Cardiff City 0 West Bromwich 0: Wembley pageant takes Albion eyes off promotion prize

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The Independent Football

A certain stadium in north-west London was occupying seemingly every mind at Ninian Park last night and as Cardiff and West Bromwich Albion alike looked forward to their dream day out and to the famous silverware that may just lie beyond this weekend's FA Cup semi-finals, a rather important league match passed by without a winner.

That is not to say that there was not endeavour in this stalemate; there were enough goalmouth incidents to grace most Championship encounters. It was just that with Wembley and the challenges of Portsmouth and Barnsley but a few days away the focus was slightly blunted and so inevitably was both defending and finishing.

West Bromwich may come to regret the poor timing of this game most. The Baggies would have returned into the automatic promotion spots with all three points, but now with six games remaining have an ever more ferocious dogfight. Promotion may well be the priority but the Cup has a strange habit of skewing priorities.

Surely this was the first time the Cardiff faithful have joined their visitors in song. Before kick-off all the K-Tel classics received an airing: "Que Sera", "We're going to win the Cup", "Wemberlee".... Indeed, it took a rendition of "Who put the ball In England's net" to remind that this was one of the most hostile grounds in the League.

West Bromwich were particularly sluggish in the opening stages and had Steve Thompson not committed the botchiest of all botch-ups in the seventh minute Tony Mowbray's defence would have paid. As it was, the Scot collected the ball from a Paul Parry pass in splendid and baffling isolation in the six-yard box, leaned back and came closer to connecting with cloud than net.

That should have stung the Baggies into action, but it was the 25th minute before they truly threatened and when they did it took a marvellous clearance off the line by Glenn Loovens to deny Zoltan Gera. A minute later they were almost in again when Peter Enckelman had to be at his most flexible to turn away Ishmael Miller's snap shot.

And so it continued. Then, on the hour mark, the referee, Martin Atkinson, seemingly assisted in keeping the sheets clean by denying a blatant penalty when Joe Ledley's goalbound shot crashed into Gera's right hand.

Ledley, perhaps still smarting at the injustice, failed to make the most of being unmarked when heading over Tony Capaldi's cross and when Carl Hoefkens blocked Parry after the impressive Trevor Sinclair had set up the striker. Then, up the other end, Enckelman made a double-save from point-blank range from Roman Bednar and Chris Brunt.

In the meantime, both managers had made all their substitutions. With a view towards Wembley maybe? Don't be daft.

Cardiff City (4-4-2): Enckelman; McNaughton, Johnson, Loovens, Capaldi; Sinclair, Rae, McPhail, Ledley; Parry (Whittingham, 48), Thompson (Feeney, h-t). Substitutes not used: Oakes (gk), Purse, Scimeca.

West Bromwich (4-5-1): Kiely; Hoefkens, Albrechtsen, Clement, Robinson; Gera (Brunt, 67), Greening, Pele, Koren (Phillips, 74), Morrison; Miller (Bednar, 66). Substitutes not used: Danek (gk), Barnett.

Referee: M Atkinson (West Yorkshire).