It was difficult enough to remember, let alone conceive, that Cardiff City secured the result of the third round in defeating Leeds United. The performance that day was, of course, overshadowed by the antics of their owner, Sam Hammam, and tarnished by the unsavoury behaviour of some of their fans. A repetition of those infamous scenes was never likely with Prenton Park enduring the biggest police operation in the history of Tranmere Rovers.
There was also the small matter of Cardiff, despite taking a first-half lead, never looking like causing much excitement in the away end. Indeed, the scoreline far from flattered Dave Watson's side, who now have a fifth-round FA Cup tie to look forward to for the third season in succession. They began brightly and, led by the outstanding Jason Koumas, rarely let their grip on proceedings loosen.
If his performance was the benchmark then Jason Price and Paul Rideout, the other prongs on this three-man forward line, came close to matching it. Rideout, the hero in Everton's 1995 FA Cup triumph over Manchester United belied his 37 years and might have struck an early opener, but the Cardiff goalkeeper Neil Alexander easily collected his strike on the turn. Koumas tested Alexander with a free-kick that curled around the wall but, in Cardiff's first and only sustained period of first-half pressure, they were awarded a penalty. John Achterberg, the Tranmere goalkeeper, failed to hold a corner and, in the scramble that followed, Clint Hill tripped Daniel Gabbidon and Graham Kavanagh converted from the spot.
The lead was short-lived, though, as Rideout made amends for his early profligacy. Price was offered time and space on the right and his measured cross was headed firmly home by the veteran, though how a player of such pedigree could be left unmarked in the box should instigate a defensive inquest at Ninian Park. Cardiff's only subsequent opportunity of note fell to Andy Legg, whose narrow-angled volley never troubled Achterberg.
Rideout should have given Tranmere the lead shortly after the interval when Hill headed a Mickey Mellon corner into his path, but from three yards he squirted his shot wide. The breakthrough came courtesy of a dreadful error by Des Hamilton, who, on the greenest patch on an otherwise mud-caked pitch, under-hit a pass to his keeper. From an acute angle, Sean Flynn squeezed the ball through Alexander's legs.
More chances followed as Tranmere persisted with their confident passing game and though Koumas twice squandered openings, his persistence paid off when he curled home neatly from the edge of the box after Scott Young initially blocked Mellon's shot.
The performance delighted Watson and, though he conceded the League was his priority, he insisted that players love a Cup run. "It's much better than training,'' he joked.
Alan Cork, Watson's opposite number, was honest and succinct in his assessment of proceedings: "They stopped us playing and performed very well. I'm disappointed because we were so thoroughly beaten.''
Goals: Kavanagh (21 pen) 0-1; Rideout (23) 1-1; Flynn (53) 2-1; Koumas (79) 3-1.
Tranmere Rovers (4-3-3): Achterberg; Yates, Sharps, Hill, Roberts; Mellon, Henry, Flynn; Price, Rideout, Koumas. Substitutes not used: Parkinson, Barlow, Allison, Hinds, Murphy (gk).
Cardiff City (3-5-2): Alexander; Weston, Young, Gabbidon; Hamilton (Bowen, 58), Bonner, Kavanagh, Boland (Low, 69), Legg; Bryson (Collins, 59), Fortune-West. Substitutes not used: Maxwell, Giles.
Referee: A Kaye (Wakefield).
Bookings: Tranmere: Achterberg. Cardiff: Legg, Kavanagh.
Man of the match: Koumas
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