independent

Sunday 20 April 2014

Goalless in Cardiff

Craig Noone, centre, hit the woodwork for Cardiff

Cardiff and Aston Villa played out a goalless draw at Cardiff City Stadium which does far more good for the visitors' hopes of Premier League survival than their hosts.

Cardiff dominated the opening half and struck the woodwork through Fraizer Campbell and a deflected Craig Noone shot, but could not find the net.

Villa offered no threat during the opening 45 minutes but could have taken all three points had Leandro Bacuna and Gabriel Agbonlahor shown better composure in front of goal.

Ultimately this was a game Cardiff needed to win, and one Villa were happy enough to avoid losing, and there is no question this result will be more warmly welcomed by Paul Lambert than Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

Villa climb five points clear of the drop zone, but Cardiff remain 19th with just two wins from their last 17 league games.

They will also have to do without Craig Bellamy for their critical upcoming encounter with Hull after player and club "reluctantly" accepted a violent conduct charge and three-match ban from the Football Association for striking Swansea midfielder Jonathan de Guzman in Saturday's south Wales derby defeat.

Solskjaer was brave in his selection on the night, with Campbell, Noone, Wilfried Zaha, Kenwyne Jones and Jordon Mutch all starting, but there was never any real flow to their play, with Zaha and Jones worryingly ineffectual.

Yet what chances there were during a first half devoid of any genuine quality fell to the home side.

After a dull opening, enlivened only by a hopeful, and off-target Fabien Delph strike, the game briefly sprung to life in the 14th minute as Cardiff struck the woodwork twice within a matter of seconds.

Zaha played in Campbell, but Brad Guzan did brilliantly to get a hand to the strike and push it onto the far post and away to Noone, the winger cut in and Guzan was beaten when his shot looped up off Ashley Westwood and onto the crossbar.

Ron Vlaar had to be alert to block a Campbell effort from close range after Jones had wrestled clear of Nathan Baker, and Vlaar had to clear from Campbell once more when his horribly sliced clearance had played the striker onside.

Zaha had the ball in the back of the net at the other end, but was a long way offside when Steven Caulker's header fell to him in the six-yard box.

Mutch did not last much longer as he limped off holding a hamstring, with Magnus Wolff Eikrem his replacement, before Villa had penalty appeals turned away after Kevin Theophile-Catherine had handled while heading clear under pressure from Benteke.

Villa, doubtless with some harsh words from Lambert ringing in their ears, started the second period brightly and Cardiff skipper Caulker blocked a goalbound Benteke header from another pinpoint Albrighton centre.

The hosts were soon back on the front foot with Campbell getting the better of Vlaar, thanks to a touch off his arm, but failed to work Guzan with his shot from the edge of the area.

Bacuna was similarly wasteful at the other end as Agbonlahor's intelligent turn and through ball went unrewarded thanks to a scuffed effort from the full-back.

Jones headed directly at Guzan from Theophile-Catherine's cross, while Benteke curiously opted to try and pull the ball back across goal when Bacuna's pass had split the Cardiff defence and played him in on goal.

As the game finally opened up Marshall was called upon to make his first save of the night as he stuck out a left-hand to keep out a Delph shot which had taken a wicked deflection off Gary Medel.

But arguably the best chance of all fell to Agbonlahor in the dying minutes. Albrighton's pass and Benteke's flick found the striker free in front of goal, only for him to delay his shot long enough for Theophile-Catherine to make a crucial block.

And then, with seconds remaining, Marshall pulled off a stunning save in stoppage time to deny Andreas Weimann as preserve Cardiff's point. The goalkeeper changed direction in mid air to save Cardiff.

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