When Anthony Gerrard missed Cardiff City’s fifth penalty in yesterday’s shootout, he fell to the floor in despair. Cardiff supporters held their heads in their hands as the Liverpool fans and players celebrated a first cup win in six years.
Yet it wasn’t long before they were singing again, proud of their team who fought hard over 120 minutes and contributed to a thrilling game. When Cardiff took the lead early in the first half following clever play from Kenny Miller and a great finish from Joe Mason, the blue half of the stadium erupted. Then they must have spent the rest of the half biting their nails as Liverpool drove forward.
Time and time again the ball was played into the box, yet Liverpool’s expensive attackers could find no way past the brilliant Cardiff defence. They blocked, tackled, headed and did anything that was required to stop Liverpool scoring.
The second half started in a similar fashion. Liverpool had a lot of possession but couldn’t force the ball home. Then, in the 64th minute, a corner wasn’t cleared and Liverpool defender Martin Skrtel poked the ball into the Cardiff net.
Towards the end of 90 minutes the effect of the effort put in started to take its toll on Cardiff players. Several suffered cramp, and the inspirational captain Hudson had to be substituted when his calf injury returned early in extra-time.
When Liverpool scored after three minutes of the second-half on extra-time, it seemed that was the end for Cardiff. Yet with several players limping, they found an extra gear and came back strongly at Liverpool. After a few minutes of heavy pressure, they were awarded a second corer in the space of a minute. A fantastic inswinging ball caused panic in the Liverpool box, and after goalscorer Dirk Kuyt missed his clearance, big defender Ben Turner was there to force the ball over the line and take the match to a penalty shootout.
There is no crueler way to lose in any sport than penalties. And even if for a short time it seemed Cardiff would win when Liverpool missed the first two, it was Cardiff who suffered. Yet all of the players should be proud of their performance and realise that they have what it takes to move up a level.
An exciting managerial prospect, Malky Mackay said afterwards that he was obviously disappointed but that Cardiff had to use this performance as a springboard to success in the Championship. The club has shown that they can compete against one of the giants of English football, and the mission for the players will be to get out of the Championship and into the Premier League to do it on a more regular basis.