by Sam Saunders at the Cardiff City Stadium
Cardiff City ran out 2-0 winners against West Ham United at the Cardiff City Stadium, putting three successive league defeats behind them, though they remain in the relegation zone after Southampton’s victory over Spurs on the south coast.
With only nine games remaining, home form would be crucial to Cardiff’s hopes of retaining their Premier League status, so this match appeared a must-win before kick-off.
City started the first-half brightly and were rewarded for their ambition. Cardiff’s Spanish midfielder Victor Camarasa drove forward from the middle of the park, passed the ball to winger Josh Murphy on the right-hand side of the penalty area, whose cross was converted at the near post by Junior Hoilett.
That move was the highlight of the half, as Cardiff and West Ham traded possession in midfield for twenty minutes, with both sides lacking enough precision to really make their passing worthwhile. West Ham were particularly guilty of this, however, Cardiff’s passes were often too long for their forwards to capitalise on.
When West Ham did manage to get forward, much of their build up play was promising, with Noble looking comfortable in possession and Cresswell, Anderson and Lanzini combining well initially down the left-hand side.
One of Lanzini’s balls looked particularly dangerous mid-way through the first half, however, Hernandez let the ball go too long and looked to deceive the referee as he went down with Manga in pursuit. Graham Scott, the referee, was astute enough to realise that Hernandez was guilty of simulation and rightly showed a yellow card to the Mexican.
With half-time approaching, West Ham began to grow into the game and exploited some of Cardiff’s defensive weakness on the right-hand side of the pitch, as Fredericks and Snodgrass combined nicely to win two corners in quick succession.
West Ham’s best chance of the half soon followed as Snodgrass played a nice one-two with Ryan Fredericks in the box, but the Scot could only blaze his shot over the bar. As the half was disrupted by a few late challenges, four minutes of additional time were signalled by the fourth official and Neil Warnock’s men took full advantage with one of their brightest spells of the half. However, the pressure failed to break West Ham, but Cardiff preserved their one goal advantage at the break.
Cardiff started the second half where they left off in the first, as constant pressure around the edge of the West Ham box led to some dangerous crosses into the box. Their fast start was rewarded again, as a hopeful ball from midfield was picked up by Junior Hoilett on the left-hand side. Although under pressure from Fredericks, the Canadian crossed to Harry Arter, whose header down was bundled into the net by Camarasa, doubling Cardiff’s advantage.
The Bluebirds didn’t let up, keeping the pressure on a feeble-looking Hammers defence, and West Ham had Fabiański to thank for keeping the deficit at only two goals. Arter won the ball back in midfield, gave it to the impressive Murphy, whose cross should have been converted by Niasse, but the Polish keeper saved both that and Victor Camarasa’s follow-up effort.
Pellegrini decided enough was enough despite the half-time change of Arnautovic for Anderson, and brought on Samir Nasri and Michail Antonio for Mark Noble and Manuel Lanzini soon after the goal.
The Hammers’ changes, as well as Cardiff’s enforced substitution of the injured Victor Camarasa, helped to settle West Ham and made them look brighter in attack, as Antonio’s long range shot sailed over the bar and newly-declared England midfielder Declan Rice hit the post from just outside the area.
The sting appeared to have gone out of the game until around the 80th minute, with Declan Rice’s charging run from midfield being picked up by Nasri, although he couldn’t find Arnautovic in the area. Cardiff had chances for a third as well, with the tireless running of Niasse, Hoilett and Murphy rewarded as Cardiff won several corners, but Gunnarsson could only head over the bar.
The game fizzled out as it reached its climax; West Ham had a chance in added time, but Cresswell’s low cross was just behind Javier Hernandez. Ultimately, this was an important victory for Cardiff, and celebrated rapturously as they put three successive league defeats behind them. As for West Ham, the Hammers were disappointing throughout and now look an outside bet to finish in the ‘best of the rest’ 7th place in the Premier League.
Full time: Cardiff City 2-0 West Ham United