Cardiff City 2 - 1 Notts County

Last updated : 22 May 2002 By NigelBlues

Bristol City were blitzed 5-1 at Blackpool meaning City would have made the play-offs regardless (how sweet it is to see them miss out!) but Reading and Brentford got results to ensure that any flickering hope of the automatic promotion was finally extinguished.

Fans will inevitably speculate whether automatic promotion would have been achieved if Alan Cork was replaced earlier in the season
- we would have as far as I'm concerned - but it's futile. At the start of the season, most of us hoped for the play-offs at best, the club have delivered, it would have been failure if this group of players had missed out.

The players and Lennie Lawrence deserve all the credit and plaudits they will now get for the way they have rescued the season. City's form under Lawrence - Played 12, Won 9, Drawn 3, Lost 0 for 30 points out of the last 36 available - is supreme. More creditworthy at this time of the season when pressure is really on.

This was a strange game to call. Cardiff deserved their win but it wasn't a good performance and there were problems. First half was a struggle, the dominance and style took a long time to appear. Notts County, fighting for Division Two survival and, like City, a different proposition altogether under a more experienced, knowledgeable manager (Bill Dearden) - could have scored three. City, however, had enough clear cut openings to have scored five or six.

The three strikers works well away but City do struggle using it at Ninian Park where in recent weeks, we had to fight back for draws against Blackpool and QPR and had to settle for odd goal wins against Wrexham, Port Vale and now Notts County. The lack of width combined with opponents who pack defence and have an extra man in midfield is a worry. We have got away with it but it hasn't been pretty and you wonder if they will come undone soon. I pray it's not in the play-offs.

City made 1 enforced change from the side that drew at Huddersfield, Gary Croft started in place of the injured Danny Gabbidon who delighted fans at Player of the Year by confirming he will be back for the play-offs. Today, he was missed.

Increased capacity as some restrictions post-Leeds were relaxed allowed more fans in The Grange End and the Grange side of Lower Grandstand although a fence has returned to this section.

A huge, passionate support had come to support, celebrate and honour the team, plenty with faces painted, many wear plastic boater hats given away by The Echo. All were willing City to glory but they were quiet in the early stages as Notts County had two early efforts going wide and then rocked as City gifted yet another soft goal on 11 minutes.

With that extra man in midfield, Whitley all had the time and space he needed to run 50 yards towards City's penalty area and then lay the ball wide. LIBURD cut inside Scott Young, beaten a little too easily, then swung a lazy edge of area shot that had little power but it amazingly rolled along the ground, beat Neil Alexander's dive and went inside his near post. No goalkeeper, let alone Alexander should never have been beaten by that sort of shot.

City were stunned, fans were silent but then cheered as news filtered through on mobiles (notice that hardly anyone takes radios to games anymore?) that Brizzle Zity were losing 2-0 at Blackpool.

Things looked up on the field too with the all action intense Willie Boland (he must attach jump leads to himself!) leading by example as always, it's no understatement to say he was everywhere. The football was still not fluent and rarely had quality but Cardiff started to carved the chances that should have got them level.

Earnie and Leo fired narrowly wide with shots as was Kav with an edge of area free-kick. Another Kav curled free-kick on 20 minutes looked certain to produce an equaliser. It wasn't so rosy for Notts Co's short keeper, Garden, as he came for the ball but lost out in a melee of players, the ball fell invitingly to Leo but he hooked wide. The keeper made amends as he tipped a looping Scott Young header over the bar just as it seemed to be dropping behind him and into the net.

Just before 25 minutes, Boland, Kav and Bonner all featured in winning the ball then moving it into the area where Earnie dug out a tremendous shot near the penalty spot. His effort smashed off the underside of the bar, the goal line and then away. Many claimed it had gone in, it hadn't. The game was stopped as Leo clattered Garden trying to bundle home the rebound.

Four minutes later, it was the Bluebirds turn to have an amazing let off as the defence again went to sleep, they don't learn, do they? A free-kick came to the far side of the area, Allsopp floated a header across goal which everyone, including Alexander, watched. The ball bounced off the far post and fell then went straight to Heffernan with the easy task of placing home from 3 yards. To a mix of laughter and anxiety, he messed up totally and scooped the ball straight into Alexander's grateful arms in the centre of goal. But where were our players?

The mood changed again as news filtered through that Brizzle were now incredibly 4-0 down after 35 minutes, a sizeable proportion of their large travelling support decided, like their players, that their season was over. So, long before half-time, a large proportion of them walked out of the ground and went home to prepare for a summer of cider drinking and singing about combine harvesters. Incredible to think they were top of the league after winning at Ninian on Boxing Day, their players thinking it funny to wind up City fans doing the ayatollah and other gestures. There is justice after all, couldn't happen to a nicer club!!

Ali on the tannoy decided to announce the score, Lennie Lawrence was furious, the rest of the ground joyous. Many chanted, "The Blues Are Going Up and Now You're Going To Believe Us". Not playing like today, we won't, poor defence and we were missing our chances - problems that probably cost City automatic promotion when you look back over the previous 44 games.

Half-time: CITY 0 NOTTS CO 1

There was still a party atmosphere, bizarre when we were losing at home, but it really took off on 52 minutes as City finally levelled in front of the Grange End.

Croft advanced and found Bonner who picked out Peter Thorne who flicked an intelligent pass behind the Notts County defence. Earnie broke free and looked odds on to score but went too wide. By the time he shot, Garden closed him down and blocked for a corner kick.

From that, Kav curled a low inswinger, as it came to the near post, SCOTT YOUNG stuck out his right leg to flick across goal and inside the far post from close range. Young clearly scored, Young celebrated, all the players ran to Young, the tannoy announced it was Leo!

Combined with Brizzle now being 5 down, all tensions lifted. The Grange End lead the way with a variation of "the Leo", it's now "the bounce". Again paying homage to Leo and various accompanying chants such as "The Blues are going bounce" and more, the Grange End were bouncing up and down in unison!

On the field, City were taking over. Bonner, Boland and Kavanagh were gradually running the show, effectively rather than brilliantly, whilst Rhys Weston was beginning to stand out with some great runs and overlaps. There was a visible extra edge to City's play and confidence, the pressure was off.

Notts County had to be respected though, they are fighting for their Division 2 survival and kept 2 men pushed forward most of the time. They're a better team than the other bottom sides I've seen and had only lost 1 of their previous 9 games before today. They weren't helped with Darren Caskey, their playmaker, suspended but you could see their limitations and so could City as they carved some more glorious chances.

Earnie had a shot blocked, Boland had one cleared off the line, Young brought a good save with a measured shot heading for the top right of goal before Earnie missed a howler with his last meaningful action before Paul Brayson replaced him for the final stages, it just wasn't his day.

Bonner and Croft linked again, this time putting Kav on the ball near a corner flag. He was superb in beating a man, bringing the ball into the area and then cutting back to Earnie for what seemed a straightforward task to pick his spot and place home. Whether the ball hit a bobble or he leaned back too far, I'm not sure, but Earnie somehow put the ball into a disbelieving Grange End.

The whole ground was disbelieving again when Notts carved out what I think was their sole second half chance. A corner kick was met by Fenton just inside of City's area, his header bounced away off the crossbar with a static looking defence looking at each other.

But this was City's day, they really did deserve the win, and yet again the hero of the hour was Scott Young. He's been here 10 years, he scored the goal that beat Leeds, he scored two goals when we beat Shrewsbury to get promoted last season and now he scored two again to take us to the play-offs. Isn't it time we had a chant for this unsung hero?

The goal was simplicity again. City won a free-kick level with the penalty area on the touchline in front of the Bob Bank. Ref Paul Rujer awarded plenty of free-kicks but he waited until 13 minutes from time to prove that he had brought his cards by showing a yellow to Richardson for his challenge on Brayson, the only booking of the afternoon.

More worryingly for Notts Co, it was on Kav's better side and he punished them by curling the ball into the danger zone and there was SCOTT YOUNG ahead of everyone to rise and head home to send everyone into total ecstasy.

There was no way back for Notts County, they hardly got near City's goal afterwards. City players were not going to let this lead slip. The support all around the ground sung them home, it was joyous.

Sam, flanked by two new bodyguards in the Grandstand - Neil Kinnock and Rhodri Morgan! - stood and ayatollahed to his adoring flock.

Going into the last couple of minutes, there were appeals for fans not to invade the pitch so it could be preserved for the play offs. It was rutted in place, cut up in others, maybe 17,000 of us stamping the turf down wouldn't have been so bad. Any thoughts of doing that were gone anyway when 25 or so Triad Kung Fu fighters came from the players tunnel and stood around the side of the pitch. Seemed unnecessary to me, they didn't even give us a martial arts exhibition!

As final whistle blew, it was a huge party around the ground. Nobody went on the pitch. Leo, now a hero to us all, was still first off it. Rhys Weston, bristling with passion and heart, ran to every player in celebration before settling for a piggy back ride off Scott Young to the touchline.

But we've done it. There is something to go for at the end of this season. Next week's final game at Tranmere will be no more than a friendly. Anyone for fancy dress? It's likely some players will be rested although the game does matter, City could really do with staying 4th as it will give them home advantage in the 2nd leg of the play-offs.

The play-offs will be agony or ecstasy. A great way to go up, devastating id you lose. Right now, the odds are City have a 50/50 chance of that Millennium Stadium dream and 1 in 4 chance of winning it. But the feeling won't go away. There is a belief among the fans, we can beat anyone over 2 matches and then we get "home" advantage in the final.

It's all about bottle and character, City have shown that in abundance. It's about luck and we've had that too. It's about that extra bit of quality and that's what usually has counted in our favour recently. Thanks Lennie (and Corkie) and the players for a memorable season ... now go and sign it off style and give us something we will never, ever forget.

Cardiff win to get into the play-offs, The Wurzels was wasted 5-1, The Jacks are humiliated. I've had better days, I'm sure, but I can't think of too many at the moment!