Cardiff 4 Preston North End 1
Championship, February 23rd 2007
"...Singing, and dancing, in the rain..."
Can they kick it? They most definitely can. As a shot across the bows of the rest of the Championship, who may have thought Cardiff City were going a little tired and soggy around the edges, this was a peerless performance and a return to the stunning sexy football of earlier in the season.
With key players returning from injury and suspension, Cardiff re-established themselves as serious promotion contenders tonight, and will have startled some observers with their class, style and dominance.
As Michael Chopra astutely observed prior to the match, in a stating-the-bleedin'-obvious kind of way, if Preston won tonight we would be six points behind them, if we won we'd be level on points.
Well, not only did we win, we kicked their sorry little asses all over Ninian Park, leapfrogged them in the table (4th now), trumped their goal difference and generally made the their promotion ambitions look the stuff of quackery and charlatanism.
They may have had Paul McKenna on the team sheet, but it was the Bluebirds who were doing the mesmerising tonight (boom boom!). As the greatest American band of the moment, The Hold Steady, recently noted, this was a Massive Night (Bristol Academy tonight, btw).
Despite the Friday night kick-off and the presence of the Sky cameras, this was a night of old skool football - slowly developing trench foot on the terraces as the relentless rain drenched those of us foolhardy enough to brave the elements.
Even the usual fog of jazz cigarettes was strangely and sadly absent. Pre-empting the imminent delirium, MC Ali Yassine spun the apposite Friday I'm in Love by flakey Goth poppets The Cure as the bedraggled masses shuffled into the ground. The "kids for a quid" initiative barely counteracted the Sky factor, an attendance of less than 13,000 was as expected.
Given the quality of entertainment on offer tonight, all you sad sacks who chose to park your backsides on the lazyboy or watch in the pub should hang your heads in shame and disappointment. You certainly missed some game.
First shock of the evening came with the news that David Forde was making his debut in goal. Despite the announcement that Alexander was suffering with the flu, the rumour mill started straight away and by the time the match was over Alex was on his way out the door after contract differences.
Outfield, the team had a good looking shape, McNaughton and Ledley at full back, Loovens and Johnson at CB, Parry, McPhail, Scimeca and Whittingham in midfield, with the dynamic duo Chopra and Thompson upfront. Almost at full strength now, the return of Loovens, Scimeca and Chopra inspires confidence.
Cardiff had the better of the opening exchanges, with Parry in particular combining well with McNaughton on the right hand side. First ten minutes was all Cardiff, no clear-cut chances but plenty of possession, quality passing, good movement and invention in midfield and upfront. Preston were one-dimensional, and did nothing to suggest that they are not a one-man team.
Everything goes through 6 million pound man David 'not Ted' Nugent, and if he is denied space and time, as he was for most of the first half, then Preston, as an attacking force, cease to exist.
Partnering him was Daniel Dichio, a big burly brutish centre forward of the arms-akimbo school, whose effectiveness was demonstrated by his substitution on 60 minutes. With one or two exceptions, Loovens and Johnson had the Preston strikers in their pockets.
Preston had a flurry of corners midway through the first half, and Nugent struck a powerful shot, which was well saved by Forde, but they rarely worried a solid defensive back line.
Michael Chopra came closest for Cardiff, a trademark free kick from outside the box forcing an acrobatic save from Lonergan. Cardiff's dominance and possession was rewarded, as against Leeds, on the stroke of half time. Parry, who had tantalised the left back for many uncomfortable minutes, crossed from the right and Peter Whittingham fired home. Game on.
Cardiff pushed on at the start of the second half and were almost immediately rewarded. Chopra, whose runs and movement had been tormenting the Preston defence, was brought down in the box by Chilvers as he homed in on goal.
No mistake from the spot kick, the ball walloped into the net for the hitman's 20th goal of the season.
Almost immediately, Preston earned a penalty at the other end, as Johnson upended ex-Liverpool man Neil Mellor - on for the injured Nugent, who had been flattened in the first half by the onrushing Forde.
Despite the deafening hoots and roars from all sides of the ground, Graham Alexander coolly converted to hand Preston a sliver of hope - which was torn from their grasp seconds later after a looping cross from the left hand side eluded every Preston defender and bounced up nicely for Johnson to head ecstatically home.
His celebration was something to behold, a high-stepping 80 yard dash along the length of the Bob Bank, a riotous rictus grin of happiness across his face.
I hope it sounded good on the telly at this point, as the atmosphere inside the ground was ROCKING. Hungry for more goals the Bluebirds poured forward in numbers, playing their impoverished counterparts off the park with some neat and half-tidy football which had the "it's just like watching Brazil" chants rolling across the terraces.
The inevitable fourth goal arrived on 67 minutes, Whittingham setting up Chopra's easy second to take his season total to an imperious 21. There could have been more goals, and they would have been fully justified, such was the one-sided nature of this contest, but the three points were in the bag well before the fourth goal went in.
Chopra and Thompson went off to rousing cheers, as substitutes Byrne and Green came on to get a taste of the action with three minutes to go. The talismanic Chopra will get most of the plaudits, but Thompson's performance deserves a special mention - the guy was outstanding, he hustled, harried, won and laid off balls all night.
A huge crowd favourite, it is no surprise that he has inherited the Magic Hat song - what Thorne was to Earnie, Thompson is to Chopra. He may not score enough goals, but the man is an invaluable part of this team and is worth his weight in Clark's pies. Elsewhere, Loovens and Johnson were monstrous, and Peter Whittingham was a class apart, he gets better with every game.
Cardiff have chosen the most critical time of the season to run into a blinding spell of form, and suddenly games against Birmingham, Southampton, Derby and Sunderland do not look so daunting. Six or seven points from those games and then into a run-in against Sheffield Wednesday, Burnley, Stoke, QPR, Hull and Ipswich…
You thinking what I'm thinking?
Paul Davies © 2007
It was very important to win because we couldn't allow Preston or anyone else to get away from us.
We needed maximum points to keep us in the hunt.
It was a hard game. We gave them a little bit of hope with the goal but we ended that hope straight away with the third. It was a strong performance.
Dave Jones, Cardiff manager.
Cardiff: Forde, McNaughton, Loovens, Johnson, Ledley, Whittingham, McPhail, Parry, Scimeca, Thompson (Byrne 87), Chopra (Green 87).
Subs Not Used:: Flood, Blake, Gunter.
Goals: Whittingham 44, Chopra 52 pen, Johnson 54, Chopra 67.
Preston: Lonergan, Alexander, St. Ledger, Chilvers, Hill, Pugh, Whaley, McKenna, Pergl, Nugent (Mellor 46), Dichio (Agyemang 61).
Subs Not Used: Henderson, Sedgwick, Wilson.
Goals: Alexander 53 pen.
» BBC report
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