| Cardiff 0 Tottenham Hotspur 0
FA Cup 3rd Round January 7th 2007
"the day it rained forever..."
It is hard to recall an FA Cup tie against top flight opposition which had been treated with such apathy by the footballing burghers of Cardiff and South East Wales in recent memory.
Despite early messageboard blather about the scramble for tickets, on the day before the game there were still a steady stream of people buying tickets for this match.
Contrast this with the equivalent fixture last year against Arsenal, where the frenzy for tickets reached near psychotic and hysterical proportions, the 2002 game against Leeds where tickets were equally coveted, and even, for those of you with longer memories, the 4th round tie against Man City in 1994, where fans queued round the block for hours for the privilege of watching Nathan Blake's heavenly shot propel us into the 5th round.
No coincidence really that the drop-off in enthusiasm has been precipitated by the parlous run of recent form which has seen us without a win since November 11th.
So was this an FA Cup distraction too far, or an opportunity to light a Roman candle underneath the collective posterior of this flagging, uninspired, under-performing side?
Almost five years to the second when we kicked off against the soon-to-be vanquished Leeds United, the Ninian Park faithful cranked up the noise again in time-honoured fashion to lift the sprits of both fans and players, and the full house signs were just about OK to use with a crowd attendance of 20,376.
Emerging from the semi-permanent fog of seasonal alcoholic befuddlement, the supporters had earlier sleepwalked down Sloper Road in scenes reminiscent of George A Romero's zombie classic Dawn of the Dead.
Overpaid, overrated and over here, the Premiership boys were in town.
In September 2003 Jermain Defoe had graced the hallowed turf of Ninian Park wearing the claret and blue of West Ham United.
He put in a world class display of scintillating finishing that night, clawing back a 2-0 deficit and destroying the Bluebirds, leaving the ground clutching the match ball after a peerless hat-trick in an enthralling 3-2 Carling Cup victory.
Today he was probably Tottenham's most lively player and main threat, but didn't really trouble a reliably rock solid defence and a quietly magnificent goalkeeper, Neil Alexander.
Highly rated Bulgarian Berbatov was sporadically involved, combining well with Defoe early on - behind him the impressive Tom Huddlestone was quick, strong and agile and Michael Dawson was unfussily effective.
Elsewhere, the Tottenham players were matched, and in most cases bested, by a terrific collective Bluebirds performance, every Cardiff player raising his game about 50% from the last couple of shambolic and disappointing league run-outs.
With three of Tottenham's best players either missing through injury or on the bench (Ledley King, Aaron Lennon and Robbie Keane), Cardiff were entitled to feel quietly optimistic, and after a cagey ten minutes, clearly took control of the game, forcing Spurs back on their heels with the kind of fast, neat and incisive football we came to treasure earlier in the season.
Once again, Gilbert and McNaughton were instrumental in pushing the team forward, with Flood and McPhail offering drive and creativity, whilst Thompson and Chopra turned, twisted and ran their socks off. Chopra had one of the earliest chances, his header flying just wide. Chopra hit a wicked cross in from the right wing which Thompson missed by a whisker.
Thompson had two great headed efforts, the first one being flapped out for a corner by England's No 1 Paul Robinson, the second going just over after a super-acrobatic mid-air twist and pike which would have got Thommo a 9.9 in a Gymnastics competition. Another chance fell to Chopra, as he seized upon a poorly hit back header from Lee, but just squeezed his shot wide past a well beaten Robinson.
Tottenham were definitely the more relieved team as the whistle blew for half time, the crowd rising to give the players a huge and hugely deserved ovation. Defoe had tested the Cardiff defence on a couple of occasions, Berbatov had let rip with a powerful snap shot which Alexander smothered, but the Bluebirds' defence had presided over a composed and organised lock-out.
Spurs came out for the second half with a degree or two more enthusiasm, but were unable to impose their quality on a Cardiff team whose boundless confidence had been jump-started by their colossal first half performance.
The game flickered from end-to-end, and the Bluebirds lost some of their early control, but Spurs were unable to capitalise upon increased possession and a growing territorial advantage.
When he wasn't being caught offside, Defoe looked every inch the predatory Premiership finisher, but was denied on several occasions by some titanic defending and skilful, fearless goalkeeping.
As the clock ran down, it became apparent that Tottenham would be more than happy to escape with a draw. Cardiff, on the other hand, raised the tempo in the last ten minutes and were after the decisive goal, but slipshod finishing let them down.
Even with the introduction of Aaron Lennon and Robbie Keane, Tottenham had failed to punch a hole through the brick wall marshalled by Loovens and Purse, and in the final analysis it is Cardiff who walked proudly off the pitch feeling as if they should have won this match.
A magnificent Cardiff performance, an absorbing cup tie, a slightly disappointing result, but a hell of a way to kick ourselves out of this slump, and who knows what could happen a week on Wednesday?
Four notes of negativity to offset a fine day out:
1. Will Cardiff ever shake off their reputation as brain-dead troglodytes when you witness 'supporters' staggering towards the ground chanting 'Spurs are on their way to Auschwitz...'?
2. If that wasn't bad enough, the brains trust on the Grange End then chipped in with choruses of 'Gas the Jews'.
3. Setting off flares in the Grange End is one thing, but throwing them at police/away fans? Have these muppets got such short memories?
4. For the third time this season, (after Birmingham and Wolves) visiting supporters from a 'big' club cause a commotion in the away end, jostling stewards and police. It ain't big and it ain't clever. As the Bob Bank duly noted (again), 'Sit down and behave yourselves!'.
Paul Davies © 2007. Photos ©urban75/Paul Davies.
My players should be proud of themselves because they worked their socks off.
And the Cardiff fans were terrific and never stopped singing from start to finish.
Even though there were no goals it was an entertaining cup tie and we could have sneaked it, although they had a couple of chances as well.
Dave Jones, Cardiff manager.
Cardiff: Alexander, Gilbert, Purse, Loovens, McNaughton, Flood, McPhail, Scimeca, Ledley, Chopra, Thompson.
Subs Not Used:: Forde, Johnson, Cooper, Campbell, Blake.
Tottenham: LRobinson, Chimbonda, Dawson, Davenport, Lee (Gardner 88), Malbranque, Huddlestone, Tainio, Murphy (Lennon 67), Berbatov, Defoe (Keane 82).
Subs Not Used: Cerny, Zokora.
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