The coldness of winter descended into West Yorkshire this evening and it wasn’t just the 19,000 Leeds United fans that will need some warming up before taking on their next 90 minutes, with only one win in five matches and two defeats in a row at Elland Road maybe the last team Simon Grayson would have wanted to face on a cold Monday night would have been Dave Jones red hot Cardiff City, six games unbeaten four wins in a row, a win would take them level on points with pace setters Queens Park Rangers a top the Championship table.

Leeds made three changes from the side that won 2-1 at Middlesbrough, Bradley Johnson replacing Sanchez Watt on the left of midfield and Richard Naylor losing his place to Alex Bruce, Naylor’s form has been questionable as of late but manager Simon Grayson was quick to point out the club captain was injured. Leeds fans also welcomed the return of Danish goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel. Cardiff team remained the same after the 2-1 win at Coventry.

Grayson set up his side in a 4-4-2 formation. George McCartney on loan from Sunderland at Left Back, Paul Connolly on the right with the Centre Back pairing of Alex Bruce and Neill Collins. Johnny Howson and Amdy Faye in the midfield flanked by Johnson on the left and Robert Snodgrass on the right. Luciano Becchio partnered the inform Davide Somma upfront, Somma has six goals already this season.

Cardiff also lined up in 4-4-2. Tom Heaton in goal, Kevin McNaughton, Mark Hudson, Gabor Gyepes and Lee Naylor made up the back line. Seyi Olofinjana and Peter Whittingham played centrally, Chris Burke on the right and Craig Bellamy on the left. Michael Chopra partnered 7 goal striker Jay Bothroyd upfront.

It was a very scrappy opening ten minutes, both teams struggling to get their foot on the ball and as a result there was no rhythm to the match. Cardiff began to take the upper hand the good play of Chris Burke down the right causing Leeds problems his appetite for taking on defenders was evident to see.

Against the run of play Leeds had the first clear chance when Alex Bruce headed just wide from a corner, this seemed to spur Leeds on and they began to control more of the game, feeding the ball wide Johnson and Snodgrass fed balls into the box however Hudson and Gyepes had the measure of the Leeds attack and won most aerial battles comfortably. Captain Jonny Howson should have tested Heaton when the ball broke kindly on the edge of the box; the skipper struck the ball well but also wide.

Much comment was made about centre back Bruce playing in front of Schmeichel in net, a reference to the old Manchester United team of the past, this was a different United however. A long punt up field from Heaton, Bruce let the ball bounce, Schmeichel lost sight of the ball and Bothroyd nipped in to sneak the ball past both and into the net. The image of Steve Bruce in the stands said plenty about the quality of defending.

Cardiff turned the screw and with an obvious pace advantage the Leeds back four struggled at times to keep up, Bellamy causing problems down the left, Burke impressive on the right, Chopra at time went missing but Bothroyd’s work rate more than made up for it.

One talking point in the first half was Jay Bothroyds tackle on Becchio his studs were high and he made contact with the Leeds strikers ankle, nine times out of ten the striker would have saw red, at game speed the tackle looked reckless. In slow motion you could clearly see the contact made, the referee can be forgiven for not seeing the incident as at the moment of contact Robert Snodgrass clearly impeded his view of the incident, Bothroyd lucky to stay on the pitch.

When not in possession the Cardiff midfield worked very hard to win the ball back, harrying every Leeds player who touched the ball, the home sides midfield lacked the pace and ability on the ball to make a difference, Cardiff were worthy leaders going into the half time break. A chance for Grayson to regain his team’s composure and figure a way to combat the Cardiff attack.

Unfortunately whatever teamtalk Grayson gave his side it was the away team that emerged all guns blazing, within six minutes Cardiff increased their lead. Hudson caught Somma in possession his pass found Chopra in what looked like an offside position; the striker didn’t hesitate though firing across Schmeichel and into the corner. Leeds defence were slow to react once the pass was made, Chopra was sharply onto the ball and for a striker with no goals so far this season the finish was deadly.

Leeds looked bereft of ideas the formation with two upfront did not work, Somma and Becchio are good players, however they are two similar in styles and instead of striking up a partnership they looked lost, a more effective strategy would be to play 4-2-3-1 and have a more mobile forward or midfielder play behind Somma or Becchio. The Beckford/Becchio partnership worked because of the contrasting styles of both players.

Grayson must have had similar thoughts as Somma was replaced not long after the goal and Honduran International Ramon Nunez made his debut, small but stocky he looked comfortable in possession seems to have a yard of pace, the kind of player that could link up well with a target man in front of him.

Soccer - npower Football League Championship - Leeds United v Cardiff City - Elland RoadBothroyd put the game beyond Leeds before the substitute had chance to make an impact, terrific work from Bothroyd saw him advance down the right, his pass to Burke led the Scotsman to the by-line, the striker had continued his run into the box, Burke found him with the cut back and in this form he wasn’t going to miss, 3-0 to Cardiff and the game was all but over.

Four minutes later and it was ex-Celtic fullback Lee Naylor who rubbed salt into the wounds, after strong forward play by Bothroyd the ball was worked through Bellamy to Naylor at the edge of the box, known for his ability with his left foot, he decided to surprise everyone and unleashed an unstoppable shot with his right, Schmeichel was rooted to the spot as the ball whistled past his right ear, the contest was over.

The introduction of Max Gradel on the left for Leeds gave them two players with Nunez able to hold onto the ball and take some of the pressure off their defence, Cardiff defended well, limiting Leeds to shots from range, they did have the ball in the net late on, Snodgrass weaving his way into some space on the right the left foot cross found Becchio unmarked, the header found the net, the linesman correctly raised his flag.

The only other shining light for the home fans was the play of midfielder Jonny Howson, unfortunately the only mention he ever gets on TV is his love of the club “Leeds born and bred” “No one feels the defeat more.” Behind this lies a talented player, good on the ball, quick feet that allow his to beat players, a cultured left foot that can spray passes and also find the target with a few goals. Four goals last season, there is ability in there to add more.

The night belonged to Cardiff; their system was much more fluid than Leeds. Bothroyd, Chopra and Bellamy all have the ability to go wide or come inside, Whittingham can wander all over the pitch and cause problems, and since his move down south Chris Burke looks like a player reborn. Some questions why Bellamy was out on the wing and not partnering Bothroyd, it seems he is far more dangerous from this wide starting position, able to drift inside and finish with accuracy or stay wide to use his still electric pace and cause full backs no end of troubles.

Dave Jones has built an impressive side, they will be hard to beat this season as most teams have already discovered, usually on the cusp of promotion via the playoffs, this year when it comes to May, Cardiff will more than likely by the hunted not the hunter at the top of the Championship table.

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2 comments

October 26th, 2010

Thanks for the comments on my piece. This is good – a real scene-setter, plus a nice little formation graph.
Bellamy and Bothroyd don’t play up front together as they are prone to laziness.
And I agree about Somma and Becchio – the former would way rather have been doing the latter’s job!

gibfootball

October 26th, 2010

Cheers mate, glad you enjoyed it. I think Cardiff got the formation right, Bellamy was greay for Man City on the left so only right to play him there for Cardiff.

Maybe when Billy Paynter gets fit he’ll add more to the Leeds attack.

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