After last Sunday’s Carling Cup final defeat to Liverpool, Cardiff were back in league action where they took on high-flying West Ham United. The Hammers, who remain a promotion favourite with many football betting agents, secured three points against a Cardiff team that were too wasteful in possession. Here are Sam Thompson’s observations…
Marshall replaces Heaton
The only change from last Sunday was reinstating number one goalkeeper David Marshall into the side. Mark Hudson and Ben Turner remained at centre back with Aron Gunnarsson and Peter Whittingham starting in central midfield. Joe Mason and Don Cowie provided width with Kenny Miller again played behind Rudy Gestede in a 4-4-1-1.
West Ham’s 4-3-3
Sam Allardyce’s side lined up in an attacking 4-3-3 formation. Robert Green started in goal with James Tomkins and Abdoulaye Faye playing at centre back. Mark Noble was the deepest midfielder, with Henri Lansbury more advanced and then Kevin Nolan slightly further forward. The two wingers were James Collison and Ricardo Vaz Te with Nicky Maynard playing as the lone striker.
West Ham fluid up top
From the first minute, it was clear how fluid West Ham’s midfield three and its wingers were. Collison and Vaz Te swapped sides, Nolan ran from deep and sometimes peeled to the right, Noble shuttled across the pitch laterally and sometimes dropped into defence and Lansbury moved around near the centre circle searching for space (see diagram). For Cardiff, Miller was looking to drag defenders and move into the channels and when defending he was more advanced than the midfielders behind him often floating around Noble, whereas against Liverpool he dropped to form a 4-5-1.
The importance of Noble
When Cardiff attacked, Mason often looked to come in off the right hand side, allowing McNaughton to provide all the width. Cardiff needed to slow down the tempo of the game and have a spell of possession as they started the game on the back foot and their passing was sloppy at times. Maynard, Vaz Te and Collison all had efforts go over the bar, but all were restricted due to Cardiff’s reluctance to press high up the pitch and therefore the away side was forced into taking long shots and putting crosses into the box. For this reason Mark Noble had an important role to play as he was the West Ham midfielder with the most time and space. He shuffled laterally across the pitch picking up the ball short from his defenders to start moves, and making interceptions and winning second balls.
West Ham one up at the break
As the half progressed it was clear both sides lacked the killer ball and from both defences, Abdoulaye Faye particularly stood out. The centre back was dominant in the air for West Ham, his positioning was excellent and he did well on the ball. On 34 minutes Gestede pulled up with injury and was replaced by Haris Vuckic who played in the hole with Miller moving up front. The first half was played at a slow tempo and riddled with poor passing but just before the break West Ham scored to go in one up after Nolan slotted his shot into the far post after receiving the ball on the edge of the box and opening up his body.
Whittingham pushes on
After half time Vaz Te switched back to the left wing. Cardiff started to press further up the pitch and just as against Liverpool a week ago, Whittingham occupied a more advanced position in central midfield, giving Gunnarsson slightly more space to occupy. Cardiff were nearly punished after a sloppy header from Kevin McNaughton put Maynard in a one on one situation but his effort was well blocked by the onrushing David Marshall who read the situation excellently.
West Ham started to influence the second half just as they had done the first. After the hour Maynard was replaced by Carlton Cole and after this substitution West Ham’s mentality seemed to change. They became more negative, dropping deeper than usual and Cole was often isolated from the midfield runners who were less willing to get forward in support, and as a result the away side looked lazy at times in possession. This also led to a good spell from Cardiff who were given noticeably more space to create chances. The closest they came was on 69 minutes when a Whittingham free kick hit the post.
McCarthy seals the win
With fifteen minutes left Lansbury was replaced by Gary O’Neill who played on the right wing, with Collison tucking in centrally as one of the midfield three. Two minutes later the Hammers secured all three points as George McCarthy ran down the left hand side with ease and scored from a tight angle after his cross rebounded back into his path. In the end West Ham were comfortable winners due to their better use of possession and work rate in comparison to a Cardiff side who seemed tired from their last match.