As we paid our money to be let into Wales it occurred to me that we were the last North-East team travelling to foreign climes for a competitive match this season. We are increasingly hopeful that we won’t be making this journey next season.
The last few times we’ve been to Cardiff we have drunk at the Lansdowne. As it is the other side of the ground away from the city centre it tends to be a “low tension” pub and always has a fair few Sunderland supporters in – including those wearing colours. Nevertheless we kept up our habit of not wearing colours. At Cardiff you always feel there is a chance things could turn a bit nasty and so it seems best not to take chances. In the ground itself we had our lot singing the usual English songs. Despite being a strong England supporter (not a happy role at present), to be honest I’d rather stick to singing for my football team when they are playing. The song I find the oddest is “Rule Britannia”. First it is a song about naval power and Wales is one of our only two land based conquests. But even more so, the Welsh have a much greater claim to “Britishness”, being the descendants of the original Briton tribes – as opposed to the various Germans, Danes and itinerant Celts who make up much of England.
As we were walking to the ground, I got the text message telling me that Chopra was playing and felt my bowels move uncomfortably. I suspect Chopra doesn’t create such fear amongst other supporters – after all you have to be fairly pap not to be good enough for Newcastle’s front line. However, having seen him rip us apart at the Stadium of Light we were not keen on seeing him repeat the trick. The bad news about Chopra was quickly countered by the good news that Nuggsy was passed fit and would be starting. Really at the SoL the humiliation had been watching Chopra torment Varga, who would have been the natural replacement if Nuggsy had not made it.
As usual Keane had changed things around quite a lot. Murphy and Connolly were up front with John and Stokes on the bench. For some reason Yorke was nowhere to be seen.
In principle I love terracing and would like to see it back. However, the terracing at Ninian Park hardly rises to the level of a “terrace”. It is more just a gentle slope. Our lass is not that tall and the other lass with us was even smaller so their view of the game at best rose to the level of “limited” but most of the time was “nothing”.
First half we were attacking the end we were behind. Pretty much the whole half we dominated both possession and territory. However, we really didn’t make the goalkeeper work. Murphy was ineffective and was caught offside too many times. Hysen I thought had a very poor half and sent in several sloppy balls. He did however have the best attempt on goal when the ball came from the right to him near the six yard box. Unfortunately he kicked it hard into the ground and it just cleared the bar.
Despite our domination, Cardiff probably had the couple of best chances of the half – Ward doing well to save one in particular.
We missed the beginning of the second half. One of the genuine olde worlde football experiences that is Ninian Park is the assumption that no women attend football matches. So for a crowd of 2,000 there are two women’s cubicles. The red and white army always consists of a canny proportion of women so the loo queues were well over 15 minutes. From where we stood waiting for the lasses we could see about a third of the pitch stretching from one corner to the other. We spent that time urging the players to hold the ball in that area for as long as possible.
As we got back onto the terrace it was clear to us that Cardiff had come back out the stronger in the second half. For about 20 minutes they pressed us hard. However, Nyron and Jonny Evans were superbly solid. The excellent chant for Nyron built up as the half went on “Tried to take the ball past Nyron. But he said no, no, no”. I don’t know what song it is based on but it is a very easy tune. The tannoy announcer was more up to date with popular culture than me and obligingly played the song for us as we were leaving for us all to join in again – a rather nice, generous touch.
The weather was having a bit of a laugh. Having been a sunny spring day earlier on, dark clouds came over accompanied by strong winds and it started to pour it down.
Having weathered the storm in both senses, we took control of the game again. Wallace had come on for Hysen and as often happens when he is a sub he had a strong influence on the game. With about 20 minutes to go, we got a free kick outside the box in the inside right channel. Wallace took a run and curved the ball over (or, it seemed, through) the wall. From the terrace at the other end I first of all thought the goaly got it but then thought it was in – however, there was one of those weird moments in football that must last a nano second but seemed to last for ages until the players celebrated and then the whole crowd joined in. Another great Keano substitution.
Keane immediately brought on John and Stokes for Leadbitter and Murphy. Presumably this was to make clear to our players as much as the opposition that we were not to sit back on this lead. In fact we now did control the game – probably even more so than in the first half. But at 1-0 there was always a risk of a “Birmingham” type moment (although to be fair Birmingham had pushed forward well when they got their last minute equaliser).
The game had always been physical but increasingly Cardiff just resorted to kicking us as a substitute for kicking the ball which we wouldn’t let them have. Evans in particular ended the game hardly able to walk – I hope he is OK for Easter week-end. Andy D’Urso (he of the great Keane quote “we wouldn’t have chased him if he’d stopped running way”) seemed to be unable to tell the difference between a hard tackle and assault. He waved on on numerous occasions in the last quarter of an hour when he should probably have been getting cards out.
With 5 minutes to go Chopra went off. By this time, despite my pre-match fears, I’d forgot he was even playing.
With 3 minutes injury time shown the Cardiff crowd, who had contributed to a great atmosphere, started to pour out. I’ve whinged on about a large section of the SoL crowd doing this before – but nothing encourages me as a nervous away supporter than seeing the home crowd leaving – I can only assume it has the same effect on the away players and the opposite effect on the home players.
Anyway we stood firm and another three great points were ours. Ha’way me bonny lads.
John aka Herts