Lacklustre and flat were perhaps the best descriptives of the game and City's performance in a game that rarely raised itself above the level of a training exercise but, let's face it, that's all it was. However the 200 or so City fans making the 75 minute journey did expect to see a little more for than £8 entry, credit to Cheltenham for admitting under 16's for free in a crowd of barely more than 1,000.
Cardiff made either changes from the starting line up at Yeovil but fielded a strong side with Warner having his first start in goals, a back four of Weston-Vidmar-Gabbidon-Barker, midfield of Robinson-Bullock-Kavanagh-Parry and Earnie-Lee in attack. Nothing new was learned from any of those players that we didn't already know.
Warner had little to do but shouted and organised. However the 6'5" keeper and his defence must seriously question how they conceded their goal - yet another close range free header from a set piece - haven't we learned any lessons? Weston and Barker did not make any claims, they were ok defensively but both nearly cost City second half goals with poor back-passes and neither showed more than the occasional touch and desire to get forward, surely Croft and Vidmar will start the season as right and left back. Gabbidon was the class act on the pitch.
In midfield, Kav was playing well within himself in his 45 minute display, a little deep (as usual) and generally just happy to spray the ball right and left to Parry and Robbo. The widemen did ok, Robbo putting himself about and launching into some crunching tackles but never really creating anything whilst Parry had a strong second half, scoring City's equaliser and being of the brighter players. Bullock did fine rather than spectacular too, always finding space, always finding a man with his passing and nearly grabbing a winner. The midfield collectively however really is missing a genuine creative spark, a lively influence. In attack, Earnie did well and was unlucky once or twice but suffered a lack of real service. Alan Lee meantime is becoming a worry for me. I saw Ronnie Moore score more goals! With width in the team through Robbo and Parry, Lee was denied opportunities to run the channels as he loves to do and was very quiet in the middle, an early header and the odd touch here and there.
As for the game, the first half was forgettable. One group of 18 fans who came by super limo arrived 15 minutes late and left 10 minutes before half-time to go back to the pub, they probably had the right idea. They were there long enough to get Warner to do the ayatollah, having him laughing when they chanted "if you played for Millwall, clap your hands" and cheer Dai Taxi who, for the second season, running went in the home end until he got bored.
On the pitch, City started brightly. Earnie twice came close, Robbo missed a good opening and Lee met a stabbed Robbo cross but succeeded in directing a downward header with no power straight at Cheltenham's keeper. The home side made only one real first half threat but it was the best opportunity as a long ball forward was awkwardly touched on by one of their two gangling forwards, caught out Gabbidon and ran in on goal from an angle. Gabbs did enough to put off the player as he shoulder-charged him, it may have earned a penalty if the player had fallen, but he scooped a shot wide of Warner and his far post from 10 yards.
Second half was no better until Cheltenham scored and finally woke City up. Boland replaced Kav at half-time but City fell behind on 56 minutes with another simple set-piece disaster.
The Robins won a corner, quite possibly their only one of the match, the ball was floated to the far post where Jamie Victory rose unchallenged as defenders all stood their ground and Warner was glued to his line, his downward header inside the 6 yard box easily beating Warner's dive. Cue the inquest amongst the defenders who, along with Robbo, were very unhappy for a short time and blaming each other. Cheltenham applied more pressure and nearly made it 2-0 when a woeful Weston back-pass was intercepted and a striker put into side netting when it looked simpler to hit the target.
Cardiff managed to break sweat and raise their game eventually. Their passing had been fine throughout but was one-paced, there was just no energy or zip about City and nothing special in their movement. They started to apply a little pressure and eventually Cheltenham cracked.
On 69 minutes, after a couple of desperate clearances, Tony Vidmar lofted a ball forward which Earnie fought for amongst Cheltenham's centre-half and keeper, the keeper won but under pressure, only succeed in flapping at the ball which ran loose, found its way wide to PAUL PARRY who, as the keeper re-took his position, drilled a daisy cutting drive from 15 yards across him and inside his far post. Excellent finishing.
For 5 minutes or so, City were well on top and threatening to take over in a way they did last season when a storming second half showing at Cheltenham produced a 5-1 win. Willie Boland was a fraction wide with a dipping volley across goal as he shot first time on the bounce from a Barker throw then Bullock grazed the outside of a post meeting a Robinson cross.
That was as it good as it got though as the game closed out in unmemorable style. City nearly beat themselves as Vidmar knocked the ball back awkwardly and Barker's intended pass to Warner fell short leaving a striker to close it down but, with Warner leaving his line quick and doing enough to put him off, he fired behind the goal into his home crowd.