Cardiff City 2 - 1 Charlton Athletic. Match report.

Last updated : 04 August 2003 By Matthew Gabb
In their final official first team friendly before First Division football returns to Cardiff City after 18 years absence, Graham Kavanagh and Andy Campbell fired the goals in an excellent 2nd half fightback to steer the Bluebirds to a fully merited, morale boosting victory over Premiership Charlton Athletic at Ninian Park.

The night belonged to Scott Young, City's much loved defender celebrating surviving a decade of turbulent times at Ninian Park. A veteran of 334 first team appearances, Youngie is still just 27 years old. Injury and fitness problems meant Young only made a cameo final 7 minute appearance ... as a striker! It was still long enough to earn him two huge ovations, become captain, win a corner for City following a surging run from halfway with his first touches, nearly crown his night with a goal from a far post header and jointly win man of the match - I think the last bit was a slight fix.

Festivities aside, City treated their only home pre-season friendly as a serious occasion and lined up with the team, signings and injury improvements permitting, most likely to take the field at Rotherham's Millmoor ground in the opening league fixture next weekend.

They lined up with Neil Alexander behind a back four of Weston, Vidmar, Gabbidon and Chris Barker with Weston and Barker roving forward as much as they could. Bonner, Boland, Kav and new signing John Robinson making a belated pre-season City bow were in midfield. Kav helped protect defence and start moves, Bonns and Boland tidied, scampered and disrupted with John Robinson starting wide left then coming inside and making an immediate impression with his general play, work rate and commitment. In attack were Earnie and Campbell who still don't look truly comfortable playing with each other and I'm not sure that they ever will but they worked well, got better as the game progressed and kept Charlton busy throughout. Peter Thorne, Gareth Whalley and Gary Croft are all expected to miss the start of the season with injuries or illness.

As for Charlton, they undoubtedly fielded a strong side that will not be far away from their likely Premiership starting line-up in a fortnight. Rachukba in goals (signed from Man United but who played against City for Oldham last season) in goals, Young, Paul Konchevsky, Jon Fortune (Leo's nephew) Gary Rowett, Graham Stuart, Kevin Lisbie (who always does well for me in Championship Manager!), Matt Holland, Jonathan Johansson, Chris Bart-Williams and Herman Hreidarsson. Scott Parker, linked with many big clubs over the summer, appeared after just quarter hour following injury to Rowett and Sean Bartlett played the final 20 minutes. Only Mark Fish, Jason Euell and Dean Kiely, of their regular squad appearing players, did not feature.

After a fortnight of fairly rotten summer holiday weather, the day itself brightened up into a decent, balmy evening. The crowd was just over 6,000 including 150 or so South Londoners.

Some were disappointed with the attendance but pre-season games have rarely been well attended at Cardiff and this remains a good crowd. Scott Young deserved more for his service but with the overwhelming majority of the crowd in the Bob Bank, Grange End and Canton Stand whilst the Grandstand was very sparsely populated, it probably sent its own message about fans feeling the game was slightly over-priced for what remained a "meaningless" game and in an era where players, even at this level, have infinitely better financial rewards and futures than in the past when testimonial matches first came into being.

The proceeds for Scott Young will undoubtedly be well into five figures - certainly a lot better than the pin badge, thank you letter and £25 gift voucher I got for 10 years service with my previous employer!!!

Ninian Park looks little different but the £50,000 spent on creating Ninian Park's first new pitch for 30 years is excellent investment with the playing surface in immaculate condition and never looking better. I bet Gnasher was gutted to see players ruining his lawn.

The only minor alterations related to the press box being moved to the Lower Grandstand Grange side to create more seats in the middle Upper Grandstand. Pre-match, City came out with the play-off winners trophy giving fans the very first chance to see it since that never-to-be-forgotten day at Millennium Stadium just over 2 months ago and Scott Young leading the honours with his son.

The early tempo easily belonged to Charlton who showed their pedigree by looking quicker of speed and thought than Cardiff's players who were struggling to make any significant headway as they looked a little sluggish by comparison. Passing moves broke down, the fluency wasn't there and, most crucially and worrying of all, the final ball was again missing as we lacked penetration in the final third.

Charlton were in cruise control. Warning signs came as Johansson twice went close, on one occasion bringing a smart low save from Alexander and looked a real danger to City. Cardiff's only answer during this spell was a Tony Vidmar drive which only succeeding in worrying the mass of seagulls circling around the ground as it landed on the Canton Stand roof.

The game was a dull affair at this stage but it was pleasing to see John Robinson shouting and organising others on the pitch and trying a few runs whilst Chris Barker impressed too as he pushed forward more than he did last season. We still look far too quiet a team for my liking and we surely need someone like this.

On 20 minutes, another City defensive calamity and, surprisingly, it was Danny Gabbidon. Coming under pressure, he knocked the ball left to nowhere, surely a miskick, which was easily collected, squared into the box, a shot was half blocked but ran kindly for JOHANASSON who had few problems guiding a low shot past the unprotected Alexander from close range.

To their credit, it woke City a little. That final touch was largely missing but they finally picked up the tempo, found some passing moves and created some problems. Some Earnie saw him lose his marker wide then cut inside and hit a low shot that Rachkuba gathered then Rhys Weston showed excellent support play to push on, beat his man and fire a low cross that Charlton's defence just snuffed out under pressure from Robinson then Andy Campbell fired a high angled shot that the away keeper had to bring down.

Charlton however nearly doubled their lead but were denied by a couple of Alexander saves, one of them excellent. Alexander however still needs to work on his distribution and composure after making saves. Both times he made a stop, he immediately threw the ball out and straight to a red shirt instead of blue. It was very average to watch but City were competitive and having a good work out.

Half-time: CITY 0 CHARLTON 1

There was a celebrity half-time penalty competition featuring ex-City legend Carl Dale (still highly appreciated by the crowd), ex-boxer Nicky Piper, egg chasers Neil Jenkins and Gereth Thomas (Thomas who ayatollahs whenever he scores for Wales at rugby), a City fan who paid £250 at auction for the privilege and someone else (the Bob Bank p.a. was absolutely dire so I haven't a clue who the other one was). Jenkins showed he can put them under the bar as well as over it in winning after being the only one to score 2 out of 2 penalties against George Wood, the supporter's £250 saw his one and only penalty screwed about 15 yards wide!

Nathan Blake appeared on the pitch at half-time to support Scott, or so we were told. Is he or isn't he the £800,000 First Division striker that Cardiff are supposedly close to securing? Perhaps we will never know. The best half-time feature though had to be the kiddie's football match.

As it finished, one of the teams lifted their shirts over their heads to reveal a letter each on a t-shirt that read "BLUE ARMY" which got the biggest cheer. They caused a delay to the start of the 2nd half as they were still showing it and ayatollahing as both teams were waiting to kick-off!

City were noteworthy last term for not performing as well in 2nd halves as opening periods. Is it now going to work in reverse? City blitzed Cheltenham earlier in the week in the 2nd half and, whilst not as spectacular, Charlton were about to fall to the same fate.

Cardiff undoubtedly found an extra spring in their step as the passing looked crisper, the pace was upped a bit and they were looking a very neat and composed team. After Charlton were denied what looked a strong penalty claim, City immediately got the ball forward and Earnie darted between two defenders to fire narrowly over. A minute later, another move and John Robinson, now inside, missed the far post by a fraction with a cracking volley that had Rachkuba beaten.

City defence looked solid and composed and Vidmar, impressing, and Gabbidon seemed to be having a private competition to see who could produce the best surging run from defence, all heart-warming stuff.

Despite all, a goal didn't look on the cards until 58 minutes when out of nothing, Robinson moved inside the area, fell under challenge from Konchevsky and the ref had no hesitation in instantly awarding an innocuous penalty that nobody in the ground seemed to be shouting for.

As the award was made, Kav grabbed the ball but with both Earnie and him wanting to take it, it was KAV who placed the ball on the spot and gleefully blasted low and home to Rachkuba's right giving him little chance.

City were more than matching Charlton and looking the better side by this stage but although now a good game for the viewer and the home side certainly now impressing their support but we all realise that at least two or three more signings are required to make us a competitive force in the big step up to First Division action, there is a concern that we do not have the strength in depth.

There was little major goalmouth action at either end but what moments there were belonged to City with Kav, Earnie and Campbell all having attempts at goal whilst Alexander was now a spectator. Changes were made with Bartlett appearing for the Addicks and then Roger Ljeung, having earned international clearence earlier that day, came on for the final 20 minutes replacing Bonner. The Swede, on trial but who could be a signing during next week, looked a little like a rejuvenated Andy Legg with his blonde hair but, despite the cheers, never got that involved although the couple of touches he had were neat. With 12 minutes remaining, Mr XXL (Layton Maxwell) replaced Robinson who has quickly become a crowd pleaser and departed to a huge applause.

Maxwell has had a good pre-season, is perhaps showing signs of knuckling down, and proved it again by starting a move that created an excellent winning goal. Receiving the ball in his own half, Maxwell spun, dummied and burst (as in charge rather than his belly exploding) through two Charlton players, strode on and pushed the ball wide to Kav who launched a great far post cross that ANDY CAMPBELL met with a looping header over Rachkuba and inside the farthest post.

It made Charlton the 3rd successive Premiership team to visit Ninian Park and depart with a 2-1 loss after taking the lead following Bolton in a friendly on the same weekend last season and, of course, Leeds in the cup tie that will enter folklore with a winner scored by a certain Scott Young.

It was Scott's night, on he came for those closing moments and those richly deserved plaudits for all he's done for Cardiff City and, hopefully, will still be doing for a long while to come.

Icwales report here.

BBC report here.