Match Preview: Stoke City Vs Cardiff City – 08/01/11 15:00By: joehigginson | January 8th, 2011
While the value of the FA Cup has undoubtedly diminished in the eyes of the Premier League elite, some of the old sparkle is still present and a major ‘cupset’ remains one of the highlights of the football season. Stoke face one of the trickiest tasks asked of a mid table Premier League side today, to take on and beat a high flying Championship outfit. Newport boy Tony Pulis is a great admirer of Cardiff City and their manager Dave Jones, and can often be heard lobbying for a Welsh side to reach the promised land of the Premier League.
January normally marks the time Cardiff’s perennial promotion bid goes off the rails and their current form has certainly been less consistent than earlier in the season. However they’ve continued to hold their own and after the busy Christmas schedule, a midweek win over Leeds took them back to second in the table, a position they’ve occupied for the majority of the season. Last year they suffered a similar FA cup fate to us, dumped out by eventual winners Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Just three years ago however, they caused a stir in going all the way to FA Cup final and genuinely represented the best chance of a lower division side winning the competition in the modern era. With all that in mind, it’s difficult to judge how Cardiff will treat the game. An extended run in the cup could well be a major hindrance to the Bluebirds promotion push and Jones knows the pressure is on to deliver the goods this season. On the other hand, this does represent a perfect opportunity for Cardiff to cut their teeth against Premier League opposition so I can’t see the logic in putting out a reserve team.
Focusing on our own FA Cup history then, last year’s run to the quarter finals was our best tournament in living memory (for this Stoke fan). What made this all the more bewildering is that (with the exception of York City) we successfully navigated a gauntlet to get to that point, beating Arsenal at the Brit and trumping Manchester City over two legs before finally succumbing to Chelsea at the Bridge. Had we overcome that small barrier, they might as well have started carving our name on the trophy. Pulis has promised to put out a strong side (in every sense) and I believe him. He really does take his cup competitions seriously even if the league takes priority. He revealed his envy of Dave Jones’s repeat trips to Wembley with this Cardiff side and I get the impression leading Stoke out onto the hallowed and hackneyed turf remains his ultimate ambition. After last year’s nightmare, probability, karma, equilibrium and destiny suggest the draw will be kinder to Stoke should we overcome the Bluebirds and Pulis will fancy another extended stay in the competition.
Pulis will want to win this one quickly so all the stronger players have to be in contention. Fuller and Jones won’t be displaced in attack and the back five will remain unchanged. In midfield Dean Whitehead may face the chop (despite a terrific midweek performance) as these are the sort of games Rory Delap’s long throws prove most effective. I got the impression earlier in the week a couple of players will be rested so Tuncay or Marc Wilson could be in for a potential start.
Cardiff have something of a striker shortage at present, with Craig Bellamy, Michael Chopra and Jon Parkin facing late fitness tests. I haven’t followed the Championship religiously this season but know a couple of individuals who will likely stand out. Seyi Olofinjana will be looking for a start against the club who sold him (remember his strike for Hull against us last season). Keep an eye out for the talented Peter Whittingham, a skilful winger (although he has often been seen in centre-mid this season) and a master with a deal ball. At the back we have the always reliable Kevin McNaughton and I wouldn’t mind seeing Lee Naylor in the starting lineup, a regular down my local.
One To Watch
Jay Bothroyd – It was a fantastic 2010 for a man desperate to display his credentials in the top tier of English football. A natural striker, his ability and finishing sees him lauded as one of the Championships best assets. With thirteen league goals and an England cap under his belt already this campaign, who would argue?
With only twelve league positions between the teams, this is a game neutrals will keep an eye on but we should really have the strength and quality to come through. 2-1 win.