Goals from Joe Ralls and Eoin Doyle saw Cardiff City end 2014/15 with a 2-1 victory over Nottingham Forest at the City Ground.
A red card for David Marshall with 14 minutes left to play did little to affect the game, rendering Dexter Blackstock’s injury time effort as nothing more than a consolation.
The Bluebirds finished the campaign in 11th position on 62 points – this their fifth victory in nine away games.
Nothing to play for? Not so...
With a top-ten place up for grabs, coupled with a fine 2015 away record to further bolster, the travelling Bluebirds played with poise and drive from the off on final day. City’s midfield were presented with countless gaps, not to mention ample time in which to find them; Stuart O’Keefe and Aron Gunnarsson were bossing play, while Forest looked sleepy and lacklustre.
Indeed it was no surprise to see the fluent Bluebirds open the scoring on 14 minutes. Eoin Doyle and Joe Mason’s movement through the middle was effective and deceptive; the latter’s link up-play with Joe Ralls proving vital in the build-up. Mason initially looked to test Karl Darlow with a driven effort across goal, though when his shot took a deflection upwards, Ralls was on hand to watch the ball over his shoulder before striking a left-footed volley into the top-corner. The opportunity presented itself scrappily – but the midfielder’s finish was of the highest order.
Forest were struggling in every area of the park, relying on the drive of Michael Antonio as their only outlet. The space on the counter was immense - Mason pulling the strings in the final third with deft touches and sublime forward moment. Unsurprisingly, the striker was involved City’s second; his movement to get away from Hobbs brought Doyle into play who freed O’Keefe in a central position. The midfielder had enormous time and space to poise himself for a strike at goal, and although Darlow palmed away the initial effort, the resulting cross from Matty Kennedy allowed Doyle a free header from a central position to direct home in the 24th minute. It was the Irishman’s fifth goal of the campaign.
The home side looked desperate for the referee to blow his half time whistle – their opponents were totally dominant. Defensively City looked strong, with Ben Turner’s leadership alongside Sean Morrison telling and the midfield battle seemingly already won. Player of the half, Joe Ralls, was centimeters from making it 3-0 with a delicious 30 yard free-kick; this time, though, Darlow’s net would not be breached.
City were playing for points, pride and the blue shirt.
Forest’s Plan B
It seemed as though Dougie Freedman would have to make changes at the break to try and bring life back into a team that were seemingly seeing out the season. The more attack-minded Chuba Akpom replaced Gary Gardner at half time, while Jamie Paterson replaced the ineffective Antonio just after the hour mark.
But in truth, Forest continued to falter – failing to trouble City’s backline and allowing their opponents an easy stroll towards a top-half finish. Mason and Doyle continued to threaten every time the ball went their way, while Kennedy and Ralls were ever-probing on either flank.
Red for the Skipper
A muted press contingent tapped away at their laptops as this encounter petered away towards its final 10 minutes, with little incident to comment upon. But then, in the 75th minute, the Bluebirds were reduced to 10 men in extraordinary circumstances. A Forest corner brought about a fracas in the six-yard box, with City Skipper David Marshall seemingly the victim of a swinging Forest arm. An off the ball scuffle ensued, encompassing a number of players from either side, but the only disciplining referee Bankes did was show a straight red card to the Bluebirds’ number one. Joe Mason also departed – substituted for Simon Moore as City’s final available change.
As one would anticipate, Forest threw it all at Cardiff with the man advantage, calling the Bluebirds to assemble a firm defensive shape. Substitute Moore pulled out a superb stop at the first-time of asking to deny Dexter Blackstock with 10 left to play, before the towering Ben Turner cleared Michael Mancienne’s effort off the line in the 86th minute – defining his faultless return to first-team action.
It appeared as if the game was up – but in second half stoppage time, Forest pulled a goal back. Dexter Blackstock was the man on target, nicking in at the near post to steer home. It mattered not – this was always going to be Cardiff City’s afternoon.