Saturday 21 October 2017

Solskjaer's supersubs strike

Newcastle 1 Cardiff 2

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer got off to a winning start as Cardiff City manager
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer got off to a winning start as Cardiff City manager
Cardiff City's Fraizer Campbell celebrates scoring against Newcastle United during yesterday’s FA Cup game at St James' Park. Photo: Russell Cheyne

Jonathan Liew

It had to be a supersub, of course. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer made a habit of winning games of football from the bench, and in his first match in charge of Cardiff City, he managed to repeat the trick.

Substitutes Craig Noone and Fraizer Campbell turned this match on its head, giving Cardiff their first win at St James' Park in over half a century.

Who was it who said that leadership was 90 per cent luck and 10 per cent skill? Solskjaer certainly cashed his chips in here. Cardiff were nowhere when Noone trotted on with a handshake and a pat on the back from Solskjaer after 71 minutes.

The Welshmen deservedly trailed 1-0 in a game distinctly lacking in vim. But from the Nou Camp to Newcastle, Solskjaer knows no cause is ever completely lost. And so it proved.

"When you turn round games, that's the best feeling you have in games," he said afterwards in his curious Scandi-Stretford hybrid accent. "It's a perfect start for the new times. The lads have had a lot to deal with lately, and of course it's nice for them to start with a win in the Cup."

Still, the suspicion persists that this was something of a mulligan game for Solskjaer, a chance to carry out a baby-faced assessment of his squad in a game he was not expected to win, and which mattered little in the long run.

This win may mean little come May, but it will at least ensure that he begins on a tide of goodwill. None of that for Newcastle. They were booed off by a half-empty St James' Park distinctly lacking in enthusiasm all afternoon, and beginning to weary of these early Cup surrenders.

And so, for the third time in four years, they exited this competition at the first hurdle. "It was a strange atmosphere," their manager Alan Pardew said.

That a club of Newcastle's stature has not won a trophy since 1969 is, by turns, a quirk, a shame and a stinging indictment. When they won their sixth FA Cup in 1955, no club had won the competition more. Now, they can add Cardiff to the likes of Stevenage and Brighton in their hall of third-round ignominy.

The game was lost in the space of seven minutes. To that point, Newcastle had been comfortable, if rarely exciting. Only the occasional frills of Hatem Ben Arfa were able to ignite the crowd to any great extent. A little pulse of electricity skittered around the empty stands whenever the French winger got the ball, and he produced the best chance of the first half, hitting the post with a ferocious left-footed shot.

But Newcastle deserved their lead on the hour. Yoan Gouffran's seemingly innocuous long ball found Moussa Sissoko. Mark Hudson tackled him, but the ball scuffled into the path of Papiss Cisse, who bundled home from close range.

At that point Solskjaer rang the changes. Campbell had been introduced shortly before the goal, and hit the post with a low stinger.

Noone then replaced Peter Odemwingie, and with virtually his first touch he was allowed to gallop to within 25 yards. Newcastle were almost daring him to shoot, so he did, and it was brilliant: left-footed, with pace and swerve, into the top corner.

Better was to come. Seven minutes later Campbell rose highest to head home Peter Whittingham's corner, and Cardiff had somehow pulled it off.

"We've not had a lot of time on the training ground," Solskjaer said, "but the foundation is there. We defended fantastically today."

Eyebrows were raised when Solskjaer willingly submitted himself to the whim of Vincent Tan as Malky Mackay's replacement.

But Cardiff's owner may be due a little credit. Solskjaer is well liked by players and fans alike; the perfect tonic for a troubled club.

Early days, of course, but in the long run, Tan's half-time substitution may prove to be the shrewdest of all.

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