| Cardiff 1 Southampton 0
Championship, Tuesday 17th October 2006
"What's that coming over the hill? Is it promotion, promotion?"
Loved up collectively like a bug-eyed glowstick-wielding 1990s raver, the Cardiff City fanbase is experiencing hitherto undreamt of levels of ecstasy this season, and extreme measures are being exercised to keep the feet firmly nailed to the ground.
A daily slap in the face with a wet haddock and 15 minutes spent gawping at page 325 of Ye Olde BBC Teletext does the trick for me.
Up until tonight, MC DJ, on the other hand, had been finding no difficulty at all keeping the troops grounded, focused and with their eye fixed ruthlessly on the ball.
Tonight was tough, though. George Burley has completely rebuilt his Southampton side, and they are a supremely well organised outfit - solid at the back, tight, muscular and compact in midfield with a three-pronged attack which threatened to do damage all night.
Coupled with the fact that key City players looked off the pace and off-form, it all added up to a night of nail-biting knee-knocking tension and excitement, Cardiff grinding out a result through sheer will power, determination and melon-sized cojones.
The first half was a scrappy affair, possibly the worst 45 dished out by the glistening Bluebirds at home this term. Passing was dreadful, the ball given away all over the shop, culprit number one was Dazza Purse, whose distribution from the back was di-a-bleedin'-bolical.
Other players who failed to live up to their usual stratospheric standards were Gilbert (error-prone), Scimeca, McPhail and Ledley (largely anonymous), Parry (closed down and bottled up by Gareth Bale and any other Southampton players in the vicinity).
Southampton were positive, aggressive and used a pressing game to force Cardiff back on their heels time and again, the two wingers Jones and Viafora marauding dangerously, whilst Rasiak gave Loovens and Purse one of their busiest 90 minutes of the season.
It was looking tight at half time, and given the balance and quality of play, Bluebirds fans would probably have settled for a point at that stage.
Things turned slightly in the second half. Bolstered by an awesome defensive display by Purse, who sucked in and spat out anything that came at him, the team cranked up a gear and roared on by the faithful, started finally putting some neat passing football together and posing a realistic threat.
The crowd sensed blood and ratcheted up the noise, Southampton countering with some sharp incisive attacks of their own.
Despite canny and prolonged resistance, the visitors were finally swept aside in the 84th minute with a goal of breathtaking power and quality, Thompson lashing in top assister Chopra's pass from twenty yards, goalkeeper Kelvin Davis helpless as the net rippled.
Fortress Ninian exploded, and kept the decibel-ometer pinging into the red until the final seconds. Ninian Park may be a dump, a shed and a shack with medieval facilities, but it is OUR dump, and when all four sides are pumping up the volume and saluting this fantastic team, then there is no better place to be of a misty Tuesday evening in mid-October.
The JCBs may yet have unearthed the first sod across the road in Leckwith, but the Impossible Dream gathers pace by the minute and is putting down layers of concrete foundations with each net-busting goal and hard-won point.
There is no doubt that the fancy-dan Premiership fops of Chelsea, Man Yoo and Arsenal will not like it up 'em when they deplane at Sloper Road and contemplate the seething mass of humanity rattling the cage at this bearpit. Intimidating, in a no-need-for-robocops kind of way, that's what we want.
Tonight may yet prove to be one of many turning points this season, three points which we frankly barely deserved, grafted out from what looked like an unwinnable game.
Alongside the West Brom match, this was probably the hardest game of the season - to smash and grab three points was an incredible achievement.
After an awesome five wins on the bounce, we remain six points clear at the top, ten points ahead of seventh placed Luton, with a mind-bogglingly fantastic goal difference of +16.
The bookies, who rarely put a foot wrong in these matters, currently rate the Bluebirds as evens to go up this year, and if we can keep this phenomenal run going till Xmas, then it would be difficult to argue against that proposition.
Tough games against Norwich, Derby and Sunderland are coming up, but November and December offer lots of opportunities for further points-gathering.
A few interesting tussles in January, February and March, and then a leisurely soft shoe shuffle through April, whilst we break records and bring home the Championship trophy on Saturday 28th against Hull at the Millennium Stadium :)
Paul Davies © 2006
Cardiff: Alexander, Gilbert, Purse, Loovens, Chambers, Parry, McPhail, Scimeca, Ledley, Thompson, Chopra.
Subs Not Used: Johnson, Flood, Glombard, Campbell, Kamara.
Goals: Thompson 84.
Southampton: Davis, Wright, Lundekvam, Baird, Bale, Licka, Viafara, Idiakez, Surman (Skacel 88), Rasiak, Jones.
Subs Not Used: Miller, Pele, Sarmiento, Wright-Phillips.
Booked: Viafara, Idiakez, Licka.
...and after. Tidy!
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