Despite that, and as always, it was a highly entertaining clash - I'm trying to think of the last time, home or away, I saw an average City v West Brom meeting and just can't recall one - in which the result was about right as the visitors had more shots but City had the best chances although neither were able to finish. Cardiff's display was full of grit and character, especially given the adverse circumstances which unfolded, in a clash in which both teams "went for it" with barely a hint that they had huge dates this coming weekend at Wembley.
The result meant it's now 7 games without a loss and 7 clean sheets in the last 11 games, both excellent records and great form to take the Twin Towers ... sorry the big McDonald's style Arch over North London. It comes to something when the only beatings seen around here recently are those of Derby boss Paul Jewell and motor racing supremo Max Moseley on their sex tapes that found their way to News of the Screws over the last couple of weeks!!
A lovely spring evening, Cardiff having a crack at the Premiership play-offs, school holidays meant the kids could attend, the opposition in fellow F.A. Cup semi-finalists West Brom always produces a cracking occasion - so certainly no occasion for our glory-hunters then!
13,915 made it, 750 or so from the West Midlands, a better crowd than Saturday but it was a fixture that deserved better, it pulled 19,000 last season. Those who didn't bother of course will include many who protested longest and loudest about deserving their semi-final ticket and will be among the first to claim their right for a Final ticket while taking cheap shots at those Ambassadors and others who pay and go no matter what ... such are the joys of internet messageboards, radio phone-ins and newspaper letter columns.
There was a good mood around the ground and it certainly helps when both sets of fans can join in together singing "Wem-ber-lee, Wem-ber-lee", I thought we should have gone for one upmanship with "We'll be in the Final, we'll be in the Final, you won't, you won't" even if it is tempting fate!
Under different circumstances, it may have seemed tempting for both sides to shake hands before kick-off, agree nothing silly and hope for a point a piece ahead of their weekend Wembley showdowns but the opportunity just wasn't there. A win for either would take City within 3 points of the play-offs or West Brom into the automatic promotion spots with 6 games to go. For Cardiff, there was also the small matter of too small a squad to allow significant change or rest anyway.
Bluebirds team news saw two changes with the very welcome return of Kevin McNaughton just in time for Wembley after his own hamstring problem and he produced a strong 90 minute while Peter Whittingham, I assume, was rested and his replacement in Trevor Sinclair grasped his chance with a sparkling man of the match display in which you wonder if he has played himself into contention for the weekend. What a pity Thommo couldn't follow the example being shown to him during any of his three outings while Jimmy Floyd-Hasslebaink was suspended.
That meant a line up of Enckleman, McNaughton-Johnson-Loovens-Capaldi, Sinclair-Rae-McPhail-Ledley, Thompson-Parry. Subs were Oakes-Feeney-Purse-Scimeca-Whittingham.
The Baggies under Wallace & Grommitt soundalike boss Tony Mowbray are the Championship's best squad but have been frustratingly inconsistent, just like every other team then. This result meants it's just 6 points in their last 5 games when the promotion winning post is in sight, they may yet miss out to the likes of Hull, Stoke or Brizzle. An exciting attack has 75 league goals under their belts with strength and numbers City can only dream about so it is a credit to our boys at the back to generally nullify them but they have a soft defensive underbelly as evidenced by City scoring 7 in two encounters at The Hawthorns this season and The Baggies only overcoming doomed Colchester 4-3 in the final moments last weekend but we were unable to take advantage tonight.
Four changes were made including their front pairing last weekend, Ronan Bednar and Kevin Phillips, dropped to the bench but it was a strong side with Kiely, Hoefkens-Albrechtsen-Clement-Robinson, Koren-Greening-Gera-Pele-Morrison, Miller. It was a slight surprise to see them play 4-5-1 and it certainly didn't seem to suit Ishmael Miller up front who looked stranded throughout and only stood out for his dayglo orange boots - someone near me thought he was wearing Caterpillar construction boots!
City started high tempo and took the game to the Baggies but the visitors had the first danger moment on a lightning break, the far more solid Tony Capaldi doing very well to block Miller as he was ready to fire but back came City with the game's best chance and its worst miss. Some good one touch play had Rae feed Parry who slipped the ball between defenders stepping up and left Thommo free in front of goal. Poor would be too kind an adjective for Thommo's recent outings and if anything exemplified it, it was his shot which flew miles over the bar and high into the Canton Stand, failing to score is one thing but failing to hit the target was criminal.
The Scotsman went on to have the most torrid 45 minutes and earn a few heckles in the process as his every touch was misplaced, he didn't seem to be putting himself about much and I don't recall him winning a single header, partly as his jumping seemed to be token efforts in a style not seen since Kevin Campbell last season.
The midfield battle was strong and chances were few. West Brom can talk of more efforts but it was all from distance and none were of any consequence although City had their own let off when Koren got behind us, Roger Johnson did well to cut off the ball stretching but unluckily saw it hit Miller and run into the path of Gera in front of goal but his goalbound effort had Enckleman beaten but we were rescued by Glenn Loovens who got back and blocked it on the line, I think we deserved our luck there.
The Baggies had a couple more chances but failed to do anything with them while City were pushing but not fully functioning with the Parry-Thommo partnership again being no partnership at all. Like last weekend, City's biggest damage worries came from themselves as McNaughton and Sinclair collided with Super Kev not looking great initially but he recovered then Joe Ledley got unintentionally caught by a Baggie man full in the face while in mid-air but he was ok too.
All that was a backdrop to City's problems arriving which started in added time with Parry chasing and closing down everything pulled up on one run and limped away clutching the back of his thigh as he headed down the tunnel.
H/T: CITY 0 BAGGIES 0
Shocks, of the unwelcome variety, came thick and fast as the 2nd half unfolded. Everyone was expecting to see Feeney, our only other forward (of sorts), replace Parry but out Paul came and, instead, Thommo was off. Ali announced Feeney's name to cheers, not because he was playing but because Thommo had been removed! Some were speculating that Thommo and Dave Jones could have had a half-time bust up but word came later than Thommo was feeling his hamstring but Parry's seemed to be worse and he was back out there.
The game restarted with our dugout looking understandably concerned about Parry, the whole management, coaching and physio crew standing in the technical area as Feeney won a corner and just missed a shot as it came towards him but then Parry was off which meant we'd lost our two key forwards and sued two subs within the opening two minutes of the half. City reorganised with Peter Whittingham coming on and Trevor Sinclair pushed into attack with Feeney.
Then, quite unbelievably, as play restarted, Warren Feeney went on a run and pulled up himself. Was it a third hamstring pull or a problem with the ankle injury that has plagued him since late last year? I couldn't help thinking it all underlined that it's just never meant to be for Feeney at City but, like many, I felt that on the day we signed him last year. He tried to run it off and, during that, Miller smashed the angle and post and bar from a distant angle but I'd like to think Enckleman covered the target flying over before Feeney was gone too as Riccy Scimeca came on with Sinclair, with 5 goals in 5 years to his name, now our lone "striker".
What followed was a display of grit, character and determination and Cardiff still seemed to believe in themselves. It was entertaining, sometimes for the wrong reasons, and high octane as the game swung end to end with City breaking with our 6 midfielders which must have given Baggie defenders confusion about how to mark or cover them but West Brom able to push on in response with our deficiencies in personnel.
Ledley was blocked, Whittingham's powerful drive after a Rae effort deflected his way produced sustained penalty appeals but I felt it was ball to hand, Ledley fired just over but our closest moment came when Sinclair chased a ball, Dean Kylie Minogue charged out only for Sinclair to win it, get around him and a defender deep inside the box and cut across a pas for Rae who tried to sweep it home but blocked with the goal at his mercy. City also won a number of corners and set pieces where they are traditionally strong and Albion have been notoriously weak but each came to nought, too many of them were unusually overhit by Whittingham.
McNaughton and Capaldi also showed exactly why they are defenders as both got nosebleeds and delusional they were forwards. McNaughton turned away from two West Brom forwards to find space and decided to go for glory, I liked his style but he needs to work on his finishing as his effort sailed yards over. Capaldi, meantime, cut inside two players and found himself in a perfect position to drive on the edge of the box but really wasn't sure of himself, his "chipped"(?) effort almost found a corner flag and barely rolled behind.
The visitors certainly had their moments too as they threw on their big guns, Brunt and Bednar for 25 minutes and Kevin Phillips for the final 15. The most dangerous moments perhaps left them wondering how they didn't score as one goalmouth scramble after Johnson mis-kicked saw two players hit shots straight at Enckleman from point blank range before he gratefully smothered the ball but, best (or worst if you#'re a Baggie) when Brunt and Bednar linked within moments of their introduction, a superb Brunt cross gave Bednar a free header in front of goal but he headed into the ground and then into Enckleman's arms, a huge let off and a rick almost identically repeated in the game's dying moments by Phillips and Morrison.
What impressed me the most however was that City actually finished the stronger of the two and so nearly nicked it at the death when they broke on the left, Joe Ledley threw in a cross that Sinclair put over, a defender doing just enough to put him off. A great effort by our boys overall.
Feeney is cup-tied so no consideration for Wembley but early signs are that, while treatment or rest will be necessary, Paul Parry should be ok for Wembley which is just as well as his loss would be a big blow. It was such an entertaining night that few left early and both sides got a richly deserved applause from both groups of fans just before they launched themselves into tannoy-assisted chants of Que Sera Sera.
City will continue to talk of a play-off challenge and I'd expect nothing less than to see them go for it. This fixture proved they still want it too but this was a result which makes it as remote as it has ever been in recent times. The final 6th spot is the only realistic spot attainable but Cardiff are 5 points away with 6 games to go, 4 of them on the road. Remaining in 12th spot, a Top 10 finish is more realistic and would be a success in my eyes. Top 8 or better would be our most highest placing since Jimmy Scoular in the early 1970's. With our meagre squad and non-existent investment in it over the season, it's a fantastic achievement just to talk in those terms.
The last remaining play-off hope comes with away fixtures at Ipswich (7th) and Wolves (6th) in which City face the tall order of having to win both. Ipswich is our next Championship game next Wednesday night but worry about that later as tickets out of the way, Championship football out of the way, let the Wembley Cup Fever truly begin!!!
I'll be there, I'll be there, with my Clarksie and can of Dark, I'll be there … … …
Report from FootyMad
ardiff City held fellow FA Cup semi-finalists West Bromwich Albion to a draw in a well-fought match that was a credit to both sides before such an important weekend.
There were two changes in the Bluebirds line-up with Kevin McNaughton and Trevor Sinclair replacing Alan Ramsey and Peter Whittingham.
City should have taken the lead in the sixth minute when Paul Parry threaded a ball through to Steve Thompson but, with only Dean Kiely to beat, he blasted high over the bar.
The Bluebirds took the game to Albion and were well on top when the midway point in the opening period was reached.
However, in the 24th minute City failed to clear their lines and the ball bobbed about in the danger area before reaching Zoltan Gera, but Glenn Loovens cleared off the line.
Two minutes later, Ishmael Miller had Peter Enckelman scrambling to push behind at his near post as the Baggies suddenly raised their game.
Warren Feeney started the second half in place of the out-of-touch Thompson and Whittingham followed three minutes later for Parry, who appeared to have a slight injury.
Miller turned Roger Johnson in the 54th minute and struck his shot against the angle with Enckelman beaten, while Feeney's short stay on the pitch ended at the same time as he limped off to be replaced by Riccardo Scimeca.
The Baggies made a double switch in the 67th minute with Roman Bednar and Chris Brunt coming on to pep up their attack.
They were soon joined by Kevin Phillips as the visitors went for the win they needed to keep their automatic promotion hopes high.
Bednar should have done better with a close-range header in the 85th minute, but the final whistle came with both sides fully deserving a point apiece.