Cardiff 2-2 Derby (report)
Derby County were the visitors to Ninian Park today and came with one of the best away records in the league. The pre-match atmosphere was dominated by a rousing reception for ex-Cardiff Chairman Sam Hammam in recognition of his devotion to CCFC. As expected Kevin McNaughton was fit and replaced the suspended Kerrea Gilbert with James Chambers switching to right-back. Both teams started brightly with Derby immediately showing their positive intent. Steve Thompson was immediately in the thick of things for Cardiff and put himself all over the pitch obviously happy to be pair alongside the returning Michael Chopra again. The first clear chance for Cardiff came when Joe Ledley beautifully sidestepped his man to leave 3 on 2 for Cardiff, Ledleys pass was good to Chopra whose shot inexplicably went wide - half the ground thought it was in and Chopra could hardly believe it. With just over half an hour gone, Jon Stead reacted first in the Cardiff box but made poor contact when he really should have done better. Chopra missed another good chance before a lovely dummy and Thompson tough set him up again but again the Geordie failed to hit the target. Chopra could have had a hat-trick but looked nervous in the shot, perhaps guilty of trying to shoot too powerfully.
HT: Cardiff 0-0 Derby
Cardiff started positively after the break and Scimeca nearly caught Bywater out with an early shot which the former Bluebirds loan-'keeper kept out 1 handed from 20 yards. Cardiff fans didn`t have to wait too long to take the lead. After 52 minutes, a Paul Parry corner from the right found GLENN LOOVENS in space whose firm downward header was unstoppable for the big Dutch defenders 1st of the season. Derby were still positive and showed good attacking intent, they had a good penalty shout turned down 4 minutes later when James Chambers appeared to take the man rather than the ball but his tackle on Jon Stead was deemed fair by Andy Marriner the referee causing Billy Davies obvious grief on the touchline. A brief calm in the game allowed a tender moment when Sam Hammam rose to chants of his name and displayed a textbook ayatollah in the Director's box inspiring chants of 'We want Sam Hammam, walking round the pitch'.
Glenn Loovens went off with a probable head injury on 62 minutes and walked off groggily to be replaced by Roger Johnson and it was just 4 minutes later that Derby found the equaliser. A cross by right-back Richard Jackson was met by £1million striker and former City target whose header across goal found the top corner. The game was end-to-end until this point but a period of relative calm ensued interrupted by speculative Paul Parry and Jon Stead shots. Cardiff however were the team to grab the initiative on 74 minutes when fantastic build-up play involving Steve Thompson set up MICHAEL CHOPRA to fire home from inside the penalty area to send City 2-1 up. To be fair to Derby they didn`t give up but Cardiff's harrying and work rate was exceptional in front of the 17371 crowd, not so many as in recent games but a good crowd none the less. 4 minutes of injury time were announced and Derby grabbed an equaliser via a stunning volley by Giles Barnes after a McNaughton clearing header. Jackson was again the provider with the good cross but nothing can be taken away from the brilliance of the strike. The strike deflated Cardiff who should really have killed the game off by then and Steve Howard had a guilt-edged chance to win in but hit his shot wastefully wide with a minute to go. A real let-off for Cardiff.
FT: Cardiff 2-2 Derby
Michael Chopra was named man of the match, but could easily have scored a hat-trick and wrapped the game up long before the end but Derby never looked out of the game and grabbed a last-gasp point. Cardiff's energy was extremely impressive and Chopra was inspired up front - his clever runs causing Derby no end of problems but his uncharacteristic lack of finishing cost him and City had to settle for a point. Joe Ledley looked back to his best, full of running and especially impressive in attack whilst fulfilling his defensive duties admirably.
Cardiff keep a 4 point lead at the top after Preston and West Bromich both lost but will be disappointed to drop 2 points right at the death. A touching farewell to Sam Hammam followed and we now turn to a visit to Roy Keane's Sunderland on Tuesday evening where another good performance will be needed to take anything from the game. Cardiff will rue their missed chances and be frustrated with the result but the performance showed that the bubble has not burst and Cardiff are still a force to be reckoned with.