In a physical but not a dirty encounter, Cardiff were battered and worryingly second-best for three quarters of the game but having lost Rhys Weston in the warm up, Gavin Gordon to a broken nose and split forehead then had Steve Jenkins almost lose his life on the pitch after partially swallowing his tongue, they deserve some credit too for showing their character to fight back in these circumstances and against the odds.
Stockport, based in a Manchester suburb 7 miles from Man City's Maine Road and 10 miles from United's Old Trafford, was, thankfully, an easy drive for the Bluebird fans on their 200 mile journey. Weather conditions were excellent, a sunny day, and the motorways were clear. Greater Manchester Police, for reasons only known to them (their match commander has refused to answer e-mails and letters from City fans), brought forward kick-off time to 1pm. It didn't stop anyone from travelling, we all left earlier and got to Stockport earlier to drink in pubs before the game so what exactly was the point? Still, it meant we were home at a reasonable time.
The ground is barely good enough for Division Two so it was amazing to think it hosted First Division football last term. Built in a residential/commercial area within 2 minutes of its town centre, it was small and compact and showed its age. Only three sides of the ground were open, the laughingly titled Scoreboard Stand (an old open terrace with plastic seats drilled in and a "scoreboard" where only 5 of its 500 lights appeared to work) was shut behind one goal.
City fans had one side of the pitch, a very narrow "cow-shed" type-stand, not the best of views and an excellent turnout and atmosphere from 1,250 or so followers, many adorning daffodils. The "main" stand opposite us looks more decrepit and was smaller as Stockport has a learning centre built at one end. The only real sign of modernisation was double-tier stand behind the goal City attacked in the first half where the bulk of the home support in the crowd of 5,385 could be seen but rarely heard.
Lennie's plans to name an unchanged team were rocked during the warm up as Rhys Weston strained his back. Steve Jenkins, at 10 minutes notice, stepped in for his Cardiff debut and an afternoon he will never forget but won't remember either! Otherwise it was the same personnel and system that won easily at "Poor" Vale in midweek. Vale showed just how poor they are again today by losing 4-1 at Colchester for the 10th time in 14 league games. Stockport, on paper. looked highly beatable occupying a relegation berth and with just 1 win in their previous 10 league games. If having Carlton Palmer as Manager wasn't bad enough, they've just employed John Hollins to help him! Blimey.
That's where comparison to midweek ended as Stockport, unlike Vale, showed Cardiff no respect, fought for everything, looked far better than a relegation-haunted side and took complete control of the game. Nobody could have the slightest complaint by the time that County took the lead on 26 minutes.
City knew in advance that County's biggest threat was 24 goal striker Luke Beckett, a highly impressive tally in a struggling side, their programme almost gloating how he cost £100,000 to Peter Thorne's £1.75 Million and, it has to be said, he taunted City and would be an asset if he was a Cardiff player. Big, strong, physical, direct and fast, Cardiff's defence were struggling to handle him as, in keeping with the rest of the team, they looked sluggish and lethargic.
Stockport kept 2 in attack - Beckett and Wilbraham - ably supported by the bald and tough Ellison on one side and Gibb, fast and dodgy quiff on the other, it was Beckett hurting City most and who stood out.
On 11 minutes, only a blinding Alexander save prevented Beckett from opening the account as he ran at City's defence then let fly with a 25 yard drive, Alexander made a fantastic flying fingertip save under his bar. Two minutes later, he was narrowly wide with a 20 yard drive and on 18 minutes, he was denied by a linesman.
Alexander saved well again as he got down low to tip an Ellison drive around the post. The resulting corner was flicked on and Beckett ghosted in unmarked at the far post to turn home from close range. The linesman, standing too closely in front of City fans and getting some mighty stick for poor earlier decisions, redeemed himself, by flagging for offside. City fans cheered him wildly, when they chanted the linesman is a Bluebird, he couldn't resist smiling. When they asked him to ayatollah, he ignored us, got booed and quickly hated again ... as things should be!
Cardiff were barely able to get into Stockport's half, midfield were struggling to link up with the three in attack. The only outlet was Gavin Gordon winning just about every header when the ball was played up but nobody was getting on the end of them.
Stockport's goal seemed inevitable and it come on 26. Stockport broke down the right, the ball was moved across goal and as it got to the far side of the area, City's defenders were missing as PETER CLARK hit a superb, unstoppable left foot volley which flew back across goal from 15 yards that dipped inside the angle of Alexander's post and bar despite his best attempts to nearly make another miracle stop.
City were stunned and woke up but still unable to piece anything worthwhile together. Moves were breaking down far too easily. Gordon and Earnie twice broke clear but their crosses evaded everybody. City got behind Stockport once in the entire half and nothing came from that. Their only efforts of the half were Earnie blazing over in a useful position and Thorne heading straight at Swedish keeper, Tidman, from a corner.
Stockport finished the half as they started. Ellison shooting wide, hitting a 30 yard free-kick straight at Alexander but he should have made it 2-0 as Beckett switched play as put him clear on goal. He looked certain to score but Alexander saved the day again, stopping his drilled shot with his feet.
Half-time and City were outplayed, hardly, the proverbial neutral would have thought Stockport were the promotion chasing team and City were fighting relegation. There were boos as the whistle went, plenty of fans querying whether City's players want promotion badly enough. Only 2 or 3 were fighting hard, the desire and passion were missing, we didn't win a single 50/50 ball. It wasn't good and only the 2nd time all season that City trailed a league game at half-time.
Half-time: STOCKPORT 1 CITY 0
The second period opened quietly with Stockport still in the ascendancy. The first moment of drama was City's first real effort at goal. A floated Boland cross saw Gordon charge in where many wouldn't, he did brilliantly to win it and headed inches wide with many thinking it had netted. The game stopped for a while though as Gordon's bravery gave him a gashed forehead and broken nose, he wanted to carry on but clearly wasn't able to. Alan Mahon replaced him.
Beckett looked as dangerous as ever but City were finally able to stop him getting sight of goal and, slowly, City were starting to impose themselves and Stockport was beginning to drop a little deeper. The tide was turning but you still couldn't see where a goal was coming from. City were playing too narrow and had all game, Mahon when he had the ball was cutting inside, Cardiff were very laboured in the final third.
On 68 minutes, there was more serious drama. Stockport removed Ellison for Welsh (good to see Welsh on the pitch on St Davids Day). He was skinny and looked 14 but lightning fast and charged between Jenkins and Alexander to meet a cross. Neil Alexander, his keeping far more decisive today, came for the ball and got it but clattered Steve Jenkins who was knocked out cold. Alexander was frantically signalling to the bench.
What fans didn't realise until radio reports after the game was that Steve Jenkins nearly lost his life. In the collision, he had partially swallowed his tongue, the quick thinking of Scott Young turned him on his side, then Clive Goodyear the physio got on the pitch to pull out his tongue and administer resuscitation. It looked serious as Jenkins was lead away on a stretcher in a neck brace but nobody knew it was that bad. Thankfully, Jenkins went to hospital but was back at the ground afterwards for the journey home although I believe concussion means he's an automatic absentee for 14 days which is a problem with Weston about to be suspended.
Andy Legg replaced Jenkins and City's backs were up against the wall but they started to assert some authority. Kav's forward runs were causing problems and he did brilliantly to get behind County's defence but was blocked at the last moment. City were now spreading play with Mahon on the left and Boland pushing wider right and play was now almost entirely in Stockport's half, it just made you wonder why City took 70 minutes to apply any worthwhile pressure.
Lescott nearly killed the game for Stockport but Alexander saved City again with his feet then, with 80 minutes of normal time played, City levelled at last.
A Kav floated corner was flicked on by Barker, the ball was drifting wide but Earnie had other ideas and with his back to goal near the line, he acrobatically flicked the ball across goal. His action took Stockport's keeper and defence by surprise and they couldn't react as the ball feel 3 yards from goal, PETER THORNE dived in to head home in the centre of goal.
The celebration was madness. City fans celebrated wildly. The noise ear-splitting. The relief couldn't be measured. The Peter Thorne is Magic song never sung louder.
The closing stages were City in total dominance but unable to win the game. I lost count of the number of corners we won, it was a staggering amount. City came close twice as Chris Barker turned a mishit shot on goal, Tidman denied him with a sprawling save as the ball looked to be flying home. Then Scott Young hit the post but, to be honest, it wasn't an effort at goal. He tried to nod back a ball going behind level with the line which caught the post as it went behind. Youngie got hurt for his troubles, almost impaling himself on a fence behind the goal.
They almost lost it at the death too as a right wing low cross seemed to be totally missed by Alexander, his only error in an exemplary performance, then missed by 2 or 3 others and past the far post by inches.
A draw was disappointing in promotion terms, it was just as disappointing that we again failed to look better against a relegation-threatened team even if they were playing better than usual but, given events of the afternoon, it had to be granted as a point gained. It looked even better on the journey home when news emerged that Crewe, who appear to be blowing up themselves with pressure and expectations now on them, lost at home in the 90th minute to another lowly side, Peterborough.
n the positive side, City are now unbeaten in 6 matches and showed the character to fight back. Four of the 6 game run however have been drawn and we need to turn those into wins.
Report from FootyMad
Promotion hopefuls Cardiff City were lucky to come away with a draw from their game at relegation strugglers Stockport County.
Lennie Lawrence's side scraped a point against the Hatters thanks to an 81st minute header from Peter Thorne, who beat Ola Tidman after latching on to Rob Earnshaw's flick.
But it was Stockport who made all the early running and probably should have taken all three points from an exciting contest.
Carlton Palmer's team took the lead after 26 minutes when Aaron Wilbraham set up left-back Peter Clark, who made no mistake in volleying home a brilliant effort past Neil Alexander in the Cardiff goal.
Stockport deserved their lead after Luke Beckett, the Hatters leading scorer with 24 goals this season, had tested Alexander after only 11 minutes.
Two minutes later the Sheffield-born striker again went close, but his shot flew agonisingly wide of the post.
Jim Goodwin headed over from a Rickie Lambert corner moments later and then winger Kevin Ellison had a shot saved at the near post again by Alexander who was having to prove his worth between the posts for Cardiff.
The Bluebirds best chance fell to Willie Boland who volleyed wide of the right-hand post after 20 minutes and then Thorne, the goalscorer, had a header saved by Tidman after a delightful ball from Cardiff skipper Graham Kavanagh.
Cardiff were lucky to escape with a point as they continue to chase Crewe Alexandra and Wigan Athletic, the two North-West teams at the top of the table.
Meanwhile, Stockport, who have only won five times at home this season, can be thankful of a well-earned point as they try and avoid the drop and pull away from the relegation zone.
Manchester Evening News
Wales On Sunday
The Western Mail