Cardiff City 1 Blackburn Rovers 1. Match Report
The game had a great many similarities about it to famous/infamous F.A. Cup over Leeds United three years ago. Just like then, City started strongly but went a goal behind within the first few minutes to the first time that the opposition got over halfway. The Bluebirds recovered and still took the game to their higher division opponents and got a fully deserved equaliser and then pummelled the opposition, the Premiership side visibly struggling and pace on the flanks and looking ragged at times.
The second half was going the same way too as that Leeds game too, City starting well but the action never quite matching the first period. However that's where similarities ended. City couldn't eke out a big finish and late winner - something I felt was coming - as both sides dropped the pace and intensity in cancelling each other out.
The draw became an inevitability and the right result but Cardiff should feel happy and proud about their efforts and this tie is not over at all. Blackburn showed quicker movement and faster speed of thought at times but are nothing special. City really have nothing to fear and I'm sure they'll give it a good go as Mark Hughes' team, as Premiership teams go, as ordinary as they get.
There's little denying that the F.A. Cup remains special but just doesn't hold the same glamour as it once did. There was a time when we would have looked forward to this game from the moment that the draw was made but it doesn't quite have the same pull anymore. Whether it's the over-exposure of football on tv, the money now being with league football, the games taking place at 7 different kick-off times over 3 days instead of everyone playing at Saturday 3pm, bigger sides resting and rotating players or whatever else, there wasn't quite the same buzz around the pubs and outside the ground. That all changed once inside though.
The crowd was officially declared 14,145, something most of the ground found incredulous. It didn't look any smaller a crowd that when they declared almost 17,000 were watching the Wolves clash on Boxing Day. It was hard to imagine where the missing 7,000 could have fitted in, there were spaces but it didn't look that vast. Over a thousand came from the North West which, I guess, converts to about 700 for the official crowd. It was blustery and on the chilly side but the weather had improved after gales and heavy rain had lashed the area overnight.
Lennie had hinted at the start of the week about rotation and that the Finn Koskela may get his first appearance. By the time, the game came around, he didn't want to lose momentum with the recent good run, West Brom agreed that on-loan Inamoto could play and Peter Thorne was the only change.
The Magic Hat man, who started his career at Blackburn, was on the bench as precaution only due to his ongoing neck injury. The fit again Alan Lee took his place. City started with Warner, Weston-Collins-Gabbidon-Barker, Langley-Kavanagh-Inamoto-McAnuff, Lee and Jerome. On the bench were Alexander-Bullock, hero turned zero Campbell, Thorne and Vidmar.
Eleven weeks after quitting Wales (much to the relief of many Welsh followers), Sparky was back. What's he doing at Blackburn is pretty similar to what he did for country. His side have now only lost tow of their last 12 games but, there again, they've only won three. Sparky has made his side difficult to beat rather than a winning one and not that thrilling to watch. He also only seemed to have one game plan - today it was get the ball diagonally behind Rhys Weston at every opportunity - and not much else in terms of tactics or a Plan B. Sounds familiar, doesn't it?
His did put his preferred side out, making only one change from the team that beat Charlton five days earlier and only then because Aussie midfielder Brett Emerson was taken ill before the game. Hughsie, assisted by his Welsh set up of Mark Bowen and Eddie Niedswicki, started
Rovers' international all-comers line up were Brad Friedel in goals, Lucas Neil-Nils Johansson-Andy Todd-Dominic Matteo in defence, a midfield of David Thompson-Barry Ferguson-Gary Flitcroft-Morten Pedersen and the awkward Paul Dickov and Jon Stead up front. That's three Scots, three English and five foreigners. Dominic Matteo missed Leeds defeat at Ninian Park three years ago due to injury - shame - but Gary Flitcroft was one of the Man City players beaten by a rampant City and Nathan Blake at his inspirational best 11 years ago.
Premiership opposition or not, Cardiff carried on exactly where they left off against Forest on Monday by pressuring and camping themselves in Blackburn's half. A cross and tow corners quickly arrived but when Blackburn broke for the first time, it was 1-0 and ominous. The goal was simple but clever. A ball fell to Thompson in midfield, Pedersen made a run and Thompson threaded a ball behind Rhys Weston, PEDERSEN was in the area and calmly slotted it over the advancing Warner.
It rocked City and gave the defenders an uncomfortable first half but none more than Rhys Weston. Hughes and his coaches and clearly identified Weston as a potential weakness. Anytime Rovers got forward, their only tactic was to switch it diagonally left with balls always played behind Rhys. Twice more he was caught out but got away with it, another time he made a hash of a clearance and simply helped the ball to Pedersen who snatched wide when he could easily have doubled the visitors advantage. Rhys had an awkward afternoon but credit to him for toughing it out and recovering as the game progressed.
Blackburn won a couple of corners, but City handled them comfortably, Paul Dichov was a livewire and a mighty handful all afternoon but the longer the game progressed, the more comfortable Gabbs and Collins did against him and them. Ginge Collins once more eclipsed Gabbidon. To me, Ginge looks better by the game. Hard to think now that Lennie didn't think he could play every game at the start of this season and preferred Robert Page. What does Lennie drink???
Cardiff gradually got over the tough beginning and started making headway. In panic after going behind, there was a lot of route one high ball football but as they regrouped, kept the ball down and starting passing again, they got going. Gabbidon, Kavanagh (twice) and Langley all sent over crosses that troubled Rovers defence that City were unable to cash in. Cameron Jerome did brilliantly to out jump Johansson but couldn't quite direct his header on goal. City were also troubling Blackburn on the flanks with McAnuff and Langley both skinning defenders and beating them at pace.
Todd cynically checked out McAnuff for an obvious yellow card but when Matteo did likewise to Langers, Premiership ref Steve Dunn reached for the yellow card in his back pocket then changed his mind. Minutes later, Matteo again chopped down Langley, this time from behind, it sparked a confrontation with 15 or 16 players. It was compulsory only to be involved if you were carrying a handbag though as they all jostled, gestured and leaned into each other. Very hard stuff!! The upshot saw Matteo booked but if Dunn was consistent with his decisions, that could. perhaps should, have been his second yellow and saw him sent off.
Collins met a Kav swirling cross but got no power on his header and directed it straight at Freidel, Inamoto was getting stuck in and let fly with a 25 yarder but was well wide as City were now fired up, the atmosphere was raised and Lady Luck shone brightly on us when ALAN LEE netted a deserved equaliser on 35 minutes.
Graham Kavanagh swung over a touchline right-foot cross, two Blackburn players, Lee and Jerome were in contention, Lee won the mini-battle and sent a looping header at goal. Friedel, normally excellent, was caught out and it was humourous to see him flap as the ball cleared him, he appeared to be waving at it. Worse for him, fantastic for us, the ball caught the underside of the bar, hit Freidel's arm as it came down and went in. Simple but riotous, the ground went mad, adults and kids everywhere doing an impression of Friedel's arm flings.
City were up for it, there was nothing to fear and Blackburn were on the back foot and very clearly rattled, Cardiff were now so much on top that the Premiership side needed the half-time whistle for salvation.
Cardiff were sending over some excellent crosses. I still don't know how Alan Lee missed a McAnuff cross not Gabbs following in behind, Gabbs and Ginge then missed an inswinging Kav ball at the far post, a good connection by either would have put City ahead. McAnuff flew past Neill and then taken out by Neill inches outside the penalty area for another yellow. It was rousing stuff and fine football
Moments before half-time influential Scottish midfielder Barry Ferguson limped out of the action to be replaced by the South African Mokena, a £300,000 midweek signing from Genk in Belgium. After that came one of the funniest but most curious injuries of the season.
Richard Langley got into the Grange End corner nearest the Blackburn fans with two defenders around him. He tried some flashy footwork, seemed to be getting away but missed a drag back and ended up on the deck flat on his face. Now that was funny indeed! The whole ground were in hysterics, shouts went up of "Taxi for Langley"! He seemed to be injured but what was it? Some said he was suffering with a red face, others said it was injured pride, others that he was dying of embarrassment.
His half was over but just before the second half started, out he came for a quick kickaround with the subs and went back down the tunnel. When the team came out, Bullock was on for Langers. I still don't know what the problem was. Now the talk was of concussion, he was hit in the face by a corner flag, he banged his face when he hit the ground or perhaps one of the seagulls overhead manged to sh*t in his eye!
Half-time: CITY 1 BLACKBURN 1
2nd half never quite hits the highs of the opening half but it was no less enthralling a battle for that. Cardiff opened strongly again and were very much in the ascendency until the hour mark, Blackburn were doing all they could just to hold on. It was inspiring to see City taking them on and getting the better of the Premiership side with good quality football, high tempo and no mean skill. The game must have increased confidence and spirit in the camp.
City made early openings. Bullock made an immediate impact and set Weston clear and free but his low ball across the face of goal was cut out before reaching Jerome. Chris Barker (more on him later) sent over tow fantastic crosses, the second of which Bullock glanced wide. Inamoto, hit a left foot outstanding snapshot from wide which nobody expected from 30 yards forcing Friedel to parry away, either side of him and it could have flown in.
Kav hit an even harder shot from 30 yards but it was rising and cleared the bar, Friedel would have struggled if that hit target. In one stirring piece of action, Barker, McAnuff, Lee, Jerome and Inamoto fought like demons from the ball, each winning big challenges and eventually a deep throw out of nothing.
Most City action came down the left side but that was no surprise as Chris Barker was in outstanding form and was quality. I don't know what he had for lunch but I suggest he has it every week. His tackling was immaculate and brilliantly timed, his passing was crisp, he ghosted past players all afternoon showing great control and vision, his engine to get up and down the pitch was faultless. What a display. In a strong team performance, he still stood out as City's best man by a country mile.
Blackburn were not without their moments too. Dichov, now getting plenty of stick and abuse from City fans, caused some problems. One effort was disallowed as Warner was pushed before it got to him. Funny to hear Sparky Hughes complain about that when he would have been the first to complain if it had been the other way around. Warner also made one great save from a ****ov goalbound effort that also deflected to the top corner, his reactions were superb. The resulting corner bounced off the top of Warner's bar. That apart, Warner didn't have that much to do all afternoon other than take a few crosses and credit goes to City's team work and defensive effort for that.
Blackburn brought on one-time City loan target Paul Gallagher for the final half-hour and he was a handful, looks a good player to me. City brought on Peter Thorne for the final 20 in place of Alan Lee but the game fizzled out.
There were expectations of a grandstand finish but it just never happened. City failed to get any shots in the final 15 minutes, Blackburn had a couple form distance and they were some distance wide or high of goal too.
McAnuff was frustrating most of the afternoon as he beat players but never got telling crosses or killer balls across goal. He made openings or space but couldn't finish it. In the final quarter, he twice made great runs, the first saw him slip deep in the area, the next saw him give the ball away.
So a draw it is and Blackburn will be obvious favourites for the replay but don't write off City because we've genuinely improved and Blackburn are not a great side and have some players who are average at best.
Report from FootyMad
Cardiff City live to fight another day after a battling performance against Mark Hughes' Blackburn Rovers.
It did not look good for the home side when Rovers went ahead after just five minutes with a goal from Morten Gamst Pedersen, but they hit back with a superb header from Alan Lee to take the game to an Ewood Park replay.
Bluebirds striker Peter Thorne was given a place on the bench following his neck injury and up front for the Bluebirds was Irish international Lee.
Rovers manager Mark Hughes paid City a compliment by fielding a side containing seven full internationals that cost the club £20million to assemble. Their latest signing South African skipper Aaron Mokoena was given a place on the bench.
The Premiership outfit quickly took the lead when Norwegian international Pedersen raced on to a clever pass from David Thompson which bisected James Collins and Rhys Weston. He flicked the ball over the advancing Tony Warner and into the empty net.
City's best chance of levelling came after 20 minutes when a superb cross from Richard Langley was met by Cameron Jerome, but he screwed his header wide.
Dominic Matteo went into the book on the half hour after appearing to walk all over Langley when the Cardiff midfielder had been brought down near the touchline.
A scuffle involving six or seven players ensued before referee Steve Dunn calmed the situation by booking the former Leeds and Liverpool defender.
City hit back to equalise in the 35th minute when a throw-in was played back to Bluebird skipper Graham Kavanagh. His cross into the danger area was met by Lee who sent his header against the crossbar from where it rebounded against the arm of Rovers keeper Brad Friedel before nestling in the back of the net.
City penned Rovers in their own half for long periods of the second half with substitute Lee Bullock and Junichi Inamoto both forcing saves from Friedel.
In a rare breakaway Thompson had the ball in the Cardiff net, but it was disallowed for a foul on Warner.
The Bluebirds looked the better side during the second half, but Rovers came right back into it in the closing minutes and both teams ended up well satisfied with the prospect of a second meeting.
Man of the Match: Graham Kavanagh – The Irish international midfielder gave a dynamic performance to keep Rovers on the back foot for much of the 90 minutes.