Filed: Sunday, 4th March 2012
By: Staff Writer
Last weekend they took Liverpool to penalties in the Carling Cup Final; this week they were comprehensively beaten by West Ham United as Sam Allardyce's side dished out a dose of reality to Cardiff City.
For today's hosts it was very much a case of 'after the Lord Mayor's show' as they were thoroughly outplayed by a West Ham side who fully deserved an encouraging 2-0 win - the Hammers' TENTH away win in the league this season.
That in itself is something of a minor miracle given that United managed just two league wins away from home last season - and that it took the previous three-and-a-half years to gather the same number of wins away from Upton Park.
Today's win - a vital victory given that both Southampton and Reading, who have been in sparkling form of late, took three points yesterday - pushes West Ham back within a point of the league leaders; now a win against Watford in midweek could see them return to the top of the pile.
Yet for a while today United's profligacy in front of goal - a problem that has existed for much of the campaign - looked like it could cost them dearly again as Jack Collison, Ricardo Vaz Te and Nicky Maynard all failed to make the most of good chances in the first half as West Ham dominated.
But cometh the hour, cometh the captain - and the reinstated Kevin Nolan eased fears of another goalless outing with a sweetly-struck opener three minutes ahead of the half time break.
Collison and Maynard both redeemed themselves for their earlier misses by playing an important role in the goal. The Welsh international got the better of three opponents on the edge of the penalty area before his short pass found Maynard.
The new signing - who worked tirelessly in the lone striker's role before being replaced by Carlton Cole after an hour - picked out his captain, poised on the edge of the box with a clever pass that Nolan despatched expertly into David Marshall's bottom far corner to give United a priceless and well-deserved half time advantage.
The second half started in a similar vein with the Hammers controlling proceedings, although Maynard paid for his failure to convert a couple of good chances by being replaced - before the second goal arrived from the most unlikely of sources.
Prior to today, the on-loan George McCartney had scored just one goal in his entire professional career - that coming for West Ham in a 1-1 draw against Bolton in November 2007 (ironically perhaps the other goal in that game came from today's other goalscorer, Kevin Nolan).
But with a run and finish that a certain Roberto Carlos would have been proud of, the genial Irishman doubled his career tally and in turn ensured West Ham would be returning from their brief sojourn abroad with all three points.
Having collected the ball wide on the left by the halfway line, McCartney ran deep into the City half unopposed before a flick over a defender took him to the byeline where he centred the ball. Crucially his cross was only partially cleared - straight back to the 30-year-old who not only fired it across goal into the far corner, but with his right foot (to boot).
In all fairness to the home side, West Ham's second goal was sandwiched by a couple of efforts that found the woodwork which, on another day, could have completely changed the outcome of the game.
Rob Green was well-beaten when Peter Whittingham's 25-yard free kick struck the post before rebounding to safety with 69 minutes on the clock - whilst Kenny Miller was unlucky to see his point-black header come back off the crossbar (although replays may confirm that Green pulled off a wonder save by getting a touch on the ball first).
Either way, West Ham continued their march towards the Premier League with a second successive clean sheet.
And with home matches against strugglers Watford and Doncaster to follow within the next six days, Sam Allardyce, for one, will be hoping that his team can reclaim that top spot they relinquished after last week's impotent showing against Crystal Palace.
Cardiff City 0 West Ham Utd 2: match facts
West Ham Utd: Green, O'Brien, McCartney, Tomkins, Faye, Noble, Collison, Nolan, Lansbury (O'Neil 75), Vaz Te, Maynard (Cole 63).
Subs not used: Boffin, Potts, Baldock.
Shots on/off target: 4 on, 7 off.
Cardiff City: Marshall, McNaughton, Turner, Hudson, Taylor, Cowie, Whittingham, Gunnarsson, Mason, Miller, Gestede (Vuckic 35).
Subs not used: Heaton, Blake, Kiss, Conway.
Shots on/off target: 4 on, 8 off.
Possession: Cardiff 51%, West Ham Utd 49%.
Referee: Chris Foy (8).
Did you know? West Ham's 2-0 win was their first ever at Cardiff's new stadium - and their first away to City by more than a single goal since a 5-1 win at Ninian Park in February 1966 some 46 years ago.
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05:21PM 4th Mar 2012
''Super performance - the only thing we could have done better was more clinical finishing.''