City’s, ultimately successful, promotion challenge in 2000/01 was based on a free scoring attack, but, about two thirds of the way through that season, their bid to get out of the Football League’s basement had gone off the rails somewhat because the goals had dried up. City only failed to score in seven of their forty six league matches that year, but three of those came in successive matches in February as a 0-0 home draw with Rochdale was followed by single goal defeats at Brighton and Blackpool.
Usually around that time a goal “drought” consisted of forty five minutes without one because, with the prolific Robert Earnshaw around, you knew a lack of goals was never going to be anything more than a short term problem. The trouble was though that Earnie had been missing for those three goalless matches as he was ruled out by an injury sustained in training (allegedly from a over robust challenge by team mate Scott McCulloch) and would not be back for a few more games yet.
Earnie’s injury should have meant a chance for Gavin Gordon to justify his £500,000 transfer fee, but he had been sent off in the game at Brighton and would have to serve a suspension soon. With another expensive newcomer Leo Fortune -West (£300,000) going through something of a lean spell with just three goals from his last eleven matches, City’s striking options were looking relatively (I emphasise that word!) thin on the ground and manager Alan Cork would soon be forced into adding to what was already a huge squad for the division we were in at that time as Stoke man Kyle Lightbourne arrived on a month’s loan. Besides the players I have already mentioned, we had the likes of Bowen, Brayson, Nogan and the free scoring Scott Young (well, for a centre half anyway!) to call on, but if there was any shock in us having to bring in another forward, it was probably more to do with the fact that we didn’t spend another half a million or so to get him here!
Mind you, we still had an expensive newcomer making his debut (we seemed to have one every fortnight back in those days), when mid table Scunthorpe United’s visit gave us the chance to get back amongst the goals – this time around it was centre half David Hughes who had been signed from Shrewsbury for £450,000. Hughes’ first appearance meant that attention would be likely to be focussed on the team’s defenders more than normal and that is exactly what happened, but it was another one of them, who cost about double what Hughes did, who ended up making the headlines.
Danny Gabbidon had been signed from West Bromwich Albion a few months earlier after an initial loan deal and it has never really been settled how much we ended up paying for him, but, suffice it to say that we ended with very little change from £1 million. Although he would develop into the best defender I have seen in a City shirt, I think that it was only in the following season, when he moved into the centre of our defence, that Gabbidon really began to show how good he was. For that first season with us, Gabbidon was looking an above average performer by the standards of the basement division but no more than that – he was almost exclusively used as a full back cum wing back and, although he showed some ability going forward, he had done little until that day to suggest he offered any sort of goal threat.
Ordinarily, facing a team with as poor an away record as Scunthorpe’s would have City supporters anticipating another one of the big wins they had grown used to that year – Scunny had won just two of their thirteen games on the road and had lost 6-0 to Blackpool in their last away match. However, there were few signs of City ending their goalless run in an opening half an hour which saw them more tense than normal in the final third of the pitch and a crowd, which was only just over half as big as the one for the previous game at Ninian Park, were starting to get a bit restive when Danny Gabbidon stepped forward to end the drought.
When the goal finally did arrive thirty five minutes in, it was certainly nothing spectacular as Gabbidon got the final touch from close in following a trademark long throw by Andy Legg, but it’s importance was emphasised by the way City upped their game for the rest of the first half and three minutes before the break, Gabbidon was on hand again to double the lead. If Gabbidon’s first ever goal in City colours was nothing much to write home about, then the same could not be said about his second one as a powerful shot from the edge of the penalty area flew into the net almost before visiting keeper Evans had moved.
In seven short minutes all of the tension which had built up in that period of 313 minutes without a goal had disappeared and thoughts turned to how many a City team which made a habit that season of going straight for the jugular of wounded opponents would score. Perhaps understandably though, the emphasis throughout the second half seemed more set this time on making sure they got the job done and it took the intervention of another defender to add to the score sheet.
Left back Matt Brazier had signed for City on a full time basis about eighteen months earlier following a very successful loan spell from QPR during the 1998/99 promotion campaign, but, like so many other loan signings who have the security of a contract behind them when they return, he had not been able to reproduce his earlier form amid reports of him having to miss matches because of a stress related illness. This was one of the good days of Brazier’s second spell with us though as, within a minute of coming on for Josh Low, he made it 3-0 as he profited from some substandard goalkeeping.
Three goals clear with half an hour to go, City sauntered to a win in a relaxed manner which had seemed inconceivable less than sixty minutes earlier and thirty two more goals in their remaining sixteen matches ensured that the self doubts which had become apparent were never seen again. Promotion was clinched at York with three games still left to play as Leo-Fortune West’s hat trick gave them the point they needed, but, looking back now, it does seem odd that a squad with so many goals in it had to rely on the contribution of a young full back to kick start their campaign again.
17 February 2001
Cardiff City 3 Scunthorpe United 0
City Walton; Young, Legg, Hughes; Low (Brazier 1), Boland, Weston, Bowen, Gabbidon (2) (McCulloch); Fortune-West (Nogan), Brayson Subs (not used) Jordan, Gordon
Scunthorpe Evans; Jackson, Stanton, Thom (Wilcox), Dawson; Hodges (Groves), Larusson, Calvo-Garcia, Stamp; Sheldon, Ipoua (Quailey); Subs (not used) Harsley, Berry