MONDAY'S BIG MATCH COMMENT: Wanderers 0 Cardiff City 1
WITH grey clouds hovering over the Reebok Stadium after the 7-1 Championship humbling at Reading, the FA Cup gave Dougie Freedman’s side the chance to forget their troubles and put some colour back in their cheeks as a squad.
And there was plenty of colour on show on Saturday as the famous old competition brought with it salmon-tinted footballs, purple referee’s jerseys and a multi-coloured array of boots when the Whites took on the Bluebirds – who now, confusingly, wear red – under dull skies.
But it was footballing fortunes that Freedman and co were focused on – taking his team out of the red and into the black after the ridicule of Reading was the primary aim.
It was never going to be straightforward against a top-flight side, even if it is one that sits bottom of the Premier League.
It is commonly-acknowledged one major difference between the top two divisions is the size and strength in depth of their respective squads and nowhere was that more evident than at the Reebok on Saturday.
While one young manager was down to one available senior striker and forced to have a bench including four youngsters, his opposite number – another former striker – was able to make five changes to his team and have a wealth of talent in reserve. That’s the difference and it showed at the weekend.
It was possibly no surprise that visiting boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who earned a reputation as a player as being something of a super sub at Manchester United, saw his team progress after the introduction of that talent from the bench.
Just like in the last round at Newcastle, the Norwegian saw his changes alter the game.
It took just five minutes for Craig Noone to supply the cross that fed fellow half-time substitute Fraizer Campbell via a rare rick from Andy Lonergan and that solitary goal sent Cardiff into round five.
It was not all one-way traffic and Freedman rightly pointed to his side’s first-half display as the reason Solskjaer was forced to draft in some of those he rested ahead of tomorrow’s crucial league trip to Manchester United.
Unfortunately, the other big difference between divisions is quality in the final third and Wanderers are lacking in that department at present.
Craig Davies worked manfully on his recall with Jermaine Beckford injured and David Ngog on the verge of a move to Swansea. Chris Eagles and Chung-Yong Lee also put effort in, albeit with little rewards with their final passes.
In contrast, Cardiff’s Campbell needed one sniff of goal after Lonergan’s fumble to net the winner from an acute angle.
Finding that clinical touch in front of goal has constantly concerned Freedman – a striker who had the knack of finding the old onion bag.
And it is not something he is ignoring if efforts to draft in the likes of Danny Graham and ex-loanee Joe Mason – who played for Cardiff on Saturday – prove fruitful.
They may be in the red financially but the Whites need an injection of fresh talent up front if they are to avoid feeling blue in the second half of the season.