Premier League | Cardiff City Stadium | Sat 5 Apr | 3pm
The archetypal relegation showdown fixture… it's a six pointer!
And so it begins: the countdown to relegation, or survival depending on how well you hold your nerve – and often, how generous Lady Luck is feeling on the day.
- WBA 3-3 Cardiff (Prem)
- Cardiff 3-6 Liverpool (Prem)
- Everton 2-1 Cardiff (Prem)
- Cardiff 3-1 Fulham (Prem)
- Spurs 1-0 Cardiff (Prem)
CRYSTAL PALACE FORM
- Palace 1-0 Chelsea (Prem)
- Newcastle 1-0 Palace (Prem)
- S'land 0-0 Palace (Prem)
- Palace 0-1 So'ton (Prem)
- Swansea 1-1 Palace (Prem)
This fixture, then, is crunch time for both Crystal Palace and Cardiff, two teams capable of bloodying one or two high profile noses should the mood (rarely) take them; but also two teams staring down the barrel of Championship football. At this point, bottle is key.
Luckily for Palace, their manager Tony Pulis has lorryloads of the stuff, though his team have hardly been gathering momentum in the season's final furlongs. Last week's shock result against Chelsea aside, the Eagles' last win in the league came at the beginning of February (3-1 against West Brom); their last league away win took place on Boxing Day against Aston Villa.
Not that Pulis will give a hoot. A clutch of well-earned draws plus the 1-0 defeat of Jose Mourinho's title-chasing side will be presented as evidence enough that his players have the smarts to pull off an impressive escape act.
Problem is, Cardiff hardly represent a title-chasing side. Everything about them – from the boardroom down – suggests a club heading in the wrong direction. Manager, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, a former Manchester United player who specialised in last-minute drama, has brought a little of his never-say-die drive to a beleaguered team.
Unfortunately, that reputation seems to have inspired his opponents, too: Cardiff have thrown away four points with nine injury-time goals conceded this season. They will have to be at their best if they're to douse the confidence brimming in Palace following last week's upset.
Palace striker Marouane Chamakh should be fit from the hamstring injury that ruled him out of the win against Chelsea.
Cardiff winger Craig Noone should now be fit and available after a groin injury.
Key battle: Caulker vs Chamakh
Given the current injury crisis and malaise in Tottenham's defence this season, many have been left wondering exactly why Caulker was sold to Cardiff in the summer. Certainly he has excelled at both ends this season, where he's been prolific in the air, working effectively at set-pieces and popping up in the opposition penalty area to score goals, as he did against West Brom last week in a topsy turvy 3-3 draw.
This season Chamakh has shown flashes of becoming the player Arsenal thought they'd signed a couple of years back. His feet have lost the receptive qualities of a 50 pence piece and he has been praised on several occasions for his work-rate by Pulis (though this has a whiff of the crap kid in the school team winning the Most Improved Player of the Year Award). Five goals in a campaign hardly overflowing with chances can be a considered a fairly respectable return. How he reacts to his recent hamstring injury will be key. If he's picked, in the mood, and feeling sharp, Caulker might have a busy afternoon.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- Palace 2-0 Cardiff (Prem, Dec 13)
- Cardiff 2-1 Palace (C'ship, Dec 12)
- Palace 3-2 Cardiff (C'ship, Sep 12)
- Palace 1-2 Cardiff (C'ship, Apr 12)
- Cardiff 1-0 Palace (LC, Jan 12)
It's been a mixed week for Pulis. After Palace's victory over Chelsea he was hailed as a tactical mastermind capable of maintaining his team's Premier League status. By Monday he was dismissed as the top flight's worst dressed gaffer, though the poll, conducted in a men's magazine, won't have garnered too much disgruntlement over at Selhurst Park.
Whatever Pulis is doing right, the nuts and bolts of his successes are very much in the substance-over-style category. Since taking over in November 2013, his side have been established as difficult opponents, particularly at home where the support remains fiercely passionate. Subsequently, his team have moved out of the bottom three.
It's been a sartorially tricky week for Cardiff's Solskjaer, too. Having watched his side claw their way back from defeat with last week's final-gasp goal in the 3-3 draw against West Brom, he admitted the stresses are starting to take their toll on his looks. "Never mind turning grey, I’ll lose my hair if that continues," he said. "I am enjoying it. Football is a release for people and it should be for the players. Go out there, play with no fear. The first 10 minutes they looked like they were watching an Alfred Hitchcock movie."
Solskjaer's side will have to do that from the outset to match a dangerously buoyant Palace. The tension will be big. Maybe he should consider wearing a cap in the Pulis mould.
Facts and figures
- 9 of Cardiff’s last 13 home games have seen at least 3 goals
- Cardiff have lost just 1 of 7 home matches this season against the current bottom 9
- 13 of Crystal Palace’s last 14 games have seen fewer than 3 goals, with 8 producing fewer than 2 strikes
- 6 of Palace’s last 7 away matches have been goalless at half-time
4 of Palace’s 6 trips this season to current bottom-half teams have seen fewer than 2 goals, with both teams scoring only once
Best Bet: Both teams not to score @ 1.85
More FFT Stats Zone facts • Find the best odds with Bet Butler
There will goals, but not many. There will be drama, but it won't be pretty. A 1-1 draw, then.