It was an afternoon to remember for Cardiff fans yesterday as they recorded consecutive top-flight wins for the first time since April 1962. A sold-out away end was in attendance as Neil Warnock got the better of Ralph Hasenhüttl for the second time this season.
Neil Warnock opted to go with a similar side to the one that beat Bournemouth, just one week prior. Josh Murphy was the only player to leave the starting eleven, as he made way for Harry Arter – pushing Bobby Reid back out wide.
After a dreary first half it was Cardiff who struck first blood, in the 69th minute, as Callum Paterson’s flicked header was converted at the back post by Sol Bamba, scoring his third goal of the season.
It was Southampton who spent the majority of the game on top, despite going 0-1 down. This showed, as Yan Valery’s marauding run down the right-wing caused a plethora of problems for Cardiff. This was Southampton’s best chance so far as Etheridge stopped Valery’s strike before Peltier’s heroic double-block on the line.
Etheridge again stood tall as he saved James Ward-Prowse’ free kick to his left. In the end Southampton did get their equaliser, however, as Jack Stephens’ injury time strike seemed to be enough to scrape a point from this game for the Saints.
That is, until Kenneth Zohore sent Bluebirds fans into raptures as his 93rd minute strike rolled past Alex McCarthy and into the back of the net. With three points on the road for just the second time this season, Cardiff now sit in 16th place in the Premier League.
From Zero to Hero
One player who had a huge effect on the fixture was Jack Stephens. The Englishman was solid in the first half for the Saints as he frequently stepped into midfield to carry the ball forward with purpose.
He looked to be the man of the moment in the first minute of injury time as he prodded home the equaliser from a Charlie Austin header. However, it proved to be quite the opposite for the centre back as his poor pass, picked off by Ralls, proved to be the bubble-bursting moment for Southampton as Cardiff went on to claim all three points.
Alongside Jannick Vestergaard and Jan Bednarek, the trio looked like they were comfortable for the majority of the game. However, poor defending and a lack of hunger to win the game proved to be Southampton’s undoing.
This game had too many big performances to count from Cardiff’s perspective, however, two players really stood out.
All of Cardiff’s defence performed admirably with Lee Peltier, Bruno Manga and Joe Bennett all making game-changing tackles and blocks. However, it’s impossible not to talk about the colossal Sol Bamba. The Ivorian was signed as a free agent by Neil Warnock and has proved to be one of the best value-for-money signings in Bluebirds history.
With a goal and several strong challenges, the acting captain has shown the world his love for Cardiff this season. His passion shown following both Cardiff goals epitomises the team spirit and drive that the team have, despite the heartbreak the club has been through in recent weeks.
Joe Ralls was incredible once again for the Bluebirds as the Aldershot-born midfielder continued to thrive in the middle of the park. It was no surprise that the Englishman was selected again, following his superb performances against Bournemouth and Arsenal.
With Cardiff playing under constant pressure and little possession, Ralls was the man they needed to hold the ball and pull the strings with limited time on-the-ball. Following a fairly shaky spell earlier in the season, Cardiff’s number 8 should now be one of the first names on the team-sheet against Watford.
The formation chosen by Warnock was full of central players; Ralls, Gunnarsson and Arter in midfield with Reid and Paterson out wide. This was good for soaking up the pressure of Southampton’s patient passing play, however, found itself overrun at times.
Following his brace against Bournemouth, it was strange seeing Bobby Reid moved back out to the wing, however, the team played well overall when in possession. It was also a refreshing sighte to see see both Niasse and Zohore up-front in the second half, which meant that the Bluebirds were able to hold the ball up in the final third with more intent to move forward.
Warnock’s substitutions worked wonders as Leandro Bacuna succeede to break up the play and win the ball back with great aerial presence, whilst Camarasa and Zohore both linked up well for the match-winning goal.
Against Watford, it might benefit more going forward to start the game with wingers such as Josh Murphy being included. However, Warnock now has a selection headache that could prove hard to shake off.
Written by Owen Deacon – @OwenRhysDeacon