Ever since he had regained his first team spot around halfway through the 2005/06 season, Neil Alexander had been an automatic choice in City’s first eleven and the job of back up keeper at Cardiff had become a pretty thankless one. Tony Warner and Martyn Margetson had shared the job for a year or more, but, with Warner eventually being sold to Fulham and Margetson winding down his playing career before his move into coaching, there was a vacancy which was filled by Irishman David Forde, whose CV included spells at Barry Town and West Ham, who signed from Derry City in January 2007.
Forde’s arrival didn’t make many headlines as Dave Jones brought in five other players during that January transfer window to try and aid a promotion challenge which had got completely bogged down during a winless run lasting more than two months and, although the contributions of the new men was virtually nil during this time, a run of thirteen points from six matches had got the team back in the promotion frame when Preston arrived on 23 February for a Friday night televised six pointer at the top of the table.
City stood in seventh place six points off the second automatic promotion place, while Preston were fourth with three points more than us having played a game less, so a win for the visitors would have opened up a handy lead for them over us as the campaign went into it’s final quarter. Therefore, to hear Ali read out a City team which included Forde in goal for illness victim Alexander (the club had kept this very quiet in the build up to the game and I’m pretty sure that Alexander’s absence would have come as a shock to most City fans) as I arrived in the ground hardly increased confidence that we could deal with a visiting attack which included David Nugent who was banging in the goals that year and would soon be winning a full England cap.
With the rain emptying down, conditions weren’t great for keepers or defenders, but the solidly built Forde made a decent early save to calm any nerves as both teams rather cancelled each other out in the first half an hour or so in which the main talking point was probably City’s new keeper’s challenge on Nugent as they both went for a through ball. I mentioned that Forde was a solid citizen earlier and the more slightly built Preston striker was always likely to come off second best in any collision between the two of them. Indeed, it could even be said that Forde almost relished the physical challenge as he flew out of his goal to clear up the situation, but, although the immediate danger to City’s goal had been dealt with, Forde’s challenge, which left Nugent down and injured, could easily have earned him a red card in conceding a penalty on another day.
Looking at the pictures from the television coverage later on, I have to say that I don’t think City could have had many complaints if the decision had gone against them, but, in the event, play was allowed to continue and Nugent didn’t reappear after the break as Preston were forced to withdraw their best player as a result of the injury inflicted on him by Forde. Before Nugent was taken off though, City got themselves into the lead thanks to a goal two minutes before half time from the player who has turned out to be the best signing by far that Dave Jones made that January.
Peter Whittingham’s crisp finish after good work from Michael Chopra and Paul Parry was the highspot of a personal performance which was the best he had given since signing for the club some six weeks earlier, but his influence on the match became more marked in the early minutes after the break which saw a crazy period of three goals were scored in three minutes. The first came seven minutes after the interval when Michael Chopra received a pass from Roger Johnson and was brought down by Liam Chilvers for an obvious penalty which Chopra converted himself as he scored his twentieth goal of a great first season with the club, but within seconds, Preston had been given a penalty of their own when Johnson was adjudged to have fouled Nugent’s replacement Neil Mellor.
This time the decision was a more controversial one with doubts as to whether the offence had occurred inside the penalty area, but, I suppose that having, maybe, got away with one earlier, City couldn’t have too much cause for complaint this time - as it was, that fine penalty taker Graham Alexander took the chance to get his side back into the match using a unique toe ender style (I’ve seen him score a few since then using this method) to fire the ball past Forde into the roof of the net. City were then awarded a free kick straight from the kick off and Whittingham’s excellent dead ball delivery was headed back across keeper Andy Lonergan and into the corner of the net for a first ever City goal by Roger Johnson who celebrated with a run along the touchline in front of the Bob Bank which only has Michael Chopra’s hot boot celebration against Bristol City last season to rival it as the most memorable seen from a City player in recent years.
Things calmed down a bit after that, but City went further in front when Whittingham gave Alexander a case of twisted blood as a superb piece of skill left the Preston captain helpless to prevent the low cut back cross which laid a goal on a plate for Chopra. If Chopra’s free kick a few minutes earlier had been a two or three inches lower then the tap in given to him by Whittingham would have seen him completing a hat trick, but, as it was, his effort rebounded off the cross bar thereby robbing the top scorer of a goal from a free kick in a fourth consecutive home match.
Preston were a well beaten team by then though and the last few minutes saw Dave Jones give a chance to two of his less successful January buys in Jason Byrne and Matt Green (who with Simon Walton and Iwan Redan completed a quarter of flops brought in during that time) and the latter missed a good chance to make it five in the five minutes or so he had on the pitch before the final whistle signalled a victory which seemed very important at the time but was later rendered pretty meaningless by a run of just five points from our remaining eleven fixtures which left us tailed off in thirteenth place after being six points clear at the top at the end of October.
As for David Forde, he was given a chance to impress during the final six matches of that season in which I think I was in a small minority of supporters who thought he did quite well. Dave Jones obviously thought differently though because Forde never played another league game for us and, after loan spells at Luton and Bournemouth, joined Millwall when his City contract wasn’t renewed. Forde was first choice right from the start at his new club and he has now established himself as a reliable Championship quality keeper at Millwall who would have particularly enjoyed his fine save from Whittingham’s penalty on his return to Cardiff a couple of months ago.
23 February 2007
Cardiff City 4 Preston North End 1
City Forde; McNaughton, Johnson (1), Loovens, Ledley; Parry, Scimeca, McPhail, Whittingham (1); Chopra (2) (Byrne), Thompson (Green); Subs (not used) Gunter, Blake, Flood
Preston Lonergan; Alexander (1), St. Ledger, Chilvers, Hill; Whaley, McKenna Pergl, Pugh; Nugent (Mellor), Dichio (Agyemang); Subs (not used) Henderson, Sedgewick, Wilson