It wasn't pretty, it was cold, it was murky, it was wet, it was misty, it was windy, the football wasn't always thrilling but none of that mattered as Cardiff City comfortably dispatched Burnley 2-0 courtesy of a goal in each half from Langers and Captain Kav.
The win alone was enough reason to celebrate. An unbeaten league run extended to 12 points in 6 games with 8 scored, 2 conceded and 4 clean sheets was another. The icing came when news confirmed that Cardiff the only winners in the bottom 6, and the tow sides above us had lost at home. The Bluebirds go into a fortnight's break having finally climbed the table, after being stuck in 21st place for 10 games for over 2 months. They now stand 19th, passing free-falling Plymouth and Coventry and, more importantly, 5 points above teams in the drop zone with a vastly superior goal difference worth an extra point.
With 16 games remaining, just a point per game will take City to the magical 50 point mark that seems to guarantee safety. That didn't seem possible going into Christmas, credit to all for belatedly sorting out the mess we got ourselves into. Hallelujah!
When reasons are analysed for the turnaround, one of the factors could be how Lennie Lawrence has, for once, decided to gamble, make changes and be bolder. Recent weeks have seen him try differing formations, drop players, be more tactical and even show a little more imagination with substitutes. He's been brave and, in many respects, deserves his rewards.
Today was no different. Out went Tony Warner, a goalkeeper who could, and probably should, have been dropped weeks ago. Just as he seemed to show form, midweek at Blackburn saw yet another Warner lapse of concentration, Lennie regarded it as one howler too many and, this time, reacted. In from the Siberian-like cold came Neil Alexander for his 111th league start with City but significantly, the man told he had no future whatsoever due to his own demons despite 2 years on his contract, was having his first league outing since March 2004.
The other was just as big a shock. With Peter Thorne still nursing a dead leg after Blackburn, Jerome not fit and Fleetwood on the bench just returning from lengthy injury, in came another forgotten man - who none of us can forget! Andy Campbell started up front. He makes more comebacks than Mohammed Ali, the difference is that, to this day, Ali still has more movement. Joking aside, Campbell did ok, nothing special, nothing to merit a run in the team, didn't really take his chance at all but didn't let City down either.
The starting line-up was therefore Alexander, Weston-Collins-Gabbidon-Barker, Langley-Inamoto-Kavanagh-McAnuff, Lee-Campbell whilst the bench comprised Bullock, Fleetwood, Ledley, Vidmar and Warner. Joe Ledley was also celebrating his 18th birthday so could enjoy a legal bevvy post-match. Happy Birthday Joe.
As for Burnley, for a team with limited resources, boss Steve Cotterill is doing a fantastic job but there can't be any duller side in the Championship ... apart from Stoke. Only Stoke have scored fewer goals than Burnley's 23 in 30 games, only Wigan and Stoke have conceded fewer than the 23 have now conceded after today. On the road, before this game, Burnley had scored a feeble 7 and conceded 9 in 13 outings. Somehow, it was entirely fitting that their shock 1-0 FA Cup win over a weakened Liverpool side was decided by a freak own goal.
Goals seem set to become an even bigger problem now that their most major talent - the excellent Robbie Blake, scorer of almost half their goals - was sold to Birmingham last week for £1.25M whilst their best midfield talent, Richard Chaplow (scorer of the late winner against City at Turf Moor this season), also seems set to leave for the Premiership before the transfer window closes. Somehow, it was entirely fitting that their shock 1-0 FA Cup win
Apart from personnel, another reason for their low goals feature is their slow, deliberate, holding 4-5-1 system. Just how Cotterill did things at Cheltenham except then he had Julian Alsop to win long balls and hold up play, today he didn't seem to have any target man making it a relatively easy afternoon for Gabbs, Ginge and Co.
Burnley's side - vaguely and inaudibly cheered on in very brief moments by 250 or so visiting fans - were Jensen, Roche-Sinclair-McGreal-Camara, Grant-Hyde-Cahill-O'Connor-Valois, Moore. Not too may 'names' - Captain was Frank Sinclair, midfield featured James O'Connor (a huge friend of Kav and, like Inamoto, on loan from West Brom) and the lone frontman was Ian Moore, son of Ronnie, and - as I've mentioned before - someone I once baby-sat for (with an old girlfriend) when his dad played for City and lived in Rhoose. Just wanted to look around his house. I must be getting old!!
One worrying feature of City's recent games - Blackburn home and away plus Leeds away - is that they've started slowly and been behind within the first 15 minutes.
Today, lessons learned, was the opposite as City started very well and took the lead on 13 minutes. Just what was needed.
Today, lessons learned, was the opposite as City started very well and took the lead on 13 minutes. Just what was needed.
Burnley could have no complaints either as they had some escapes before the deserved opening goal arrived. Starting lively and at pace, carrying threats in most forward positions, Alan Lee won a good flick-on giving Andy Campbell a shooting opportunity which he declined to take in the opening 2 minutes. Then Lee made Jensen save well with a smart turn and rising shot on the edge of the area. Ginge Collins went closest as he charged out of defence, ran into space for Barker whose return pass saw Ginge hit a fantastic first time effort from just outside the wide angle of the area that dipped viciously clearing Jensen's bar by a fraction.
When Burnley tired to break, Inamoto was flying into tackles in midfield relishing the greasy surface and City had few problems tidying up in defence. It took 10 minutes for Alexander to have his first touch. Even then, it was coming 35 yards out of goal to take a free-kick. Two successive Burnley corners shortly afterwards came to nothing.
The opening goal exemplified the new found spirit and team ethic of City, from a knockdown in midfield, Inamoto (pushing City forward every time he had the ball) dissected two defenders with a low ball giving Alan Lee the perfect invitation. Lee chased down Camara, the hapless African defender having a nightmare of an afternoon, who underhit a back pass, Jensen charged out but Lee followed up and Jensen's hurried clearance was blocked by Lee, the ball ran into the path of RICHARD LANGLEY who coolly finished, hitting a precision left footed pass purposely wide of the last man standing on the line.
Every City player joined the goal celebration, like the huddle before games, a sign of how City have developed from a collection of individuals in the first half of the season to a team who work together and for each other.
As soon as City were ahead, the big screen provided more cheer by displaying latest scores, first time I've ever seen them do that. It confirmed other lower sides were behind but some obscure team called WLoves who winning away. (Who am I to laugh at spelling mistakes?!?!). It never happened again, I still don't understand why it was done.
The rest of the half was nothing special. Play swung end to end with long distance shots but no real threats until the last five minutes, City always seemed to carry more danger though.
City, at times, fell a little deeper and narrower and were not cutting out crosses but Alexander only had one save to make, a routing effort from a skimming edge of area shot and watched an Ian Moore effort swerve over.
When City got forward, Kav was up to old tricks again. Very good free kick delivery with swerving balls at pace but bloody awful with corner kicks, so many failed to beat the first defender. Kav has been excellent and inspirational but why is he taking every set piece - especially corners - once more?
There were chances too. The very impressive Alan Lee went close, Andy Campbell skewed wide, Inamoto put two distance shots wide, Collins was just wide after a Kav corner deflected to him but closest was when Rhys Weston burst forward from halfway and let fly from 35 yards, his effort skidded off the surface and forced Jensen to get down and parry just inside his post, if anyone had reacted, the lead could have been doubled by the interval.
In the moments before half-time, both sides had an escape as Roche let fly with a screamer from 35 yards, the ball deflected off Collins' head and flew narrowly wide. For City, a Kav corner wasn't properly cleared and Inamoto let fly from an angle, his shot cannoning off the angle of bar and post, so unlucky. There was also a minor flashpoint as Langley was scythed by Roche steaming in for the afternoon's only booking by referee Kettle who has an excellent game keeping play moving and stopping things boiling over. Camara took it upon himself to confront Langley, who stood up to him, it carried on for a while after the game restarted too.
City weren't impressive but definitely in charge, fully deserving of their lead and perhaps disappointed they only had the one goal gap to show for their efforts.
Half-time: CITY 1 BURNLEY 0
With mist descended to roof level, persistent rain giving Bob Bank terrace occupants a right drenching, surface water on parts of the pitch and goalmouths sanded, the second half was never going to be pretty but it is refreshing to see City fight, win ugly, show real grit and close the game out.
Until the final 25 minutes, there really was nothing. Frank Sinclair, the Burnley captain, went off injured moments after the restart to be replaced by Graham Branch. The Clarets also switched to 4-4-2. Branch was so big, he was more like a trunk and looked the natural target but he played wide and offered as little as the rest of his colleagues. Burnley had much possession but no ideas and created absolutely nothing.
What chances there were still came City's way. Kav graciously allowed someone else to take a free-kick for a change and Richard Langley was narrowly wide of Jensen's near post with an angled 25 yard set piece that had the keeper scrambling.
Andy Campbell had two golden opportunities to close the game. Firstly as he tried to take on two defenders on the edge of the area but he was nudged by one and went down for a hopeless penalty appeal. Later, Inamoto sent him clear with a superbly timed pass. Campbell did very little wrong as he raced away and nudged the ball on but, somehow, you never felt he would score but just as he was about to shoot on the edge of the box, he was brilliantly denied by a Camara lunge and, yes, he ended up on the floor again.
It was Camara's only bright moment as he reduced the crowd to hysterics in others moments putting a diving header behind for a goal-kick near the Bob Bank touchline, falling over by the same corner flag trying to whip over a cross for another goal-kick and almost doing a Jimmy Traore Liverpool own goal special as a low cross got caught under his feet and narrowly went wide of the far post.
As for Campbell, it was his last significant action. Some fans still see qualities in him that I don't and will say he showed some promise. I can't say that. He did ok but he doesn't work hard enough for me, he has no running whatsoever off the ball and let Alan Lee do all that for him, his body language never looks right either. He was better than other recent times I've seen him but that says nothing really, as a player, he's way behind Cameron Jerome and must remain 4th or 5th choice striker, not good enough for a £1M striker.
He was off for the final 20 minutes, replaced by Joe Ledley as Jobi McAnuff moved inside with Lee. Lawrence also had to make it a double change as Chris Barker brilliantly chased back 50 yards to win a vital tackle but took a knock in the process that he couldn't recover from so Tony Vidmar replaced him.
City, and certain players, looked a little more tired as the half progressed, possibly a legacy of Wednesday night's efforts at Ewood Park whilst Burnley had 24 hours more rest but, on 73 minutes, the game was finally put out of Burnley's reach which meant those fans in the 11,963 crowd could drift away to join the 66,000 at Millennium's Stadium Tsunami Relief Concert with double relief knowing City had three secure points.
The ball was scrapped for just inside Burnley's half by Langley, McAnuff and opposing players, City came out on top in a50/50 for the umpteenth time, Langley fed Kavanagh who advanced and stepped inside before letting fly on his left peg, the shot had great power but, better than that, deflected off a Burnley defender leaving Jensen helpless and rooted to the spot as the shot flew inside his top left corner. If you don't shoot, you don't score goals and it was some shot.
Kav was chuffed, the whole crowd were chuffed, the goal celebrated emphatically as Kav led the players to the corner flag between Canton Stand and Bob Bank and did a Klinsman-style belly flop skidding off the top surface immediately followed by 7 other City players.
Only Alexander, Vidmar and Inamoto missed out and they all shook hands with each other.
Before final whistle, it could have been more. Danny Gabbidon shot wide and headed over when he could have netted both times, Lee made Jensen save and Kav posed several threats at corners as he finally found his range. They had one let off too as Inamoto was adjudged to have fouled on the edge of the box, Camara hit a swinging effort at Alexander who beta it out and somehow emerged from the ball as three or four players scrambled for the rebound. Brave keeping, he deserved his luck although he was annoyed for not catching the set piece. Nobody could begrudge Scotland's No. 1 a clean sheet.
There were four minutes of added time which everyone found baffling, only recalling a small stoppage for Barker's injury. I can only assume the ref is one of the few who adds 30 seconds to play every time there is a goal or substation as City were soaking but, ahem, home and dry.
Final whistle brought a huge cheer and celebration. The whole team staying in the centre circle to take the plaudits and applaud the crowd, every single one of them look chuffed on an afternoon when each had done their jobs very well.
Neil Alexander noticeably stayed to his line more than Warner but apart from one understanding with Gabbs where Gabbs appeared to acknowledge blame, he did everything in textbook style. He was last off, waving to the whole crowd and punching his arms. We can only imagine what the last year has been like for him, he deserved his moment.
The defence were rock solid. Burnley's tactics and style played totally into their hands but Barks, Rhys, Gabbs and Ginge were all big and strong with Ginge again taking the honours. Inamoto looks fitter and better by the game. He's not Gary O'Neill but he provides the balance that has badly missed from City since O'Neill left. The only worry is if West Brom recall him early for his extended loan, it could put us back to square one with current personnel in that department.
Langers and McAnuff allow City width and the ability to spread play, they also take on defenders and work hard for the cause. Kav, deservedly criticised for his performances and attitude early season, is a transformed player. He looks the leader, he leads by example, the tackles, he creates, he times his forward runs infinitely better and he encourages other players.
Alan Lee had a fantastic first half and, no surprise, faded a bit in the second but was still effective. He seemed to do most of the donkey work for both himself and Campbell at times. It was a close call between Lee and Ginge for man of the match. And even Joe Ledley and Vidmar showed some good touches during their cameo spells.
City now have 15 days until they play their next game at West Ham's Upton Park but they can go there with confidence and nothing to lose before the next Ninian appearance. With several players currently injured or carrying knocks, perhaps this is one break the club won't mind having.
Report from FootyMad.
Cardiff City eased further away from relegation trouble with a hard earned victory at rain swept Ninian Park.
Richard Langley struck after 13 minutes and skipper Graham Kavanagh sealed the win 16 minutes from time.
Lennie Lawrence dropped Tony Warner and gave Neil Alexander his first start since City played Millwall in 2003, on a day when Warner was in goal for the Lions. Richard Chaplow, whose future was the subject of much speculation during the week, was left on the bench by Burnley.
Alan Lee had the first strike on target when he spun before firing in a low shot that brought Burnley keeper Brian Jensen to his knees.
The Bluebirds kept up the pressure and James Collins fired in a shot that just cleared the visitors' crossbar.
Burnley responded by winning the first corner of the match in the tenth minute but it was safely cleared by Danny Gabbidon.
City then took the lead when Lee chased a ball down the right flank. Jensen's attempted clearance struck Lee and the loose ball ran to Langley, who side-footed into the empty net for his first goal of the season.
On the half-hour mark Rhys Weston burst through the middle and lashed in a drive that Jensen could not hold, but no City forward was near enough to take advantage.
Junichi Inamoto then struck a post as Cardiff kept up the pressure in search of a second goal.
The Bluebirds failed to find their first half rhythm during the second period and Burnley, with Graham Branch on to assist Ian Moore upfront, began to take control.
Against the run of play City went further ahead in the 74th minute when Kavanagh struck from 20 yards with a shot that took a slight deflection before hitting the roof of the net.
The Bluebirds were penned back in the closing stages and Neil Alexander had to be alert to grab a free-kick at the second attempt, but the visitors could find now way through.
Wales On Sunday