Rotherham 0 Cardiff 0. Match Report

Last updated : 13 August 2003 By NigelBlues

It was a day long anticipated and certainly to be savoured by Bluebirds young, and especially old, who had endured 18 years, 3 months, 28 days and 22 hours of mostly miserable times and, usually, even more miserable football since Cardiff last appeared in the top two divisions. Ironically, their last appearance at this level was to be relegated at Wimbledon under the control of a certain Sam Hammam!

Setting off on an 8am coach, it was perhaps easier to imagine heading for the beach rather than a football ground as Cardiff temperatures rose above 90 degrees but South Yorkshire was much cooler - in the mid 80's!! The one advantage of Britain baking was that the roads were quieter, only the very foolish undertook long journeys in this weather - and, yep, that was us!

And what a coach we had from Canton - tv missing, radio not working, no windows, a side emergency door exit whose alarm kept sounding off, a gearbox that threatened to completely cease up and overhead blowers that didn't work - lovely! Fortunately, the roof windows brought in enough cool air and the plentiful cool drinks on board did the trick.

City fans on the roads tooting and waving to each other made a great sight - especially loved the van with a huge bedsheet adorned out of the back with Mad Cardiff Men on tour 2003-2004 on display. Another sure sign that Cardiff had re-entered a higher class of football was seeing all the daily national newspapers have fair sized game previews instead of the inevitable meaningless one liners we had in Divisions Two and Three. Somehow, our coach made up for all its deficiencies being making good time to the extent that we were the first coach to arrive in Rotherham at 12:15.

Yorkshire police - West and South - have been notorious in their attitude towards, and dealings with, visiting Cardiff fans over the years. Initial fears that we were in for more "treatment" were high as they were out in large numbers. Despite the blistering heat, early arrivals worryingly spotted a some adorning balaclavas and full riot gear. But, praise where it's due, they were excellent and contributed to an enjoyable day and experience with their high presence, low key approach. City fans were treated as friendly and with respect and - surprise, surprise - they found that they had no problems at all and extreme friendliness in return. Not a difficult concept to understand but it's amazing how often the police have got it wrong over the years, especially in this corner of the world.

Six pubs were made exclusively available for City fans including Yates' with 1,000 capacity and doormen lookalikes of James Collins and Rufus Brevett. The banter was great, the liquid refreshments highly appreciated, more fans saw outside on the pavements and beer gardens than in the pubs themselves and landlords probably enjoying their best lunchtime trade for months. The pubs stopped serving at 2pm but that was no problem as the ground was a little walk away from the centre with City fans freely walking and chatting with Rotherham supporters.

Programmes were £2.50 with Ronnie Moore hinting that Cardiff would pay Alan Lee four times as much wages as he gets with The Millers. No wonder, post-game, Lee joined his team-mate Andy Monkhouse in issuing a come and get me plea to City! City's offer of £850,000 is currently refused as Rotherham are holding out for £1 Million but it's a dangerous game they're playing with nobody else presently interested in offering that money, the first of two transfer windows closing on August 31st and all for a player who can walk out for nothing next summer.

After that glorious day at Millennium Stadium last May, we drooled about visiting the Stadium of Light, Upton Park, Pride Park and other quality stadia - trust our luck to start Division One life at a venue little different, and in some ways inferior, to grounds we know so well at the lower end. Millmoor, surrounded by scrap-yards, lanes, factories, is basic to say the least. Small stands that have probably existed since the place was first built and mostly consisting of terrace converted to seats in the Bob Bank mould.

Still, it was Division One and we were out to enjoy it despite the blistering heat and the nauseating sights of beer-bellied Bluebirds with their tops removed - wisely, mine stayed covered. It was bristling, the excitement attached to 2,500 of us proudly singing "hello, hello, Cardiff are back" in the minutes leading to kick-off will stay in my memory for a long time to come.

Then the lads were out to a spine-tingling roar and reception. The CCFC kit manager not doing the players too many favours by getting them to wear heat-attracting new all black kit (with what looks like a horizontal yellow stripe bolted onto the vertical stripe down the sleeve to make it appear as a makeshift St Davids Cross). With no colour clash whatsoever with the home side, surely the regular blue kit would have done the trick or the puke-inducing orange version if they really had to but all black? Madness.

With 12 players departing from South Wales over the summer, just 2 new faces at present, Croft, Whalley and Thorne injured and Prior suspended, City were amazingly threadbare for the opening game of the season with just 17 fit players other than youth and a starting 11 that picked itself.

It was the same team that beat Premiership Charlton last weekend with Scotland's No 1 between the posts, Weston - Vidmar - Gabbidon - Barker as the back four, a midfield quartet of Bonner- Kav - Boland and John Robinson and a pacy, individually excellent, but combined lightweight, strike force of Earnie and Andy Campbell. Robinson and Vidmar were making their official first team debuts debuts and subs were Collins, XL Maxwell, Whalley (despite not being fully recovered and match fit), Bowen and Margetson.

The Rotherham side had some excellent individuals and a great team spirit. Known names including Scott Minto making his Millers debut, Chris Sedgewick, Mark Robins and Alan Lee (he's now know to us, I bet he wasn't until a fortnight ago!). Chris Barker's brother, Richie, was a sub and so was Andy Monkhouse who has slipped back in the pecking order and became a hate target by sections of Rotherham support after he openly pleaded for City to buy him. They finished 15th last season and, realistically, that's likely to be the best they can do this term so it remained a valid measuring stick and certainly the sort of place City need to gain a result if they're to stabilise themselves at this level.

The day, and game, for City fans was also about the occasion and we hoped to get a positive result to get off the mark. In that respect, everything was happy with the point and outcome. The heat was incredible, ridiculous weather for playing football. It was just as well as, objectively, we learned nothing that we didn't already know about Cardiff City. They worked tremendously hard, had spells when they passed well and spells where they let themselves down with poor passing and movement.

Neil Alexander looked supreme and, distribution apart, is looking like a complete goalkeeper. Our defence were troubled but reasonably solid but will face much sterner tests over the season. Midfield is a huge problem. Their work-rate and commitment is outstanding and has never been doubted but it's too bland, we lack creativity, they don't carry an attacking threat and we struggle to support or supply the front runners. As for those front runners, Rotherham's physical rearguard, managed to isolate Earnie and Campbell with few problems, Campbell was especially disappointing and never got into the game at all. We've known for a year that couldn't work together in Division Two and it certainly isn't going to happen at the higher grade either, no matter what anyone tries to say. Overall, the performance showed that we are at least three players short of where we need to be and it has to be put right if we're not to face a struggle.

Few will doubt City deserved their point but while it's exemplary that our defence have conceded just 1 goal in almost 10 hours of league and play-off - a fantastic achievement, City have failed to score in 7 of the last 10 such matches and only got 1 goal in each of the 3 matches in which we've scored. Only two chances were created at Rotherham, both by Earnie's perception, and had the home side scored, most of us acknowledge we would probably never have pulled it back. A reasonable start but we have to face reality - there's a massive job to do even if the Ninian propaganda machine naturally sees it differently.

Give City praise for a job well done today though. The opening pace, given the conditions, was near suicidal 100mph stuff. Rotherham, keen to give City the sternest test possible, as they attacked straight form with Alan Lee, charging past Vidmar and winning a corner in the opening 30 seconds and from that, they won another. City cleared but took 3 minutes to get into the opposition half and when they did, Earnie was hit to the ground in uncompromising "Welcome to Div 1" fashion.

A Cardiff corner came to nothing before, on 7 minutes, Earnie had arguably the best chance of the game and the type of opportunity that needs to be clinically finished at this level of football. City advanced patiently before John Robinson perceptively picked Earnie's run which took him clear on goal meeting a through ball. It was the sort of opportunity you would back Earnie to score 9 times out of 10 but, as Polltt charged out and spread himself, Earnie's low shot hit him.

Rotherham nearly made City pay the price of failing to take that fantastic opportunity but were denied by a fantastic Neil Alexander double save to firstly push away a low edge of area shot and as a cross was immediately swung back in, the keeper outstandingly denied Lee's downward close range header that would have beaten most keepers. Alexander has grown in stature on an afternoon where he took every cross with the cleanest of handling and made crucial stops.

City were fighting hard to get in the game, hanging on under some pressure and struggling to push forward themselves but missed another great opportunity on 20 minutes when, from a short corner, Chrissie Barker met the ball at the far post but couldn't keep his header down. A short burst of City pressure produced the first card of the day as the home side scrambled clear then Minto recklessly charged into Weston heading forward to keep the move fluent. Both sides appeared quite relieved it happened though as containers of water flew onto the pitch and players charged for them as though they were gold dust.

The closing 15-20 minutes of the half finally saw City settling into the game and producing the better passing football but clearly lacking the spark of creativity and penetration required to fully impact. Rhys Weston was pushing on and sent over crosses that were cut out and also managed a shot in anger but it flew wide. They were over their nerves though and City fans were highly supportive totally drowning any home vocals with rousing versions of the ayaytollah, Men of Harlech and many, many more - the noise was incessant.

Rotherham's outlet was mainly through Garner giving Chris Barker plenty of work and a tough baptism, most of their attacking work coming from that side of the pitch. On half-time, it nearly paid dividends as Millers won a corner which Lee met but his header was placed over.

The team had acquitted themselves reasonably well in the most demanding of conditions and were richly applauded as they headed for the tunnel and, no doubt, cold water and topping up of body fluids.

Half-time: ROTHERHAM 0 CITY 0

Neil Alexander spent the first half wearing a shirt that was the reverse of the City team shirts - yellow with black stripes - it obviously didn't distinguish him enough in the ref's eyes as he returned for the 2nd period wearing a basic Puma t-shirt of the type freely sold in the club shop and worn by several fans, with no name and number of its back. He had a rapturous reception as he took his place in front of the travelling support. Did we really travel without a change top?

The pace started almost as 'hot' but, to nobody's surprise, it slowed as the game progressed and the match drifted into less and less action as the intense heat took its toll. Earnie screwed an early effort wide then Lee headed over meeting a cross but was showing City fans close up what he could do. Vidmar was skipped past on one occasion before a poor cross and a minute later, he held the ball then forced himself past Gabbidon too cutting into the area only to be denied by a Weston covering lunge, he showed a dimension that City just don't have.

Whether he's worth the money is for others to decide but there's little doubt that he can offer Cardiff something that we just don't have. His finishing may have gone awry but he is an old fashioned line leader. Well built and powerful, he won plenty of ball in and around the box, holding it up well and laying it off, he can provide a service that Earnie could thrive on. He was a constant thorn and kept Gabbidon and Vidmar occupied. There is no doubt that he would improve City.

Just before the hour, Rhys Weston limped out having taken a knock making it the third successive game - following the play off epics at Ashton Gate and Millennium Stadium - where he limped out early. James Collins replaced him and went central with Gabbidon, Vidmar moving to right back.

Shortly afterwards, from a corner, Rotherham almost opened their account as firstly Alexander could only beat away a Robins shot and as the ball fell to Darren Garner in a crowded goalmouth, fans and players were relieved to see his effort slip a couple of foot wide.

On 65, I thought City had snatched a goal with a fantastic break. A Kav through ball sent Earnie scampering away on the right and, as the ball bounced up, he instinctively unleashed a dipping left footed 20 yard angled volley that Pollitt, arching back, tipped away when it looked set to dip over him. Quality football all round and, as it turned out, City's last real chance of the game.

For all the toil, we had little attacking threat. John Robinson worked hard, Earnie probed, Campbell was totally unable to get into the game and make any impact or contribution. The rest of midfield laboured and never threatened to conjure up anything.

Rotherham were doing the late probing, City fans now starting to settle for a point and getting 100% behind the boys in their efforts with vocals getting louder and louder. City stewards were in action as water carriers filling bottles with tap water that was handed out to fans gasping, even though we were mainly under cover and in shade.

The Millers pressing producing several late crosses, corners, headers and shots but with City's defence scrapping for everything, Alexander was well protected only having to save one Lee header or grateful as other efforts wide high or wide.

City changed Earnie for Bowen and Robinson for XL Mawell, both departing players getting deserved acclaim. Rotherham made attacking substitutions that could not find the elusive breakthrough. One of the subs was Monkhouse, a tall peroxide blonde player, who came onto a fair amount of boos from home fans and chants of "you'll never play for Cardiff" from City fans too!

The home side had had the bulk of possession and applied most pressure but City did well to strangle them and restrict their chances and with real chances at goal being few and far between, the 0-0 result and point each was fair enough, few could argue otherwise.

Overall, a satisfactory start to the season. All the players applied themselves fully to the cause, nobody let us down but clearly, Lennie and Sam must move quickly to bring in the extra resource and quality needed or toil and struggle will have to be the "norm". As good as they are/were, the standard Division One test is going to be an even tougher assignment than this one. Ronnie Moore issued a post-match taunt that Lee shouldn't move to Cardiff because his side are better. All bravado as deep down he knows full well that Cardiff can build and develop from this, his club cannot.

Our coach met John Robinson at an M1 petrol station. On the forecourt was a Porsche, Robbo was next to it filling up girlfriend/wife 's Ford Fiesta! He took the ribbing in good fun finding the time to ayatollah and tell us that it was far too hot to play football and more like a game of survival just to keep going. He has never played in anywhere near as hot conditions in this country. He thanked us for our support and said City's backing to help keep them going was fantastic. Just a genuinely nice bloke.

The coach was happy enough heading home, sprits literally aided by someone producing the nastiest vodka I have ever tasted in my life. In a flimsy container in a cardboard box, this was vodka that made your eyes water, burned your insides out and rendered you temporarily speechless. I loved it! Although, on second thoughts, maybe it was white spirit!

An enjoyable day, occasion and satisfactory result - now the hard work really starts.

Report from FootyMad.
Rotherham striker Alan Lee stole the show against first division new boys Cardiff - the team desperate to sign him.

Rotherham boss Ronnie Moore has already turned down an £850,000 bid by £he Welsh side - back in the second tier for the first time in 18 years.

But after a performance that impressed both Moore and Cardiff boss Lennie Lawrence a fresh offer could be in the pipeline closer to the £1million asking price by the Yorkshire club.

Said Moore: "Alan Lee proved why Cardiff want him so badly. He murdered their two centre halves - they were hardly in the game today.

"But at the moment he is still a Rotherham United player and that will not change until they make another move.

"I thought the team were brilliant today, especially considering the heat. You could not fault our effort and commitment. The only problem was our finishing - we were not clinical enough.

"If we carry on playing like that for the rest of the season we will not have any problems. If it had been a boxing match they would have thrown in towel long before the end.

"If we had taken our chances we could have had four or five goals."Cardiff boss Lennie Lawrence admitted: "Lee was a real handful for us but I don't want to say anything more.

"It was a good point for us but we learnt today that there are no easy games in the first division, it was very tough."Rotherham had the lion's share of chances and Lee went close with a string of impressive efforts.

An early header was blocked, another effort two minutes before half time was a fraction over the bar and another power header in the dying minutes was well saved by keeper Neil Alexander.

Cardiff's best efforts came from Robert Earnshaw who saw one chance well saved and another drift just wide.

External reports
IC Wales
The Guardian
Wales On Sunday
Western Mail
Western Mail 2