Coventry 3 Cardiff 0. Match Report.

Last updated : 16 January 2003 By NigelBlues

The final 3-0 score undoubtedly flattered the Sky Blues who probably saw less of the ball and had fewer chances but it again emphasised City's shortcomings and the huge gap the Bluebirds must fill if they wish to be a competent Division One team next season.

City were sent to Coventry, their first visit to Highfield Road for 36 years will also be their last as the home side move to a new stadium next season. Despite the easy alternative of staying at home and watching it in front of tv, over 2,500 Bluebirds instead took time off work to be there - magnificent support and in magnificent voice too (although it would be nice if we learned some new songs instead of the same old tired routine).

The motorways with almost 20 coaches and numerous cars made an impressive sight. The journey was uneventful and quick too, ours hit the outskirts of
town by just after 5pm, our singing started long before the game. Was it my bad memory or did we really sing the Peter Thorne song to Keith Cooper, Steve Johnson and Dean the studio guest live and unedited on air during GTFM's Cardiff City phone-in??

Highfield Road, although about to be condemned, was a fairly impressive stand. Four largish stands of differing designs, the bulk of the home support in a double decker stand behind one goal. Cardiff's support were housed along one side of the pitch. Good views although it did seem strange looking at the "CCFC" lettering in the stands.

Cardiff's team had only one change from the side that played the home Cup game (and City's last match) 11 days before as Scott Young made his first start of the season after long-term injury replacing the suspended Spencer Prior, his suspension possibly a blessing anyway after his continued poor form.

City were not overawed in the slightest, set out their stall well and quickly took the game to Coventry and had the bulk of the possession and territory. Earnie had an effort blocked, Bowen sent over crosses and City won three or four corners in the opening 10 minutes before anything was seen of Coventry as the ever dangerous Boothroyd snatched an effort wide, something he repeated shortly afterwards.

City kept the momentum going winning more corners but never producing from them although Scott Young forced two saves from Hyldegaard from a header and shot then it all went run as the home team took the lead against the run of play after 20 minutes.

A superb Boothroyd through ball cut City's defence completely open in the middle and LEE FOWLER, 19 years old and gallingly, Cardiff born and Cardiff bred, making his first appearance of the season, kept his composure like a veteran, seemed to wait for Alexander to commit and stroked the ball home low to the keeper's right.

It hardly halted City although Boland (again) and Legg showed their frustrations with two quick bookings. City continued pressurising Coventry, Legg throws, crosses and more corners peppering the area but nothing of greatconsequence coming from them other than one golden opportunity.

City advanced down the left, the livewire Bowen cut free, his effort was blocked by Hyldegaard and Earnie looking a cast iron certainty to score saw his effort come off the underside of the bar on 35 minutes. Not seen it myself but tv apparently showed he hit his shot into the floor but was denied by the facemasked Bosnian Konic throwing himself in the way and doing enough to deflect it.

There was no doubt that City didn't deserve to be trailing and had given a great account of themselves by half-time but they must quickly learn that set pieces and domination must be converted into real chances and the chances, when they arise, must be converted into goals. That's what Coventry did, it was what City failed to do.

half-time: Coventry 1 City 0

The territory and shots at goal stats may say otherwise but, as far as I'm concerned, Cardiff weren't really in it during the second half and Coventry sealed their win and coasted to victory whilst City displayed just about all of their season long problems.

We learned nothing knew about Cardiff but isn't it time our management knew and did something to change things and freshen up proceedings?

Neil Alexander is increasingly a liability at the back. His shot-stopping this season has been excellent but his game is now seriously flawed by his inability and lack of confidence to leave his line any longer. Balls floated across his box which he would have taken every time last season are now falling to opposition players unchallenged and they are left to 50/50 challenges with City defenders. His distribution, something he has tried to work at, remains awful. At one point in the half, he threw the ball straight at the back of a City defender almost gifting an embarrassing goal to Coventry as the ball fell to them but the effort was fortunately fluffed.

Young and Barker did reasonably well in the middle although Chris Barker, at £600,000, certainly wasn't bought to play in a position where we have several players who can do that job.

However none of them can measure up to Danny Gabbidon. The stats speak for themselves. Prior to Gabbi's injury at Barnsley in early November, City's defence were reasonably solid and kept 4 clean sheets in 5 games. They've only kept 4 clean sheets in 14 games without him - 2 of them to poor Third Division Exeter in the LDV Trophy and then non-league Margate in an earlier FA Cup tie. His continued absence is really hurting us.

Most of City's problems are in midfield, however. Willie Boland yet again worked harder than anyone and I'm sure desperately wanted to impress against the club where he started his career before he begins a two match suspension. It's just as well Mastermind is no longer on tv, Boland would be the only player unable to pass!

Worse though is the continued poor showings from Kav. Do we really have to keep waiting forever to see him come good? In my mind, it is now almost a whole year since Kav was a genuine influence for City, very disturbing. If it were not for his transfer fee and pedigree, he would surely have been rested or replaced long ago.

Criminally, Kav barely challenged the veteran Gary McAllister. Both are pivotal to their teams so arguably this is where the game was won and lost. Kav sat in front of their defence, so deep the Weston and Croft out wide were often ahead of him, I got fed up of seeing it. When he had the ball, he was too slow, hardly set up any moves and certainly showed no penetration. McAllister was allowed to run the show as he wanted, that can never be acceptable.

There is no width in City's team despite Legg's and Bowen's best attempts. If City don't have that, it is vital that they have a supportive and creative midfield. Too frequently, we have none of any of these qualities, it is why City are more frequently being found out and exposed.

Up front, Thorne and Earnie were again starved of real service and you have to feel sorry for both players. It's an absolute credit to Earnie that he has somehow got 25 goals for City but the maxim that if Earnie doesn't score, neither do City, seems to be truer than ever. Thorne now looks desperately out of form and confidence but have The Bluebirds ever played to his strengths?

Where are the new players we were promised? City had £265,000 tv money from Sky for televising this game, money they surely never expected or budgeted for. It should be given to Lennie to either buy or bring two quality players on loan for the rest of this season.

The game, as a contest, was over on 56 minutes when DEAN HOLDSWORTH scored a wonderful goal, his first for Coventry. Created from nothing, he turned from 20 yards and swept an unstoppable shot past a startled, motionless Alexander which tucked right inside his top left corner.

Almost immediately, City nearly snatched one back as Peter Thorne met a Leggy long throw, his drilled header bounced off the underside of the bar with Hyldegaard well beaten. Another header of his just after the hour was saved. And despite all the pressure, corners, free-kicks and Leggy's best attempts, that turned out to be City's last effort of the night.

The final period went through the motions. Coventry content to play well within themselves and keep things tight, strangling City, a lesson they learned from the first game. Cardiff just didn't have the armoury to fight back this time. Leo and Campbell were introduced, a little too late as far as I was concerned but they were unable to make any impact this time.

Cardiff didn't deserve to concede a third goal but it came in the final moments as JAY BOOTHROYD shot from distance, his effort, going wide but it took a cruel deflection, left Alexander wrong-footed and went in the opposite direction to his dive. Probably a reward for Boothroyd's efforts.

It was no disgrace to go down to Coventry and as an isolated performance, City can feel proud and take heart. Coventry are however a competent, not remarkable, Division One team and eased past us, scoring five goals in two games. It shows how far we have to go, may half the team or more barely look good enough to compete at the next level should we be promoted.

That is another concern for another time, what is more worrying now is the continued lack of form and presence for key players and City's lack of real style and penetration. If that is not resolved quickly, Division One may be just a pipedream anyway.

Report from FootyMad

Welshman Lee Fowler and veteran striker Dean Holdsworth notched their first goals for Coventry City to send Gary McAllister's men through to the fourth round of the FA Cup at the expense of Cardiff City.

Fowler, a product of the Coventry youth ranks, fired Coventry in front in the 21st minute rounding off a superb move in fitting style, before Holdsworth secured a trip to Rochdale later in the month. Jay Bothroyd rounded off the night with a goal which deflected in off sub James Collins.

It was a sweet night for Fowler, who had faded from the picture at Highfield Road after breaking through last season and he took his chance in style with an excellent all-round performance.

The goal was certainly the highlight for the Cardiff-born midfielder but much of the credit will have to go to Bothroyd. The former Arsenal man controlled the ball, flicked it up and over Gary Croft before stroking an inch-perfect pass between two defenders.

Fowler had plenty of time but waited for keeper Neil Alexander to commit himself before shooting to his right.

Not that Coventry were in charge. The visitors could well have taken the lead in the fourth minute when Coventry keeper Morten Hyldgaard kicked straight to Robert Earnshaw, but before the Bluebirds striker had time to go for goal, Richard Shaw recovered ground to block.

And, as in the first game, Cardiff showed their spirit with a comeback and only an agile goal-line clearance from Mo Konjic denied Earnshaw a goal.

Holdsworth's goal, 12 minutes after the interval, sealed the visitors' fate. McAllister rolled the ball into the striker's path and he moved two paces inside before letting fly with a right-foot shot which flew into the top corner.

Still Cardiff kept plugging away and Peter Thorne struck the bar in the 59th minute with a close-range header, before Bothroyd gave the scoreline a flattering look.

External reports.
The Western Mail
The BBC (inc audio)
Coventry Unofficial Website