Cardiff 0 Notts County 2. Match Report.

Last updated : 10 March 2003 By NigelBlues

The mixture of views from fans afterwards was wide ranging. It was 'one of those days' was a common view but so was, "we would have stuffed them if it wasn't for their keeper", "the ref was crap", "Lennie's fault again", "players don't have the bottle and care enough" amongst others. They were the views of those still around afterwards anyway as fewer than 4,000 of 11,000+ City fans remained inside Ninian Park at final whistl. fans. Those that stayed clapped the players and booed the ref, those who left voted with their feet rather than boo anything.

Whatever your call, this was certainly a(nother) day to forget, we've been having too many of them and it has totally taken the "buzz" totally out of the club, Cardiff City is not a happy place to be at present and feels nothing like a place on the verge of Division One football.  My lasting impression is that neither of Notts goal deserved to be a goal,  freaks like their undeserved penalty and offside goal can affect the best of teams. City however never played well enough to deserve to win the match and were poor for long periods, that causes me most concern.

Weekend media were quick to point out that City haven't won at home in 2003. Funny that, I swear I saw us beat Cheltenham in mid-January!  It is however the home record that is crucifying City, just 2 wins at Ninian Park in the league in three and a half months and a pitiful 10 points in the last 8 home games is a mighty slump when you consider the same personnel won 8 consecutive home league matches earlier this season, it is near fatal to auto-promotion prospects.

There was a sombre mood at kick-off. The weather was poor with heavy rain for 24 hours before kick-off and still driving in a strong swirling wind at 3pm. The crowd was down to 11,389 - the combination of the weather, 2 major live football games on terrestrial tv and the attraction (atraction???) of Wales easily lose at rugby yet again gave the less committed supporters all the excuses they needed to stay at home. The atmosphere, although supportive until things started going badly wrong, were muted for much of the afternoon.

City named an unchanged team which meant problems for the back four as Rhys Weston had not recovered from a back strain. Gary Croft remained on the right in the defence, Barker on the left with Prior and Young in central defence. Gavin Gordon had improved from his injuries sustained at Stockport to claim a place on the bench, Lennie continued with Earnie and Thorne with Mahon to support them and Bonner-Kav-Boland pinning midfield.

Notts County, in administration, their future still in some doubt and unable to bring in any players, have found strength through adversity.  After being in relegation troubles all season, ten points in their previous 4 games, including a home win against Bristol City and draw at Oldham served notice of their improvement.  They also recently drew with Crewe having beaten them away early in the season.  Probably a better team their their position suggested but not exactly name players.  Their best known, Darren Caskey, was absent after midweek injury.

The game started slowly and poorly. It was well over 10 minutes before we saw City, or either side, construct a decent piece of football and quarter hour before the first shot of the match arrived, a Kav's edge of area blocked. 
The most noticeable person on the pitch during this time was ref Lee Cable of Woking who was standing out already for all the wrong reasons.  Fouls and pushes were  missed, Notts County still conceded twice as many free-kicks but their players weren't being spoken to or carded, some seemed to get smiles and jokes with the ref instead. Worse tackles went unpunished than were punished and City seemed to be penalised for every time they made contact with a Notts player. Notts County were physical and Cable, by playing advantage, often when it didn't help City at all, and hardly speaking to and never booking their players gave them licence to kick, pull and foul almost at will and far more than most refs would have tolerated. It was inconsistent refereeing at its worst, you just Cable was destined to play a major part in the match, he was undoubtedly helping to ruin the game by not exerting authority when it was needed and going over the top when it wasn't.

City stepped up play and denied by a superb double save by Notts' keeper Mildenhall, the latest goalie to have his best match of the season against us. He first produced a flying save to parry away a powerful Mahon left foot drive across goal.  From the resulting corner after a Kav follow up effort was blocked, the lanky stopper produced an even better save to deny Chris Barker whose strong header in a crowded penalty area was destined for the top corner.

The crowd were now behind City who were getting on top, Scott Young even trying a 30 yarder which flew wide.  Kav was causing trouble with some superb whipped crosses and free-kicks but nobody was getting on the end of them, partly becuase City weren't getting enough players in the area as County packed it.  Mildenhall saved his best for later in the half as Earnie laid off a fantastic pass into Kav's path, his powerful 20 yard hit was again denied by a flying save. They were all superb stops but Mildenhall was probably helped by the shots being at the right height for him, he looked about 6'4" and more beatable with low shots which we failed to do.

Cable continued to annoy City and the crowd, none more then when Kav was scythed down by a County horrendous, the offender not even spoken to, quite incredible. County themselves never troubled the City goal in the entire half, one shot blocked and one wide was the sum extent of their efforts, but imposed themselves more as the half progressed. They often played 6 or 7 deep but were starting to snuff City's midfield, an ominous sign.  There were ominous signs, Peter Thorne barely able to get into the match and Alan Mahon all over the place, the most obvious signals to me.  Mahon never stuck to the wing and drifted left, right and centre in psychotic fashion, it wasn't really helping the cause and City were starting to struggle.

Cardiff missed another guilt-edged chance as Scott Young get to the end of a Mahon cross (from the right) but totally misjudged his header with the goal gaping. Right on the stroke of half-time, Cable, after letting so much go, blew to stop the match and book the Notts player of the afternoon for a foul on Boland at the very moment he hit a through ball to put Earnie clear on goal. The irony that Cable had not booked or whistled for many worse challenges was probably lost on him but nobody else. Poor, inconsistent and totally frustrating, Cable knew the impact of his performance as he waited for stewards to escort him off at half-time.

Half-Time: CITY 0 NOTTS 0

Cable discovered his notebook as he yellow carded a second Notts player soon after the break, it's no exaggeration to say other refs we've seen this season could have booked half the Notts team by this point. I hate whinging about refs and continually mentioning Cable but his role in the game and its outcome cannot be disregarded or under-stated.  It has to be said.

Cardiff weren't imposing themselves however which was worse and it nearly cost them on 50 minutes when a weak header from a cross with City players guilty of reacting slowly or not at all as they dropped back in support.  It presented Richardson an unchallenged edge of area dipping volley which Alexander saved spectacularly under his bar at the last moment, his first action of the game.

City bounced back with what turned out to be their last real effort before the traumas arrived as Gary Croft strode forward, placed a low ahead for Earnie to run onto in the area, his shot on the turn was too close to Mildenhall but he still saved well with his feet.  There was also a couple more balls across goal but no City player getting on them, Thorne in particular stood out as slow and sluggish, Earnie was struggling to make a real impact too and Kav, although excellent again, was failing to get forward enough and starting to drop deeper.  

Every City fan in the ground had a fear that a series of missed chances and failure to get on the end of balls in the final third (they had carved enough although not playing well to be 2 or 3 goals clear and have killed the game) combined with Cable's refereeing and a linesman who didn't seem to know the offside rule also helping County was likely to have an eventual effect and it came crashing down on 62 minutes.

Notts played an innocent through ball but panic took over as Neil Alexander had a moment of madness.  He charged recklessly off his line to make it an unecessary three way battle on towards the far angle of the area with Heffernan and Scott Young. Alexander got in a mess and lost out leaving Young and Heffernan and an open goal. Young's challenge got the ball but also clipped the player.  Heffernan rose quickly and thankfully shot wide of the far post but, disaster, penalty award.

The sequence of events surrounding the award is inexplicable.  Young's tackle seemed fair and won the ball.  If it was a foul, the challenge was outside the area anyway so the award should have been a free-kick.  Cable however never blew at that moment, he instead he watched as Heffernan got up then shot wide. why didn't he blow immediately if it was a penalty?  No Notts players, including Heffernan appealed as the incident took place so they obviously didn't believe there was any foul or penalty either.  Then Cable ran to the penalty spot.  At no time however did he speak to Scott Young, yet alone book him or send him off.  If he felt Young fouled Heffernan inside the box when he was the last defender denying a forward a goal, he should have red carded him.  It was staggering, a nonsense and a total sickener.
City players were rightly furious complaining about all aspects of play and the decision.  It was wholly wrong but through all the anger, what the hell was Neil Alexander doing anyway?  Alexander kept up his 100% record of never saving a penalty for Cardiff City by yet again going the wrong way (he's only gone the right way once) with STALLARD slotting home low to the keeper's right in front on the Canton Family Stand.

It was a devastating blow and one from which City never recovered, they looked in total shock, poor become poorer.  Lennie reacted immediately by removing Bonner for Bowen and opting for 2 wingers in a match where City had only themselves to blame for play being too narrow. Until this change, I counted 4 occasions in the 2nd half where all 22 players on one side of the pitch in front of the Grandstand, what the hell is that about??  That really is not good or professional enough and anything but quality.  Why wasn't Mahon forced wide by Lennie and others when it was obvious Notts were comfortable against the way we were playing which seemed to be limited and trying to get through their middle.  Sorry but I don't see the point of bringing a Premiership left footed wideman to the club to help us then not use him in the position where he causes most damage.

The action then dramatically switched off the pitch.  In a week where Sam Hammam appealed for fans to support the team through the closing stages of a challenge towards Division One, even though performances have not been well below even reasonable expectations, or stay away if they couldn't, a couple of "fans" in the Lower Grandstand Grange side positioned themselves behind the dugout apparently to pour abuse on Lennie first and then Sam standing nearby in the players tunnel.  Sam reacted badly and ran to the top of the stairs in front of the directors box and then pointing at the "fans" now below him.  He got involved in an ugly, public and visible slanging match with others starting to join in too.

Everyone has aired a view and mine are quite simple.  I won't condone Sam but I do feel that anybody who deliberately went behind the dugout with the sole purpose of abusing Lennie and then Sam at a time when City and our focus should be in trying to save a game and grab a point(s) that could ultimately get us into Division One is no friend of Cardiff City.  They are also nobody I want to be associated with or wish to defend.  Freedom of Speech is fine, abuse of it is certainly not.  Save all the disenchantment for after the match but not during it at such a critical time.  Sam shouldn't have overreacted as he did, I'm sure he knows it now, but our so-called "supporters" should never have been put him in that position either. 
It also begs the question again of why Cardiff City bother with the Lower Grandstand Grange area. I know there's plenty of good fans there but that area of the ground has only done us harm since families were moved from it for what we now have. 

Many go there with the sole purpose of abusing away fans, we've seen the pitch and its touchline invaded from there, netting put up to stop them throwing objects, a referee hit by a coin in that area, players abused from there and the last two games have seen Lennie abused from there.  Maybe Sam should again consider the wisdom of it now their latest efforts have hit closer to home.  It's been highlighted many times, we all know it won't go away and is likely to haunt us again at a future time.  I defy anyone to explain how that area of the ground helps Cardiff City in any way, shape or form.

As that action unfolded, it was game over. The linesman missed STALLARD standing 2 or 3 yards offside (for the 4th or 5th time in the half) and City were motionless as he advanced and slipped the ball past Alexander almost apologetically but the £10,000 bargain would have been delighted with his 21st goal of the season once he realised it was awarded.  Cable stared hard at his linesman for a while but as he refused to raise his flag, the goal had to be stand.  It was just our luck that we had a crap ref and a crap linesman both on the same day.  That signalled the mass walkout, frustration and despair, it was too much for many to take.

Those that left early didn't miss much. Gavin Gordon replaced Croft as a desperate last throw of the dice, showing more life again in 10 minutes than Peter Thorne did in the entire 90.  He brought a save from Mildenhall getting in bravely through a crowd and was then booked for an innocuous challenge on Mildenhall whose over-reaction seemed to be the factor to persuade Cable to show the yellow card.

It was a(nother) day to forget and another missed opportunity, time is running out and we continually blow our real chances as they come along.  City were saved again by Crewe and Bristol losing but Oldham won. The Bluebirds therefore remain third and despite everything, are just 1 point off an automatic promotion to Division One with a game in hand. City's fate is still entirely in their hands.  It seems as if nobody wants, or is good enough, to claim the second spot but it is up for grabs with our chances currently better than anyone else … if (a big if) we can sort ourselves out.

Cardiff players and fans must put this result behind them, as much and as quickly as we can.  We just need to focus on what lies ahead.  We didn't play well enough but only lost out to two freak goals. We did however again fail to look strong enough in midfield, poor in the final third and unable to take chances, all long-standing faults. Some suggested afterwards it may be time to try 3-5-2 at home especially but do we have the players for it? Lennie and his players have a lot of work to do and even more to prove.  Time has run out for all of them them to keep looking for answers, they now need to supply them.

Report from FootyMad.
Two goals by Mark Stallard earned County a shock victory and dealt a severe blow to the Bluebirds automatic promotion hopes.

He netted a 61st minute penalty and then sealed an unlikely victory ten minutes from time.

"My immediate reaction in the dug out was that it wasn't a penalty and on seeing it again it looked as though any contact was outside the box," said Bluebird's boss Lennie Lawrence.

"But we didn't do well enough at either end of the field. And we have got to put things right, particularly at home."Cardiff now have only won one of their last six games at Ninian Park and have now moved closer to the play-offs where they had such heartbreak last season.

City looked to spring heeled leading scorer Robert Earnshaw to open up the visitors defence but it was skipper Graham Kavanagh who almost opened the scoring when his floated cross beat keeper Steve Mildenhall only to drift wide of the far post.

Minutes after the interval the visitors almost took the lead when a loose clearance from City went straight to County skipper Ian Richardson and his first-time volley was brilliantly tipped over by Bluebird's keeper Neil Alexander.

With 60 minutes gone Paul Heffernan tumbled in the box and referee Lee Cable signalled a penalty and Stallard slotted the spot kick into the corner of the net to give the visitors the lead.

Stallard then wasted a golden opportunity to extend the Magpies lead, but he was not to be denied with ten minutes remaining when he took advantage of slack marking in the City penalty area to crash a shot into the corner of the net.

County manager Billy Dearden was very pleased with his side's performance.

"We did well particularly in the second half he said. Away from home this is probably our best performance all season.

It is never easy coming to Cardiff but we thought we could get something from the game as we knew about Cardiff's recent poor home form."

External links
Wales On Sunday
Western Mail