Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Match Report: Cardiff City 2 Leeds United 1

United manager Simon Grayson made two changes for the club's first ever visit to the Cardiff City Stadium with Ben Parker returning to the fold for his first start since April. Billy Paynter was also named in the starting line-up in place of Luciano Becchio, who dropped down to the bench.
Cardiff had hammered Leeds 4-0 at Elland Road last time out and had a 27-year unbeaten record against United, but the Welsh side went into the clash on the back of a run that had seen five defeats in seven outings.
Cardiff's former home at Ninian Park had been a hostile place to visit, but there was no real edge at the club's new home with a distinct chnage in atmosphere. United had sold out an allocation of around 1800 who were housed in one corner of the rain sodden stadium.
The home side started on the front foot winning a couple of early corners, and Andy O'Brien made a couple of early clearances for Leeds.
And it was United who had the first shot at goal when Robert Snodgrass fired wide from an angle after cutting in from the right.
But the home side got their noses in front in the 11th minute, courtesy of Craig Bellamy. The Manchester City striker, on a season long loan with Cardiff, played a one-two just inside the box and on receiving the return pass, in acres of space, he tucked in between the legs of Kasper Schmeichel.
United had an opportunity within two minutes when Ross McCormack won a free-kick on the edge of the area, but the Scot's set-piece hit a defender and was cleared to safety.
Schmeichel was called upon to make another save inside the opening 20 minutes, though, when, after Andy Keogh ran unchallenged and had a shot blocked, the Dane palmed a Chris Burke shot around the post. From the resultant set-play he saved again when the ball was half-cleared, this time from Bellamy with a powerful strike.
Just as at Elland Road back in October, Cardiff's early movement with the ball was superb and Leeds were on the back foot in looking to restrict the hosts.
Cardiff won another series of corners and Schmeichel sav ed again from Peter Whittingham with another well struck effort from distance as the home side looked for a second goal. That goal could have come when Mark Hudson was the reciptent of a Bellamy cross, but the central defender slipped on the turn and his shot was cleared.
Considering the home side's early domination, the atmosphere remained surprisingly muted, a factor which certainly couldn't harm Grayson's men as they looked to repel the hosts advances and get a foothold back in the game.
And, slowly, United started to look like a side who had weathered the storm and realised they were more than capable themselves. Two Snodgrass crosses caused problems, the second going for a corner which saw Billy Paynter head just over the bar.
The Scot could also consider himself unfortunate not to pick up another corner when a Cardiff defender clearly got a decisive touch as he looked to cut inside. But Leeds were finally starting to look like a threat, although an improvement in the final ball was now the key area.
One other noticeable feature in the first half had been Bellamy's ability to become drawn into verbal spats with both Paul Connolly and Snodgrass as the game progressed.
The home side held the lead at the break, but you sensed if United could be a little more clinical in the second period the game was still in the balance.
But it was Cardiff who created the first chance of the second half when Hudson stabbed a shot straight at Schmeichel after some good work by Bellamy. The United goalkeeper also had to claw away another cross from Cardiff's loan man when Whittingham was waiting to pounce.
Shortly before the hour, Grayson looked to pep things up a little with Lloyd Sam and Sanchez Watt both coming on.
The duo hadn't been on the field for a minute when Watt made a surging run and fed Sam whose shot was well saved by Tom Heaton. As Leeds looked to return the ball into the danger zone again, Snodgrass delivered another of his speciality strikes from distance, leaving Heaton with no chance.
Unfortunately, Sam's involvement was restricted to just six minutes when he limped out of the action to be replaced by Luciano Becchio.
United had indeed got a foothold a back in the game and when Bradley Johnson picked out Paynter with a great ball, the striker was crowded out as he shaped to shoot.
When Cardiff threatened again, Schmeichel was able to save comfortably from Keogh and, almost as though they had been waiting for the game to even up, the home support were quick to start to airing their frustrations.
At the other end, Heaton had to gather a shot from Parker, who cut inside from the left.
There was a short delay on 75 minutes when Watt and Paul Quinn clashed heads. Watt was swiftly bandaged up while Quinn was replaced by Darcy Blake. Former United midfielder Stephen McPhail was also introduced for the home side in place of Burke.
And it was Cardiff who got their noses back in front in somewhat simplistic fashion with 11 minutes remaining. Michael Chopra was able to profit from a simple long ball over the top and he placed his shot past Schmeichel with ease to give his side the lead again.
United immediately came back, Howson forcing Heaton into a save, as United looked to salvage something from the game. Snodgrass won another corner for Leeds when he had a good cross cleared, but his set-play delivery was too high for the waiting posse in the box.
There was four minutes of added time, and the roar that came from the travelling fans was the loudest as the game headed into its final stage, but the closest United came to salvaging an equaliser was when Becchio headed wide at the far post.
Indeed, Cardiff almost added a third in the dying moments, but Schmeichel outfoxed Keogh who was clean through on goal as Leeds pushed forward.
The defeat brought United's unbeaten run to an end at the 13th attempt, and attentions turned to a weekend away from the league with an FA Cup trip to Arsenal.

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