Cardiff 2 Cheltenham 1. Match Report.

Last updated : 20 January 2003 By Nigelblues

The result was all that mattered and a relief but it masks another poor spectacle of a game, Cheltenham a very limited relegation haunted side who looked better than they should have, Cardiff the better side but rarely convincing in a game where we could have gone home at 3:45 to avoid a desperately poor 2nd half, that's a generous description for it.

Suspensions to Gary Croft (today only) and Willie Boland (his first of two games) forced changes to the side that gave Coventry a decent game in midweek FA Cup action. Chris Barker moved to left back, Spencer Prior (available again after injury and suspension) accompanied Scott Young in what could be the slowest centre-half pairing in Division Two whilst midfield had mass surgery too with Andy Legg playing central with Kav, Bowen on the right and Andy Campbell put out of position on the left with natural midfielders like Bonner and Maxwell ignored.

Cardiff's collective poor display is best put into perspective when knowing that Cheltenham came to Ninian Park is disarray but still gave us a game, never looked in severe trouble and almost snatched a result at the death.

Panic with their current position saw the Robins lose faith and sack boss, Graham Allner, ahead of the game. In Sunday League style, three of their players jointly managed the team, one presumably slicing the oranges, another washing the shirts and the third one to do all the shouting whilst the other two nod at his side in agreement or shout motivation words like "C'mon", "Just do it", "Let's get'em" or "Tiny, you haven't paid your subs for a month!!".

Their also had 4 regulars missing through injury and suspension and were not allowed to play on loan Michael Simpkins from City (I bet Jason Bowen and most City fans wished that they did!) so their reconstructed team saw a couple of players forced into their first appearance of the season. They overlooked Paul Brayson who cut a lonely figure as a non-playing sub returning to the club where he had his (so far) most successful spell in football.

They came to Cardiff in prayer more than hope and showed their ambition with a 5 man defence and a lone striker, ex-Jack Julian Allsop, playing as a target man to bring others into play. In Martin Devaney, they also had a wide player who tormented Cardiff for the opening period and looked to be one of the most skilful opposing players seen against The Bluebirds at this level for a long time before he showed why he plays at the level he does by fading and disappearing out of the game.

There has been justifiable criticism of deficiencies in the performances of key Cardiff personnel, they had obviously been stung by it. Neil Alexander, still made errors, but was attempting to leave his line (getting ironic cheers when he did), Peter Thorne went for goal when he had the ball and Kav was trying penetrative forward passes and helping to set up and support moves. They all made errors at times, a couple were howlers, but give them some credit for trying to put it right.

Alexander nearly made the costliest error of all early on as he lost the flight of a touchline Devaney cross which flew inside him but whistled far too closely past his far post, Devaney almost opened the scoring a couple of minutes later as, for the first of several times in the afternoon, Prior and Young were turned or beaten far too easily on the floor. On this occasion, Devaney fired wide.

City were looking the brighter and made the start they craved with a great opening goal on 8 minutes. Kav was most prominent in the early stages, hitting balls behind defenders or going wide but excelled as he chased a ball to the touchline, the type he has given up on too many times this season, and whipped an excellent far post cross which was nodded down Peter Thorne style to the man PETER THORNE himself who showed an excellent first touch to control the ball and turn quickly before he unleashed an 8 yard drive home.

I doubt that there has been more popular acclaim for a goal this season as Thorne netted his 8th of the season but first for 9 matches in a spell where his form and confidence had visibly wilted. The only unhappy punters, apart from Cheltenham, would be any enterprising fans hoping to cash in with "I Saw Peter Thorne Score!" badges. However every time Thorney has scored this season, City have won so I now knew we were ok!

And for a few minutes, we were, City had a confidence boost, Thorne was in the mood cracking one effort wide, another volley on the run went straight at Book, either side and he would have doubled the lead and Cheltenham had nothing to offer so in typical City style, we messed it up.

19 minutes gone, a goal from nothing and the result of appalling defending as the whole back unit collectively went to sleep. Bowen was beaten wide, a ball clipped on which Alsop knocked over Barker and Young who stopped then got to FINNIGAN standing between Prior and Legg but both stopped and let him go too. In an instant, he was clear and swept a great shot across goal which tucked inside Alexander's far post. A sucker's goal, our defence were still rooted to where they were when the ball came over, this time gesturing and shouting at each other which each of them appeared to be to blame to varying degrees.

City now looked uncomfortable, passing moves were too slow and ponderous and lacked any real snap. Campbell a virtual passenger on the left and Cheltenham showing signs of confidence and ambition, Devaney in the mood to cause havoc.

Earnie missed a great chance on the half hour as Jason Bowen got to the by-line but clipped the ball slightly behind Earnie whose header stretching back flew well over the bar. Campbell should have done better too when Bowen, on the run, put him clear but he went wide and so did his shot. Despite those chances, it was a dodgy period with nerves apparent in the crowd when City made it 2-1 on 35 minutes.

City won a corner from a good move, Kav swung it to the far post where Thorne nodded back, Young flicked on and it fell to EARNIE in a crowd who made no mistake sweeping past Book from 6 yards. Mass relief again, Earnie somersaulted and followed it up with a few press ups for good measure as he signalled his 26th goal of the season, fantastic stuff.

City nearly blew the lead immediately as Alexander had another communication and confidence crisis. A ball fell behind Scott Young, so obviously his, but he remained rooted. A Cheltenham player was within a fraction of squeezing between them and turning the ball home.

Weston, defending ok, but who has really struggled going forward in recent times almost had the last word of the half as he fired narrowly wide from 25 yards with a shot on the floor that Earnie almost deflected in. Weston has struggled since he donned those white boots but I'm sure Bowen now playing in front of him leaving him more unsure of when to attack space is a more likely reason. However a return to his freaky ginger and blonde streaks hair-do(n't) that looks like he has a multicoloured dead badger on his head hardly helps either!

Half-time: CITY 2 CHELTENHAM 1

Do I really have to tell you about the second-half? It was awful, a stinker and 45 minutes of the most brain numbing football I have sat through in a long while.

City were poor, Cheltenham were poorer. City had chances but were shot shy or didn't take them, Cheltenham not really good enough to come back a second time despite Cardiff being well off the pace and nowhere near their best. 45 minutes seems like 45 hours, I'm sure you could have gone home, put tea on, got your clothes ready for Saturday night, got back and missed absolutely nothing.

The highlight of the half for me was when Alsop became Cyclops as his contact lens fell out challenging Scott Young so the game stopped whilst Alsop, Young and ref Dermot Gallagher became SpecSavers. Alsop found his eyepiece and disappeared down the tunnel for a couple of minutes to wash it and put it back.

Other highlights included Leo coming on to a big ovation with 9 minutes to go and being introduced on the tannoy some a reason that must be an in-joke as "Jamaica's sexiest man". He is brought on for comedy value and to give us a laugh before we go home, isn't he? His first two touches and runs were took the ball to the corner killing time - there were still 8 minutes to go. His next touch, a miskick, brought more guffaws. Keep it going Leo.

A final highlight was the tannoy announcer handing out several awards for sponsor player of the match, fan man of the match, player of the month all going to different players and the list seems to go on. He could have kept going all weekend and I still don't think Prior would have bagged one.

Football-wise, Cheltenham offered nothing and never, until the last act, got near City's goal again. That's not to say our defence were good. Prior was turned more than the average yo-yo, Scott Young is struggling too. He is obviously well short of full match fitness so it is perhaps too early to judge but he doesn't quite look right either.

Our midfield line up was cobbled together and it showed. With Campbell and Bowen wide, it left a lot of work for Legg and Kav. Kav showed good moments and runs but noticeably needed to take a breather afterwards. Legg did well in periods too. Bowen showed the inconsistencies that he can have as he failed to make a real impression today, always wanting one touch too much and never doing what he can when on top of his game. A better team than Cheltenham could have severely punished them as a unit, the appearance of Alan Mahon (if signed) must bring some more stability and bite.

City had what chances were available in the second half but why didn't we ever stick a player in the centre of goal? Book, Cheltenham's keeper, was hardly the tallest but I lost count of the number of crosses, corners and free-kicks he took in the middle of goal without any City player near him or making a challenge.

Some of the promising moves broke down a little too easy, often through poor City play rather than good Cheltenham defending, but they had the chances to wrap up the game when they weren't shot shy and making one pass too many. Campbell had an effort cleared off the line that looked certain to score after a scramble, Book made an outstanding save to deny Earnie who was through one on one and flicked the ball wide of him whilst Bowen frustrated the whole ground when a chance was put on a plate for him to volley on the edge of the area but he passed wide instead, we need players taking more responsibility. Maxwell nearly killed it as a late sub when he smashed a 25 yard dipping volley that beat Book but, sadly, hit far post too by inches.

Thorney cracked a couple more efforts at goal including one where he burst forward from 30 yards, all heartening to see and the crowd responded warmly to a player who cares and tries.

These misses so nearly cost City as Cheltenham brought on their version of Leo, Spencer, who gave Prior and Young a torrid closing few minutes, just as well he didn't appear earlier. In the 2 minutes added time, he took a punt forward, turned Prior and then Young too inside the edge of the area but with the goal gaping for him to hit home a glory point for them, he put it straight at Alexander. Phew, we literally were that close to blowing it.

The three points was everything and as news filtered through that Bristol City and Oldham only collected a point, the importance of it cannot be under-estimated. Shame Crewe got a 90th minute winner though, more so when the tannoy announcer told us that it was a 0-0 final score and we didn't know different until later. It was that sort of day.

Report from FootyMad
Cardiff made heavy weather of beating a side looking likely to return to Division Three after just one season at the higher level.

"It would have been a massive disappointment if we had lost and it was really too close for comfort," said Bluebirds boss Lennie Lawrence.

"We played some decent stuff but only in short spells and we didn't deal with their attacks very well. It was a spasmodic performance but they played with one up front and two nippy players behind and it did cause us problems.

"We had a very attacking midfield with Andy Campbell and Jason Bowen out wide and it meant we relied heavily on our back four to do a lot of tackling.

"I was pleased with Peter Thorne's goal as he was due one but I have always said form is temporary - class is permanent."Thorne bagged his first League goal since November and was clearly pleased to get on the score sheet.

"It was a big relief to score and it's a weight off my shoulders but the three points are more important," he said.

"We had a tough game against Coventry last Wednesday and there were a few tired legs out there but we weathered the storm.

"I want to be a more direct type of player and today I was able to do that rather than play with my back to goal which I have had to do in recent matches.

"As long as we are up at the end of the season I don't mind how many goals I score. Promotion is the most important thing."The Bluebirds only took seven minutes to open the scoring, when a cross from skipper Graham Kavanagh went to the far post where Chris Barker headed back into the danger area.

Thorne was first to react and smashed the loose ball into the back of the net.

City failed to capitalise on that and allowed the Robins to work themselves back into the game. Poor play by the home side led to the visitors grabbing an equaliser.

Jason Bowen failed to put in a challenge on Russell Milton, who was allowed to cross into the home penalty area. Spencer Prior and Andy Legg were ball watching and Robins' skipper John Finnigan was left in the clear to slam his shot into the far corner of the net.

City regained the lead with a carbon copy of Thorne's goal but this time it was strike partner Rob Earnshaw who found the net after Thorne had headed Kavanagh's flag kick back into the area.

The second half was poor quality with City barely able to string any decent passes together.

They were almost caught out in the final seconds when Prior and Scott Young gave substitute Damian Spencer a shooting chance, but his tame effort went straight at Neil Alexander and the Bluebirds held on for all three points.

External reports
Wales On Sunday
CCFC Official Website
Football Echo
The Western Mail
The Echo