Cardiff defy nerves to secure final homecoming

Bristol City 0 Cardiff City 0 <i>Cardiff win 1-0 on aggregate</i>
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The Independent Online

It may be one of the shortest trips they will ever make but Cardiff City's visit to the Millennium Stadium a week on Sunday will almost be one of their most momentous after they battled their way past Bristol City to the Second Division play-off final last night.

It may be one of the shortest trips they will ever make but Cardiff City's visit to the Millennium Stadium a week on Sunday will almost be one of their most momentous after they battled their way past Bristol City to the Second Division play-off final last night.

A goalless draw has rarely been so ecstatically received by a travelling support who endured a night as tense as they get. Bristol City were deserved of a goal to negate Peter Thorne's first-leg header, have no doubt of that, but Cardiff somehow managed to overcome their jittery emotions and withstand a tide of red that surged from whistle to whistle.

May be it was the tantalising prospect of a visit to that glittering stadium that graces their own city that had made the Cardiff nerves jangle so. While Bristol City visited the Millennium Stadium barely six weeks ago when winning the LDV Trophy, Cardiff had been made to undertake their admiring of the grand construction from the outside.

And they did plenty of onlooking in the opening stages last night as Tommy Doherty, in particular, took an early grip on proceedings. The Bluebirds flapped around with little direction in a ground where they succumbed 2-0 in the League just three weeks before.

Saying that, with Robert Earnshaw at the head of their attack, Cardiff will always be a danger and Steve Phillips had to be alert to pick the ball off the little striker's head from a Willie Boland cross after 13 minutes.

Christian Roberts, the Robins' own Cardiff product, saw his stinging drive from 25 yards saved by Neil Alexander two minutes later, but this only served to wake up Cardiff. Twice Earnshaw came close, once with a left-foot volley in the 27th minute and then, even more audaciously, with an overhead kick that whistled narrowly past three minutes later.

That Cardiff were able to resist the onslaught that started the second half was down to resolute defending and one exquisite save from Alexander as Ashton Gate rose to its feet for the equaliser. Lee Peacock and Scott Murray had tried in vain to convert the advantage, before Brian Tinnion's header in the 68th minute that looked all the world a goal. Alexander, however, dived full length to turn it away.

The wind was still in the English sails, but Cardiff realised that the roughest stuff had been weathered. Bristol City poured forward but when Spencer Prior was not there to clear up, Daniel Gabbidon was on hand to do the honours. And honours never seemed closer to Cardiff when the whistle finally came.

Bristol City (4-4-2): Phillips; Carey, Butler, Coles, Hill (Beadle, 78); Murray, Burnell (Amankwaah, 69), Doherty, Tinnion; Roberts (Lita, 60), Peacock. Substitutes not used: Bell, Stowell (gk).

Cardiff City (4-4-2): Alexander; Weston (Croft, 37), Prior, Gabbidon, Barker; Boland, Kavanagh, Whalley, Legg (Bonner, 76); Thorne, Earnshaw (Campbell, 86). Substitutes not used: Margetson (gk), Bowen.

Referee: J Winter (Cleveland).

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