Bristol 0 Cardiff 0. Match Report - updated.

Last updated : 15 May 2003 By NigelBlues.

Oh what a night!
Bristol, mid-May, 2003
What a very special night for City
Bristol surrendered, what a night

Well, well, well, whether you were privileged enough to have been there, watched it with your mates down the pub, a loved one at home, on your own or via radio/internet commentary, the fans of Cardiff City lived one of the greatest nights of their lives ... and that is no under-exaggeration.

Cardiff City's dogged determination and resilience in securing a heroic 0-0 draw at Bristol City's Ashton Gate to secure a 1-0 play-off semi-final victory, just like the fervent and incessant Bluebirds supporters inside the ground, was the stuff of which dreams and memories are made. The match wasn't the best football we've ever seen but the occasion was everything and will be talked about for decades to come.

The Bluebirds only went and bloody done it - delivering us to a showpiece final and one in our hometown Millenium Stadium too. For all our lives, we've watched in envy as other club and their supporters have attended Cup Finals or Play-Off finals but never us but Sunday, May 25th, we will proudly be support in a final with the prize of Division One football tantalisingly close but, at present, still so far away too. That's to worry about next week, for now, let's just celebrate our magnificent achievement and celebrate all that is Cardiff City Football Club.

After a Division Two season in which The Bluebirds - individually and collectively - have teased, traumatised, disappointed and failed to deliver with few exceptions, Lennie Lawrence and his players saved their best for last. Travelling to Bristol City defending a narrow 1-0 Peter Thorne lead from Saturday's game at Ninian Park, many observers felt the tie would be won by whoever scored the first goal at Ashton Gate. How wrong we all were!

Both sides were a credit to Division Two, their managers and their adoring supporters. Bristol City were excellent and have three or four players who could play tomorrow at a higher level and who some Cardiff fans believe would fit into our side but their attacking persistence was matched by Cardiff's amazing resistance. Overall, Cardiff were (just about) the better side and deserved it, only the most biased Wurzel could argue otherwise. Bristol, the irresistible force, were put away by City's unbreakable will to succeed and their most outstanding defensive performance since our "8 men" held Cambridge to a 0-0 draw a few years ago.

It is incredible that three hours of football saw the two sides separated by the finest of margins. Peter Thorne met a late far post cross for his downward header to beat Steve Phillips for that priceless interval lead. At almost an identical point at Ashton Gate, Red's experienced midfielder met exactly the same far post cross and produced a matching powerful downward close range header only to be denied by a World Class Neil Alexander save. None of this even begins to tell the tale of a magical, magical night for the club and its extraordinary fans.

The 1,700 permitted travelling Cardiff City fans congregated at various pick up points around South Wales. This was 3 to 4 hours before kick-off and already, we were going through every possible emotion and this was a taster of what was to come. In the Lansdowne pub, where I started, I felt quietly confident but got nervous after a couple of drinks whilst around me, others who were nervous suddenly found their confidence after a drink to settle their nerves. Some were just so tense, they could hardly speak. BBC Wales came in to film and interview is (making a few who should have been working dash from the lounge to the bar!), Roger the Landlord trying to inspire us with a tape of Cardiff City and Welsh anthemic songs.

5pm and we're off. If we didn't already know it was a major night, it soon became even more obvious as some cars tooted seeing us, people on pavements were waving or doing the ayatollah. Once we hit the M4, the singing started in earnest. In my case, it didn't stop until I got to bed at 3am. Other City coaches in the near 40 strong coach convoy made for good banter en route. A brief stop at Magor Services to pick up a couple more passengers became extended as nerves sent us dashing to the toilets (mind you, it could have been the drink taking hold ... or the fact we must have got the only coach in South Wales with no toilet .. or tv/video .. or radio ... still, it gave us the excuse to give the Everton season ticket holder driver took even more stick).

Back on those coaches, over the (old) Severn Bridge and we're in Wurzle-land. Somehow, I'm compulsively saying ooh-arr. Except the roads and views weren't that of tractors and people walking around in tunics and straw in their mouths but industrial estates where all the coaches parked up.

Vouchers exchanged for match tickets and the Wurzle police lead us on a cavalcade grand scenic tour of Bristol back roads and industrial estates. Half-hour and twelve miles later, we only seemed 2 miles nearer the ground but at least we were finally on the main A road, the Clifton Suspension Bridge was ahead but, best of all, there were Brizzle Zity fans on foot and in cars to wave at ... some used all 5 fingers on one hand, many used three or four fewer.

As we arrived at Ashton Gate, coaches were directed into a temporary compound behind the away end and with the gates open, we could just walk straight in ... sensible but it made a mockery of exchanging vouchers of match tickets. If you want to know about Ashton Gate stadium, then check out the match report filed on the website last month. Suffice to say, we were in an *all seated stand behind one goal but tucked towards one corner, similar in size and location to away fans at Ninian Park.

*All seater means plastic moulded bottoms with no backs to them but all pretty useful for standing on although they gave way a little too easy jumping up and down in uncontrollable celebrations at final whistle in my experience.

Cardiff fans were there 50 minutes before kick-off, it seemed too early, but then you realised it took 40-45 minutes to get served at the yokel catering point behind the stand which had enough staff but no idea of the concept of fast food. The remainder took up their places, or served them for those of us getting their grub, are the noise started. Bristol decided to best way to whip up crowd fervour was to crank up the tannoy and have cheerleaders dancing to the Wurzels - no wonder they were so quiet!

The mood was in total contrast to last season. Facing the 2nd leg with a one goal advantage, City fans will now admit to being too cocky, over-confident and arrogant. This time, we just hoped (and silently prayed) for the best and decided just to back our team. By contrast, it was Bristol fans who seemed to be bragging up their chances and thinking they could easily overturn our lead.

They had their reasons - beating us twice in Division Two action, a hoodoo lasting over 30 years, finishing above us in the league, scoring well over 100 goals this season, winning at Millenium Stadium (LDV Trophy) and 9 consecutive home wins. Impressive stuff but when their playing record is studied closer, they haven't exactly covered themselves in glory against the better teams this season.

Unsurprisingly, Lennie Lawrence opted for an unchanged side. Everyone was fit and had performed so well last Saturday, the decisions were made for him. His opposite, Danny Wilson, installed experienced midfielder Brian Tinnion (who played as sub last Saturday, returning after injury) with left footer Micky Bell, a one time Cardiff target, making way.

And so the drama of a match with few chances but incredible tenseness was about to unfold in front of 16,307 (3,000 less than us Wurzels - still want to tell me you're a bigger club?). The atmosphere was electrifying with Cardiff having 10% of the fans in the ground but making 90% of the noise - a ratio that increased the longer the evening lasted. Even by our vociferous standards of away support, it was passionate and stirring, an unbelievable experience that all of us present will easily remember for the rest of our lives.

The players walked onto the pitch from the tunnel behind the goal at the opposite end, Cardiff players coming straight to us to salute as did we back at them wearing the famous and proud blue kit (I'm sure I'm not the only one still amazed that fans were asked to vote - as if there was any doubt - over which colour to wear and who are the 6% who opted for yellow anyway??). The game kicked-off to a blistering noise with Cardiff defending the goal in front of us.

The key threat, or so we always thought, was Brizzle's Scott Murray- scorer of 26, creator of more and pace to die for but Barker and Leggy totally snuffed him out of the game on a night when City were to win their individual battles all over the pitch. Andy Legg let Murray know he was in for another uncomfortable game as he brought him down in the first 20 seconds. Nice one Leggy!!

Cardiff have been notorious slow starters but their tempo and passion was there from the opening kick and just got stronger and stronger. City's football was pleasing and comfortable, Peter Thorne having the first chance of the match as he nodded comfortably wide meeting a Rhys Weston cross. Bristol had a couple of early corners, City won their challenges and got them away and put in a couple of crosses, Alexander took them and the pattern of the evening was set.

Hearts first went in mouths for Bluebirds everywhere when Kav lost the ball in midfield leaving Christian Roberts surging away, then cutting across before unleashing a 20 yard drive under pressure that Neil Alexander took well diving across his goal.

The match was now taking on similar tones to the weekend match with both sets of players cancelling each other out and nobody able to break through but that was good news for Cardiff but not so good for the worried looking Danny Wilson whose name was being chanted very loudly by City fans ... in connection with a packet of sweets and a cheeky little smile.

There were some crunching challenges but no quarter given but City looked confident and defiant, any danger from Bristol being repelled. And then Cardiff started getting on top of the game which served only to fire up the support to even greater levels.

There were half-chances, Earnie after fouling his excellent man marker Coles trying to nick the ball away, twice went close with spectacular efforts as he firstly met a Peter Thorne lofted ball over the top with a shot on the swivel on his left foot which flew and dipped viciously just over the bar. A minute later, Chris Barker, so on top of Scott Murray that he could get forward, put over a cross which Earnie met with an overhead kick but it flew narrowly wide not quite being caught cleanly. Gareth Whalley, a workhorse who has been badly missed these past 5 months, almost nipped in too after a defensive misunderstanding, his shot finding the side netting.

Bristol's quiet support went even quieter, by comparison to us, they did manage a couple of "Ing-er-lund"s in response to our Wales chants and something else incomprehensible, probably to do with the merits of the #####el rotary engine.

Cardiff suffered a blow on 35 minutes as Rhys Weston limped out of the action, a couple of minutes, after a solid collision with a Bristol forward but coming off worse. He was replaced by Gary Croft, the normal left back having to work on the right.

Still, Cardiff attacked as Andy Legg came so close to scoring direct from a corner with a snarling inswinger, Phillips just tipping over, and then Kav tried to surprise the keeper with a shot on the right that was dropping under the bar, Phillips' height just enabling him to tip over again.

Bristol forays were finding no end product. A couple of half chances found only Cardiff fans in the away end, much to our joy. Every cross found Alexander, coolness personified, or the heads of Prior and Gabbidon, both having immense games and both still probably have the ball imprint on their foreheads.

They had to get close sooner or later and the golden chance duly arrived 3 minutes before half-time as a superb Burnell cross found Doherty in the centre of goal but he was too cute trying to glance a header past Alexander and the ball flew harmlessly wide causing much glee. It was ironic that Doherty, a player who would grace a City shirt, had two excellent games but his passing error lead to the decisive goal and his miss cost Bristol the equaliser.

Cardiff were just 45 minutes away - performing brilliantly well given the circumstances and but the pressure, stakes and tenseness would simply increase.


Clubs often try cheesy half-time entertainment to rouse their own support but Cardiff supporters were given a gift. Up went the tannoy for the Karrott Krunchers Karaoke. On the pitch was TV's Tony Robinson - most famous as Baldrick from Blackadder - with a cunning plan. As usual, it all went wrong!

His futile attempts to get his fellow semi-comatosed Wurzle fans singing with rousing tunes all turned out to be CCFC anthems and did we stick up him with interest. By the time Baldrick slumbered off, after suffering fearsome abuse and ridicule, he probably wished he was back with Blackadder for an easier life.

Bristol had carried on playing the same patient, withdrawn football that they had against City all season but with no likelihood of a 3rd lucky/dubious penalty to change the game as had happened in the league games, the onus was on them to push on and, to their immense credit, they gave it a right go.

Within the opening moments of the half, Alexander had to save Roberts free-kick, a Murray shot, take a free-kick and another cross. Christian Roberts already looked a totally frustrated man, such was the power and impressiveness of Cardiff's defensive display, and showed it as he made sure he caught Gary Croft with a crude late challenge. Ref Jeff Winter just speaking to him, instead of producing a deserved yellow, was one of the few decisions I disagreed with and it was made to look even more incorrect a minute later when Croft himself was rightly booked for dangerous kicking, but his high boot missing Doherty's ducking head was far less serious than Robert's injury threatening lunge at Croft's ankle.

On the hour, Roberts was removed - partly, it is believed for his and his team's best interests as he was losing his head - for star teenage forward Leroy Lita. Danny Wilson realised his team were getting nowhere and it was time for change.

No praise will ever be high enough for Cardiff's defensive effort, especially in the 2nd half, it truly was a team effort of the highest order. It started at the front where Thorne and Earnie, were seeing little service but worked, worked and worked again to close players down and stop them playing. The midfield quartet were impregnable too with Boland and Leggy giving everything they had and more besides up and down each flank, Kav winning every loose ball and challenge in the centre and trying to set up attacks and Whalley doing likewise always looking for the perceptive pass.

In defence, Croft would not be passed and nor would Barker by the now ineffective Scott Murray while Prior, for the first time, looks worth his £700,000 fee with a commanding display against Peacock but even with all the outfield heroes, Danny Gabbidon still stood out wining tackles here, headers there and bringing the ball away everywhere. It is no coincidence that Prior is in top form and Alexander now looks the confident, assured keeper that he does with Gabbi back. Alexander's handling was faultless, his kicking still hopeless but he looked like a man who would not be beaten.

The tension was increasing as Bristol started to pile relentless pressure. You only had to look around the City end where the singing was louder than ever but a contrast to the look on faces. The range and quality of chants were fantastic as the entire songbook was aired. You name it, it was sang - a dislike to the West County seemed to be No 1 in the terrace chart.

Alexander saved a Doherty header before a rare Cardiff attack saw Earnie attempt an audacious half volley from 25 yards which would have beaten most keepers but Phillips' tall, athletic frame just got to it under the bar. That was a good stop but moments later came an immense save which, for many, underlined it was to be our night.

Bristol City introduced Amankwaah for Burnell and in a burst on the left, he clipped a perfect ball into the centre where Tinnion found space for once to meet it and power a header downwards from point blank range. With the Brizzle crowd on their feet and the players looking expectant, Neil Alexander flew across goal to produce a save of stunning proportions. City fans chanted "Scotland's Number 1" nervously looking at each other, Bristol silent hoardes were now open mouthed with astonishment.

Wilson had his last desperate throw of the dice as Hill was replaced by Beadle (not Jeremy but it may as well have been) while for City, Mark Bonner replaced Andy Legg who had worked and ran himself into the ground.

Bristol were now playing 3-3-4, Scott Murray had given up on the left and switched to the right but now came up across Croft and Boland snapping at him and they threw everything they possibly could at City.

Some Cardiff fans seemed to be visibly ageing with worry and the sheer drama before us, others asked how long was left every 2 seconds, some appeared to be physically ill but, for me, this is what football is about. We've paid our dues with passionless, crowdless affairs in the lower division, this is what we've been craving to see for years. As nervous and tense as I was, the only thing we could actively do was be loud, be proud, give it everything the players were giving and then find another 25 decibels that you never knew that you had ... and we did.

Those final 15 minutes were more like 15 hours. Cardiff were absolutely magnificent, Bristol, for all their pressure, only had those Doherty and Tinnion efforts all night. Murray was so desperate that he forgot how to cross and was shooting from anywhere, Alexander's handling was exemplary and inspiring.

Every time a ball flew in, a Blue shirt was there, it was Rourke's Drift re-enacted and with Men of Harlech blaring out, emotions were raw, it was as unbearable as I'd ever felt at a football match. Not even those closing moments when we beat Leeds or Wales defeating Italy came anywhere remotely close to this.
There was little respite, Peacock hitting a shot high and safely into Alexander's arms got a huge cheer. Then Earnie was removed and replaced by Campbell at exactly the same moment it happened against Stoke last season, rekindling memories we didn't want to have, how could Lennie do it to us?

As the three minute added time board went up, Peter Thorne broke clear and raced on goal with a deafening roar, his shot screwed wide. Then balls were intelligently played into space which Andy Campbell intelligently ran to the corner. As he won a corner right towards the end of those 3 minutes, City fans cheered so loudly, Kavanagh thought final whistle had gone and dropped to his knees in elation but had to get up again.

Willie Boland took the corner but as it came out, Jeff Winter blew the final whistle to start a celebration and party that made all those miles and pounds and time spent watching the club this season entirely worth it. Young and old alike went absolutely mental, kids laughed, women cheered, grown men cried.

Around me were the most amazing sights. Eric Botchett, a normally oh so quiet fan, who hasn't missed a home or away City league match for more than 20 years was pogoing. Phil Day and Hicksie, neither having missed a single friendly, league or cup game all season cheering and crying simultaneously. Scott Thomas, ghostly looking and still for the final half-hour, doing the ayatollah (the first ever time he's done it?). Ely Valley Blue from the Valley Rams shedding tears too. For all the heartaches and pain most of us have suffered, there were kids there who have only known Cardiff City as a successful team under Sam Hammam and promotions, play-offs and famous cup victories. They just wouldn't know what we've been through, would they?

But still, everyone there hugged everyone else. As life experiences go, few committed fans there will go on record as saying nothing in life has topped it. And, despite having seen my two daughters born, I can say the same and have no regrets to declare that. And even great sex came a very distant second to this feeling.

In all my life following City, I've looked on in envy as other clubs got to showpiece finals. The bleeding Jacks have done it, and won it, twice. Even Carlisle got there this season for chrissakes. Finally, it's our time, it's our turn and I couldn't be happier for everyone involved with this great club and greatest of fans.

The scenes were mayhem, everyone milked it, nobody wanted to leave. Bristol fans were waved on their way with a cheeky, "we'll never see you again" and chants of "we're off to Cardiff, you're not" and "Cardiff, Cardiff, here we come" started up too.

10 minutes later with us lot still going absolutely mental, the players returned in an array of flip flops and sandals displaying two "We're going to Cardiff" banners. The noise was deafening, the applause so richly deserved (we even put on inner feelings of "why didn't you do this all season?" on hold). Earnie somersaulted and lead the singing. Leggy bristled with the passion he always gives on the bench. Every player was celebrated.

And as chants of "We want Sam Hammam walking on the pitch" struck up, on came the great man. A Welsh flag was thrown on the pitch which he wore, the party was in full swing.

Eventually, we had to leave but, even then, many of us waited until the last possible moment, everyone still laughing, hugging and celebrating with everyone else. Keith Cooper, the ex-Premier ref and Cardiff City phone-in host, standing on a chair laughing and taking it every joyous moment.

We didn't get back to Cardiff until more than 2 hours after the game ended but it was still fantastic talking about it and reliving it. And when our coach got back to The Lansdowne, we got to see the rerun of the game on Sky. Oh how we laughed at those crowd shots of Wurzels looking numb, biting their fingers, crying and more. We've been there so many times. Sam wanted us to spare a moment for them, well that was mine!

As if the night couldn't get any more memorable, who should walk into the pub but Sam Hammam himself who was cheered and mobbed. "Sam, thank you, that was immense and one of the greatest times of my life", I said to him. His reply? "F****** hell, we had to defend for the whole ****** game", he said, still in a half state of shock about how the game unfolded. He stayed half hour, had half shandy and left having shook everyone's hands and spoken to everyone's family members and mates on their mobile phones too.

And yet we've still won nothing. Millennium Stadium will be even more tense than this, if we win, it will even eclipse this as an experience. If we lose, all of this effectively counted for nothing and we will be utterly devastated. But let's not be bothered about that for now, let's just celebrate one of the greatest experiences Cardiff City fans have had for years and years.

Next day, blinding headache, hardly any vocals and by chance, I was back in Bristol visting Ikea How much do you think I enjoyed walking around in a City shirt impulsively humming Men of Harlech???

Report from FootyMad
Cardiff City are safely through to the Second Division play-off final, but Bluebirds chairman Sam Hammam is unhappy with the play-off system.

After the final whistle which saw the Welsh side through by a single goal over the two legs he made his displeasure known.

"I am very happy for the Welsh people that we are so close to the First Division, but I feel very sad for Bristol City.

"Over 46 games they finished third and we have denied them their rightful place in the First Division."Hamman said he will be writing to all football chairmen urging them not to extend the play off system which he is dead against.

Leading by Peter Thorne's goal from the first leg, Cardiff knew they only had to avoid defeat to reach the final and set out their stall accordingly.

Scott Murray was never allowed to unleash the devastating runs which have brought him 26 goals for the Robins and ex-Manchester City striker Lee Peacock never got in a shot.

Neil Alexander, in his 100th game in goal for Cardiff, had only two real saves to make. The first came early in the first half from Christian Roberts and the second from a diving header from Brian Tinnion in the second period.

Alexander saved one-handed to turn that around the post and with it went Bristol's last chance.

With acting skipper Graham Kavanagh organising a tight grip from the midfield, Cardiff were always comfortable and might have extended their lead if strikers Robert Earnshaw and Thorne had had slightly better luck with their finishing.

Robins manager Danny Wilson said: "We put Cardiff under great pressure in the second half and it took a terrific save to keep us out' but perhaps overall we were just a bit short."