CARDIFF CITY progressed to the Third Round of the Carling Cup beating MK Dons 2-1 at a drizzly Ninian Park but, true to form, did it the hard way in front of 6,834 fans. Three players were injured in the first half, including Riccy Scimeca stretchered away after a lengthy stoppage with a worrying looking injury but City got to a comfortable 2-0 scoreline thanks to a Ross McCormack penalty and cracking Peter Whittingham free-kick before conceding yet another soft late goal but they held out with few dramas.
Dave Jones still appears to be fumbling around trying to find his best team. Not only that, he is either being denied or not spending promised monies for players (take your pick - I definitely go for the former option). However his cause isn't helped with City suffering early season injury woes and selection problems and that was made much worse tonight. Mark Kennedy joined Super Kev and Gavin Rae on the injury list pre-game, Gabor Gypes was cup-tied after playing for Northampton in Round One but there was a welcome return and belated start of the season for Tony Capaldi while Eddie (EJ) Johnson made his City debut becoming our 5th striker in our 5th match of the season.
Jones fielded as strong a team as possible with only two changes from the weekend, one of them enforced as he started with Heaton, Blake-Purse-Johnson-Capaldi, Whittingham-Scimeca-McPhail-Ledley, Johnson-McCormack.
Franchise FC (lesser known as Milton Keynes Dons) came to Ninian Park with their own problems. Promoted to League One under Paul Ince who walked to Blackburn, they are now managed by the Chelsea duo of Roberto di Matteo and Eddie Newton (arguably, City's best ever loan signing) and have made a good start. After losing on opening day at Leicester, have won three straight since beating Northampton 1-0 (in Gypes;' final outing for the Cobblers), a cracking 3-1 victory at Huddersfield last weekend and producing a shock in Carling Cup Round One to beat Norwich, City's opponents last weekend, so travelled here in confidence.
Their squad is a 'pick'n'mix' international set with an Austrian, Canadian, Frenchmen, American and one form New Guinea However, one of those players haven't yet arrived in the country, two key defenders were injured and a third, Cummings, on loan from Chelsea was not allowed to play in the Cup while Captain and star man Keith Andrews has been 'rested' ahead of a likely move to join Ince at Blackburn - shame, I'd love him at City where our midfield genuinely require an addition.
They were backed by 200 fans including one fat guy taunted to "get your tits out for the lads" - he obliged - and sang and bounced a bit, took some stick and had a flag saying "We'll Make History" but they already have. Franchise FC are hated by fans of all other 91 clubs!
The sole action of the first half came in its closing moments but there was drama as both full backs were lost to injury with Tony Capaldi limped off inside 10 minutes followed by Darcy Blake before 20. Comminges and Parry replaced them as City shuffled the pack.
Cardiff were comfortable and playing the ball around but not really getting anywhere. Eddie Johnson looked lost and was hoping for balls sent into space or over the that never arrived but McCormack taught him to Ayatollah after not understanding the terrace cries so he was baptised! Just before the interval, EJ had his best moment as the hugely impressive McCormack and Ledley combined, sent a low ball across goal and his stabbed effort was parried into the air by ex-Jack (and getting the abuse for it) Willie Guerret and bounced off the top of this bar and behind.
The resulting corner led to the opener but not before another painful blow as a scramble saw the ball fall in front of Scimeca who looked set to score until a lunge sent him crashing down and penalty. I was in the Grandstand and Scimeca was felled in the Grange End goalmouth but message came from fans there that the challenge was dreadful and Riccy was punching the ground in agony. The game stopped for 5 minutes or more while he was treated and stretchered away still in terrible pain. I feel so sorry for him getting this and working hard and fighting back from lengthy absence, let's hope it's not serious but it looked ominous I'm afraid. Aaron Morris came on for his debut, FAW Premier Cup apart, at right back and Comminges who was doing infinitely better on the right having had to switch sides earlier was not sent back to the left again. Joe Ledley was in central midfield, Parry sent to left wing. As David Bowie would say, Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes!
Meantime, McCORMACK has remained calm and cooly slotted away the penalty with Guerret sent the wrong way. In a competition allowing 7 subs on the bench, I wondered if the other 4 got dressed as City had already fielded their three. Maybe they made the half time tea and oranges!
Half-time: CITY 1 MK DONS 0
There were some fears that a significantly disrupted City would be severely tested in the 2nd half but, if anything, they took more of a stranglehold on the game and were never in trouble.
McCormack was causing trouble every time the ball came his way and was easily man of the match but he had enough chances to have got a hat-trick or more but WHITTINGHAM showed his class with set pieces. An early 2nd half attempt whistled just past Guerret's post but when he had another one - this time 30 yards out to the right of goal - he hammered it home beating Guerret comprehensively inside his near post. A supreme moment of class.
Cardiff were now very composed going about their business and MK Dons threw on two subs in what seemed a token gesture to give other players some game time but City were threatening to add to their tally with Parry, McCormack and Comminges frequently impressing. On the other hand, while it's difficult to judge Eddie Johnson on a debut having only been with City for 2 days, he does need to put himself a bit more. Let's just say that Fulham won't be in any hurry to recall him in January on what we saw tonight but I'm certain he'll get better. However, it's certainly no formality he'll play at Sheffield United this weekend.
With 15 minutes remaining, MK Dons grabbed a shock goal in shocking circumstances. A free-kick was floated in from 35 yards and O'HANLON somehow found space between Purse and Johnson, Purse appearing to misjudge the flight of the ball and sent a simple downwards header to the centre of goal except Heaton was moving to his far post and slipped on his arse trying to move back for the ball. More defensive embarrassment.
If there were worries about another late self-inflicted collapse, City never showed it and played out the final minutes very well with McCormack hitting a post and twice shooting just wide when getting past the last man. We also had a great comedy moment as Guerret smashed a clearance onto the Bob Bank roof, it rolled nearly half the length of the pitch and came down straight on top of a kid in a hoodie walking towards the exit on the terrace below. His unintentional header into the seating earned wild applause.
All in all, a good night's work but it could be at a very heavy cost. We'll have to wait and see how bad the damage is but potentially, City have serious problems at the back and in midfield. So much for a bigger better squad and no need for extra players!
Report from FootyMad
Ross McCormack's second penalty in three days and a Peter Whittingham free-kick were just enough to see Cardiff City through to the next round.
The Bluebirds had new loan signing Eddie Johnson up front as they looked to continue their unbeaten start to the season.
MK Dons won a couple of corners in the opening minutes but the home defence cleared to mount a series of attacks only to fail to trouble former Swansea keeper Willy Gueret.
In the ninth minute, Tony Capaldi went down injured and was replaced by Miguel Comminges.
City were forced to replace the other full-back midway through the half when Darcy Blake left the field and Paul Parry came on.
The first real strike on goal did not come until the 25th minute when Whittingham flashed his shot just wide of the post with Gueret scrambling across his line.
The match came alive in the 41st minute when a cross from Joe Ledley was met by Johnson but Gueret pushed his shot onto the bar.
As the ball came back into play, Riccardo Scimeca was brought down in the box by Drissa Diallo to give the Bluebirds a penalty for the second successive match.
Play was held up as Scimeca received treatment before being stretchered off the field.
Aaron Morris replaced him for his first-team debut and McCormack drilled home the spot-kick to give City a half-time lead.
In the 58th minute, Whittingham doubled City's advantage when he curled a 30-yard free-kick into the net beyond a motionless Gueret.
The Bluebirds now seemed to have the edge, but out of the blue Sean O'Hanlon rose to meet a free-kick and power a header into the net to give his side hope.
The Dons pressed forward in an attempt to force extra time, but the Bluebirds held out and go into the draw for round three.