Tranmere 0 - 1 Cardiff City

Last updated : 22 May 2002 By NigelBlues
City were some way short of their best and poor in the 1st half especially
but their greater organisation, attitude, spirit and battling qualities
instilled since Sir Lennie of Lawrence became manager were sufficient to
carve a hard earned, certainly fortunate, 1-0 win. The most successful teams
can still win even when they're a little off key and that’s exactly what this
team did.

Lennie's outstanding, still unbeaten managership of The Bluebirds now extends
to 10 wins and 3 draws for 33 points out of 39 - all achieved at the pressure
time of the season, City's best run for a decade. Both the players and
himself deserve maximum respect and credit for that. As Lennie rightly says
however, it really means little and won't be remembered unless City now stay
unbeaten for 16 games and win those play-offs.

So City finish in 4th place and face a two legged play off semi against Stoke
with home advantage in the 2nd leg. Amazingly, City also finished just 1
point short of automatic promotion. An incredible achievement considering
they were mid-table less than 2 months ago.

Some may agonise over where we lost that point - losing that 2-0 late lead at
Huddersfield just a fortnight ago, dismal defeats at Bury and Cambridge, the
five minutes of madness that produced the 3-1 home reverse against Bristol
City when we were cruising or most of those 11 teams who left Ninian Park
with a draw or win this season when most should have been beaten. In reality
however, we were never close to it so it's not worth thinking about.

However many will also reflect we would be promoted already had the club got
rid of Alan Cork sooner. Corkie's comparative record of 50 points out of 99
in contrast with basically the same group of players, many of whom he
publicly branded as 'bigtime charlies' and 'prima donnas' shows he wasn't
really experienced or able enough for the big challenge of guiding the club
to Division One.

The game itself was no classic to watch but the atmosphere was carnival, the
day a classic. The team wanted to secure 3rd or 4th place for that crucial
2nd leg home advantage, the fans wanted that also but to paaaaarty. The
pressure was off for once. Only 1,800 were allowed to travel, a couple of
hundred stayed for a night out in Liverpool and surrounding areas. The
traditional fancy dress for last away game seems to be a dying fad, I only
saw 3 curly wigs (including my own) and a clown ... fancy dress for the
fashion conscious supporter these days is Burberry. Quite funny to report
that the first people we saw getting to Liverpool were women in shiny shell
suits, some places do seem to live up to its stereotyped image.

One City fan was allowed on the pitch to take a picture of our end. but
promptly arrested for flicking a 'v' sign to the three parts of the home
support. Nutter!

Alan Cork named an unchanged team, Legg and Gabbidon still weren't ready to
return after injury but will be available for those play-offs. Cardiff came
out to a huge ovation and ticker tape welcome (the ticker tape courtesy of
Tesco till rolls, now a regular feature of away matches, maybe Tesco should
stock take their stationery!). See the Tranmere FA Cup report in January for
a description of the ground.

City were supposed to be attacking towards us in the first half but we hardly
saw them, all the action was at the other end as Tranmere were battering us.
Cardiff survived due to a combination of staying calm, resolute defence but
mostly because Tranmere missed their chances and City enjoyed sheer luck.

Tranmere played in their new kit design for next season based on the current
England shirt with a stripe down the left hand side. As City were playing in
Welsh red, I'm even more chuffed we won! "Oooh ahhh, it's Nigeria" seemed to
be a popular chant as Welsh fans practised for watching world cup action.

Jason Koumas, playing his final game for Tranmere before a widely rumoured
summer move to Everton, fluffed the opportunity to sign off with a goal in
the first 30 seconds. He met a far post cross and mishit his effort wide
from little more than 6 yards. Before 5 minutes had passed, Tranmere created
another 2 good chances, the best falling to ex-Bluebird Simon Haworth whose
effort was blocked by Scott Young. Koumas came close again, an edge of area
free-kick hitting the side netting with many of the home fans thinking it had
gone in.

Young seemed to be having an unhappy afternoon. He was booked for only the
4th time this season, bringing down Thornton who stood out not just because
he was lively but also with his distinctive blonde hair, white kit and white
boots. Poser! He met the set piece but volleyed well over the bar.

City's biggest let offs however were Tranmere hitting the woodwork twice. A
Barlow header smacked the bar then the same player later hit the post after
Alexander saved from Koumas when it looked easier to score. In the scramble
that followed, Scott Young blocked a shot, it wasn't obvious from our end but
it seems everyone who saw it accepts it was handball and a penalty should
have been awarded, Young could have earned a second yellow card too so it was
a lucky escape in many ways.

Cardiff livened up in the closing phases. They were not really in the game
in the opening 45, Leo headed well over, Earnie had a shot blocked, another
strike of his was parried by Murphy, Kav’s follow up was blocked and Kav made
the keeper save twice but neither shot presented a major threat. Most
concern watching City going forward was Earnie. The little fella still seems
well off the pace, he was very ordinary, hopefully he'll be ready to fly next

The highlight of the half for fans was an impromptu rendition of "there's
only one Billy Ayre" followed by spontaneous applause in homage to the
manager of 2 seasons ago who tragically lost his life too early due to cancer
earlier in the week. Billy was buried in nearby Southport the following day.
It was a real surprise that City players weren't wearing black armbands and
there was no minute silence either, a sure sign of how football gets it wrong

The atmosphere in the opening period was in contrast to the performance, it
was non-stop singing with the full repertoire of City songs the whole end
standing and singing all the way. All seater stadia are wasted on us!

Half-time: Tranmere 0 City 0

The second half was more of a contest as City showed what they were about,
still not pretty or spectacular but they sorted themselves out.

On 50 minutes, Scott Young was withdrawn for James Collins. Young was
withdrawn partly to rest his groin, partly to avoid the risk of him getting a
further yellow card and sending off. Collins performed admirably. He's no
right back, he's no striker but in central midfield, he is a no thrills
defender who does the basics very well.

Chances were now at a premium. Simon Haworth who wasn't slow to do the
ayatollah at Wigan a few weeks ago but declined requests this time which left
City fans to remind Tranmere’s Jason Price he was a former Swansea player.
Sam asking City fans to love the Jacks sounds reasonable in the media but
isn't going to quite work in reality, is it? Football is all about rivalry
and banter and that’s how it will always be.

For the first time there were some nerves as news that Stoke were holding
onto a lead at Bristol while City never really threatened to score and win.
That combination of results would have meant the play-off clash would still
be Stoke v Cardiff but that The Potters would have 2nd leg home advantage,
something that neither the players or fans wanted. That all changed in a 5
minute spell as Bristol equalised in 68 minutes (about time the Wurzels did
something right!) and Cardiff scored a winner in the 72nd.

City’s goal resulted from the best piece of football in the match by some
distance, dare I say some rare quality that belonged to a higher level.

Gray Croft has generally been quiet but efficient in his limited on loan
appearances, keeps simple neat and simple at the back, arguably he doesn’t
get forward enough to support attacks and get crosses in but he changed all
that in one superb move.

Receiving the ball inside his own half, he instinctively played a superb
curled pass off the outside of his left boot around Haworth to find Mark
Bonner on the touchline. Croft charged forward, took a pass then played a
one-two with Kav back heeling the return ball on the edge of the area. The
goal was suddenly available, CROFT’s right footed shot from 15 yards seemed
to have some luck as it appeared to be mishit and leave Tranmere’s young
Irish keeper, Joe Murphy, wrong footed as the ball crept along the ground and
inside his near post from 15 yards.

This was probably City’s best worked goal of the season, a classic move
sending the away end into raptures, a great moment.

The closing stages were a Bluebird party on Merseyside. The team were sung
home to victory. Tranmere were snuffed, the only dangerous moment was
Alexander arching back to a looping Haworth header over the bar at the last

The final whistle brought the realisation that Cardiff are possibly just 2
games from the Millennium Stadium and 3 games from Division One. It will be
about bottle and luck as much as anything but having got a deserved draw at
Stoke, beaten them convincingly at Ninian and being in such strong form
currently, City are favourites with nothing to fear. Inevitably, focus will
switch to Kav and Thorne playing their former club who have lost in the
play-off semis in the past 2 seasons. Let’s hope it’s 3rd time lucky for
and Thorney rather than Stoke then!

The scenes at the end were quite emotional and entertaining too as the
players came back out onto the pitch to salute us. Not before a Tranmere fan
ran on the pitch from the opposite end and mooned to us, he was arrested too.
The sun affects different people in different ways.

There was huge mutual applause between players and fans alike. It’s been a
long, hard and testing this season but we’re still in with a chance of
promotion, it was a rollercoaster ride as we were always told it would be by
Sam but we’d have all have taken this last August.

It seems a long time ago but it's still less than 2 years when we were
relegated to Division Three with tears, no money and a worrying future. Sam
Hammam has changed all that. Now we have spent millions on players and are
favourites to win the play offs and get into Division One. You really have
to pinch yourself to accept how far City have come in so short a time.

Sam The Messiah walked on the pitch, after a mass chant of “we want Sam
Hammam walking round the pitch”. As he waved to the City fans, Earnie ran
behind him with a bottle of water and poured it over his head. Sam turned
away to walk back to the dressing rooms still waving when half the squad
grabbed him, ran him 40 yards towards our goal and with a steward trying to
stop them from running Sam into the goal, they dumped him in the muddy
goalmouth kicking and throwing sand and earth all over him. He was plastered
head to toe but still went off waving and smiling, Tranmere fans applauding
too, City supporters in hysterics.

Then City fans got all sporting and clapped the Tranmere side as they walked
around the pitch waving to their own fans. Haworth ayatollahed, Jason Price
did a half-hearted one handed version. Bet we won’t be so sporting and show
a mass outbreak of love towards Stoke in the play-offs!

A great day out to wind down the league season and that’s without the night
to follow in Liverpool which, for me, involved getting very drunk, watching
the Calzaghe fight, drowning the world’s worst karaoke singers with chants,
visiting Liverpool’s dodgiest nightclub and then getting everyone still awake
in The Adelphi’s bar to sing City songs at 3am before inadvertently flooding
my bathroom next morning. If you think that’s a bad confession, it just as
well I’m only letting you know the mild stuff!