By Yousef Haider
Today saw Cardiff play hosts to lowly Nottingham Forest. No matter their standing, Forest have been a thorn in the side of the blubirds over the last few seasons and many expected today to be no different.
Forest sent down enough fans to mostly fill their away seating and there was a feisty atmosphere around the ground.
The match was backwards and forwards with both teams huffing and puffing with no genuine threat being posed to either goalkeeper.
Cardiff continued to play their usual brand of thoughtful possesion passing, while forest seemed to be keen to exploit the fast breaking counter attacking pace of there forward players with experienced playmaker Jonathan Greening trying to pick the pass to put our defence to the sword......with little success.
The first real clear cut chance of the match fell to Cardiff, as a good passing build up, lead to Kenny Miller being put clean through on goal with only the keeper to beat. Unfortunately he lost his footing and only managed to flick at the ball and not capitalise.
Not long after Cowie broke down the right on the end of a wide ball and put in a cross that beat Wittingham in the air and fell to Conway, who side footed over, but there seemed to be a real belief everytime City broke forward.
A goal mouth scramble in the Nottingham's box raised a loud cheer from the fans, but not the score line, as it remained goal less on the half hour mark as Cardiff failed to find the net, and forest failed to creat a genuine scoring opportunity.
With 5 minutes of the first half remaining, forest broke forward, with their usual counter attack. Gerrard was first to step forward from the blueburds defence, his tough tackle left him lying on the floor as the opposition continued forward around him. Rising star Lewis McGugan darted into the box and shaped to shoot, thwarted by the outsretched body of Don Cowie who ghosted in from nowhere to block his shot in a magestic fashion that would Gerrard himself would have been proud of.
Moments later with Cardiff down the other end, a cross from one side struck a defenders hand, the obvious shouts for handball, were ignored completely by the officials and then a cross from the other side was met with the head of Gunnarson which resulted in probably the widest header in the history of professional football.
All of this in the longest 40th minute of all time as the cardiff city clocks seemed to have a moment of silence for the standard of shooting we were witnessing, as another attack ended with a city player shooting over. Either way, 3 minutes of the clock showing 40:00 is either excessive mourning, or a hangover from the 40 minute halves of the rugby that was held here last thursday. Maybe the shooting boots were also a throw back to the conversions. The whistle blew for half time, and personally, I hoped to watch some football in the next half rather than reporting on my first ever rugby league match.
The second half commenced with no changes being reported but a definite change in the flow of the game. Nottingham forest came out determined to change the game. Their attck seemed more structured, and they looked to have spread wider when going forward. In the first 10 minutes there was a succesion of half chances and a couple of corners, and even a claim for a penalty of their own, again it was denied by the officials, but this time, the attacking player was booked.
In the 55th minute, came Cardiff's first shot of the match, this time from action man Kevin McNaughton, who cut inside, and struck the ball, which flew........you guessed it, over the bar.
Again, the action went straight down the other end with a remarkable 8 city players making it back into their own box to defend, the attack sizzled out and 10 seconds later, every player on the pitch, in red or Blue was in the other half of the pitch, excluding Dave Marshal, which goes to explain just how end to end this match was at times, even though the game remained scoreless.
Joe Mason made it onto the pitch for a half hour run out, just in time to see a Wittingham free kick smashed into the box, just over millers head, and a Cowie cross drilled in from the other side, which was met by the head of a defender, and both teams reset their stalls. Everyone in the ground was wondering if they had braved the cold, in vain, and I started to feel this match had started to resemble many of the matches I watched under Dave Jones, where, city were the architects of their own demise, with their continued inability to put the match to bed, inspired the confidence of their opponents that they could nick an extremley valuable three points, at the risk of losing one.
When you are 17th place in the league and its 0-0 after 60 plus minutes, away at Cardiff. you have a decision to make.
Luckily for Cardiff it seemed the decision had been made, with the Nottingham strikers doing all the pressure work, while the majority of the players sat back to defend.
The third penalty claim of the match resulted from another Kevin McNaughton cross which again raised the scream of handball from around the ground, and again, it was denied, b ut Cardiff remained in and around the City box, and eventually Wittingham got a free kick out wide. It was delivered hard and low which produced some classic goalmouth scrambling action with the ball eventually coming back out to Wittingham, who this time put a superb cross, which met the head of fresh legged Joe Mason, who glanced the ball across goal and past the goalkeeper to put Cardiff......finally.....1-0 up.
73 minutes in, and now in the business of defending a lead, Wittingham who of course created the goal, was chasing former bluebird Chris Gunter, who was a little too quick for him, and the challenge was late which earned him Cardiff's first yellow card.
On 75 minutes it was announced that the attendence was 22 thousand plus, and more importantly, Stephen McPhail made way for who I think looks an oustanding prospect, Joe Ralls.
While I watched the subtlties of Joe Ralls game, trying to get a glimpse into how good this kid couod be, it was Peter Wittingham who showed him how the pro's do it, as he struck a thunderous shot towards goal, which was saved, but spilled, and finally gathered, but it wasn't over, and forced a save, which was a massive bonus considering the shooting on display in yhe first half.
As we entered the final 10 minutes of normal time, it was still all Cardiff, as the attacks continued to come, Joe mason played a perfect slide rule pass out wide, which was picked up by Miller who fed the ball to Joe Ralls for his first real contribution to the match, a curling low cross into the box which was cleared away.
Quite a few fans decided to start to evacuate the ground in order to save what must be valuable seconds in the race to ensure they got home intime for the X-Factor, which is a decision I always find strange, but even more today, as Cardiff's continued efforts to attack, left gaps at the back, and Nottingham Forest seemed to get closer to scoring than they had previously in the match. The match was far from over.
Four minutes of injury time were announced just as Forrest got ready to take a corner. Joel Lynch rose to meet the ball, and directed the ball with good power behind it, but fortumatley it was headed wide.
Forest continued to attempt to get back to a draw as the crowd passionately whistled at a deafening volume to somehow make the four minutes go that little bit faster, maybe they too wanted to get home for the X-Factor, or maybe they were worried that this may be an all to familiar story as we have seen points like these vanish in the past, however under new management, this is far more rare, and today was no different. The full time whistle blew and Captain for the day Kevin McNaughton was announced as Man of the match.
The rest of the fans poured out of the stadium and for city fans thoughts no doubt turned to Blackburn midweek in the cup.
I'm sure for Forest fans, there was talk of playing in another league next season, and it wasnt the Premiership.