Cardiff 1 Bristol City 0. Match Report.

Last updated : 11 May 2003 By NigelBlues

Thorne is definately magic. Look how he managed to make himself taller than the two defenders.
Thorne's classic late header sent Bluebirds singing about his Magic Hat in pubs and clubs well into the night.

This was a battle between two excellent, committed sides whose strategies largely cancelled each other out. Credit where it's due, Cardiff City's players, to a man, rose to the occasion when it mattered and all can feel proud of the account they gave of themselves. There were few chances and not many more moments of true drama but there was no denying it was a good game with little to choose between the two sides who, until Thorne's goal, had cancelled each other out. The tenseness, bad enough today, will be even worse at Ashton Gate on Tuesday night.

Apart from suspended Gareth Ainsworth, Lennie Lawrence had the rare luxury of his entire squad available. He reverted to a lopsided 4-4-2 system with Neil Alexander in goals and his defence of Rhys Weston, Danny Gabbidon (back from injury), Spencer Prior and Chris Barker. Midfield consisted of Willie Boland (pushed to the right rather than central), Graham Kavanagh, Gareth Whalley and Andy Legg. Leggy given the task of trying to supply Thorne and Earnie from the wing but also there to offer protection on left against the always dangerous Scott Murray. Margetson, Bowen, Campbell, Croft and Bonner were on the bench.

Bristol City clearly came to Cardiff happy aiming at a goalless draw but hoping for more as they adopted exactly the same style as the league encounters this season - defending deep and in numbers inviting City to come onto them and trying to hurt us on the break with their lightning fast front men. They are undoubtedly a good team, hard working and extremely well organised.

Rainy overnight and rainy in the day, it poured as the 19,146 crowd entered Ninian Park and at times during the game but it never damped the enthusiasm or the noise, City fans were undoubtedly 'up for it'. Bristol - a supposed "big" club couldn't even sell the agreed reduced allocation, bringing just 1,300 to South Wales on an organised tractor convoy.

A couple of thousand more Wurzels who weren't more concerned with crop rotation instead of squad rotation managed to wangle time off the daily dairy milking duties to settle down at Ashton Gate with their cider and weetabix to watch proceedings on a big screen beamback. After all the fuss over it, aren't you now glad they had the screening so they could witness Cardiff stick it up them???

The weather made the pitch a factor too, Ninian's playing surface was predictably greasy and it was obvious a lot of work had been done to make it as good as possible, there were however rutted lines all across the pitch.

The crescendo of noise at kick-off was ear blistering with all parts of the ground singing along but the Bristol away fans surprisingly subdued throughout in a way that we certainly won't be at Ashton Gate and it got even louder as the excellent Bristol midfield general and captain, Tom Doherty, brought down Willie Boland in the opening seconds.

Cardiff started well and brightly and were soon making an impression. A couple of early crosses were cut out, a penalty appeal, Earnie shooting harmlessly wide and Whalley hitting a 25 yarder straight at Bristol's commanding keeper, Phillips but the first real scare came from a Bristol attack.

On 8 minutes, Attacking towards the Grange End, Doherty dinked a harmless looking ball inside the far left side of the area and Christian Roberts too easily got above Spencer Prior to send a looping header across goal and was only denied by a superb Alexander flying save at full stretch. It was a bad personal moment for Prior but he recovered with another excellent display by always getting a touch in front of his opponent. On an afternoon when it was very much a team effort with no outstanding individual, it won him sponsors man of the match although the oh so classy Danny Gabbidon eclipsed him in my view.

Gabbidon frightened us as he went down twice for treatment. Fearing back or leg problems, there was a collective groan from the crowd but when we realised he was caught in the face, you almost heard 19,000 say "that's alright then" in unison.

Back came City as Earnshaw, well patrolled again by Bristol's excellent centre half Coles, broke clear and tried to steer the ball around Phillips from the edge of the area but never quite got it right and curled it straight at him. Peter Thorne got the whole ground on their feet as he tried to take Bristol on his own by firstly getting Brizzle's centre half Butler with a sliding tackle, then hooking the ball away,. getting up and charging on the Bristol ground and with Earnie giving him an option outside, Thorne went for glory on the right edge of the area but screwed his shot into the side netting.

The contest by now was evening out with Bristol not showing great attacking ambition and Cardiff not quite able to break them down.
City had more chances though, the best falling to Gareth Whalley as Phillips spilled the ball under pressure from one of Legg's long throws but slightly off balance and with a congested goal area in front of him, he fired high and over. Kavanagh had no joy with an edge of area free kick but did better with a powerful edge of area header meeting a Leggy cross on the full after one of the few fluent moves of the half.

Bristol did break out and have a couple of moments of their own but City's resolute defending limited them to a couple of long range efforts from Hill, Bell and Roberts - al flying high, wide or over. Peacock got up in the goalmouth to meet a header but placed it wide under pressure. Scott Murray, working hard, was hardly seen as an attacking threat but still needed looking after.

As the game got bogged down, the first frustrations crept in. It is his way but it still frustrates to see Lennie and Butterworth with arms folded hardly moving from the dugout whilst their opposites were cajoling and encouraging all the way through. During one break in play, even their subs and physio were talking to their red shirted mates on the pitch to fire them.

When Danny Gabbidon unleashed an effort from 40 yards with everyone in front of him - it floated to the back of the Canton Stand - you knew Cardiff were in need of a half-time break and chat.


Did City come out early for the 2nd half or did Bristol come out late? Whichever it was, Cardiff's players stood around for 3 or 4 minutes waiting for the Wurzels to reappear. The most grateful for that though were City fans facing long half-time queues and food, drink and toilets - the toilet queues so big than a few alternative venues came into use - be careful not to put your hands on the turnstiles next time folks!

Cardiff were fired up and once again took the game to Bristol showing they meant business. Rhys Weston, his runs causing problems, fired over a cross in the first 10 seconds and 10 seconds after that, Kavanagh was yellow carded for a crude challenge on Chrissie Roberts - possibly a revenge act after Roberts was himself carded at the end of the first period for a challenge on Willie Boland.

With support fully behind them, City pressed hard. Danny Gabbidon livened up proceedings with a 30 yarder that Phillips failed to hold but the ball fell kindly to one of his defenders. Corners and crosses were flying in, Bristol were doing all they could to hold steady under tremendous pressure, Gabbidon again coming closest meeting a ball to the far post and directing it narrowly wide.

In a season where City were on top in both league games before falling behind to dubious penalty decisions, we cursed our luck again as Scott t Murray looked as if he handled the ball as it flew across the area and bounced up in front of him but ref Webb turned down very strong and justified appeals and was left to face the wrath of the seething Bluebird mass.

In the style of the Three Little Pigs, Cardiff huffed, puffed but couldn't blow Bristol's house down and the West Country folk were starting to fight back and show signs of taking control of possession for the first time all afternoon. Scott Murray showed glimpses of the danger he is by heading wide, then being felled by Leggy (Leggy was yellow carded) and then he beat Whalley and Barker racing into City's area but overrun the ball before he could fire at goal ... thankfully. Peacock brought another sprawling save from Alexander.

It was time for changes to the personnel or system, many City fans were by now resigning themselves to 0-0 and just hoping that Bristol didn't nick it, Cardiff looked to have run out of ideas and steam. Kav was now so deep and far back, parked in front of his defenders, that it needed Ant and Dec to go searching for him.

With the game just about to enter the final quarter of an hour, Andy Campbell was stripped off and ready to come on (10 minutes later than most fans wanted change) but before it happened, the magic moment arrived at last and City were ahead with a goal out of nothing and a classic goal it was too.

Thorne celebrates his 16th goal of the season
Doherty, very good throughout, made a passing error in his own half and found Peter Thorne who immediately sent the ball into space on the right with Bristol defenders wriong footed. Boland looked wrong footed too as he stumbled trying to meet it, cue 19,000 groans, but recovered to still be there before anyone else. He took a moment to control the ball and then put over a hanging cross to the far side of the area when PETER THORNE, Superman-like, muscled his way between two defenders and powered a downward header inside the post with the diving Phillips having no chance. Thorney went wild, removing his shirt to reveal his hairless chest which probably cheered the girls and maybe a few boys too.

Ninian Park turned from subdued to absolute elation, hysteria and mayhem. And under those conditions, Bristol for the first time seemed to visibly wilt and genuinely looked there for the taking. Cardiff's players looked tired too, Bonner replacing Legg to shore up midfield, but the backing and that goal gave them the momentum and with 8 minutes to go, the chance arrived.

More wayward Bristol passing saw Whalley push the ball through, Earnshaw chased and was away motoring into the left hand side of the area. Earnshaw, normally so deadly in these situations, seemed to panic and shoot a little too early and hit Phillips who charged out and reduced the target. It brought back memories of last season's play-off when, with City already 2-0 ahead at Stoke, Earnie was clear and did the same. Let's hope it doesn't prove as costly this time.

The closing minutes saw a flurry of changes - Campbell replacing Earnie for City, Roberts and Doherty departing the scene for Bristol and limping off a little injured ... hopefully, injured enough to miss out on Tuesday but it appears not.

There were three minutes of added time, just before they started, Bristol won a corner and added wide, Murray had one final run but his cross was poor for Bristol but fantastic as far as I was concerned and that was it. There were wild scenes at final whistle, Cardiff fans giving every man a standing ovation for their efforts. The players responded, Sam joining them on the pitch too.

Happiest of all were members of City's 1927 London and South East supporters as one of the players booted the match ball into the Bob Bank and one of them caught it. It was last seen on the jubilant Cardiff to Paddington late evening train with the by-now very merry supporters doing a Fantasy Football style Phoenix from the Flames, its chairman Mark Ainsbury apparently playing the role of Peter Thorne.

The job is half done but there's a bigger half to come at Ashton Gate on Tuesday. A one goal lead is probably not enough to get Bristol to change their style and attack until at least the first half is complete so the chess game may well continue. It goes without saying that the first goal will be crucial, it is likely to decide the ultimate winners too. Congratulations to Lennie and the boys for a deserved win, we loved your passion and commitment for the cause, same again on Tuesday night please and I won't care how bad my hangover and headache will be on Wednesday (or if I still got it on Thursday either)!!

Report from FootyMad
A single goal by £1.7million striker Peter Thorne settled this first leg play-off tie as Cardiff City go to Ashton Gate for the return on Tuesday with a slender advantage.

Thorne rose to thump a Willie Boland cross high into the net in the 78th minute to seal a vital victory for the Bluebirds. In fact it was the first time Cardiff had beaten Bristol City since April 1971, 22 games ago.

"I would have settled for a 1-0 victory before the game and the scoreline was an accurate reflection of the play," said Cardiff boss Lennie Lawrence.

"Bristol City weren't as dangerous as they have been in the past, but we also worked hard to keep that clean sheet.

"Peter Thorne is a class act and he now has 16 goals for the season to add to all the hard work he does around the field.

"2-0 would have been an injustice to Bristol City but we will try to win the tie on Tuesday.

"I am very pleased that we played the first game at home and the fans were excellent and got right behind the team.

"We have a lot of experience at the club and we all know there is a long, long way to go. I brought two subs on, just to provide fresh legs.

"There are no injury worries and I am very happy that everything went right today including team selection and tactics.

"I am no more or less confident than I was before today but I am so happy that we won. We came into the play-offs on the back of some indifferent form but it is what you do on the day that is important."Cardiff's man of the match was centre-back Spencer Prior who has fought back from a period of poor form to become once again one of the crowd's favourites.

"We are very committed as a team, but know we are only halfway there and need to carry it on in the next match," said Prior.

"Bristol City have been our bogey side but we deserved to win today. The goal we have scored today does not change the way we have to approach the second leg, but as long as we are disciplined we have a good chance of getting through to the final."Bristol City manager Danny Wilson was in positive mood, despite his side returning home with a one-goal deficit.

"It was a very close game and tight in most areas with very few clear-cut chances," he said.

"We are unfortunate not to come away with a 0-0 draw, but it was an exciting match fully committed and played in a very fair manner.

"There were two good sides out there today and the second leg will be just the same, but at least we now know what we have to do.

"1-0 will give Tuesday's match an edge but at home I am sure we will be able to create chances.

"I am a bit disappointed that it was a mistake that led to the goal, but the tremendous atmosphere inside the ground didn't phase us and we coped with the pressure very well.

"There is a long way to go before the tie is over and we don't need to chase the game in Bristol."

External reports
Football Echo
The Independent
The Telegraph
Wales On Sunday