Sunderland 2 Cardiff City 1. Match Report

Last updated : 28 February 2005 By NigelBlues
The Bluebirds worked hard but that was their sole quality on an afternoon when clearly second best in a low quality, low thrills game.

City never gave the Black Cats no problems whatsoever until Tony Vidmar's fluke 88th minute consolation granted barely warranted late hope but simply disguised the gap by making the game appear closer than it was. That mishit was City's only on-target effort. Goals, apart, Sunderland gave Neil Alexander no other major work either but they were in full control throughout. City's forgettable day was complete when a frustrated Alan Lee received a straight red card on 90 minutes for elbowing.

It's been a bad week both for Cardiff City and manager Lennie Lawrence. The good run now history as successive defeats have plunged The Bluebirds back into a relegation scrap. In both lost games this week, City have enjoyed possession but been unable to find any creative spark going forward and had two players sent off unnecessarily.

Lennie Lawrence, meantime, succeeded once more in making himself look silly. Why does he feel a need to come out with stupid quotes always likely to bite him hard back on the bum? Having admitted to a series of them recently, the "vastly experienced" gaffer started the week declaring this week his belief and hopes that City would finish mid-table and hopefully higher than last season, adding one win would see us safe and consign relegation to the dustbin of history.

Even after losing to Millwall in midweek, which, to me, made it all the more pressing to get some reward at Sunderland and avoid a new losing run, Lennie declared it was "not a make or break game" and, instead, he told the world his vision that City are "Top 8 on current form" and "we only need 2 or 3 players for next season to be promotion challengers". Complete buffoonery. After losing this one, Lennie's latest thoughts are that, "we'll be sucked back into the relegation fight" if we don't beat Sheffield United at Ninian Park next weekend.

Reality check Lennie, we're already back in it. City are just 3 points above the trapdoor, every other side down the bottom having collected at least 3 points this week and with great results against highly placed opposition whilst we've drawn blanks. In 19th, we're now 4 points behind the team above us and, frankly, who - other than Lennie - cares about mid-table and wants to focus on that? For the record, we're now 11 points that those places and that fantasy nonsense when all that matters in this wretched season is staying up.

Our fate, in fact, increasingly may be decided in how we perform in head-to-head games against Coventry, Plymouth and Gillingham - all of them away. It's no time to panic, I feel City, even with Lennie pulling strings, have enough about them to survive but, please Lennie, just focus on the job of making sure we do just that and, whilst you may be decent and honest, just think before you speak.

It was the longest day of the season for City fans. I had a lift by car with webmaster Mike Morris setting off from Barry at 6:30am, met him at Newport and got back home 17 hours later, 660 miles and 11 hours of driving to hard driving to a town within one hour of Scotland.

Some journey but, fortunately, roads were clear with no hold ups or accidents in either direction. The snow oop north had mainly cleared save sporadic covering in fields around Yorkshire and we managed a snowball fight at Scotch Corner. Passed the City coaches doing the ayatollah and Wolves academy coaches too, the latter bemused by our ayatollahing gestures to them.

Made Sunderland centre by 12:45pm with two service stops just by cruising along, as Sunderland did. The stadium was easy to spot near the centre, visible from some distance away in the open on the banks of the River Wear. City fans should feel strong identity with The Mackems, both based in port towns with industrial backgrounds featuring coal mining. They are working class areas trying to modernise but the area surrounding Stadium of Light made our Riverside and Leckwith appear like Lisvane and Cyncoed by comparison. The pubs around Stadium of Light fell into three categories - closed down, run down or down and out.

We visited The Premier Club for a pre-match bevvy. If that's the Premier Club, I'd hate to see their Championship, Division One and Division Two club. Ugliness of the area aside, the locals were fantastic to us, the friendliest imaginable. 20p to get into a club selling beer for £1.50 a pint was very welcoming too!

The ground had a great chip shop outside - perfect for a chilly day with temperatures warmer than midweek but still just 5 degrees - their £2.50 programme with at least 25 different news stories/features put City's same priced lightweight 5 minute read to shame. They had an excellent fanzine too and the drinks/food inside Stadium of Light was cheaper than most places too.

The stadium itself is excellent. We're starting to get blasé about visiting modern grounds these days but they are so much better and this one was excellent. Three tiers high along one side and behind one goal, two tiers on the other side and in our away end. Bowl-shaped and completely enclosed inside and were lots of areas fairly empty, the crowd was still a brilliant 32,788. That was Sunderland's second best of the season and 5,000 more than their average for the season.

Its worst feature was the pitch which was on a par with Millennium Stadium. The recent weather must have taken its toll, it looked as if tractors had ploughed up and down it all week. Fortunately, I don't think it affected play, the roll or bounce of the ball but it certainly looked little better than a parks pitch by appearance.

City had two changes - one enforced and one tactical - to the side that lost to Millwall last Tuesday. Ginge Collins' red card in the mayhem of the closing moments of that clash meant he was sitting out a one match ban, Tony Vidmar partnered Danny Gabbidon. Up front, Alan Lee was dropped to the bench following disappointing personal displays and a partnership with Thorney that is not producing, the youth and pace of Cameron Jerome was preferred. Lennie also declared that Chris Barker wouldn't play after getting injured in midweek and would need a miracle recovery so, quel surpris, there he was. Nearly fooled us there Lennie eh?

City therefore started with Alexander, Weston-Gabbidon-Vidmar-Barker, Langley-Kavanagh-Inamoto-McAnuff, Jerome-Thorne. Subs were Bullock-Lee-Ledley-Warner-Williams. Black Cats fans obviously have fond memories of Darren Williams, 9 years there until joining City last November, as plenty asked about him in the pub and when his name was read over the tannoy, he had a huge ovation.

Sunderland had their problems with injuries and suspensions but Mick McCarthy's squad is bigger and better than City's so they were able to cover the loss of players such as Julio Arca and started with Myhre in goals, a defence of Lynch-Caldwell-Breen,McCartney, midfield of Whitehead-Robinson-Whitley-Welsh with Marcus Stewart and Stephen Elliott up front. Amongst their subs were Liam Lawrence (nicknamed Lennie after our boss for some bizarre reason) returning from injury and Michael Bridges.

They recovered from a disastrous 2-1 defeat at Brighton last weekend with a 4-1 midweek thumping of Rotherham and obviously fancied their chances in their third successive game against relegation candidates, and we are Lennie, particularly as they were seeking their 5th consecutive home win, the team having won 11, drawn 4 and lost just 2 of 17 home league games before this one.

The atmosphere was whipped up pre-match by the loudest p.a. system I've heard. It would have residents and councillors demonstrating in the streets if it happened at Ninian. The classical theme and run out song vibrated the place. Against this background, City needed a good start and try to quell the Black Cats, instead, calamities at the back saw them 1-0 down after just 3 minutes and we knew we were in serious trouble.

A warning came after just 2 minutes as Whitehead found space with the home side going out fast and drilling a shot wide from 20 yards. Neil Alexander's goal kick soon put Sunderland back in possession and when a ball was flicked down the left, Rhys Weston and Graham Kavanagh collided in comedy fashion as Rhys and Kav launched himself into the air to scissor kick away but nearly decapitated Weston instead.

Rhys went straight to ground with a head injury, City were in disarray as Andy Welsh picked up the loose ball, crossed, it was deflected across and found GARY BREEN on the far side with no City player anywhere. Breen had enough time to control the ball, waves to hid friends and family in the crowd, sort out what clothes to wear after the game and shoot unchallenged past Alexander and City's defenders on the line.

Rhys Weston went off and Darren Williams came on to another huge ovation from the home supporters. Many City fans have unkindly called Weston headless but, this time, he nearly was. Lennie's complaints that Sunderland should have kicked the ball out instead of continuing the move was a bit rich. They had every right to play on, especially with Weston taken out by a team mate, and I would expect City to do exactly the same if it was us going forward.

City tried to hit back immediately winning a corner and shortly after, Jerome weakly put wide but Sunderland were running the game. City's moves looked laboured, Sunderland looked fluid, comfortable and always had extra players in space. Ref Tony Leake seemed to be giving us plenty of favourable decisions which had Sunderland players and supporters in angst but we were unable to do much with it. Sunderland weren't brilliant, City fans could feel justified in chanting "Premiership, you're 'aving a laugh at them". Sunderland's could also feel justified singing "Championship, you're 'aving a laugh" back at us. It was that sort of game.

Alexander was never tested again in the half but as the Black Cats wasted two glorious close range opportunities and put a few other efforts high or wide but the longer the half progressed, the more Sunderland bossed the game, the more City disappointed. They struggled to get forward and showed no real quality when they did, Inamoto fired wide but his shot was always covered. Sunderland also lost defender Mark Lynch on the day he returned to the side with a bad injury that saw him stretchered away but Mick McCarthy was so confident, he adjusted the team and brought on Liam Lawrence.

You could feel a second goal wasn't far away and I was saying to those around me how badly we needed half-time. I spoke too soon, seconds later it was 2-0. Very simply but clever goal. Whitehead sent him an inviting cross, MARCUS STEWART got in front of Tony Vidmar too easily and glanced a header low across Alexander and home. It was game over, City didn't really threaten to fightback at 1-0 but at 2-0, it was always beyond us, particularly given the way we are struggling for goals lately.

Alexander hasn't done much wrong for City since his return but it would be good to see him save something rather than occasionally picking the ball out of his net. However he could do little to prevent either goal today.

Cardiff put on a mini fightback in the closing moments before the interval as Williams and Kavanagh had shots at goal, the latter with an edge of area free-kick, but both fired wide.


The second half was a bit of a cakewalk for Sunderland who didn't really need to score anymore and weren't ever worried by City. Sunderland created two excellent chances in the opening phase, their passing and movement again exposing City, but Welsh first and then McCartney both fired wide of the near post with good opportunities, they should have done better.

Just before the hour, City had their best chance as Jobi McAnuff crossed, Thorney got a touch under pressure and the ball dropped to Cameron Jerome 15 yards out with Myrhe only in front of him but he couldn't get his body over the ball and fired over. Jerome hadn't made a great impression but Lennie's bog-standard reaction to such a miss of throwing his arms and spinning around in frustration looking at his bench was followed by an action of taking Jerome off immediately and putting Alan Lee on. I thought that was harsh.

To be perfectly honest, the rest of the half was completely forgettable and devoid of any meaningful action or incidents. City weren't good enough today to test Sunderland and the Black Cats were content just to play the game out in low gear. Each side had long range pot shots, none worth mentioning. Another edge of area free kick for City was put wide, this time by Inamoto.

Joe Ledley replaced Junichi Inamoto who was very quiet and had his lowest key game since he first came to City but it was to no avail. We offered no threat going forward. Jobi McAnuff was perhaps the pick but it didn't mean much, there was no end product to his play. Kav worked hard but got nowhere. Richard Langley was once again very disappointing, Peter Thorne was again anonymous. Alan Lee was Alan Lee.

The clock was simply running down until an absolute fluke made the last 3 minutes interesting. City got down the right, Alan Lee pumped a high ball across the box and TONY VIDMAR on the wide angle of the penalty area put his boot underneath clearly intending to send it back to the far post but the ball looped over the caught out Myhre and in the goal.

We celebrated, prayed and cajoled and, form nothing Sunderland became very panicky. City almost made the most unlikely comeback ever as Joe Ledley was felled giving City another edge of area free kick but for the third time of the afternoon, the ball was put over the wall but went wide and was always going wide, this time by Danny Gabbidon. Sunderland fans were getting very nervous with 30,000 of them whistling, baying the ref for full time but there were 4 added minute giving them more worries. Mick McCarthy made tow subs just to waste time.

Any hopes of sensationally equalising were gone however in an instant as Alan Lee was adjudged to have deliberately elbowed a defender, right in front of the ref, and had a straight red card. It was the other end of the ground to City fans so it was hard to judge but I suspect Lee let his frustrations show again.

Even after that, City still tried and won late corners. Neil Alexander was flapping his arms and begging to be allowed to go up but was ignored. When we won another, he was up there, the smallest man on the pitch it seemed and was close to meeting Kav's corner but when it was cleared, final whistle went.

It was an ending that flattered to deceive 2-1 sounds as if we gave Sunderland a game and ran them close, it was nothing of the sort. Sunderland didn't have to play that well but were fully deserving winners. Cardiff were never in the match and our challenge was brushed aside with some ease in truth. We were poor today as bad. It was good opposition but it was very worrying how we couldn't create or hurt Sunderland at all.

City were applauded off by most. Fans were mostly disappointed and fed up though. The report wouldn't be complete without mentioning the magnificent backing our fans gave City. Loud, raucous and vocal throughout, we created an atmosphere that the game barely deserved and even though we never looked like getting a result, or goal until that fluke, we never stopped getting behind the boys. Well done everyone for that.

A long day, a long trip to see us being meek and back in trouble again when final scores flashed up how well our rivals had done. By total contrast, Sunderland's joy at beating us went into delirium when they saw Wigan and Ipswich had lost and they were now joint top of the Championship with those sides.

There was some fun and games outside, made worse by the heavy-handedness of the police. With a very large presence and having had a quiet afternoon, they seemed keen to make up for it. Both sets of fans were allowed out in the same area to mingle at the end of the game. There was no visible trouble but with City coaches right outside the ground, our fans had to stand around whilst Sunderland's stayed too and some goading went on from both sides. Cue the entry of what seemed like the entire North East police force to asset their authority by drawing big lines pushing and shoving anyone in their way.

Now I guess it's not funny but I found it hysterical when one far too enthusiastic copper with a dog decided to charged towards a group of fans. The dog however was more interested in another copper running next to him and turned on him, grabbing his arm, wrestling with him and trying to bring him down. The copper was in obvious discomfort and the dog handler was struggling to get him off.

Pinned back and unable to move but seeing us smiling at this sight was too much for another policeman who, unprovoked, charged into my back and dared me to retaliate telling me how he would have me. What a big man you are officer, what a credit you are to your profession, good to note how you do not abuse your position and powers. The prat got no change from me which, I'm certain, came as a major disappointment to him.

It took 5 minutes to get into Sunderland but an hour to get out, picking out the crackly sounds of Wales winning in Paris on longwave escorted us out of the town. Whilst the vastly overblown media hysteria and their ignorance will always alienate football fans, Wales is Wales and that was fantastic.

The rest of Mike Morris' drive home was to the sounds of Manchester United v Pompey (and Gary O'Neill scoring a cracker), the usual array of pious and nutty callers to 6-0-6 with Alan Green allowing a couple of non-Premiership callers on which, of course, isn't patronising and balanced and, erm, my snores. Long working week, long day away, bad game, a couple of bevvies and long trip home. Sorry to Mike Morris for that but my snoring must have been more bearable than Alan Green was!

Report from FootyMad

Sunderland survived a desperate rally from struggling Cardiff to draw level at the top of the Coca Cola Championship with Wigan Athletic and Ipswich Town.

First-half goals from central defender Gary Breen and veteran striker Marcus Stewart had put the Black Cats into a commanding lead, but when defender Tony Vidmar completely deceived goalkeeper Thomas Myhre with five minutes left, the mood of a bumper crowd suddenly changed.

In a dramatic finish Cardiff substitute Alan Lee was sent off for elbowing Stephen Caldwell but still the visitors surged forward for an unexpected equaliser only for the home side to hold out for a second home win of the week.

Dean Whitehead fired just past the post before Sunderland surged into a fourth minute lead.

Cardiff skipper Graham Kavanagh collided with team-mate Rhys Weston which allowed Andy Welsh, deputising for the injured Julio Arca, to centre deep where Breen dilled a low shot which was helped into the net by goalkeeper Neil Alexander.

Cardiff responded with Cameron Jerome having a shot blocked, Junichi Inamoto firing just past the post and Kavanagh blasting a free-kick narrowly wide.

Sunderland lost full-back Mark Lynch, making a rare appearance for the suspended Stephen Wright, with a dislocated knee cap but the home side surged further ahead in the 42nd minute when Stewart headed home his 13th goal of the season from Whitehead's centre.

The game should have been put beyond the visitors in the 53rd minute when Stewart and substitute Liam Lawrence up the easiest of chances for Welsh who completely missed his kick with the goal at his mercy.

The best chances of the second half fell to Cardiff with Jobi McAnuff and Inamoto guilty of squandering excellent opportunities when well placed.

Vidmar raised hopes when a cross-cum-centre sailed over a hapless Mhyre and a powerfully struck free-kick from Daniel Gabbidon flew just past the post to the relief of the Sunderland fans.

Extrenal reports
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