Crewe 1 Cardiff 1. Match Report.

Last updated : 04 May 2003 By NigelBlues

We've lived a City season that's full
And travelled each and every highway
But more, much more than that
We can still go up and do it our way

Well that’s it then folks - Cardiff City completed the regular portion of the league season with a deserved 1-1 draw in what was little more that a post-season friendly and for most part, a yawn, at runners up Crewe Alexandra's Gresty Road stadium.

The game will however enter Cardiff City folklore and be recounted for years to come by the 1,500 of us there privileged to see Bluebird history created as our Little Earnie - Robert Earnshaw, the true Prince of Wales - on as a 2nd half substitute, netted his 31st league goal of the season to become Cardiff's record league scorer, eclipsing Stan Richards benchmark set 56 years ago. It made the day and trip worth every penny, minute and mile. Thank You Earnie.

The journey was horrendous as the notorious M6 did it worst. We're used to tailbacks and delays at the M5/M6 junction but it was busier than usual on a Saturday morning, probably due to the Bank Holiday weekend.

It got worse though as a combination of endless roadworks followed by a lorry crashing through the motorway central reservation nearer Crewe turned the M6 in a three lane parking lot. It forced loads of City fans to leave the motorway a couple of junctions early and diverting through county lanes but plenty others had the same idea. Our 190 mile trip to Crewe, including a service stop, lasted just over 5 hours and made our decision to leave at breakfast look very wise - the things we do for City.

Once we neared Crewe, we were held in a lay-by police. They gave us all maps of the centre and a list of 7 or 8 pubs we could use (instructions in English and Welsh!) then escorted us to the ground. All the ones I met and spoke to very friendly and courteous but their numbers were totally over-the-top. There must have been several hundred on duty in and around the ground, we're talking about 2 or 3 coppers outside every property and in some streets, so many of them lined up, our only line of vision were yellow fluorescent jackets

Pubs were friendly too and the atmosphere, effectively for a nothing match, was excellent amongst the City support. Crewe billed the game as a promotion party - if that's what they call a party, I'm glad that I'm not around when it's normal!

The pre-match celebration was letting go of a couple of hundred red and white balloons for the fools/cheapskates/idiots (take your pick) didn't put helium in them so they were all lying on or around the pitch for the first half. Their 8,062 supporters were comprehensively outsung by City's 1,500 and well over than half of them disappeared home at or before final whistle, not even bothering to salute their team's achievement and collecting their runner-up medals and shield with an on-pitch celebration as we left.

The ground itself is compact. It has only one decent stand, pitch lengh, the other three sides are narrow, shallow affairs, one of them behind a goal with barely 8 rows of seats. Cardiff fans had a pitch-length stand. It's decent for Division Two football but also it is used to housing First Division games, it will be one of the 3 worst stadiums at that level.

Crewe have gone onto promotion despite home form being a real problem, Cardiff became the 12th team to leave Gresty Road with a result as Crewe collected just 38 in front of their own fans but 48 away from home. A key factor in that being their awful playing surface which undermines their renowned pass and movement game. The ball bobbled and took awkward bounces all afternoon but at least it now has grass, it apparently resembled a sandy beach in many parts not so long ago.

Lennie made changes but not as many as predicted during the week. Neil Alexander, back from midweek duty in Scotland but after not getting any action again, was in goal. The back four had only one change with Weston-Prior-Barker-Croft. Barker pulled inside with Croft back as Danny Gabbidon recovered from a knock before those play-offs. Midfield and up front went to 4-3-3 as Lennie experimented with one wideman, Mahon, returned to Blackburn and another, Ainsworth, suspended until Millenium Stadium (if we get there!). Midfield was Whalley-Boland-Bonner and up front were Campbell-Gordon-Thorne as Lennie gave others a chance to play and get fit before the real action starts. Kav, Earnie & Leggy had a rest on the bench along with Margetson and Scott Young.

And so to the football ... but what football?? The first half was dire in the extreme, another 45 minutes of tedious viewing so tedious that several City fans asked to be let out opting to go home early or back to the pubs. I actually missed the final 15 minutes of it queuing for half-time food - Crewe having 1 kiosk and 2 of the slowest serving assistants to cater for the needs of 1,500 after our horrendous journey.

What I did see wasn't worth seeing. It was barely competitive, both sides guilty of that. You could understand Cardiff not needing to extend themselves ahead of next weekend but I thought Crewe would have been more determined to impress.

The home side did however play most of their football, the far half belonging to them by some distance. Just like Wigan last week, their passing and movement was better, more fluid and snappier than ours, especially in the middle of the park, it really is something Lennie must address for next season.

Whilst City produced nothing, Crewe produced little more. A couple of efforts wide or over, a couple more denied by last gasp tackles and many of us watching starting to lose the will to live, the only excitement amongst Cardiff fans coming from score updates from other games, especially when early news filtered through that Swansea were losing and staring the conference full in the face.

That changed on 42 minutes as Hulse raced through but Alexander saved well from his powerful shot but City then gave yet another impression of statues as the resulting corner floated over and WALKER easily nodded home at the far post completely unmarked. City's defence were targeted with 20 clean sheets this league season but got just 18 due to their deficiencies and errors, Crewe meanwhile earned 24 clean sheets, a key reason why they went up automatically and not us.

Half-time arrived and at last there was some decent action to watch, Earnie and Kav warming up on the pitch. Of those called up, Bonner and Gordon were ok but didn't really impress, Campbell was anonymous but Whalley had a great game, obviously wanting to do well against the team where his career started, he must have made a strong case for starting in those play-offs.

Half-time: CREWE 1 CITY 0

Earnie and Kav came on for Boland and Gordon and it was Kav who made City's first chance of the entire match after 50 minutes when a great ball over Crewe's defence, Campbell won the chase and was away but from 10 yards and with the goal gaping, he shot wide. Just like his glorious chance to beat Wigan last week which was also wasted, it was just not the sort of finishing anyone should expect from an ex-Premier player for whom we paid £900,000.

City were however getting on top and Earnshaw was a man on a mission realising it was his final chance to break that record. He was unlucky with a couple of touches, just denied by challenges then the moment of pure magic arrived on 62 minutes.

City broke through the middle, Peter Thorne threaded a through ball to send Earnie scampering away towards the area on the left. He didn't need a second invitation as he took one touch in his stride and as the clumsy looking keeper Ince came out, Earnie buried a low left footed shot past him to send both himself, the other players and 1,500 fans into complete mayhem and bliss. Even the referee was laughing as Earnie charged towards us, took off his City shirt to reveal a black t-shirt with BOOM written across it and somersault away. Magic, magic, magic.

Not just his 31st league goal of the season, it was also his 35th league and cup goal (another record) and the 50th goal of the Thorne-Earnie duo. For all the criticism, that is also a City record, beating anything the greats like John Toshack and Brian Clark did by almost 10 goals.

It ended Earnie's 7 match non-scoring run, easily the longest of his career, but also City's non-scoring run of over 7 hours heralding the catastrophic finish of just 2 points from the final 5 league games - had we performed moderately well, it could still have been us not Crewe celebrating today. Cardiff can take some pride that neither of the Top 2 teams - Wigan or Crewe - beat us this season but that makes it all the more disappointing too. We didn't always play well against the better teams but it was our results against teams like Northampton, Barnsley, Notts County, Peterborough and Cheltenham that really hurt us in this campaign.

The rest of the match didn't really matter - City fans had their moment of joy but were into non-stop singing bliss, Crewe's were only waiting for the end for half of them to halve a party but it was undoubtedly Cardiff on top and in a fair amount of control. Leggy replaced the hapless Campbell for the final 25 minutes and saw plenty of the ball. His corners, long throws and crosses causing the home side several anxious moments but they survived. Earnie tried his luck with a spectacular overhead shot but his edge of area effort sailed over.

Crewe rarely got forward and when they did, Spencer Prior again looked to be in commanding form as he did in the last 2 games but hardly at all during the first 43 matches. He looks a different player at the moment, long may it continue. Whatever he's doing, I hope he keeps doing it. Neil Alexander however made one fine late stop to deny Jones.

And that was it, apart from the goal, the biggest second half buzz (after realising Swansea were safe) was working out our play-off opponents. It looked like Oldham for a long time but they couldn't beat already relegated Huddersfield. Had we won, we would have got QPR but instead, we have to settle for the Wurzles of Brizzle Zity.

The whole squad, Lennie and Sam came to us at final whistle and had a huge ovation.
Earnie was last player off the pitch taking all the richly deserved plaudits and throwing his t-shirt into the fans, keeping his City shirt for himself.

More millions spent on players, new and better training facilities, every possible resource and effort given to the manager and players but the end result is the same, it is all down to bottle, luck and chancing it for promotion through the play-off system.

To outsiders and fans of other teams (especially the Jacks with the season they’ve had), we do come across as churlish, petty and moaners for being disillusioned about our season but we’ve every right to and they wouldn’t know - no matter how anyone tries to make excuses or dresses it up, the undeniable truth is that, on the playing field, we’ve gone backwards.

League tables and results don’t lie. Compared to last year under Alan Cork and then Lennie, we’ve finished in a lower league position, we’ve scored less goals (despite Earnie’s magnificent efforts), we’ve lost more games and we’ve collected less points. We also failed dismally to get past the early stages of the LDV Trophy at Bournemouth and we gave up the (trivial, I accept) FAW Premier Trophy with a performance plummeting the lowest depths at Newport.

But there’s more to it than that, none of Lennie’s signings can be regarded as real successes or players who have improved the team - especially Campbell and Barker who collectively cost £1.5 Million - and it’s hard to argue that, with the glorious exception of Earnie, any player has progressed greatly this season. Indeed, it’s easier to argue many have had poorer perosnal seasons. Most damning of all, it seems to be accepted by all that the quality of football and entertainment has been terrifically poorer and reduced - despite the generally successful results. I can genuinely remember few great games and performances but far more terrible displays and awful games - sad but true.

And yet, despite all this, Lennie and his players still have one final chances to not just redeem themselves but catapult themselves into CCC folklore by giving us one of the greatest day of our lives which would probably ensure they need never buy a drink in South Wales for the rest of theirs.

We’re not as confident or cocky about the play-offs as 12 months ago, probably a good thing, we are the team out of form but given determination, 100% from everyone and some overdue luck, it is certainly within our capabilities to beat in the semis and in a hometown Millennium Stadium final.

The players were adamant at last week's Player of the Year Awards that they wanted Bristol in the play-offs. They believe they are the better team and were only beaten both times by dubious penalty awards turning games City had been on top of. It's going to be tense and will give us complete joy or immense devastation but the players have got their wish so let's get behind them and see them do it.

Good Luck Lennie, all the players and Cardiff City - we're with you all the way.

Report from FootyMad
Robert Earnshaw notched his 31st goal of the season to end Cardiff's scoring drought but his side will still have to travel to Bristol City for a tricky semi-final second leg.

The Welsh outfit saved a point at already promoted Crewe when Earnshaw broke the club goalscoring record with a finely executed strike in the 64th minute. But wins for play-off rivals QPR and Bristol City and Oldham's point at Huddersfield push Cardiff back into sixth spot.

It was a terribly disappointing finale for Lennie Lawrence's expensively assembled team as they were pushing Crewe all the way for the second automatic spot until consecutive defeats at the hands of Peterborough, Colchester and Bristol City scuppered their hopes.

They were forced to look on at the rapturous scenes at the final whistle as Crewe picked up their runners-up medals and long serving manager Dario Gradi received a shield which has been introduced this year to runners up in all Nationwide League divisions.

Crewe had nothing to play for but pride and with Lawrence resting players with his eyes already on the play-offs it was no surprise that it was a tame affair.

A rare goal from young defender Richard Walker put the home side in front a minute before half time. Alex leading scorer Rob Hulse had mis-hit a golden opportunity when he was played through on goal, visiting keeper Neil Alexander got a finger to the ball to push it round the post.

And from Kenny Lunt's flag kick Alexander was beaten at the near post as Walker's downward header found the net.

Wales Under-21 international David Vaughan forced a brilliant save from Alexander moments later after a mazy run but Hulse blazed the rebound well wide.

Former Middlesbrough man Andy Campbell shot wide from just eight yards out as Cardiff began to take control in the second half, with the introduction of Graham Kavanagh in midfield and Earnshaw up front being pivotal.

Eventually Peter Thorne laid a neat ball off to Earnshaw who ghosted in on the left-hand side of the box and the Zambian born Welsh international took a deft touch past home keeper Clayton Ince for a deserved equaliser.

External reports
Wales On Sunday