Stoke see off Bluebirds
2nd Feb 2008
In a very evenly matched game between two promotion contenders, it took a fortunate own goal and some brilliance from Ricardo Fuller for Stoke to claim all three points.
Stoke's two new signings, Gallagher and Whelan, had to make do with a seat on the bench as Salif Diao made his first start since re-signing in December, replacing John Eustace who moved to Watford in midweek. Mamady Sidibe also returned to the front row after his trip to the African Cup of Nations. Andy Griffin was named as captain following Eustace's departure and Dominic Matteo's continuing struggle with injury.
Whilst Stoke's 12 match unbeaten run ended on Tuesday with defeat at Charlton, Cardiff arrived on a similar nine match unbeaten run as the Bluebirds' fortunes have significantly improved after a poor start to the season.
The Potters started the better of the two sides, with both having early chances. Liam Lawrence's shot went just wide after a couple of minutes and Mama Sidibe missed a sitter on 20 minutes when he blasted his shot straight at Oakes, the Cardiff keeper, from only two yards out. But it was not until the first half was nearly over that the deadlock was broken, even though Fuller had been harrying the Cardiff defence. A Liam Lawrence corner seemed to be going too low to cause Cardiff any problems, but the ball was promptly swept into his own net by Bluebirds' defender, Roger Johnson. It was his second recent own goal after he had gifted West Brom a draw two weeks ago, putting the ball into his own net with just two minutes remaining. But it was just the fillip that Stoke needed to settle down what was in danger of becoming a very tense match. The Potters could even had made it 2-0 on the stroke of half-time had Sidibe connected with Lawrence's cross.
But it only took eight minutes after the restart for Stoke to do just that. Another magical run from Fuller straight down the middle of the park left the Cardiff defenders with no choice but to bring him down inside the penalty area for the clearest cut of penalty claims you'll see at the Brit - and we've seen a few this season. The only surprising reaction to this one was that referee, Steve Bennett, gave McNaughton a yellow card, not a red, for his blatant foul. With Ric adamant that this goal was going to be his, he stepped up and coolly sent the keeper the wrong way before firing the ball into the bottom left hand corner of the net.
But if some were expecting a Bluebirds' counter attack, it was Stoke that should have wrapped it up just three minutes later when Fuller had another chance of a shot at goal, but passed it to the better placed Sidibe who fired wide from in front of the centre spot with just the keeper to beat.
Cardiff did manage to pick up the pace and halved the deficit on 62 minutes after former Chelsea star, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink nudged the ball into the net after a goalmouth scramble.
With Cardiff fighting to try and preserve their unbeaten record, it meant a tense final twenty minutes for Stoke fans. Hasselbaink could (and maybe should) have leveled the match just minutes later after finding himself one-on-one with Steve Simonsen, but that's when Simmo's at his best and the keeper managed to palm the ball away for a corner.
Tony Pulis brought on Glenn Whelan for the final ten minutes, replacing Sidibe and immediately set about showing showing why Owls' fans were so disappointed to see him leave. A couple of good midfield interceptions from the Irish international and a good first outing from Salif Diao offered hope of some better midfield control from Stoke in the second half of this season.
Stoke City: Simonsen, Griffin, Pugh, Shawcross, Cort, Lawrence, Cresswell, Diao, Delap, Sidibe (Whelan 82), Fuller
Subs not used: Hoult, Zakuani, Parkin, Gallagher
Cardiff City: Oakes, McNaughton, Johnson, Loovens, Capaldi, Ledley, Rae, McPhail, Whittingham, Hasselbaink (Thompson 82), Parry
Subs not used: Enckelman, Purse, Ramsey, Blake.
On the down side, I've always been a fan of big Mama and whilst I acknowledge that he provides a good link-up between the midfield and Ric Fuller (who's not the most energetic of players when he's not got the ball), I'm just astounded that he continues to automatically get a starting slot when he regularly fails to find the back of the net. His two misses today were indicative of this - sometime soon something must change as, sooner or later, his lack of scoring ability will cost us a game.