Cardiff 2 Wolverhampton Wannabes 0
FA Cup 5th Round, February 16th 2008
The Drought is Over, Let the Reign Begin..."
Upstaged this weekend by the mighty Upsetters Brizzle Rovers and Barnsley, and less unexpectedly the darlings of the prawn sandwich brigade at Old Trafford, Cardiff City nevertheless made history by cruising into the Quarter Finals of the FA Cup for the first time in 81 years. 81 Years! And we all know what happened 81 years ago. With Mystic Meg-like portents pointing to a Cardiff victory - first time we'd played Wolves for 87 years in the Cup etc - no-one could have expected the consummate performance produced by the lads today.
Let us be clear here - this was a total tactical annihilation which left Wolves sobbing and licking their wounds by the side of Sloper Road in an unedifying heap - utterly outplayed and outsmarted by a team of warriors whose application and dedication was complete. Big up to the backroom boys who masterminded this victory, and a hearty congrats to all the CCFC players who made it look so comfortable and easy.
Mick McCarthy savaged his team of under-performing patsies, but the emphasis should really be on the Cardiff players' complete domination, a master class in the art of going ahead and staying ahead. The stakes were high, the team stepped up and the rewards were justified.
Going into the game, supporters were anxious and unconvinced about our chances of progressing - were the recent defeats against Stoke and Norwich a statistical blip or the warning sides of a slip down the table and the official end of the play-off surge? With player of the season Joe Ledley ruled out for up to four weeks with a hamstring tear, and the already denuded squad still denied the fillip of a quality emergency loan signing, the fans were right to be apprehensive.
The psychological jaw-jaw coming out of Ninian Park certainly did not help - Ridsdale and Dave Jones giving interviews to the local and national press, rubbishing the ground, the club, the fans and our chances of promotion - urging us once again to take a reality check at the progress made so far. Just what you want to read on a Saturday morning as you are getting Up for the Cup. From the fans' perspective, the mire of spiralling debt and the outgoing conveyor belt carrying our best and most coveted players to pastures new each time a bill arrives do not amount to much in the way of progress, but rather indicate a culture of asset-stripping and short-term bean-counting which has bedevilled the club for decades.
And yet, whilst the dump that is Ninian Park literally falls apart, and the club threatens to implode as the financial pips are well and truly squeaked, the team find themselves on the cusp of greatness - still a whisker away from a significant play-off charge and within sight of the Sodom and Gomorrah that is the new Wembley Stadium.
A beautiful bright early Spring day saw the huddled masses throng Sloper Road and funnel into the ground in time for the 3PM kick-off. Early predictions of a 17-18,000 crowd were dashed by the announcement of the 15K attendance, a figure rightly ridiculed by the visiting fans and a genuine cause for concern.
Cardiff were out of the blocks like a rocket and stunned Wolves with a goal inside 90 seconds. A Cardiff interception resulted in the pass to JFH, who fed a superb ball into the path of Whittingham. As Jimmy picked himself up after being clattered by an embarrassing late challenge, Whitts showed what a cool finisher he can be by sliding the ball past the stranded keeper. High anxiety on the terraces miraculously transformed into outbreaks of hysteria. Early goals, of course, always bring out the black dog in the CCFC supporter, and whilst the ecstasy of breaching the Wolves rearguard was being digested, the worries of defending a lead for 88 minutes brought back the headaches.
Hasselbaink applied a cold compress to furrowed brows on 11 minutes with a goal of sumptuous class and skill. Receiving the ball just outside the centre circle, he spotted Parry on the left wing and floated a long, lazy ball in his general direction. Parry controlled and swung the ball across the face of the penalty area towards Whittingham, who having watched JFH manoeuvre himself slowly into the danger zone, set him up with a great ball. Jimmy threw an arrogant dummy which outwitted the big lump of a centre half Gary Breen, allowing himself the time to swing his left boot and arc a wonderful, spinning, curling shot into the top corner.
Echoes of Blakey's goal against Man City in the 4th Round in 1994 have already been noted, but if anything this was even better. Now it was time to relax, sort of, and discover just what this team of braveheart Bluebirds were made of. Stern stuff, as it happened, as they easily repelled the Wolves' attempt at a fightback, and controlled the game with a mental strength and composure which has not always been evident this term.
The Wolves attack was as insipid as their church-mouse like supporters, whose only attempts at making an impression seemed to involve the customary "bad loser" misbehaviour, which presumably accounted for a Cardiff City steward being led away on a wheelchair. That's the second time in two seasons that the Wolves "fans" have caused trouble at Ninian Park (ripping out seats and assaulting stewards last year, remember, after we trounced them 4-0), and food for thought for their reviled chairman Jez Moxey the next time he bans Cardiff fans from Molineux.
Back on the field, Cardiff sought to extend their lead by exploiting the gaps emerging in the Wolves' defence, whilst always maintaining a rock-like defensive grip. The back four were immense, and apart from a Loovens pratfall in the second half, which he luckily recovered from to clear off the line, barely put a foot wrong. Goalkeeper Enckelman was a comforting presence at the back and his aerial authority radiated a calm and confident aura which was fed upon greedily by the back 4.
In the midfield, a great combined effort from the quartet, but special mention must go to Aaron Ramsey, the 17 year old who has been patiently waiting to establish himself in the first team. He is a gifted creative player with drive, determination and boundless energy. When the pace threatened to flag in the second half, he urged the team forward, pushing JFH out of the way at one stage to launch a decent goalbound effort which Hennessy spilled - though sadly not into the path of an onrushing forward.
Parry and Hasselbaink were a potent threat, Jimmy's positional and hold-up play complementing Parry's pacy darting runs through and beyond the Wolves defence. Parry very nearly put the game out of sight in the second half - clean through on goal he failed to beat the advancing Hennessy. Thompson came on for his customary 15 minutes and did his usual harrying and hustling, but by then the game was in the bag. Two late substitutions saw welcome appearances for Darcy Blake and the long-overdue return of Sinclair, whose fitness will add bite to the competition for midfield places.
Wolves were suspect at the back, timid in midfield and stifled up front. Highly rated Keogh barely made an impression, and whilst substitute Eastwood upped the energy levels somewhat on his appearance, Cardiff's lead was never seriously threatened.
The atmosphere in the ground was strangely subdued in the first 45, as the emotions swung between incredulity and delirium, but in the second half, as the time ticked away and the enormity of this achievement and the excitement of a Quarter Final kicked in, the support got louder and louder - different chants blasting out from four sides of the ground, as the boys were sung home to a famous victory. Huge and deserved ovation at the end for a superlative team performance. No time to rest on our laurels though, as we have to gear up for the far more important matter of Newport County in the FAW Mickey Mouse Cup on Tuesday!
With the two 5th Round ties to play involving tricky contests for Premiership Portsmouth and Middlesbrough, the prospect of the last 8 comprising Barnsley, Bristol Rovers, Cardiff, West Brom, Preston, Sheffield United, Chelsea and Man Ure opens up all sorts of inviting possibilities. A home tie is critical, preferably against the likes of Bristol or Barnsley. What we don't want is a "Big Day Out" at Stamford Bridge or Old Trafford, to be patronised by pundits and pummelled on the pitch. Almost too ridiculous to contemplate, but is the tidal wave of history really pushing us toward the inevitable and a Final appearance at Wembley 2008?
At 1.25 on Monday afternoon we will have more of an idea.
Paul Davies © 2008.
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