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MANCHESTER CITY'S defeat at the hands of Second Division Cardiff City was probably among the more predictable Premier League cullings by lower division teams. But what couldn't have been foreseen - particularly in the light of the news of Francis Lee's long-delayed takeover - was the Mancunian side's abject surrender of a game that might have been able to turn their wretched season around.
Manchester City's beleaguered manager Brian Horton described the result as 'desperately disappointing'. His future may well be one of the first items on the new owner's agenda.
In contrast, Cardiff City will go into today's draw for round five fearing nobody. Eddie May's team revealed a profound spirit and locally-drawn passion that should see their cup odds - an insulting 500-1 before the game - come tumbling down. Their second-half performance in particular - completed by a stunning winning goal from the striker Nathan Blake - would have been sufficient to threaten even Manchester's other team.
Misleadingly, the visitors announced their determination to avoid embarrassment by lining up with a five-man midfield, leaving Lomas, Kernaghan and Curle - returning after a four- game absence - at the back, and Vonk to partner Griffiths up front. This strategy gave them a degree of early domination, but gradually Cardiff's busy midfielders, Nicky Richardson and Mark Aizlewood, began to find the space they needed. Blake's headed flick found the veteran Garry Thompson, whose shot flashed just past Tony Coton's left- hand post. Rattled, City responded immediately with Vonk's header from Lomas's deep free-kick, forcing a save from Mark Grew.
Cardiff's gradual ascendancy was confirmed before the half-time whistle, first by Millar's shot from Searle's threaded pass, and then by a curling shot from Searle himself. Coton beat down the first, and had to move sharply to smother the second. Justifiably, Cardiff left the field to a dragon's roar of approval.
The sustained assault on the Manchester goal continued immediately after the break, with Richardson's low drive beating Coton but just going wide. With the rain lashing down again and the pitch looking like the tide had just retreated into Cardiff Bay, this was the time to find out just how much the Mancunians had left in their reservoir of spirit. The answer was very little.
Cardiff, prompted incessantly by the tireless Richardson, simply swarmed all over their downcast superiors. The winning goal, in the 63rd minute, spoke volumes about City's form. An aimless clearance gave Cardiff a throw-in level with the penalty area and from Griffith's quick throw, Blake shimmied first to his left, then turned inside to curl a shot high into the top right-hand corner of Coton's net. The resultant cascade of noise could easily have belonged to the city's rugby stadium.
Almost immediately, Manchester had an equaliser disallowed, Vonk adjudged to have moved too early to turn in a long cross, and their dismay was compounded when Coton - after a sprawling clash with Griffith - was carried from the field.
Nevertheless, they were given one final lifeline with 10 minutes remaining. David Rocastle's run into the Cardiff box enticed a mistimed tackle from Searle. But Curle could only hit a weak penalty which Grew smothered joyously.
City were spent, Cardiff rampant, and Curle's move into attack merely underlined the bankruptcy of the vistors' approach. The new chairman's Caribbean suntan will have turned a whiter shade of pale as the reports of this ignominous defeat reach him.
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