Cardiff City 3 Fulham 1 match report: Class act Steven Caulker gives Ole Gunnar Solskjaer survival hope
Caulker scores twice and along with an own-goal from Sascha Riether seals the win for Bluebirds
Cardiff City Stadium
Saturday 08 March 2014
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had challenged his Cardiff side to produce a performance fit for champions in this crunch relegation clash; they never threatened that level but were more than good enough to account for woeful Fulham.
Both sides may end up sliding through the trap door to the Championship at the season’s end, but at least Cardiff have reason for hope as captain Steven Caulker’s double, plus Sascha Riether’s own goal, gave Solskjaer just a second win from nine League games in charge.
The points had been up for grabs when Lewis Holtby turned in an equaliser to Caulker’s opener, but calamitous defending allowed the Bluebirds to score three in a game for the first time since they beat Manchester City back in August.
Not all of Cardiff’s transfer business, in August or January, has stood up to scrutiny, but the acquisition of Caulker from Tottenham for £9million has unquestionably been great business. The 22-year-old (below, celebrating with Craig Noone) was the rock at the heart of this victory, his calmness and composure belying his tender years.
His manager sees no reason why the England international should not be on the plane to Brazil after helping guide the Bluebirds to a win that moves them up to 18th place, below West Brom on goal difference.
Solskjaer said: “If he plays like this and chips in with the odd goal, he has to be in with a shout for the World Cup. He is a leader, very talented and he has a testing season, but he has come through it. He could have had an easy life at Spurs, but he chose Cardiff knowing it would be tough.”
On his side’s prospects of beating the drop he added: “We might not need 37 points to stay up, but that is still our target. It means a lot to everyone at the club. It’s not about one result it’s about a two month examination of their character. We have to stick together.”
Given the high stakes this was largely a nervy, scrappy affair with both sides mainly reduced to pot-shots from distance. It was dire viewing.
But Caulker eased the tension with Cardiff’s first League goal for 445 minutes right on half-time, diverting Craig Noone’s driven cross into the net from inside the six-yard box.
Fulham hit back through Holtby, after a better start to the second half, with the German turning in John Heitinga’s header from close range.
The visitors were level for just eight minutes. Jordon Mutch’s deep corner was headed in by Caulker, with Maarten Stekelenburg getting himself in a horrible muddle to make a hash of what should have been a regulation save.
Cardiff’s victory was wrapped up when the unfortunate Riether diverted the ball beyond Stekelenburg, after the keeper had blocked Mutch’s header.
Almost as alarming as Fulham’s plight – they are effectively five points from safety thanks to their awful goal difference – was the performance of £12m striker Konstantinos Mitroglou, who looks some way short of form and fitness on this showing.
The Fulham manager Felix Magath said: “He is not used to relegation fights, he played for the strongest team in Greece and it takes time to adjust. He is only used to scoring and winning but this is the Premier League and he will have to get used to it.”
Cardiff City (4-1-3-2): Marshall; Fabio, Caulker, Turner (Théophile-Catherine, 90), John; Medel (Wolff Eikrem, 81), Mutch, Noone, Kim; Campbell (Daehli, 72), Jones.
Fulham (4-5-1): Stekelenburg; Riether, Heitinga, Hangeland, Richardson; Dejagah (Karagounis, 50), Sidwell, Holtby, Riise (Kacaniklic, 45), Woodrow (Bent, 76); Mitroglou.
Referee: Martin Atkinson.
Man of the match: Caulker (Cardiff)
Match rating: 6/10
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