There is an endless list of clichés that can be applied for Cardiff City’s current plight, but the most accurate one is also the most ominous: The Bluebirds’ Premier League lives are hanging on by the thinnest of threads.
Needing to claim the full six points from their final two matches as well as have Brighton and Hove Albion take one or no points from their last two, Cardiff City begin “Mission: Impossible” at home Saturday versus Crystal Palace.
Many pegged the Bluebirds (9-4-23) for this one-season journey to the top flight and return to the Championship, but to their credit, they have at least clawed and scraped their way into having a mathematical chance of surviving the drop with eight days remaining. That said, the odds are still very long the Welsh side will avoid the drop between the four-point gap separating themselves from Brighton and the inferior goal difference that requires Cardiff City to finish ahead of them in 17th place to stay up.
Cardiff’s bid to stay up took what perhaps will be viewed as the fatal blow with last weekend’s 1-0 loss to already-relegated Fulham. Ryan Babel’s goal 11 minutes from time proved to be the difference as the Bluebirds’ best offensive display of the season in terms of shots on target (8) went for naught.
“All (Brighton) need is a point, and that’s us done,” defender Bruno Ecule Manga told Girondins4Ever in an interview according to Wales Online. “We’re really disappointed because when you look at the team we have, the players we have, and the efforts we’ve put in this season… Honestly, there’s a lot of regrets.”
Cardiff boss Neil Warnock likely will agree with his defender’s sentiments, though he also feels chastened after being fined £20,000 by the English FA for being found guilty of three charges of bringing the game into disrepute following his public criticisms of referee Craig Pawson following Cardiff’s controversial 2-1 loss to Chelsea on March 31.
The Bluebirds led that match 1-0 in the 85th minute when an equaliser by Cesar Azpilicueta that should have been chalked off for offside was allowed to stand. But Warnock’s criticisms that Cardiff were getting the short end of the stick against larger teams did not go over well with the FA, nor the off-hand comment that his wife Sharon would have forgiven him for punching the referee because the blown call was so egregious.
“It’s not so much shock at being found guilty as disappointment, to be honest with you,” said Warnock, who has failed to see any of his seven promoted sides through to survival the following season. “The FA have taken action against me, yet nothing more is said about the decisions made in that match.”
If there was a silver lining from the ruling, it was Warnock escaping a touchline ban, which will let him coach the final two matches. From there, he will have to figure out how to get goals from a side that has been shut out in four of their last five matches – losing all of those contests.
Roy Hodgson and Crystal Palace (12-7-17) have no such worries about the relegation scrap this term, though they are assured of no better than an 11th-place finish since they enter the match seven points behind Watford. Hodgson performed a famous rescue mission last term following the disastrous four-match tenure of Frank de Boer, overcoming an 0-0-7 start that included no goals and a minus-17 goal difference.
Palace will likely be happy to be on the road again after a scoreless draw at Selhurst Park versus Everton last Saturday. The Eagles were second-best for most of the match and let off the hook for a loss by both Palace keeper Vicente Guaita and the crossbar late – with the former getting a hand to a backheel attempt by Cenk Tosun and the latter absorbing a shot by Lucas Digne.
“I think there are games where they don’t go the way you’d dreamed of them going and you have to play the game that’s out there to play,” Hodgson ruminated to the club’s official website. “The game that was out there today for us was where we dug in, we accepted it wasn’t going to be one of our better days on the ball, they were going to have a situation where they were in our final third on a good number of occasions and we had to make certain our defending was as solid and as brave as it was.”
Crystal Palace have been a stellar road outfit of late, taking 13 points from their last six matches (4-1-1). All told, they have claimed 26 of their 43 points outside Selhurst Park, one off their best Premier League haul established in 2014-15.
One upcoming challenge for Crystal Palace is figuring out how to prevent the “Big Six” sides from poaching right back Aaron Wan-Bissaka in the summer. The 21-year-old was named the club’s player of the season and has been a key contributor to a defence that has posted 12 clean sheets.
“It’s a real honour, I really didn’t expect this but I’m happy to have won this,” Wan-Bissaka said. “I’m very grateful (to Hodgson and his coaches), I can’t thank them enough for giving me the opportunity,”
Palace midfielder Luka Milivojevic still needs one more penalty to equal the Premier League mark of 11 set by Andy Johnson for Palace in 2004-05. The Serbian international has converted all but one of his tries from the spot, with the most recent one coming against Newcastle United on April 6.
The teams played out a scoreless Boxing Day draw in the reverse fixture, with both Milivojevic and Andros Townsend hitting the woodwork. Despite finishing with 31 shots, Palace did not secure the point until Guaita made a point-blank spot on Kadeem Harris in the final minutes.
Palace have not conceded a goal to Cardiff in their three Premier League meetings, having done the double by a combined 5-0 count in 2013-14.
PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Cardiff City 0, Crystal Palace 1.
(Neil Warnock photo courtesy Cardiff City FC official Twitter account)
(Aaron Wan-Bissaka photo courtesy Crystal Palace F.C. official Twitter account)