5th Round Proper
Saturday February 16th 2008
Kick Off 3:00pm
Weather: Cold and very sunny
Distance travelled: 308 miles
Two quick-fire goals in the first eleven minutes of this game settled the tie for the team from Wales against a very poor Wolves side. Any club that belts out Stone Roses in the build up to kick-off gets my nod of approval and with the appropriate "This Is The One" still hanging on the cold Cardiff air as the game started, one could sense from the home team and home support that this was indeed the one they had waited for.
On a gloriously bright day, Cardiff effectively killed off the Wolves bright and early and the men from the Midlands failed to recover.
My day had started a little frantically. I once again travelled with my good mates PB and Mackem (and to later meet at the ground Captain Beaky and Fenlander, the latter returning to the FA Cup fray after a short absence). I went on air on talkSPORT radio just before departure for the 150 mile trip to South Wales. I don't know how many of you heard my three minutes of fame, and I haven't heard the piece yet myself, but I think I failed in my shameless attempt to lay claim to Mike Parry's FA Cup final ticket. I don't think he was too impressed.
The journey down to Cardiff went without hitch. I even managed to lob the £5.30 in loose change into the coin bin at the Severn Bridge without embarrassingly missing. I wonder how many drivers have failed to hit the target and realised that, rolling off down towards the Severn with their last pound coin, was their only chance of getting into Wales? Probably quite funny to watch as well. They should erect spectator galleries.
The ground itself was easy to find and parking was quite straightforward. There is an awful lot of construction work south and west of Ninian Park; this is where the old Cardiff Athletics Stadium is making way for the new Cardiff ground and work is well underway. As you drop down off the M4 at junction 33 and drive towards the ground on Leckwith Road you get a great view of Ninian Park with the Millenium Stadium as a backdrop. The old and the new.
And without being too critical of Ninian Park, it has an old feel to it, which isn't a bad thing. We sat in the Grandstand which sits astride one length of the pitch, with the Spar Family Stand to the left ("So near, so Spar") and the Bob Bank opposite. Our seats were of the dated wooden variety and the place had a whiff of olden days feel to it. This is what gives Ninian Park it's character.
That and the great atmosphere generated by the passionate home fans. It is no exaggeration to say that this was the noisiest game I have been to on this cup run, the atmospheres at Wolves and Watford in previous rounds were tame in comparison. The home fans were vocal from all four sides of the pitch and the great start to the game resulted in the old Ninian Park roof being almost lifted from the stands. The Wolves fans, before the game started, also played their part in raising the volume level.
Wolves were poor. Mick McCarthy summed up his team's display with a single word. "Hopeless". Wolves arrived in South Wales with four cup-tied players, their influential Michael Kightly injured and another key player, Darren Ward, awaiting the arrival of his child. Michael Gray, who had played so poorly in the 3rd Round game with Cambridge United and was absent in the marvellous Wolves performance at Watford, was back in the team. A coincidence that Wolves played poorly yet again with Gray in the team? Perhaps. To be brutally honest, the whole of the Wolves rearguard failed to play well, with Gary Breen looking especially out of his depth.
As for Cardiff, they started like a runaway train and simply could not be caught. The first goal came after only two minutes. Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink slid the ball through a wandering Wolves defence into the path of Peter Whittingham. As Hasselbaink made the pass he was taken out with a late challenge; all credit to referee Rob Styles who played the advantage when many would have blown up.
Whittingham had acres of time and space to calmly slot home beyond the advancing Wayne Hennessey. The place erupted. 1-0 to Cardiff City.
The old ground was positively rocking after eleven minutes. Hasselbaink began and finished off a move that resulted in a goal to grace any game. This was a quality goal, and is certainly a contender for my own goal of this Road to Wembley journey. Hasselbaink once again found the ball at his feet in the centre circle. With the Wolves back four all over the place, Hasselbaink was able to pick out Paul Parry on the left wing. The subsequent cross over the back-peddling Wolves defence was a bit too heavy but the ball eventually made it's way back to Hasselbaink on the edge of the box. With one shoulder drop and a touch inside his marker, Hasselbaink unleashed a dipping left footed shot into the top corner. Fantastic. To a man, the Cardiff crowd rose to salute a great goal. This really was gripping stuff and Cardiff were on their way.
After that, Wolves struggled to produce anything really meaningful for the remainder of the half even though they did manage to regain some of the possession. The introduction of Freddy Eastwood before the half-time oranges failed to spark Wolves into life. The Wolves support were subdued and the "we want our money back" chants summed up their mood.
In the second half the away team emerged with a little more purpose. Not long after the restart, Kevin Kyle found himself with only the Cardiff stopper Peter Enckelman to beat. Kyle froze and then fluffed and any remaining danger was averted when the Cardiff defender Loovens cleared off the line. With that chance one could sense the life drain from the Wolves team and heads once again went down throughout the side.
Cardiff continued to apply pressure of their own and on two separate occasions Paul Parry had head-to-head contests with the Wolves keeper but on both occasions Hennessey came out on top. The Cardiff midfield then shut up shop for the rest of the game and two excellent performances from Stephen McPhail and Gavin Rae prevented any more opportunities for the away side.
The game drifted to the expected conclusion and Cardiff were through, eighty one years after their last appearance in the quarter finals. In a week when the appeal of the FA Cup has once again been questioned, a Cardiff fan seated behind me commented that he would take mid-table obscurity (rather than promotion to the Premier League) in exchange for an FA Cup final appearance anytime. Believe me, this competition still appeals.
This was a very good game and one that the majority of the 15,339 crowd were happy with. It must have been a long journey back for the travelling support - I wish Wolves well for the rest of the season, I have enjoyed the short cup run with them. To see Wolves exit the competition without much of a fight was a disappointment for me, but I dare say all those associated with the Black and Gold must be feeling ten times worse.
And so the baton passes to Cardiff City. Based on yesterday's tidy performance Cardiff deserve their place in the next round. As we walked away from the ground engulfed in the cacophony of celebration from the Cardiff fans, I found myself still humming along to the Stone Roses. This Is The One. This is the one the fans had been waiting for. And boy, I bet it was well worth the wait.
And I bet they can't wait for Monday's draw.