Welsh delight as Bluebirds take flight

THE Bluebirds are flying high, and not even the prospect of a turbulent flight back home could hold any fears for the victors.

“The plane will be rocking anyway,” Dave Jones, the manager insisted after Cardiff City added the latest twist to a ridiculously open FA Cup.

This year’s competition has become a by-word for dashed Premier League hopes, Middlesbrough’s fall from grace leaving Portsmouth as the top flight’s sole representatives.

After the competition’s 13-year monopoly by the ‘big four’ it’s a refreshing change, even if the Football Association’s vision of a Wembley showpiece semi-final weekend is shaping up to look more like the Football League play-off finals.

“It’s the year of the underdog,” claimed Jones, who revealed he had vetoed a request for champagne from his players after only their second victory in eight games, both in the cup.

Two goals up early on, a side becalmed in Championship mid-table made light work of a third away draw in four rounds to seal their first semi-final appearance in 81 years, on which occasion they became the only club to spirit the cup out of England.

“I have 1927 rammed down my throat every day,” Jones added. “It’s a long road and we’re building towards a bright future. You’ve got to dream.”

There was nothing fortunate about this victory against a desperately poor Middlesbrough side and it would be grossly unfair on Cardiff to put the result down singularly to the ineptitude of Gareth Southgate’s side, as much as they were shockingly below-par.

Victory brings a welcome injection of around e3million to a club which appears in the high court later this week over debts of e38million. “I don’t know what this win means for our financial future,” Jones added. “I’ll leave it to the people who know what they’re doing to sort the court case out.”

Cardiff had the tie won inside its opening quarter, Peter Whittingham’s neat drag-back after nine minutes saw him easily evade Fabio Rochemback while three defenders stood off and admired as the midfield player curled his seventh goal of the season into the top corner.

It was the first FA Cup goal Middlesbrough had shipped in 381 minutes and worse was to follow when Roger Johnson doubled the lead shortly afterwards.

Emanuel Pogatetz neglected his marking duties at Whittingham’s floated free-kick into the box, and Johnson, with an inch-perfect run, made the most of his freedom to plant an angled header past Mark Schwarzer from six yards.

The lead should have been more emphatic. An unmarked Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink was guilty of heading wide at the near post from Tony Capaldi’s cross, while Johnson, from another Whittingham free-kick, should have repeated his earlier goal-scoring feats.

Afonso Alves forced a fine first-half save from the otherwise largely unemployed Cardiff keeper Peter Enckelman but as an attacking force, that was it from Boro. “We were beaten by the better team and can have few complaints,” admitted Southgate.

MIDDLESBROUGH (4-4-2): Schwarzer 5, Young 5, Huth 7, Wheater 5, Pogatetz 5, O’Neil 5 (A Johnson 57, 4), Rochemback 4, Arca 4, Downing 4, Alves 6 (Mido 46, 4), Sanli 5.

Subs Not Used: Turnbull, Boateng, Grounds.

CARDIFF (4-4-2): Enckelman 7, McNaughton 8, R Johnson 8, Loovens 8, Capaldi 7, Rae 7, Whittingham 9, McPhail 8, Ramsey 8, Parry 7 (Sinclair 83, 6), Hasselbaink 7 (Thompson 77, 6).

Subs Not Used: Oakes, Purse, Blake.

REFEREE: Mike Dean (Wirral) 7: Played his part by whenever possible allowing play to flow. No real controversies to deal with despite a physical edge to the contest.

MATCH RATING: **** Whittingham’s early strike threw the contest wide open to provide the ideal ingredient for the neutral.

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