After 34 games without a penalty for or against Cardiff City this season the duck was finally broken in the Bluebirds’ 1 – 1 draw with Stoke City at Cardiff City Stadium on Saturday. The game was instantly forgettable but the whole relegation picture is developing into a classic. Cardiff’s point was a boost over Fulham, Norwich and WBA who all lost. The surprise result saw Sunderland win at Chelsea and sets up an exciting game against Cardiff next Sunday. Firstly, the game on Saturday. Stoke were awarded the first penalty when former Cardiff player Peter Odemwingie was judged to have been fouled by Kim Bo-Kyung on the stroke of half time. Referee Howard Webb thought for a second or two before pointing to the spot. It was soft but after watching the replay you could see that there might have been a touch. Marko Arnautovic stepped up to score from the spot to give Stoke a lead that was slightly against the run of play but it difficult to call just who were the poorer team during the first half. Just a few minutes into the second half, Webb awarded Cardiff their first penalty of the season. The home side had started the second half on the front foot and were rewarded for their pressure when Steven N’Zonzi caught the foot of Fraizer Campbell. Again, it was soft but there was contact. You get the feeling that Webb evened things up. Peter Whittingham, back in the side after being left out in the cold, made no mistake from 12 yards. It was Whittingham’s third goal of the season and his influence may yet prove pivotal to Cardiff’s hope of survival. The quality of ball into the box from Whittingham, whether it be from a corner or a free kick is better than anything the rest of the squad can offer. In the first half he forced a stunning save from Asmir Begovic after Cardiff were awarded a free kick on the edge of the box. The corners taken by the mercurial midfielder always caused problems for the Stoke defence. The notable incidents in the game were few and far between. Whittingham’s free kick aside Cardiff saw a Jordon Mutch shot easily saved by Begovic in the first half and a goal mouth scramble in the second half that resulted in Steven Caulker hitting the post and Juan Cala being ruled offside when scoring from the rebound. Stoke were thwarted by the superb David Marshall. The Scottish international beating out a thunderbolt from Odemwingie in the first half before producing a last minute block to keep Oussama Assaidi’s point blank effort from hitting the back of the net. Marshall again staking a claim for keeper of the season. The relegation battle is fascinating.
Looking at it realistically there are five teams fighting to avoid the bottom three. Each week that goes by, the probable relegation favourites change. Just who would have guessed that Sunderland would get four points from away games at Man City and Chelsea and who would even have given Cardiff a chance of four points from Southampton away and in-form Stoke at home. Norwich have lost their last four games and still have to face Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal. For Cardiff, I think two wins may be enough. The first of those must be on Sunday when Cardiff face Sunderland at The Stadium of Light in a mid-day kick off. My feelings are mixed. I can’t see Cardiff getting a result against a confident Sunderland side but like we’ve seen in previous games the home side struggle to handle the pressure. Cardiff crumbled in home games against Palace, Hull and West Ham. Maybe Sunderland will be unable to deal with the weight of home expectation. The two sides that can help themselves are Norwich and West Bromwich Albion. Wins for either would almost certainly help them survive but one thing this division guarantees is drama and the next 20 days is going to deliver it in droves. Cardiff have to go back to the North East after Sunderland to face Newcastle United. Then a final day home clash with Chelsea. The manager, like me, thinks we need two wins. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer still has the chance to keep his side in the top division. "It is not a miracle needed, but it is two very good performances needed in the next two games to give us a chance in the last game against Chelsea." Solskjaer said after the draw with Stoke. Cardiff still have a Premier League pulse, just. Sunderland versus Cardiff is set up to be a cracker, maybe not for top quality but for top drama.