Cardiff 0 Wigan 0. Match Report.

Last updated : 27 April 2003 By NigelBlues

City's semi-final opponents and whether we will be home or away in the first leg on Sunday, May 11th (the 2nd leg will be Weds, May 14th) will not be known until the final league games are played next weekend but, without exception, every player at the subsequent Player of the Year Awards made it clear they want Bristol City and the opportunity for full revenge having felt harshly, and unluckily, beaten in both league encounters.

Cardiff City fully deserved the play-off clinching point against Champions Wigan having created, but failing to take, several chances to make it all three meaning we've now worryingly gone more than 6 hours without scoring but Crewe's point at 9 man QPR meant our automatic promotion dreams were over, and congratulations go to Crewe, despite what mathematicians would have said had we won.

The play-offs are a fantastic way to get promoted - if we win in front of 72,000 at Millennium Stadium, it will be one of the greatest days of our lives - but, as we also know, a devastating way for the season to end if our team loses out. At least the players have the experience, none more than Kav and Prior who are in them for the 4th successive season. Let's hope patience has a virtue ... but if we can't have that, some long overdue luck will do.

City’s run of three consecutive league defeats for the first time since 2000 blew apart our final hopes of auto-promotion but a greatly improved display of character and commitment midweek at Bristol prompted Lennie to keep faith with the same starting eleven despite pre-match speculation of maybe switching to 3-5-2 and or calling up one or two players.

Lennie has been much criticised but deserves some sympathy as he his tried just about every everything. The whole squad have been utilised (although undoubtedly one or two were largely ignored whilst others had more chances than they perhaps deserved) and you name the formation, Lennie has tried it. Deep down, even most fans are at a genuine loss why even systems that looked good for a couple of games have quickly come crashing down.

While Cardiff have been unable to hit the right formula and disappointed over the regular season, Wigan just have to be admired for their excellence. Not as big or, potentially, as talented as City’s squad but they have gambled and missed promotion to Division One for a couple of years before hitting getting it right. Paul Jewell has outfought and out-thought his one time mentor Lennie Lawrence and his players have out-performed the Bluebird players by a considerable distance, results and league tables don’t lie.

Where City has struggled to get or hold onto results, Wigan have scrapped for their points. While City have struggled to fightback after falling behind, Wigan have proved themselves. They came to Ninian Park a massive 17 points ahead of City, the Championship already in the cabinet and having lost just 4 league matches all season - magnificent. Not only that, they had also thrilled by support by reaching the Worthington Cup quarter-finals, taking three Premiership scalps along the way.

The bedrock and key difference to their success is undoubtedly their defence which, prior to this game, had conceded a meagre 25 goals. City’s extra 17 conceded can almost exclusively be attributed to our frequent defensive madness this season. In attack, both sides had scored 67.

Jewell and his players would undoubtedly want to show exactly why they are Champs but also knew any result would give them the opportunity to collect 100 points for the season in their final (home) match season next weekend.

Cardiff and Wigan have been assisted by wealthy benefactors (in Wigan’s case, the might of Dave Whelan and the JJB Sports empire) but whilst Cardiff strive for a modern new stadium to match their large support, Wigan have that facility but lack support. Distinctly second best to rugby league in the town, the season average is 7,049, seventh best in the division evidence of support reducing in recent weeks as obvious promotion has killed interest. But on a wet afternoon, with rain showers throughout, they brought a healthy 542 visiting fans to Ninian in an excellent crowd of 14,702.

Their task was made more difficult as missing 22 goal leading striker Nathan Ellington, 15 goal assistant striker Andy Liddell and defensive leader (the type we’ve missed) Jason De Vos who has weighed in with 8 goals himself. Collectively, they’ve scored two thirds of Wigan’s league tally. Despite that, they still looked an assurred, confident team and their fans seemed to love it too chanting "you couldn't beat our reserves".

The first half ranks as one of the best 45 minutes seen at Ninian all season. Cardiff found confidence, battled hard and created chances but Wigan's passing and movement, it has to be admitted well ahead of ours - always finding a man in space - caused problems and gave them opportunities too.

City's opening sighter, a 25 yard Leggy effort which flew into the Canton Family Stand closely followed by Ainsworth firing wide were the only effort in the first 10 minutes of sparring between the teams. City looking lively with Gareth Ainsworth threatening to break through and Wigan calm and composed, crosses from both sides being cut off or just missing their intended targets before Kav (named with Earnie in the select Division Two team by their fellow players before the game) went close with another long range effort. Congrats to both, Kav's selection baffled most City fans though as he has rarely hit top gear this term but has been much improved of late.

Wigan came back with 3 close efforts of their own from shots and headers flying wide of Neil Alexander's post but City looked solid with Gabbidon playing well and Spencer Prior carrying on exactly where he left off at Bristol looking big and strong throughout to earn another Man of the Match Award. Spencer is currently putting in the type of performances we always expected from him, let's hope it continues.

Referee Crick became the latest in a long line of officials to infuriate the crowd, this one thinking he was a main feature of the game with annoying arm waving mannerisms to make him stand out and be noticed but inconsistent and incorrect decision making too. Advantage played at times, stopped at others when City were in full flow, decisions given for the most minor contact and booking Earnie who was offside and steered the ball into the net. Worst of all to the players, when they protested about his decisions, he seemed to laugh in their faces at times which just cannot have helped them and was winding up the crowd more.

The final 15 minutes of the half, City through effort and determination, were threatening to get on top on the game, started pushing Wigan back and can reflect on creating, but not taking, good opportunities.

A trademark Peter Thorne flick found Ainsworth but the rock'n'roller's effort was blocked when he may have been better to cut across and then Andy Legg looked set to score as he ghosted in to meet a far post Ainsworth ball but slipped at the last moment on the very greasy surface.

City's hopes were rocked when Danny Gabbidon had to depart on 35 minutes after limping for a while beforehand. He later confirmed that he felt a pain in his groin, was ok running, but found it painful kicking the ball but will be ready for those play-offs. A reshuffle saw Chris Barker move to central defence and Gary Croft, on loan with Wigan last season, at left back.

But City were back in attack, Thorney nearly breaking through as he met another Ainsworth ball, brilliantly chested down in the area but was denied by a flying tackle. Then the crowd were on their feet as Thorne latched onto a Weston cross but experienced keeper John Filan, giving the best goalkeeping display of saves and penalty area domination I've seen this season, made a superb stop to deny his close range shot. When Ainsworth won an edge of area free kick, Kav's shot was goalbound but deflected over by Earnie although Filan seemed to have it covered.

All the good work was almost wasted by defensive hari-kari and another example of how our defence do not communicate as Spencer Prior passed back to Alexander not realising or being told there was a Wigan player ready to intercept, Alexander managed push McCulloch's effort before then City showed their deficiencies again allowing a free header from the corner than went narrowly wide.

It was quality football on display and the crowd were highly appreciative although understandably nervy. The best moment however came when ref Crick with more showman antics turned on his ankle. He got to half-time but players later told of a funny moment when Crick was on the under the stand tannoy appealing for a repacement as he couldn't walk.

Half-time: CITY 0 WIGAN 0

After a delayed restart as City found a replacement official and the senior unfit looking linesman took over, it was inept officiating that got everyone buzzing. Andy Legg took a quick throw putting Earnie clear but the ref and his linesman gave offside apparently unaware that you can be offside in the situation. City players were furious, the ref wasn't sure what to do and the ground was bellowing with "you don't know what you're doing".

It just served to fire up the players who found another gear which, in turn, inspired the crowd even more as Ninian was rocking for the next 15-20 minutes with all sections of the ground right behind City, possibly the best atmosphere at home all season with the hairs on your neck rising.

At this point, with Crewe drawing and news that Bristol were failing, the chance of auto-promotion remained. City responded but still couldn't get the all important breakthrough with Wigan's defence and Filan showing why they are the meanest.

Quick passing through midfield set Earnie scampering clear but again the marksman was denied in his quest for a City league record of 31 goals and Filan came out, made himself big and smothered his effort as Earnie tried to lift the ball over him.

An afternoon when City's best crosses and loose balls in and around the area seemed to fall to the wrong players was highlighted again as a beautiful Legg cross gave Barker a free header but he lost composure and nodded wide, Gary Croft burst through and was narrowly wide with a terrific angled low drive that seemed to have Filan beaten for a moment and then Leggy nodded wide from 6 yards meeting a Kav cross. Earnie and Croft had shots blocked.

Having huffed, puffed and gave their all, City's intensity dropped a little despite Lennie adopting a new persona as he was ranting from the dugout and shouting away - is he on new medication? But Ainsworth was looking a little tired, the midfield were finding it hard to get on top and Earnie realised it wasn't his day as he's now gone an incredible (by his standards) 7 games without scoring - easily, his longest drought in pro football.

On 70 minutes, Earnie was removed for Andy Campbell. Earnie looked gutted but went off to a standing ovation from the entire ground as we all know the little fella crowned as Player of the Year with nobody close to him got us in the position we are and his goals should have been enough to have get us that automatic spot.

At the same moment, news filtered through that QPR had 2 sent off vs Crewe and as a point from them killed off our automatic dreams, we all knew the final 20 minutes were about ensuring we didn't lose. The win would have been great but ultimately, made not much difference.

It got nervy as Wigan rode the the storm and started making forays into the Bluebird half and caused one major flutter asa striker got on the end of a corner but was blocked (just) by Chris Barker who didn't know much at the time and probably knew even less afterwards as he went down with a head injury.

The final 10 minutes saw no major chances for either team but Bonner replaced Ainsworth with three minutes remaining but as the one minute of injury time started, Andy Campbell had City's best chance of the entire game as he ran at two defenders, had a lucky deflection and bounce and was clear in the centre of goal but just did not show the quality expected of a £900,000 striker as he lashed the ball high and straight at Filan who was still excellent in saving but if Campbell had shot low, you felt it was a certain goal.

At final whistle, there was some sorrow that we were in those play-offs but relief too. In all honesty, that is about right. We have not performed well enough, produced consistent results and always looked a little short of being a side deserving 1st or 2nd in the generally poor and weak division where there are only a handful of decent teams and a lot of mediocrity.

It will be hard to come through against the likes of Oldham, Bristol City or QPR but we also have no reason to fear any of those teams. The rumours are that with the Crewe game now fairly meaningless and nothing more than a promotion party for the home team and a friendly for ourselves, many or most of the first team are likely to be rested next weekend and prepared fully for the game afterwards which now determine whether next season is West Ham and Sunderland or Wrexham and Rushden.

Please let if be the former, please give us our luck and please, please, please let our players perform and do what we know they can and what they feel they will.

Report from FootyMad
Cardiff gained the one point needed to put them in the play-offs but it was yet another match in which their strikers drew a blank.

Lennie Lawrence said after the goalless draw with Wigan: "I was very encouraged with the display and we must have had four one-on-one's with their keeper, but he is the best in the division in that situation.

"We will want to win next week's match at Crewe, but there will be rotation as we had a few tired legs out there. I took Earnie off because he was also looking tired, but he has done very well for us all season.

"When we went into the play-offs last year we were scrapping around for fit players, but at least this season we will have everyone involved.

"When you lose three on the bounce you have to stop the rot and we played well enough to win but it wasn't to be. We are better equipped than last season but we have to learn to win when the pressure is on."Lawrence kept the same side as that beaten on Tuesday at Bristol City, but he was forced into a change midway through the first half when Danny Gabbidon limped off with a groin injury. Gary Croft came in at left-back and Chris Barker slotted in a central defensive position.

"Danny will not play against Crewe and the instruction to our physio Clive Goodyear will be not to rush him back."City have now gone over six hours without scoring a goal and leading marksman Earnshaw was withdrawn after 75 minutes.

Former Middlesbrough striker Andy Campbell took over at the front and he had the best chance of the game in the final minute when he burst through with only keeper John Filan to beat.

The Wigan custodian stood tall blocked Campbell's shot and cleared the danger.

The large crowd were relieved to hear the final whistle knowing that the Bluebirds had taken the point they needed for the play-offs but after last year's disappointment they will not be looking forward to this season's prospect.

External reports
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