I think I was part of the vast majority of North End fans when I said I was absolutely dreading going to Cardiff after Tuesday’s loss to Watford.
It was PNE’s turn to travel down to the south of Wales, facing recently appointed manager Mick McCarthy’s high-flying bluebirds. Cardiff, under McCarthy, haven’t lost a game in 7 matches with him in the hot seat. Drawing his first two and winning the last 5 matches, it was always going to be a big ask for North End to get anything out of this one against a side in form.
You’d have to look back to the 29th December 2017 to find North End’s last victory at the Cardiff City Stadium, captain Tom Clarke heading in a rebound from a corner inside stoppage time.
Two goals inside the first minute of both halves helped promotion-chasing Cardiff gather another three points. Truth be told, North End looked lost from the moment Kieffer Moore slotted home from the spot after what seemed to be a very soft penalty award following a “clip” on Sean Morrison by Liam Lindsay.
North End found themselves in serious trouble just after the referee started the second half. We lost possession in the middle of the park and Cardiff capitalised on that, hit us on the break and a brilliant passage of play saw Josh Murphy net the second goal of the game.
PNE were given a chance to get back into the game after Anthony Gordon managed to win a penalty for the Lilywhites, and with Paul Gallagher too on the pitch, you’d have been forgiven for thinking it was just meant to be. However, Gallagher saw his penalty saved by Dillon Phillips before the referee then blew for another North End penalty after Gallagher was clipped trying to get to the rebound.
Ched Evans stepped up for the next spot-kick but that was also saved. Quite the performance from Dillon Phillips, the Cardiff shot-stopper managed to save two penalties inside a minute. From that moment on, it just wasn’t PNE’s day.
Things went from bad to worse after a mix up between Lindsay and Iversen made sure Cardiff scored their third of the game after Marlon Pack hounded onto a rebound after an initial impressive save from close range by Iversen. Then substitute Mark Harris rounded off the day when he capitalised on a bad back pass from Lindsay, taking it round Iversen and leaving Hughes in no mans land on the goal line.
Overall, a very disappointing day in Wales for the Lilywhites. That coming after Alex Neil had gone back to a 3-5-2, you’d have been forgiven for having some positive thoughts about the game but North End were more than punished for a poor display on an abysmal, perhaps even a telling day for the club.
After watching the game, many fans were left scratching their heads and thinking what happens next?
If you went on Twitter after, or during the game, you’d have seen it was an absolute rollercoaster of emotions. Calling for Alex Neil to be sacked, people regretting their decision to purchase season tickets, and naming their favoured managers to replace Neil should he be sacked.
On the field, however, it’s looking flat. Anthony Gordon seemed to be the only person who gave PNE that bit of urgency they needed, affecting the game almost instantly after coming on by winning the penalty. Also managing to set up a few chances for Barkhuizen and Evans, he’s not afraid to run at defenders. I’d like to see Gordon start on Wednesday night and I think many people would agree.
After seeing Alex go back to his 3-5-2, a fans favourite, the first thought that comes into your head is the Rovers performance and how PNE were ruthless on and off the ball. To say that it was quite the opposite against Cardiff on Saturday would be an understatement.
Conceding in the first minutes of games is becoming all too familiar for PNE, it reminded me of the calamitous start against Rotherham at home. Although in this particular instance, I thought Joe Rafferty was unlucky, North End seem to lapse in concentration from the get-go, and we’re finding ourselves a goal down before we’ve even had a chance to settle into the game.
The whole atmosphere around North End seems deflated at the moment, negativity is at an all-time high and the table position isn’t very nice to look at either. Should PNE not pick up a win against QPR in midweek, things could get really ugly and quickly too.
I’d like to think Neil will be shuffling the pack after a disastrous performance on Saturday, maybe giving a debut start to Liverpool loanee Sepp van den Berg, who I think has done well in the minutes he’s had so far. Against Rotherham, for the 20 or so minutes he was on the pitch, I thought he looked solid on the ball and didn’t show any nerves.
It’s not looking the greatest for North End at the minute, two wins in the last 7 games, only 4 goals scored in 2021 and only managing to win four home games this season, questions are soon going to be, if not already, being asked.
It’s a big week ahead for the club and Alex Neil in particular, starting with a tough test on Wednesday night. Let’s hope we can take something from the game and that it’s the start of good things to come.
Finally, if you’ve not yet listened to the latest episode of the From the Finney podcast, “Cardiff Crumble”, it’s available to stream on the majority of streaming platforms now. Or, just press play below. The lads had some in-depth discussions on this week’s episode, specifically about Alex Neil and the club’s future and they were joined by PC Paul Elliott (@PNEPolice on Twitter) to discuss the rise in hate crimes and online abuse, particularly in football.