Cardiff v Leicester, Championship play-off second-leg, May 12, 2010
Peter Whittingham’s spectacular free-kick earned Cardiff a narrow 1-nil win at Leicester in the first leg of their play-off on Saturday, and in doing so the balance of power firmly swung in the Bluebirds favour to reach the play-off final at Wembley on May 22nd.
Thumbing through the history books there is little inspiration floating around for the Foxes before their trip to Wales. Only Bolton, back in 1995, have never lost the first leg of a Championship play-off tie at home and still managed to progress through to the final. Recent history between the sides also offers little comfort for Leicester, with Nigel Pearson’s charges having already lost twice this season at Cardiff in both the league and the FA Cup.
There was also little for Leicester fans to get excited about after watching the first leg. The majority of the match was a tense and cagey affair as City opted to retain possession with their three-man midfield, while gently probing the Cardiff backline for holes in their defence. Such holes though never materialised and, with Martyn Waghorn deployed as a lone and often isolated striker, the wide men of Paul Gallagher and Lloyd Dyer were unable to provide the required support in the final third. That left Leicester blunt up top.
Some Leicester fans were left to grumble about why forwards Yann Kermorgant and Matty Fryatt weren’t selected from the start to offer the Foxes more bite up-front. However defences were available for Pearson on each account as Kermorgant, a 28-year-old French journeyman with only one goal in 20 career appearances for the club, is labelled a wildcard, while Fryatt had only played thirty minutes against Boro prior to Saturday’s match after a three-match spell on the sideline with injury.
Whether either forward is selected at Cardiff remains an open-ended question, however Leicester’s striking problems have eased somewhat with the return of experienced pro Steve Howard. Howard was forced to miss the first leg completing a suspension ban but is now available for selection again. Brighter news also surrounds the availability of Everton loanee James Vaughan, with the Scouse striker also returning to selection after a hamstring injury.
But even with a full compliment of attacking options to choose from, Cardiff still arguably remain the greater threat with one of the best offensive quartets in the division. Peter Whittingham, Michael Chopra, Jay Bothroyd and Chris Burke contributed a whopping 57 league goals between them this season, which was just four shy of Cityâ€™s combined total throughout the regular season.
Cardiff’s attacking riches go even further. With rumours that he handed in a transfer request earlier in the year, Ross McCormack may not have experienced the best of times this season. Yet last season’s top goalscorer for Cardiff remains a potent threat up-top, and with Burke an injury doubt for the second leg, the 23-year-old Scottish international has the chance to reclaim the spotlight.
Elsewhere, Cardiff’s shining light in the middle of the park is the hugely talented Joe Ledley. Blessed with a sweet left-peg, the young Welshman has long been linked to a raft of top flight sides being a solid, reliable performer who rarely puts a foot wrong.
While Cardiff on paper look certain to reach the final, football, thankfully, is not a game which is pre-determined by stats and omens and the Bluebirds will know that their tactics will have to be spot-on to overcome Leicester again. Crucially, manager Dave Jones will need to ensure that while his charges try to kill the tie with more goals, it is also necessary to take stock of their 1-nil advantage and remember that it is up to Leicester to turn the play-off around.
Leicester will be praying that Cardiff freeze under the weight of expectation and, moreover, that they will be able to take advantage of such opportunities. Cardiff’s nerves will jangle if the Foxes strike first, however should the Welshman go 2-up in the tie then it will be difficult to see how Leicester won’t be forced to endure another season in the Championship next year.
101gg predicts: Cardiff 3 – Leicester 0 (15.62)