Premier League | Cardiff City Stadium | Sat 22 Feb | 3pm
Bruiser battles baby (face).
The term “must-win game” – touted round earlier and earlier each season – is a bit daft. Cardiff could blow this one and still jump out of trouble by reaping points elsewhere in their final 11 matches, and with Fulham, Crystal Palace, Stoke, Sunderland and West Brom all still on the agenda, there is a lot of potential leapfrogging yet to be done.
- Cardiff 1-2 Wigan (FAC)
- Cardiff 0-0 Aston Villa (Prem)
- Swansea 3-0 Cardiff (Prem)
- Cardiff 2-1 Norwich (Prem)
- Man Utd 2-0 Cardiff (Prem)
- Brighton 1-1 Hull (FAC)
- Hull 0-1 So'ton (Prem)
- S'land 0-2 Hull (Prem)
- Hull 1-1 Spurs (Prem)
- Palace 1-0 Hull (Prem)
Realistically, however, there are several reasons why the visit of Steve Bruce’s men is a whopper for the Welsh. Firstly, it is eminently winnable: Hull have been lamentable on the road (only Stoke, Palace, West Brom and Cardiff themselves have picked up fewer away points), while the Bluebirds’ home record hasn’t been entirely dire, at least.
Secondly, there’s a sense that if this match were to end in defeat, Cardiff’s belief could evaporate completely. With the season already compromised in the fans’ eyes by Vincent Tan’s ongoing evil puppeteering and a painful derby day crushing earlier in the month, the boo-boys’ larynxes are getting plenty of exercise. Momentum is desperately needed to silence them. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s league record of won one, drawn one, lost four looks awful on paper, but defeats to Manchesters City and United were to be expected, and even the Swansea horror show could be partly forgotten should they start to beat some fellow sides in the bottom 10.
Falter on Saturday and Cardiff will look increasingly adrift, and OGS’ first foray into Premier League management – already tarnished by his defence of Tan as “misunderstood” – may also be short-lived. With midfielder Gary Medel – one of the season’s brighter sparks – out for a number of weeks, his uphill task will be made all the more hilly.
Bruce, meanwhile, must motivate a Jekyll and Hyde outfit that have been marvellous at home but lost nine times away from the KC Stadium. Their powerful display at Sunderland – where they picked up their second road victory of the term – should give them some confidence, particularly with Shane Long and Nikica Jelavic looking like a potent pairing. All of which points towards a close tie, and a potential stalemate that would please Bruce far more than his young rival.
Alongside Medel, Jordan Mutch and Mark Hudson are out for the home side. Joe Dudgeon and Liam Rosenior should be fit again for the Humbersiders, but Robbie Brady, Paul McShane and James Chester are still out.
Player to watch: David Marshall (Cardiff)
Cardiff have let in 44 goals this season – only Fulham have conceded more – but the strapping Scotsman standing in their net is still arguably their MVP. Solskjaer certainly thinks so – “I wouldn’t swap him for anyone, that’s for sure” – and Marshall’s two superb reflex stops against Villa, the second of which looks nailed on for save of the season, help prove his boss’ point.
He is the first custodian to clock up more than 100 saves in 2013/14 (59 from inside the box and 42 from outside, so far), and while that doesn’t reflect well on his defence, it has at least given the Glaswegian a chance to show off his athleticism. With fellow Caledonian Allan McGregor in the Tigers' net, Saturday's meet could be that rare thing: a masterclass of Scottish goalkeeping excellence.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- Hull 1-1 Cardiff (Prem, Sep 13)
- Hull 2-2 Cardiff (Ch'ship, May 13)
- Cardiff 2-1 Hull (Ch'ship, Nov 12)
- Cardiff 0-3 Hull (Ch'ship, Mar 12)
- Hull 2-1 Cardiff (Ch'ship, Oct 11)
The crook-nosed battleaxe who in many ways began Sir Alex Ferguson’s success tsunami (Bruce, with the late double-header salvo against Sheffield Wednesday that would prove pivotal in clinching Manchester United’s first Premier League title in 1993) and the infant-featured poacher who stuck the icing on the top of it (can you ice a tsunami?) meet for the first time as gaffers.
While by our calculations Gordon Strachan is the most successful ex-Ferguson player in the managerial realm – by dint of winning a couple of trophies in Scotland – there isn’t much real competition.
Think Paul Ince, Mark Hughes, Roy Keane and Bryan Robson, apart from Bruce. His impressive longevity as a boss (16 years) is unmatched by any of his United contemporaries, and the Norwegian apprentice could do worse than ask the wily Geordie for a few tips over a post-game glass of red.
Facts and figures
- 20 of Hull’s 26 games this season have had fewer than 3 goals.
- Hull’s 12 matches against bottom-half teams this season have averaged just 1.67 GPG despite them beating Fulham 6-0.
- Cardiff are unbeaten in their 5 home games against current bottom-half teams this season, with 3 wins.
- Cardiff’s 15 games against bottom-half sides this season have averaged just 1.74 GPG including four 0-0s.
0-0. A result neither use nor ornament to Solskjaer. At least fans can debate who has the most meddlesome owner in the pub.