff’s first two matches at home had given them a total of 4 points, including a surprising, yet deserved victory over Manchester City. Tottenham’s season had started in an effective fashion, with the only exception to the winning form being the 1-0 defeat to Arsenal in the North London Derby.

Cardiff came into the tie unbeaten at home, and the side had proved to be a difficult team to face away from home, as Manchester City would know. The early signs of Tottenham’s visit indicated the same; Spurs were in control of the possession, managed to get shots at goal, but somehow found it frustratingly difficult to get the ball in the back of the net. Tottenham’s domination over the hosts was obvious from the beginning and it seemed as though a goal would be scored in only a matter of time. However, after a dominant first half by Tottenham that included a total of 13 shots, the game - to many people’s surprise - was still level at 0-0. The hero of the first half was undoubtedly Cardiff City goalkeeper David Marshall, who kept his side afloat in the midst of Tottenham’s search for a goal.

The second half brought with it no major changes in the pattern of the game. Tottenham kept the ball and continued to form an attacking threat, whereas the hosts defended with admirable unity and commitment, trying to hit their rivals on the break after winning back the ball. Tottenham’s defensive midfield duo Paulinho and Mousá Dembele, however, made sure that those attempts to attack didn’t lead to major difficulties at the back. The pair made a combined total of five successful tackles throughout the match and didn’t concede a single foul to give Cardiff a chance to do what they did so well against Manchester City: attack from the set-pieces.

However, at the other end of the pitch, Tottenham’s frustration grew bigger as the game went on, and despite the possession and shots, the visitors found it nearly impossible to break through Cardiff’s defensive wall. If they did, it was David Marshall who kept André Villas-Boas’ men frustrated in their search of a goal. The Scottish keeper made a total of 11 saves in the match, and it’s safe to say that it was his heroics that kept the home side from losing the match by a larger margin.

article-2426898-182C320D00000578-934_634x351Finally, in the 3rd minute of extra time, Tottenham’s patience and effort did pay off. Summer signing Paulinho - who played a solid match in the midfield - scored the winner in the final minute to seal Spurs all three points and to leave the home fans disappointed. Having controlled the possession by 64% and firing a total of 29 shots - 12 of which were on target - the victory can be considered well deserved.

The win takes Tottenham to the second spot in the Premier League, as the team shares Arsenal’s tally of 12 points and the two North-London sides are only separated by goal difference and head-to-head matches on the top of the table. Cardiff dropped one spot down to 16th with 5 points, still staying above the relegation line. However, a lot of positives can be found for the hosts too.

Cardiff has faced two giants in the first five rounds - Manchester City and Tottenham - and three points from those two fixtures might well be more than originally planned or hoped for. Tottenham’s away win became the only stain in Cardiff’s unbeaten home record, and judging by the difficulties all teams have faced at the Cardiff City Stadium, the key to the side’s survival may well lie in a solid form at home.

Tottenham’s situation in the other end of the table doesn’t look bad either, although the side still somewhat struggles to score goals. The new signings look to have adapted increasingly well, which surely pleases boss André Villas-Boas, who is building his puzzle one piece at the time. The newly formed midfield of Paulinho, Dembele, and Eriksen might take a while to adapt, but as the season goes on, one could assume that what looks fantastic on paper will turn out to look quite good in practice as well. In the meantime, as the adaption phase continues, the team seems to have found a winning form despite the occasional struggle, which should by all means give Villas-Boas the peace to build his team.

Written by Jen Evelyn

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Outspoken Ian Holloway Needs to Keep His Eyes on the Prize

Ian HollowayIt’s just under a month into the Premier League season and we have already witnessed developments that could shape the rest of the season. In particular, the performances of last season’s promoted teams - Cardiff City, Hull City, and Crystal Palace - have evoked the feeling that this year’s relegation battle may not be as straightforward as many originally predicted.

Hull pushed high spending Manchester City all the way on Saturday despite many forecasting a comfortable home win. Malky Mackay’s Cardiff went one better than the Tigers and ended up defeating Manuel Pellegrini’s side in their first home game in the Premier League. Even Crystal Palace, who seemed to be the weakest of the promoted trio, have given supporters hope with a win over Sunderland following narrow defeats to Tottenham and Stoke.

But while the Eagles’ activity in the transfer market will be vital in adding to their thin looking squad, the approach of their unconventional coach Ian Holloway will be vital to their survival hopes this season. As memorable and adored as his eccentric and outspoken attitude to the game is, Palace need his attention to be fully devoted to matters on the pitch this season.

During his last stint as a Premiership manager with Blackpool in the 2010/11 season, Holloway’s year was dominated by off-field matters concerning his behavior such as comments on the touchline and in post-match interviews, a common occurrence in Holloway’s recent career. The most intense development came when Blackpool were fined after being judged to have purposely fielded a weakened team during a Premier League fixture against Aston Villa. This led to a lengthy dispute between Holloway and the FA over the decision, which almost resulted in Holloway resigning his post as manager in frustration.

He has already been charged by the FA this season and handed a two match touchline ban following his comments after Palace’s opening day defeat to Tottenham. Holloway criticised referee Mark Clattenburg, who awarded Spurs their penalty winner, and questioned the way he is treated by officials. It is off the field dramas such as these that Holloway and his side need to avoid during their Premier League campaign.

Ian HollowayIt looks set to be a long and difficult season for Crystal Palace in their first Premier League season for nine years. Last season’s play-off success was a brilliant triumph for the South London outfit, as they overcame a solid Brighton side and Gianfranco Zola’s free scoring Watford in the final, who seemed to be favorites for promotion. However, Palace’s achievement relied heavily on Wilfred Zaha, who has now left the club for Manchester United. Zaha scored a crucial brace in the semi-final against Brighton and was named man of the match at Wembley in their extra time win against Watford.

Their leading talisman, Glenn Murray, who scored 30 league goals and was the second top scorer in England last season, also looks set to miss a majority of this season after suffering knee ligament damage during the first leg of the semifinal clash. So before they had even kicked off this year’s campaign, they had lost two of their most influential players from last season. They will prove hard to replace, even though Holloway has kept busy in the transfer window, recruiting the likes of Dwight Gayle, Cameron Jerome, and Marouane Chamakh.

And this is exactly why Holloway’s concentration needs to be fully devoted to team affairs this season. Matters have already been made more demanding with injuries, a flurry of new transfers coming into the club and by many predicting Crystal Palace to be strong candidates for relegation. More clashes with the FA and other external figures will only add to the difficult task Holloway faces this season and create uncertainty within the club, as it did two years ago at Bloomfield Road. While Holloway will always be an entertainer to a vast majority of football fans, it will be as an accomplished Premiership manager the Crystal Palace faithful will be hoping he is commended come the end of the season.

Written by Andrew Crawley

Cardiff City Complete £8.5m Signing of Tottenham Defender Steven Caulker

Steven CaulkerCardiff City broke their transfer fee record and boosted their chances of survival in the Premier League with the signing of Steven Caulker from Tottenham Hotspur. The England international signed for a fee of £8.5m, breaking the record set by Andreas Cornelius earlier in the window. It is clear Vincent Tan is resting on his laurels of making some big money signings.

Last time Steven Caulker was in Wales he enjoyed a very successful loan spell at Swansea in a season that consolidated their place in the Premier League and his place in the England Under-21 team. His success at Swansea prompted Andres Villas-Boas to trust him as a regular for Tottenham, and in the 2012-13 season, he made 28 appearances in all competitions for Tottenham.

However, with Matthew Dawson and Jan Vertonghen as permanent fixtures in the Tottenham side, Caulker needed first team football. Cardiff boss Malky Mackay praised his willingness to move away from the comfort of Tottenham and said he encourages other players to follow Caulker’s example:

“To be part of a squad is a very good thing and at the time you are loathed to leave because it has a comfort blanket associated with it. You are wrapped in it, you have been there and you know it.”

“To actually step out and go and further your career is a brave decision. It is something that I would commend players for when they do it. You see a situation in football when they leave a club and it is unexpected. When it is for the reasons of playing football regularly then I think that is a brave decision. It shows that a player has maturity attached to them and where they see their career going.”

Cardiff City had an “air tight” defense last season, conceding only 45 goals in 46 games, the least in the Championship. Steven Caulker’s capture will of course add more consistency to the defense as the squad take on the English top-flight for the first time since 1962. However, it could drive a couple of players out.

Highly rated youngster Ben Nugent has been loaned out to Brentford until January. The 2012-13 Cardiff City young player of the year made 14 league appearances in a season in which he established himself as an accomplished Championship defender. Ben Turner may also find himself surplus to requirements next season. The former England Under-19 international quickly established himself as a Cardiff City regular after joining from Coventry in 2011.

Steven CaulkerThe move to Cardiff City may boost Caulker’s chances of making the England team on a regular basis. His one and only cap came in a 4-2 defeat to Sweden, where he played 74 minutes and scored before being substituted with England winning 2-1. Steven Caulker felt the move would boost his England chances:

“My aim is to get back in the England squad, and if you ask any Englishman they will tell you they have one eye on the World Cup. That’s something I want to work towards.”

The competition for the England center-back positions will be fierce in the upcoming months. A few commanding displays in the early season from Caulker could add himself into the squad for the upcoming World Cup Qualifiers against Moldova, Ukraine, Montenegro, and Poland.

With his best attribute being short passing, it is easy to see why he has been signed. His role in Brendan Rodgers’ Swansea team in 2011-12 proved his ability to be the complete center-back. He certainly does add more than the typical Championship defender, most of which struggle to adapt to the Premier League.

If Cardiff City end up staying in the Premier League, Steven Caulker could be praised as the instigator of a tight defense. His capture shows the intent of Malky Mackay to sure up the back line and add some useful Premier League experience to the newly promoted side.

Written by Jimmy Cartwright

Promoted Teams Look to Make Their Mark in the Premier League

Cardiff CityThe 2013/14 Premier League Season looks set to be one of the closest and most unpredictable in its history. In particular, many analysts are divided on the eventual outcome at the top end of the table, as the season marks new eras at both Manchester clubs, Chelsea, and Everton. However, the increasing competitiveness of the Premier League has meant that England’s top flight is now equally as competitive at all levels, and for all clubs involved.

This has had particular repercussions for the old guard of the Premiership, that is the more established clubs of the top division. Long gone is the assumption that fixtures against newly promoted teams are a guaranteed three points. The days of an out of depth, newly promoted Derby County scrambling together a measly one win and 11 points from their 38 games seem a million years ago, now that we see the likes of Swansea, Norwich, and Stoke holding their own in the top flight.

More and more of the traditionally established clubs are finding themselves being pushed to the limit by the improvement of the promoted teams. The end of the 2011/12 season saw long term Premier League participants Bolton and Blackburn relegated. Aston Villa found themselves in the thick of the relegation battle for the majority of last season, while even Newcastle, who were widely applauded for their 5th place finish in 2011/12, found themselves battling to ensure an unthinkable second relegation in four years did not occur.

So with recent history showing good omens for the newcomers, and with the new additions for the 2013/14 season being no stranger to the Premier League themselves, it could be yet another successful season for the promoted sides.

In what was a successful year for Welsh sport, Cardiff City’s achievement should not be undervalued. They finally stormed into the Premier League as champions after years of near misses, finishing eight points clear at the top and never really looking like being denied their debut season in the Premier League. The Bluebirds’ long and arduous path to the Premier League alone should prove more than enough motivation for the upcoming season, as they will not want to surrender their place easily.

Malky Mackay’s men must begin their Premiership adventure with the same professional and solid manner that saw them thrive in last season’s Championship. Despite scoring 72 goals last season, Cardiff’s top goalscorers (Heidar Helguson, Peter Whittingham, and Aron Gunarsson) amassed just 8 league goals. Fraizer Campbell and Craig Noone were also just behind them at 7.

So there were a number of players contributing goals, rather than just the one target man which the team came to rely on, which is a mind-set that could prove beneficial in the top flight. Their impressive defense, in particular club captain and last year’s “Player of the Year” Mark Hudson, must also remain on top form to maximize their hopes of a successful season.

The Welsh outfit must also not become blinded by their overall comfortable route to the Premier League last season. They must cast their minds and remember how Brian McDermott’s Reading stormed back to the top flight after taking the Championship title following a devastating run of form. Yet the Royals were the only promoted team in last season’s Premiership to be relegated, as both Southampton and West Ham enjoyed successful campaigns.

Mackay and the Cardiff faithful must not become too attached to the promotion team (a common error with promoted teams across all formats of the game) and realize the squad must be strengthened. More activity in the transfer window should be expected in the build-up to their opening fixture. Though with the vastly experienced local hero Craig Bellamy on board and one of the most promising looking managers in the country at the helm, a sturdy beginning to their Premier League venture would come as no shock.

Hull CityFans must have wondered if they had seen the last of both Steve Bruce and Hull City in the Premier League. After Bruce was relieved of his duties at Sunderland in November 2011 following a poor run of form, it seemed his time as a Premier League coach was past. City’s ability to compete in the top flight was also brought into question following their last dismal stint.

In 2009, they survived their debut season in the Premiership despite a miserable run of form which saw them win just one game in 22 league matches. They never fully found their feet and were relegated the following season. However, a strong season has seen the Tigers rewarded with a second chance at the top flight after fighting off the challenge of an impressive and free scoring Watford. Like Cardiff, there was no stand out goalscorer as the workload was shared throughout the team, with the veteran Robert Koren being the top scorer with 9 goals.

While Hull will likely be looking to Koren and Sone Aluko to build on their goals from last season, the loan signing of former Swansea hit-man Danny Graham adds a touch of top flight experience to the frontline. New arrivals such as Curtis Davies and former Scotland international Allan McGregor have also strengthened their already impressive defence, which was key to their success last season.

Although Bruce’s disappointing departure from Sunderland struck a blow to his Premier League credentials, he has surprised many by leading Hull to the top flight in his first full season in charge. He will need every bit of his experience to ensure Hull stay afloat next season, although a good balance of experienced heads and newcomers to the top flight such as Aluko and George Boyd in the squad could also prove vital.

You have never quite seen it all with Ian Holloway. Like Bruce, just when you thought you had seen the last of him in the top flight, suddenly he has another chance to prove himself. It was almost the perfect way for Palace to secure promotion in the play-off final, as veteran Kevin Phillips’ extra time penalty proved the difference in a tense game against Watford, who had impressed all season.

The victory came three years after Holloway’s play-off final win with Blackpool. Similarly with Hull, the Eagles will also be hoping their next stint in the Premier League will be more successful than their previous spell. The South London side did not even survive one season following their play-off success in May 2004, as they were relegated by just one point the following year.

A lot of talk in the build-up to their opening game will undoubtedly be how they will cope without young superstar Wilfred Zaha, who has left for Manchester United. Zaha was hugely influential in Palace’s success last season and signed off in style with a “Man of the Match” performance in the play-off final win over Watford. However, Zaha’s departure should not eclipse the fact that Palace still have a strong squad. They possess the Championship’s top scorer last season in Glenn Murray and of course the vastly experienced Kevin Phillips, who can still pose a threat even at the age of 40.

They have added a good mix of youth and experience so far in the summer transfer window. As well as securing Phillips and Jerome Thomas, they have also taken a slight risk on the youngster Dwight Gayle. The striker, who was playing for League Two side Dagenham & Redbridge this time last year, attracted much praise after scoring 13 goals for relegated Peterborough United in last season’s Championship. Playing for Palace in the Premier League is a big step for Gayle to take, but he has reliable and well-traveled players around him to learn from and share the workload.

It does seem Palace will need to strengthen their defense to improve their chances of survival, as they had the worst defensive record of any of the top six last season which could have proved costly. Seeing as this was also a problem for Holloway’s Blackpool three seasons ago, it is not an error that the manager will be keen to repeat.

Written by Andrew Crawley

Review of the Football League Championship So Far: Part 2

Bristol City

Bristol CityIt’s been another difficult season for the Robins, who currently sit at the bottom of table with their six year stay in the Championship now facing its biggest threat. The year started badly after manager Derek McInnes was sacked following a humiliating 4-0 defeat to Leicester in January, which saw them slip to the foot at the table. They have improved under new boss Sean O’Driscoll, particularly at Ashton Gate, where they have won four out of five matches. However, it is City’s away form that is an on-going problem, as they have lost 12 times on the road this season and claimed just 12 points. But with O’Driscoll at the helm and proven goalscorers such as Steve Davies in their ranks, survival is by no means beyond City. Upcoming fixtures with fellow strugglers Wolves and Sheffield Wednesday are simply must-wins games.

Burnley

The 2009 play-off winners have had a steady season, despite having to come to terms with former manager Eddie Howe’s shock return to Bournemouth in October just under two years after they recruited him from the Cherries. The appointment of former Watford manager Sean Dyche has proved a shrewd one, as he has built on his solid start to management at Vicarage Road and led the Clarets up the table away from the relegation zone. Although holding onto star striker Charlie Austin, who has over 20 goals already this season, who has been vital and they may be in danger of becoming a one man team, a play-off spot is still a possibility. However, given their own unpredictable form and the form of those around them, it might take a very strong finish to the season.

Cardiff City

Cardiff CityAfter threatening for so many years and three failed play-off campaigns in the past three seasons, the Welsh outfit finally look on course to join fellow south Wales side Swansea in the Premier League. Malky Mackay’s men have been leading the way in the Championship for some time now and will be desperate to avoid any late season slip ups. Their home form has proved vital in their success so far, having suffered just two defeats on their own soil this season. They must continue to make the Cardiff City stadium a fortress to maintain their title push. This is particularly due to the likes of Hull, Crystal Palace, and particularly Gianfranco Zola’s free scoring Watford currently challenging them for the two automatic promotion places. Automatic promotion will be a must this season given their recent fortunes in the play-offs and the inevitable late season dip in form that would see them surrender their place at the top of the table.

Charlton Athletic

After storming to the League One title last year, the Addicks look set to establish themselves in the Championship for another season. This is despite some poor form at The Valley, where Chris Powell’s side have just four victories so far; the joint worst in the division with Wolves. However they have redeemed themselves slightly with some impressive form on the road, though, with seven victories; only the current top three have won more. However, with home ties against lowly Wolves and Bristol City still to come, there is still time to turn this form around. For now, it is vital the London side stick with Powell and take their time in their pursuit of a return to Premier League football, and not make any rash or unnecessary decisions which has cost them in the past.

Crystal Palace

Crystal PalaceEight years after relegation at their first attempt from the Premiership, this is the Eagles’ best chance to return to the top flight since that heart breaking season. After years of languishing towards the wrong end of the table, Palace have been impressive all season. The departure of Dougie Freedman to Bolton in October could easily have derailed their promotion charge, but the appointment of Ian Holloway, who led Blackpool to the top flight three years ago, has proved a masterstroke as they continue to keep the pressure on high flyers Cardiff and Hull. While Manchester United bound Wilfred Zaha has grabbed many of the headlines, huge credit must go to strike partner Glenn Murray, who is the top league scorer in the country this season with 28 goals. With many of their remaining games are against teams in the bottom half of the table, Palace must surely be confident of claiming an automatic promotion spot. Although it could all come down to how Cardiff and particularly in form Watford fare in these last two months.

Derby County

It’s been a familiar story for Nigel Clough’s side this season as they seem destined for yet another mid-table finish. Mid-table is a term that has come to define the Rams in recent seasons, although they should have been in no rush for a promotion push following their humiliating spell in the Premier League in 2007-08. While they have achieved some impressive results, notably their 1-0 away victory at fierce rivals Nottingham Forest, it is Derby’s inability to build on results like these and string a decent set of results together that seems to hold them back. Their recent policy of allowing proven goalscorers such as Steven Davies and Theo Robinson to leave also seems questionable. However, with some solid home form and no real threat of relegation, perhaps building momentum in the Championship is the best way forward after their fateful one season stay in the top flight.

Written by Andrew Crawley

Contraversial Watford Signings Put Football League Loans in Spotlight

Watford Loan PlayersThe English FA have announced they will be reviewing the loan system currently in place across the Football League. This report comes after increasing criticism of how Watford have managed to gain 9 players on loan from parent clubs Udinese (Italy) and Granada (Spain).

The reason Watford have managed to get this amount of players from the representative clubs is that they are now under the control of the Pozzo family, who also own Udinese and Granada. Furthermore, the English Championship side have 2 more players on loan in their squad: Nathaniel Chalobah from Premiership Chelsea and Geoffrey Bia From Belgium’s Standard Liege.

7 of the players on loan to Watford’s have also been capped by their countries, including Alem Abidi of Sweden, Joel Ekstrand of Sweden, Bia of Belgium, Marco Cassetti and Christian Battocchio of Italy, and 2 impressive Czech internationals Matej Vydra and Daniel Pudil.

Currently, there is no limit to the amount of players that can be loaned to a Football League club, but only 5 of the loans can be included on the match day squad unless they are internationally capped, and Watford are using these rules to include the capped players in their squad.

Crystal Palace manager Ian Hollyway has been especially critical of the loan system in the last couple of weeks, saying:

“I need foreign scouts, or to befriend a big club like they have and to nick all their players. They’ve got nine from one club! It’s a loophole and that’s wrong.”

Other people in the English game have filed suit and questioned the Football League’s reluctance to intervene thus far. They have stated that’s its stumping the development of young English players as well as giving certain squad a huge advantage over the other Championship clubs that are not in a position to have the same quality of players available.

Watford Loan PlayersWith this in mind, the announcement of the Football League’s review will be welcome by most, and is set be made this summer at the end of the season. League clubs will be voting on the issue at an annual general meeting, which quite possibly will be a proposal for internationally capped loan players to have the same restrictions as the standard loans, as well as the issue of players being brought in on free transfers and passing rules that clubs must receive at least half of transfer fees rather than it going to previous clubs or agents.

For people unfamiliar with Watford’s progress this season, they currently stand in 3rd in the Championship with 37 games played, 2 points behind 2nd placed Hull City and 6 behind the leaders Cardiff City. Cardiff have two loan players that made a significant impact to the squad’s successes this season, most notably Matej Vydra, who has 20 goals in 20 starts and is a 3rd place top scorer in their squad, while Almen Abdi has 9 goals in 27 starts from the midfield.

There is no doubt Watford have gained an advantage by exploiting the loan rules this season, but to be fair, they have done it without breaking any rules and have produced some entertaining football, as well as showcasing players we may not have seen in the English Leagues otherwise. In fact, if they do get promoted to the Premier League, the majority of these loans are likely to become permanent deals, so we may be seeing and hearing a lot more from Watford and these exciting players in the future!

Written by ChalkOnYaBoots