Cardiff's showing was 'Jeckyll and Hyde', the excitement came from a stirring start to the game and a blistering, frantic finish. Overall, they made far more chances than their opponents but in the middle stages, once ahead, Coventry showed the gulf in class between top First and Second Division teams. Cardiff's tempo was up and down, their game too error strewn but this was their downfall more than Coventry's abilities. Some key players were well off form but credit to City for not laying down and finding the heart and commitment.
City made one change from the team that drew with Swindon on New Year's Day, the suspended Fan Zhiyi was replaced by Graham Kavanagh, Fan's suspension pretty meaningless as he surely would have been dropped anyway having failed to add anything to City in his appearances and, if anything, his presence has weakened Cardiff. Cardiff also appeared to tamper with their tactics again as the recent 4-4-2 changed to 3-5-2 when Cardiff got forward.
On a cold, sunny day, Ninian was a great sight. A healthy, passionate away support of 1,755 who sang non-stop and vocally were better than Cardiff (I'm ashamed to admit), helped the atmosphere such a change from the usual 100 or so visitors. Coventry however will now be outsung at their home ground by a large Cardiff support, have no doubts about it.
The attendance of just over 16,000 was the season's biggest and makes you wonder why some City fans get their priorities wrong by turning up in greater numbers for this match instead of crucial league matches, we have to accept that there are a lot of glory-seekers following the Bluebirds, just like any other club. The crowd was impressive considering it was City's third home game in 144 hours watched by almost 45,000 fans at a time of year when money is tight for most people.
Coventry are in fine form, unbeaten since November with 14 points from the last 18 bringing Gary McAllister, supreme player but not so well liked as a personality, Manager of the Month. McAllister, true to form, moaned the pitch was bad (justified but only to be expected in the current climate), his shower was cold and refused to say much else.
His "name" players are few but they are certainly an effective unit, they are 8th in Division One, 2 points off a Premiership play-off spot, it was a big test for City and the players. Those known to City fans would be McAllister himself were Dean Holdsworth and Dean Gordon, whose £8k a week loan spell cut short this time last year after appalling Xmas performances were unforgotten by City fans who booed every time he touched the ball. Their subs bench surprisingly featured Richie Partridge (on loan from Liverpool and earning a big reputation, he must have some form of injury), Gavin Strachan (son of) and Caerphilly's David Pipe, a mate of Earnie's. Their most noticeable player was excellent Bosnian central defender, Konjic, who played with a Phantom of the Opera style face mask having broken his cheekbone three times in the last year.
From the off, Cardiff took the game to Coventry and showed their presence, not a feature of a few disappointing recent performances. However City had and missed great chances and kept letting Coventry into the game by (far too many) mistakes and basic errors but the Sky Blues (in yellow) soaked up the pressure before going ahead on 27 minutes.
Before that, it was all Cardiff in terms of chances as they used width and buzzed everywhere. Coventry were matching City for pace but doing everything to hold on under early assault. Both teams play passing games, the pitch was no help at all with plenty of bobbles in the middle and only the wide areas playing reasonably well. That's still no excuse for City players getting basic touches wrong far too many times.
Ninian buzzed and expectations increased as Prior headed over, Bowen's shot was easily saved, Thorne nearly got goal of the season as Kav headed the ball wide to Leggy who nonchalantly juggled the ball 4 times, smacked the ball over but Thorne's looped header was well held by Coventry's big Danish keeper Morten Hyldgaard (didn't he used to sing for A-Ha?) who then stopped a Kavanagh effort and crowned why he has conceded just 1 goal in his last 5 matches with two excellent saves.
The first was when the unpredictable but exciting Jason Bowen clipped a superb ball over the top, Peter Thorne beat the trap and raced clear looking odds on to score. His form and confidence has gone at present though. Looking odds on to score, despite a big keeper making himself even bigger, Thorne's shot was staright at him. Thorney worked hard but for a big man, seemed to be pushed off the ball far too easily and hardly got involved, it is becoming a big worry. City's other big chance was Jason Bowen taunting a defender by jinking left and right before curling a ball over, Earnie got above everyone and headed goalwards from close range, Hyldgaard superbly tipped over. It looked in all the way.
Coventry's only response was a break, started from more poor City passing, that had Lee Mills breaking clear on goal but denied by Spencer Prior distracting him at the very last moment. Prior was injured in the collision and although he returned after treatment, he limped off moments later to be replaced by Scott Young, FA Cup hero vs Leeds a year ago, making his 2nd appearance of the season after just 15 minutes against Huddersfield last week.
Youngie can be very pleased with his performance. He gives Cardiff a a presence and assurance at the back that Prior hasn't. Unlike Spencer, he is also comfortable on the ball, he brought the ball into Coventry's half several times, is always a threat at set pieces and nearly scored with a 1st half shot but mishit. He will also be chuffed to have got through a test on his back in many ways, one first half bang to it saw him in pain for a while but he fully recovered. All very heartening for those who, like myself, love to see the guy in a City shirt.
After a succession of chances, you knew Coventry would score from their first effort at goal and so it was. Yet more passing errors saw the ball to Dean Holdsworth wide, Croft clipped him. McAllister floated a free-kick which hypnotised the entire City defence so much that I thought McAllister was swinging a fob watch as he sent it in. The ball dropped, LEE MILLS took it with his back to goal, two defenders stood off and allowed to turn and sweep a shot past Neil Alexander, also motionless.
The goal lifted Coventry (their fans singing The Eton Boating song, lyrics by Jimmy Hill, ughhh!) and sent City players into their shell. Where there was pace and intensity, City went slow, midfield dropped too deep and rarely pushed on to assist Earnie and the hapless Thorne. Coventry could play as they wanted, Gary McAllister controlling things as he liked.
It could have been 2-0 as a diving Alexander fingertip save just denied the tall, fast and dangerous Jay Boothroyd as he cut in from the left and fired across goal. Dare I say it came from yet another error as City were well advanced in attack, Jason Bowen played the ball wide but neither Croft or Legg made a run and Coventry were away.
To add to City's woes, Andy Legg was crocked by a crunching touchline tackle. He carried on limping, tried running it off at half-time before being replaced moments into the second half by Andy Campbell.
Half-time: CITY 0 COVENTRY 1
The 2nd half started pretty much as the first half had finished, Coventry in charge, City not showing they had any real answer. 10 minutes in the half, it looked all over as Coventry struck with a second goal.
Very simple again as Boothroyd hit a good through ball from halfway, Holdsworth got behind the City defence and fell as he raced into the area ahead of Gray Croft who was booked under protest. City fans were livid as Boothroyd undoubtedly handled before he played his pass, Holdsworth appeared to fall or dive. While fans voted over the happened, the (Graham) Poll result was a penalty. Neil Alexander kept his record intact of never saving a penalty and, yet again, went the wrong way as GARY McALLISTER slotted excellently into the corner as you would expect. Game over, so we thought.
City were now looked disarray, Coventry dominant and a step ahead in thought and actions, the gulf now very apparent. If promoted, there clearly is much to do to build a competitive First Division team, as if we didn't already know it considering Stoke and Brighton looking strong candidates for an immediate return this season.
Graham Kavanagh looked technically very good on the ball and performed better than he has for some time but it was all very deceiving as some of the problems were down to the way he played too deeply (how often does it have to be pointed out?) and never drove forward City at pace, the only thing that unhinged Coventry in the game. I am also totally fed up watching Kav's corners and free-kicks regularly fail to clear the first defender, surely that's not too much to expect? Kav was closest for City though with a dipping drive that went narrowly wide.
He wasn't the worst performer, far from it. Peter Thorne was very poor, Willie Boland for the third successive game produced an awful passing dsiplay while Rhys Weston, playing in those silver boots again had a stinker again. I don't care if they were a Christmas present off his mum or girlfriend or sponsor, they have to go. Credit to Boland and Weston though, both showed character in keeping going, never hiding and battling to the final whistle, lesser players would give up. They will come through these difficulties. The one breath of fresh air was Andy Campbell, although out of position again wide left, who was roasting Coventry's defenders and bringing City forward. He picked City up again and charged the crowd too, there was a buzz as he ran.
It still needed change, nobody was surprised when Thorney was finally taken out of action to be replaced by Leo with just over 20 minutes remaining. It finally altered the shape and pattern of the game. Coventry knew City would go more direct and dropped deeper, Coventry's central defenders who were strolling were having to battle harder and City finally stirred. The final 15 minutes was all about Cardiff City as we love to see them, showing heart, passion and b*****ks and they ripped into Coventry, the crowd loved it.
Eustace was booked for fouling Bowen, a rare moment from Poll, who penalised Cardiff's players far more in a game when they were the ones doing the real pressing. Campbell burst through and into the area wide twice, his clipped balls scrambled away before City finally got a reward.
The ball was pumped forward, Leo under pressure flicked the ball wide leaving Bowen to attack Dean Gordon. We all know how vulnerable Gordon is in those moments, sure enough, Bowen turned him inside out before getting around him and clipping over a perfect low cross with power that EARNIE reacted too and glanced a header across goal from 8 yards and inside the far post. The old stadium roared with Cardiff noise and emotion for the first time since the opening phase and you sensed there was a way back all of a sudden.
City had their backs up, Coventry were folding but trying to stay clam as Andy Campbell's pace hurt them, Bowen's trickery hurt them and Earnie and Leo worried them. The basic errors continued but City had two glaring misses as a sweeping move involving Campbell and Bowen put Rhys Weston clear inside the area. Weston didn't know whether to cross or shoot, his indecisiveness wasted a golden moment as he put the ball into the Grange End. Then Boland put Bowen clear with only the keeper to beat from an angle, Bowen went for power instead of placement, Hyldegaard parried, Campbell just failed on the rebound. Konjic was tretchered off making a last gasp challenge but returned for the final onslaught, wonder if now has a plastercats to go with his face mask?
The 90 minutes were up when the drama that is the FA Cup and Cardiff City's attitude to it in recent years shone through yet again. Boland launched another furious attack with a lobbed ball forward, Leo flicked on, his header bounced between defence and keeper, Bowen was first in, his attempt to lob over Hyldegaard caught his shoulder but the ball looped behind him, Bowen, Campbell and a Coventry defender chased it and ANDY CAMPBELL was the winner as he smashed home from all of ... ooh ... 2 foot ... a near identical position from where Earnie got his 90th minute equaliser against Swindon three days earlier. Campbell, City and 13,000 City fans went absolutely bonkers (how can 2,000 of us leave a game like this early and miss this drama? who are thse people). Campbell's shirt was ripped in two, City frantically found him another.
Coventry's taunts of "you're not singing anymore" in the second half now turned on them but they so nearly pinched it in the final moments as McSheffrey, a late sub, burst inside Weston and Boland before unleashing a near post drive that Alexander spilled but it flew inches wide off him.
The final moments were pure tension and drama, the noise and mayhem at final whistle felt like City had won and Coventry had lost. You have to hail City's character and spirit.
Overall City performed pretty well. The defence rarely looked in trouble, Coventry hardly caused problems, Chris Barker again stood out in central defence. Going forward, we had menace too, Thorne is off his game currently though. Midfield remains the problem area we've known for some time. Coventry were far more accomplished and had more application too. It was hard on that pitch but that was our biggest problem.
I hope City also recognise playing with width and higher tempo is the way to go, Coventry struggled whenever we showed it. This tie is not over at all, Cardiff have nothing to fear, they'll be very well supported, the replay in Coventry may well be the best noise to be heard there since The Specials last existed.
We all know the league is far more important but having done this, we all want City to do it now. Get your time off organised first thing Monday. If you can't do that, get a sick note.
Report from FootyMad
A last-gasp Andy Campbell goal secured a deserved FA Cup replay for the Bluebirds as they drew 2-2 with Coventry City at Ninian Park.
The Bluebirds had been trailing by two goals with 75 minutes of the game remaining before Rob Earnshaw and Campbell rescued Cardiff from a third round defeat.
Coventry had taken a first-half lead through Lee Mills in the 26th minute.
Mills was first to react to Gary McAllister’s free kick and the Coventry midfielder swivelled neatly and struck low to Neil Alexander’s left for the first goal.
After the break Cardiff were caught on the beak and Dean Holdsworth broke on goal with only Alexander to beat.
However, he was brought down by Gary Croft and referee Graham Poll pointed to the spot.
Player-manager McAllister made no mistake from the spot to score Coventry's second in the 53rd minute.
However, Cardiff kept battling and finally got the reward their efforts deserved. Jason Bowen beat former Cardiff defender Dean Gordon out wide and whipped in a curling cross which Earnshaw headed home from 12 yards out.
But deep into stoppage time second-half substitute Campbell popped up to rescue a replay for the Bluebirds tucking his shot home from close range.
And the man of the moment Campbell admitted after the game that he hopes that goal will see him return to the Cardiff starting line-up.
"We wanted to show people what Cardiff can do and we've done that," he said.
"At 2-0 the game is won but Earnie popped up with a great header to get us back in the game.
"My goal was a bit of a scramble but it went in and thatÂ’s all that counts. Considering how well we played today IÂ’m confident that we can do well up there.
"I'm pleased for myself and it’s nice to show Lennie what I can do.
"Coventry are a good team and they were very sharp and quick. We aspire to be of that calibre and the FA Cup gives us that opportunity to see if we can compete on an even keel."
Wales On Sunday
BBC (inc audio)
Cardiff Official website
Unofficial Coventry report