Stoke City 1 - 2 Cardiff City

Last updated : 22 May 2002 By NigelBlues

This was a magic day the club, the players and the fans but, at this moment, it only really counts if City finish the job on Wednesday. I can't remember the last time I felt so tense at a football match, especially those last 10 minutes, but today was only a warm up for Wednesday and that may be a warm up for the Millennium Stadium - the play offs are a great way to get promoted, a horrid way to stay down and a nightmare to watch.

The day, for every City fan, started early. Only 2,500 supporters were allowed to travel, organised club or supporters coaches were the only method of travel. Coaches picked up from 7am at various points around South Wales, most got on 8am at Ninian ... my coach was last to arrive and last to leave, I'm proud of that.

There were signs of the heavy policing attached to the game most of the route with police cars and motorbikes along the route. First stop at Strensham Services was chaotic as not only did 50+ Cardiff City coaches arrive but there were also 129 Llanelli rugby coaches going to a game at Nottingham. City fans were the most visible and the most audible as, once inside, the corridor and dome made for perfect acoustics, the place was drowned in chants.

Our next stop was junction 14, simply to pick up 6 or 7 fans at a pre-arranged point, we were met by 20 police who donned riot gear as soon as they saw us! Then one last stop at Stafford Services, 10 minutes from Britannia Stadium where the policing was massive. There were about 150 police but only 10 of them seemed to know what they were supposed to be doing. They sectioned off a car park and used it as a holding bay, City fans were treated as if they were refugees.

No fans were allowed off the coach, a steward had to meet a Stoke official to get our match tickets and then we were escorted into Britannia Stadium 5 coaches at a time. The police escort was incredible, bigger than the Queen Mother had for her funeral!

The first coach to arrive at the ground, London's 1927 Club, were in Britannia before midday and delighted to see the bar open even if the only drink option was Foster's nasty brand of yellow lager sold at £2.30 a can and poured into a plastic pint. Our coach got there at 1pm (kick off was at 2pm), amused by Stoke fans gesturing to us, especially their fans with bubble perms and one lad who went flying over a fence. Best laugh of all was seeing them selling souvenir flags emblazoned with the legend (Stoke March on Cardiff with a picture of Millennium Stadium). A bit premature and, all being well, there's going to be a bonfire in the Stoke area on Wednesday night.

On getting to the away section, there were another 300 police outside all kitted up in the latest police fashions and accessories (a worrying number of them in all black, wearing balaclava and with no numbers on display) but, amazingly, with all that security, few of us were then searched entering the ground.

When we got in, with only one of the 2 away end bars open, and a thirsty pack of City lads, it was like WWF trying to get served. You got crushed getting to the bar, your were crushed even more once you got to the front and you got crushed again trying to get out with your drinks ... all for a bleedin' Fosters!

Britannia Stadium is impressive (for a description, see the league games played there in December 2001 or "that" game from April 1999). Suffice to say, the front portion of the away end was section off with meshing over seats so City were located in the back half of an impressive away end. The pre-match atmosphere was fantastic, this is what it's about. Some fans still get nostalgic for Halifax away on a Tuesday night but I'll take this anyday!

City fans were in superb voice and up for it. We may have been outnumbered 8 to 1 but you would never have known it. Stoke's fans were whipped into a frenzy by a p.a. announcer who got former legends to parade on the pitch, Peter Fox, George Berry (the man with the biggest ever afro perm to play for Wales is now totally bald), Terry Conroy, a couple of others and the goalkeeping legend, Gordon "one eye" Banks not looking too upset about the death of Lisa "left eye" Lopez a day earlier!

Then Stoke were treated to a rendition of their anthem, Delilah, and they were loud but so were the City end (it's a Welsh song after all!) and we had style, City fans were swaying, conducting and in superb mood. A sighting of Sam Hammam brought the loudest roar of all but that was eclipsed as the teams came out, it was spine tingling.

City were unchanged from the side that won at Tranmere last weekend, both Andy Legg and Danny Gabbidon, had not recovered from injuries as hoped. Andy Campbell was back but had to settle for place on the bench.

Any doubts that City may not have been up for it were over as they went at Stoke from the kick-off, applying good pressure and they could have scored in the opening minute as a bell fell at Leo but he was too slow to react and blocked. Another good chance was carved in the second minute, Peter Thorne shot straight at Cutler.

The weather was playing a role in the game as Stoke's ground has open sides and in the opening phases, there was cloud, rain and heavy winds. City found it hard to adjust to that defensively and got themselves into trouble a couple of times, they got away with it too.

When they attacked, Stoke always looked in trouble. Thorne broke a couple of times but his passes to Earnie and Leo were blocked or they ran out of room. Rhys Weston caused trouble on a 70 yard run which Stoke got away in panic before, on 12 minutes, it was dream time with a fantastic goal.

Willie Boland found Thorney, he strode forward Stoke looked exposed, his through ball found Earnie and the little fella was racing clear between 2 Stoke men and unstoppable. EARNIE was superb with the way he ran on, got into the area and then rolled it home, wide of Cutler and into the corner of the net. He celebrated his first goal since his hamstring injury sustained scoring Swindon in early February with a somersault, the City end was bedlam with nobody in control of their voices, bodies or emotions, just jumping up and down, screaming YEEAAAAAHGHHHHHHHSSSSSSSSS (something like that anyway) and a mass outbreak of free love for each other.

It all looked good at this point, City were the better team and in control but they tried to be calm, by doing that, the game went quiet. Stoke made a couple of chances which came to nothing but City had an amazing let off midway through the half as the ball broke in favour of the home side after a Prior challenge and the ball was crossed to Daddy's Boy (Bjarni son of the manager) who couldn't adjust his feet and put the ball well wide from 8 yards when the goal was begging.

City almost made it 2-0 on the half hour as Leo met a Bonner cross with a deft flick, it looked just wide from our end but it hit the bar.

Stoke were rattled, a couple of their players booked in quick succession, and the home support thought that the ref favoured Cardiff - as if any referee ever does us a favour!! When a decision was given in their favour, they went wild, it was the first time they were heard in ages. The Cardiff support loved it though and applauded them, for the rest of the game they applauded them just about every time they got a decision. More mocking for the home support who had also been taunted with "shall we sing a song for you".

The only song we really heard from Stoke was "you'll never play for Ireland" directed to Kav, they were more vocal and animated in their hatred for him than in support for their team. He came under some intense abuse and gestures, Peter Thorne less so, but it's easier to get at Kav when he drifts wide and takes corners. Neither had their best game, it did seem to affect them.

Stoke made chances in the final period of the half, now being played in bright sun and no wind, as they put pressure on us, City's cause rarely helped by Gary Croft who was playing at casual Premiership pace when everyone around him was at frantic, 100mph, full on intensity. He was too slow and ponderous, Earnie was fuming when Croft didn't pick him out in space, he was caught out two or three times and it continued in the second half. He was the major weakness in the side, fans will hope Legg or Gabbi are back for the 2nd leg.

Alexander made 3 stops, his handling exemplary, but City had let offs too as a header went inches wide and a ball curled across the face of goal and almost dropped inside the far post, everyone watching the ball, nobody reacting. Stoke don't have a natural striker and it showed.

There were a couple of stoppages but 4 minutes added time was a surprise but the first half was ours, everyone was delighted, we're 25% on the way to Millennium Stadium. City players ran off, Young and Prior arguing with each other, City fans ran to the bar for more of that £2.30 yellow rubbish.

H/T Stoke 0 City 1

The weather changed again, there was a torrential half-time downpour. Stoke fans had ran for cover, City fans singing "you're afraid of water". By the second half, the rain had stopped but the pitch was greasy and the wind was back.

Stoke went at The Bluebirds but couldn't hit the proverbial barn door. Every shot they had went to Alexander who held everything,

City fans launched into a non-stop chant of Men of Harlech, it sounded fantastic, Stoke didn't like it and tried to drown us, they failed and gave up. The stadium was reverberating to Men of Harlech.

Alexander crowned a superb personal performance by a truly special save as O'Connor broke forward and let fly with a powerful, dipping volley that was swerving high and away from Alexander. He flung himself across gaol and punched away, it was stunning. It could have been 1-1 but a minute later, it was 2-0 instead.

City broke and won a free-kick 6 yards outside the area but level with the edge
of the area. City are very powerful at set pieces and so it proved again as Prior rose highest to meet Kav's curling free-kick across goal, his goal bound header was pushed onto the inside of the post by Cutler but it fell to LEO FORTUNE-WEST to stroke into an empty net from a couple of feet. All in front of us, it was now mental in the City end, happy happy joy joy. Fantastic stuff.

Not long after the goal, things turned ugly and nasty as the Stoke nasty boys totally lost it with police around them, it got very ugly. They charged the police, the police charged them, punches and truncheons visibly being traded. The game had to be stopped and the ref took the players and official to the centre circle. Cardiff fans responded with 2,500 voices chanting "sit down and behave yourselves". In this day age of CCTV inside grounds, they obviously didn't have one brain cell between them.

Let's hope Staffordshire Police and the Stoke Sentinel (their evening newspaper) do the honourable thing, organise picture campaigns, brand them all, drag them through the courts. Cardiff fans rightly complained about the media hysteria after the Leeds game, believe me, these incidents were 100 times worse but the nationals have ignored it so far. That's the power of live tv for you.

That section of the Stoke stand was surrounded by police, then the opposite stand was too. No police at all stood in front of the City end, we celebrated with "we're the best behaved supporters in the land"!

City had a golden opportunity to have made it 3-0 and finished it altogether within a minute of the restart. The ball broke from midfield, Thorne placed Earnie clear but he was surprisingly slow to react and by the time he shot, Cutler has charged out and smothered his shot, I hope that moment doesn't haunt us.

Shortly afterwards, Earnie was replaced by Andy Campbell who looked a yard off the pace after his recent injury and never got in the game. Instead, Stoke realising they had probably had no chance whatsoever of coming to Ninian with a 2 goal deficit, threw everything at us.

Alexander made more saves, there were lets offs, the defence was creaking. Just as they seemed to have survived the onslaught, Stoke scored, and the game became nerve wracking.

In fairness, the goal had been coming. City were playing 5-4-1 and defending too deep, Stoke attacked us but we were inviting them forward. The goal came after the ball switched back and fore across goal three times with the wind, a City head and a deflection taking it away. It came back again, the ball fell to ex-Cardiff loan player (now doing the same at Stoke) DEON BURTON who volleyed high into the net, Alexander got a hand to it but couldn't keep it out.

Stoke fans had been drifting away but were staying now. City fans, some of the hardest boys you could imagine, disappeared under the stand, they simply couldn't bear to watch any more. I think every one of us were fearing another Huddersfield where we blew a 2 goal away lead at the end.

There were some amazing let offs, the biggest heart stopping moment was Spencer Prior chasing back to clear off the line after a Stoke shot was goal bound after another scramble. With 5 minutes added time, mostly due to trouble, James Collins was thrown on for Peter Thorne and we seemed to play 9-0-1 with the occasional break. We got away with it.

City fans celebrated like we had won the thing already but it's only half-time. The players knew it as they clapped but soon disappeared. But, make no mistake, this was a big result and a major shock to Stoke, the day that Cardiff ruled Briuttannia. They will still fancy their chances due to the number of chances they created but I've no doubts it'll be a different game altogether at Ninian Park and a different atmosphere too, I can't imagine we'll be as quiet and impassive as the Stoke support were for long periods.

That left the coach journey home. All 50-odd coaches lead out together, Stoke fans still gesturing, we laughed even more this time. The police escort and helicopter lead us all the way to Birmingham and the M5, motorway exits and services were blocked off to us.

These are dream days to be a Cardiff City fan. There is a feeling and a buzz that even those of us who have been going for too many years are excited about. Our coach stopped for a celebratory bevvy or two (or three) in Monmouth and was last back to Ninian Park at 9pm, 5 hours after the game finished. I'm proud of that!