Cheltenham Town 1 - 5 Cardiff City. Match Report.

Last updated : 30 July 2003 By Matthew Gabb
CARDIFF CITY took the maxim "a game of two halves" to its absolute limit at Whaddon Road by recovering from a first half Cheltenham battering during which the Bluebirds were abysmal in the first-half which they trailed 1-0 - it could have been much much worse - to transform themselves into 5-1 winners with 5 different scorers, by final whistle - and, yes, it could have been much much more.

City fans who weren't there could easily get carried away by the overall flattering scoreline. Those of us there will know differently, we have more questions than answers and will dismiss the final outcome as a freakish result, the sort of thing that frequently happens pre-season.

It may have been late July but there was little hint of summer with rain falling pre-match and heavy grey skies in Cheltenham, little more than an hour and 70 miles from Cardiff. 350 or so Bluebirds were present in a crowd of approx. 1,500 and rather than the normal shallow away terrace - one of the worst away sections for views in professional football - we were allowed in a side stand for £7.

Pre-season didn't stop an unusually high police presence and some over-zealous stewarding either with body searches outside and a few Cardiff fans not being allowed to watch the game due to the belief they had a little too much to drink. One renowned Cardiff City supporting pub landlord stuck up for them so then couldn't get in himself. I wonder if The Lansdowne will now display new memorabilia claiming it's the home of the "First City Fan with a Div 1 Ban"? Eh Roger??? ;>)

City fans walked out from under the stand and found themselves walking almost onto the pitch to take their seats - I arrived just as the game started, it was the closest I've ever felt I've been to playing for City as Rhys Weston defended literally inches from me.

City lined up with some familiar faces in what appeared to be a 5-3-2 system with Margetson, Weston, Vidmar, Prior, Gabbidon, Barker, Boland (Captain), Bonner, Bowen, Earnie, Campbell. Gabbi appeared to have a roving role from the back and mainly attacked the left and Bowen was allowed to advance through the middle. Neil Alexander and Gavin Gordon were on the bench with some youngsters. John Robinson, Kav and Gareth Whalley didn't appear to have travelled.

Not City's strongest line up but whether it was the formation, the personnel, general sloppiness or all three factors, they started woefully. Cheltenham's attack was led by ex-Bluebird Paul Brayson and Odejayi. It was Odejayi causing most of the problems as City's defence collectively made him looked the most feared striker in football.

Margetson, City's 1st half man of the match - it was that bad, made a smart early save getting down low to deny Devaney before Odejayi took over, his cross shot was deflected onto a post by Margetson before he stole away from Gabbidon, albeit with a lucky run of the ball, and his cross shot was excellently palmed away by City's keeper who was excellent throughout.

City were getting a rough ride and looked unhappy. There was little communication and little for fans to be excited about. The only relief were forward bursts by Weston and Gabbi, Vidmar was showing show calm touches but midfield looked lost (they didn't even look there), Campbell and Earnie were looking for scraps and communication wasn't just minimal but non-existent.

It was a matter of time before Cheltenham scored and it was in a somewhat familiar fashion as Odejayi turned Prior who slipped to the floor, sped away and slotted past Margetson from 15 yards with City nowhere on 20 minutes.

Cheltenham had other efforts but should really have doubled their lead approaching half-time as they too easily broke clear on the right, Brayson had acres of space, chipped Margetson but his shot hit the post and ran across goal to Odejayi who fired into the side netting from an angle.

For City, Weston and Campbell tested Book with minor efforts and Gabbidon fired an edge of area free-kick well over the bar. Fans were frustrated and not happy at all with what we were witnessing, we barely looked good enough for Div 3 never mind Div 1.

On 25 minutes, Spencer Prior limped away to be replaced by Layton Maxwell, City moved to a more rigid 4-4-2 type system and it seemed to settle them, passing moves were starting to happen but with little or no end product. City's frustrations with themselves more and more apparent as firstly Boland and then Weston indulged in poor late tackles.

Half-time: CHELTENHAM 1 CITY 0

The movie, "The Hulk", is on release at the moment. The movie is a stinker, just like the Bluebirds 1st half display, but it was easy to imagine Lennie turning green, bursting out of his clothes and showing the players that they wouldn't look him when he's angry and City came back a transformed team.

Cheltenham changed three players for the 2nd half and another three 10 minutes in. In-between, City had turned the 1-0 deficit into a 3-1 lead and pulled clear, finally showing where the true gulf existed.

The equaliser, on 47 minutes, came from CIty's 2nd corner of the match. The ball looped over, cleared defenders and fell to GABBIDON who didn't hit the cleanest shot from 15 yards back across goal but aided by a deflection too, it sneaked inside the far post. Relief for fans and players alike.

It that was scrappy, Earnie's goal three minutes later was the exact opposite. Receiving the ball far left, EARNIE cut inside one man and then releasing an absolute screamer from the edge of the area which seemed to get faster as it rose right into the stanchion inside the far post. Such venom, such a stunning strike, maybe the winner of goal of the season already. Earnie celebrated another candidate for Top 3 goals of his career with a somersault.

Then 3-1 as City broke left to right as Boland found Earnie who laid it off to RHYS WESTON, who powered forward, got to the ball and his shot gave Book no chance again, a slight deflection helped that on its way too.

The transformation was already complete and so was the mood. Bobby Gould, Cheltenham's boss, was treated to several renditons of "Bobby, Bobby, what's the score?" and an array of insults - his time with Wales, and maybe City too, will stay in folklore.

City were now pulling Cheltenham around and showing passing and movement that they had no idea how to produce in the opening period.

Goal 4 came on 69 minutes as Layton MAXWELL, still extra large sized but playing well and going forward rather than sideways, got to the end of another flowing move and whose low drive flew past a substitute keeper. City fans applauded it then serenaded back to halfway with chants of "you fat b*stard".

Then it was 5-1 on 81 minutes with another excellent goal. City broke on the right, Boland swithced the ball inside and ANDY CAMPBELL hit a hard rising lob-type shot from the edge of the area that flow over the keeper and under the bar.

City could have scored more as they broke forward at will and in numbers - it was heartening to see but Cheltenham also looked a dispirited bunch by now. James Collins and Gavin Gordon had late run outs. Most players ayatollahed inclduing Vidmar who was given an on-pitch lesson by Willie Boland and then another by Lennie as he came off.

The most peed off must have been the bulk of the Cheltenham support behind one goal who not only saw their team get trounced but all the goalmouth action for the entire match at the opposite end of the pitch - nearest to us!

Margetson did make tow late stops but the game had reduced into little more than a training exercise. Overall, a good workout and plenty of 2nd half positives. Obviously key players were missing but there's little doubt that we need extra personnel and badly. The 2nd half performance gave hope but I'm not sure Lennie should, or will, excuse or forgive the unacceptable first half display in a hurry.

Also report from here.