Sunderland 0 Cardiff City 0. Match Report

Last updated : 15 October 2003 By NigelBlues

The scoreline tells you everything that you need to know, neither side never looked like scoring on a night were defences were totally dominant to the point of boredom.

City managed one shot on and one off target in the entire 90 minutes whilst, for all the huffing and puffing, the Black Cats failed to produce nothing more serious than a handful of tame distance shots straight at Neil Alexander. If I was to say that City “did a Wigan”, then I’m sure you’ll know exactly what I mean.

That’s not being critical, it deserves commendation. Cardiff who fought for every ball, produced a magnificent defensive effort and gave 110%. It was up to the home side to entertain and make a match of it but they couldn’t. Credit to City that high flying Sunderland were unable to significantly threaten at any time.

Once Division One promotion was secured, the two away fixtures City fans talked about were West Ham and visiting Sunderland’s Stadium of Light. It seemed to be the Holy Grail of the never-before-seen progress of the club under Sam in three years and ‘we had to be there’. Nationwide League chiefs did their best to spoilt things by making us visit in midweek but that injustice only made more determined to go even if it meant 2 days holiday off work for most.

And so it came to be … 1,286 Bluebirds gathered in congregations at various meeting spots and converged as one of the North East as our First Division pilgrimage continued. You name it, we took it – as fans went by plane, train, automobile and assorted coaches for the 650 mile round excursion. I bet someone went by ferry too! Most went there and back but a couple of hundred stayed overnight in the area, Newcastle being the most obvious choice.

In my case, it was setting off from The Lansdowne pub by coach at 9:30am Tuesday, it was nearly 20 hours later before we saw the place again. For once, we got a decent coach – the toilet worked, the radio worked, it had tv and video and they worked too – we were spoiled! The journey up passed quickly even though we wouldn’t see the Stadium of Light for another 9 hours.

Videos of Danny Baker, football gaffes and Sid The Sexist helped passed the time. We had Cardiff vs Leeds video on board but you can’t have too much of a good thing. The “highlight” was Roger from The Lansdowne spending the last hour of the journey throwing up in a plastic bag. Not used to guzzling proper booze, is he? Mind you, his cocktail lunch of scotch eggs/pickled onions/curry/ham rolls/Strongbow/Onion bhajees/coleslaw and more Strongbow probably didn’t help either.

We stopped three times along the way – Tamworth Services where some staff were in shock after seeing City fans pay for what they had taken! – Wetherby which looked like the set of Heartbeat and then old Durham town before being met by police at an agreed motorway services. A copper came on board came on saying they wanted us to enjoy the night and would treat us with respect, “we’re not like Sheffield police” he added. Nice touch and although they have a “zero tolerance” policy which saw a few all day drinkers taken somewhere safer, they were as good as their word in the most part. Maybe because many of them seemed to be Geordies and several said how they wanted us to “stuff the Mackems”!

The coaches (around 20) were escorted to the Stadium of Light which stood out from distance. Allegedly built on an ex-coalfield, it’s huge and imposing in the skyline, all helped by it being positioned high up with little else near it. It was very dark from outside, more like the Stadium of Pitch Black but all was fine. There was a time we used to feel overawed in these surrounding but regular away followers have visited Madejski, Reebok and more in recent times, they don’t affect you as they used to, especially now we’re getting our own too.

Stadium of Light is fabulous but, being honest, a little below my expectations. It had all the modern stadia features, big stands, good seats with all unobstructed views, lights along the roof rather than floodlights (which is why it looked dark outside), bars, tv’s and good catering. It was a mini-Millennium Stadium in its bowl type two to three tier design with executive boxes behind the opposite goal (which had “Haway The Lads” emblazoned in the seats) and our left but the right side and the away City end were large one tier stands. They’re ex-Premiership so have costs and debts but £23 for a ticket was steep but the size of the place was obvious. Little more than half full and with loads of empty spaces in all the home sections, the crowd was announced as 26,835, their second best of the season.

After a weekend of international duty with 7 players away with various squads, Lennie’s side, due to injuries, virtually picked itself with City anxious to stop a losing three game away run culminating in the poor show, ill disciplined loss at Crystal Palace. Neil Alexander kept goal behind Weston-Vidmar-Gabbidon-Barker. Midfield were Langley-Boland-Robinson. John Robinson, whose all action 110% commitment have been a feature of City’s early displays returned after one month’s absence due to injury at Reading whilst Kav and Boland would have been keen to impress in final appearances before starting one and three match suspensions respectively.

Peter Thorne has joined the injury pile (it’s bigger than a list!) so Andy Campbell was paired with Earnie in attack, an ominous sign as we know it’s a strike due that doesn’t blend but there were hardly other choices save Gavin Gordon or using someone out of position.

Sunderland are the form side of Division One. Seventeen successive league defeats, equalling an all time record, bombed the Black Cats out of the Premiership and saw a poor start to First Division life this term but under Mick McCarthy, it was bound to turn around eventually and, sure enough, they came into this game having won 7 of their last 10 First Division clashes with 4 successive home league wins taking them to 5th in the table. Victory in this clash would have taken them to 2nd, emphasising what a good point this was for City to collect.

The Wearsiders may have sold the likes of Kevin Kilbane, Gavin McCann, Claudio Reyna, Kevin Phillips over the summer but their line-up was still formidable and, with McCarthy, unsurprisingly dominated by Irish players.

Keeper was the Estonian Mart Poom, scorer of a recent 90th minute equalizer to gain a draw at Derby. Defence were the £3.5Million Argentine Julio Arca, George McCartney (sent off for Northern Ireland during the weekend draw in Greece), Eire international Gary Breen (who played in their weekend Euro’2004 exit in Switzerland whilst Kav looked on) and Darren Williams.

Midfield were Tommy Butler (yes, he’s Irish), Colin Healy (a summer City target who got the nod ahead of Kav for Eire last weekend), Jeff Whiley (who also played in Greece) and John Oster (the Welshman, another City summer target). Forwards were Scottish international Kevin Kyle, scorer of 7 so far this term, and William Stewart, better known as Marcus, a £3.25Million signing who has hardly set Sunderland alight with 5 goals in 32 league games since joining them in August 2002.

The evening was clear, a little chilly with a strong wind outside, the atmosphere was excellent with both sets of fans chanting nothing new really with anti-Wales, anti-England baiting featured as strongly as supportive chants for their own teams.

The pattern of the game never altered from first to last as Sunderland had plenty of the ball and spent a fantastic amount of time in the City half but our defending was top notch, they couldn’t produce a final ball so stalemate. City were happy to absorb it keeping things compact, Earnie and Campbell were rarely found. They just do not work as a partnership and I don’t see that they ever will but even so, the service was poor – little more than a series of route one high balls pumped forward for them to try and feed on giving the solid home defence a fairly easy night.

There was very little worth talking about. City created one chance in the first half which was their only one of the entire match. Willie Boland found Campbell with a ball over the top, Campbell raced on but shot too close to Poom who was relieved to push it behind for a corner.

That effort came on 25 minutes, not long after the Black Cats had their first attempts but none to be excited about as Butler and Oster were blocked, Healy and Kyle fired wide from distance and Alexander took a simple 25 yard effort from Whitley plus made one good save.

Cardiff had problems on 35 when Weston got injured in what seemed an innocuous challenge to cut out a cross in his own area, he fell to the ground, got up and went down again clutching his right leg in some pain. The home fans booed but it was obvious the injury was worse than it appeared as a leg splint was brought on. The splint wasn’t needed but Croft was, to replace Rhys at right back who went off to great applause as he was stretchered away.

Every cross by both sides were cut out, each side had just 1 corner kick each. It was a game totally bogged down with little creativity or excitement but, in the circumstances, it certainly suited City.


The pattern of the first half carried on in exactly the same vein. Tommy Smith replaced Butler at kick-off as Sunderland pushed on aided by loud home support, who gave us competition in the singing stakes. The pressure increased but they just never managed to get behind us. Their half chances all came from Cardiff City passing or basic errors rather than their own play. City made too many of them but they were all well away from goal for a change and never got us into serious problems. Sunderland’s passing was hardly that much crisper, their tally of wide passes which flew into the side stands was probably into double figures.

Richard Langley again looked out of sorts and tired towards the end having played 77 minutes for Jamaica against Brazil on Sunday. He was guilty of being knocked off the ball too easily and is not so influential lately but he will come good, John Robinson worked himself into the ground. Campbell and Earnie were finding it almost impossible to have any involvement in the game, it was just one of those nights.

In the opening moments of the second period, City had their final effort of the night, a tame Langley shot from a corner that harmlessly sailed wide. Other than that, we strained our eyes to watch most action at the other end of the pitch in front of Alexander’s goal but had nothing to get over-excited or bothered about. The atmosphere was tense and good but it was a bore, any neutral present would surely have lost the will to live.

City’s defensive heroics deserve much praise and credit. Sunderland are no mugs, they had netted in all 10 of previous matches at an average of 2 goals per game but they were unable to find a way through, behind or beyond City’s back line all night. Tony Vidmar was a colossus, man of the match on a night when there wasn’t a great deal of competition with his coolness and play, Danny Gabbidon was leading the way too. Defence was lead from the front with Campbell and especially Earnie chasing down every ball even when some were lost causes so as not to give McCarthy’s side any peace or space.

Sunderland’s dominance all half amounted to a series of 25 yard pot shots from Kyle, Stewart, Healey and late subs Thornton (he’s Irish too) and local lad Michael Proctor. Each was cheered sarcastically by City fans who could see the frustrated home side had run totally out of ideas. Cardiff were so tight at the rear that Sunderland rarely won a corner or had an attack that caused more than a mild flutter.

City used late subs too with Bonner replacing the shattered John Robinson and Julian Gray, fresh on loan from a season long dispute from Crystal Palace, gave us late moments to be excited about. Much taller than I expected, he certainly has quick feet which he used to slip Sunderland markers including a superb late turn in the area that beat two men but his final ball was snuffed. Certainly, he has promise.

That was very much it, a very dull affair but a hard-won, well-earned fully deserved point. The entertainment levels at City matches have toned down noticeably compared to early season but consolidation this season will only happen if we are smarter and three clean sheets in four games is an achievement that will certainly help make that happen. Any result at Stadium of Light would have been beyond our wildest dreams even as recently as 6 months ago so it was something to be celebrated. Fans and players alike did exactly that for a couple of minutes after the final whistle.

Then there was the small matter of that journey home. Most of us slept but the snoring was in harmony, it felt like we passed through two time zones and my legs felt as though they had sustained DVT. Back at the Lansdowne 4:45am and doing zzzz’s at home within half-hour – now that’s a long day – but we’d done it, another one notched off the list but I’m not sure we’ll take so many next time if we go on a Tuesday again.

Report from FootyMad.
Sunderland's promotion charge was put on hold as Cardiff dug deep to deny the home side a fifth successive home victory.

The Black Cats dominated throughout but failed to find a cutting edge to break down a sound visitors defence and seriously test goalkeeper Neil Alexander.

Cardiff lost full-back Rhys Weston in the 36th minute but were rarely in trouble as Sunderland huffed and puffed, failing miserably to take advantage of their first-half territorial advantage.

They took 20 minutes to even test Alexander, who saved instinctively from Kevin Kyle's close-range volley. Colin Healy fired over the bar then had a clever lob saved by Alexander and Kyle shot just past the post as the pressure increased.

But there was a warning of the visitor's attacking prowess when Andy Campbell broke free and only the defiance of goalkeeper Mart Poom prevented the Black Cats from going behind in a half they had dominated.

Central defender Gary Breen, a tower of strength at the back, pushed forward from set-pieces but failed to keep a close-range header down and Healy also failed to hit the target with a great chance in the last minute.

Robert Earnshaw, the First Division's leading goalscorer, was given scant opportunity to increase his tally as Cardiff relied totally on defence to survive.

But manager Lennie Lawrence expressed his delight to come away from the Stadium of Light with a clean sheet. "We've been involved in some great games but we've lost the previous three away matches and needed to stop the rot,'' he said.

Sunderland boss Mick McCarthy was not too despondent after failing to build on the victory over league leaders Sheffield United.

"We have to pick up points where we can,'' he said. "I'm not going to criticise my players. Sometimes you have to give credit to the opposition.''

External reports
Sunderland AFC Official Website
The Independent
The Echo