I soon realised when putting this list together that, perhaps, a top five rather than a top ten would have been more appropriate in this case because I was hardly spoilt for choice. In the end, I decided to stick with a top ten, but the inclusion of a couple of cases where we won one game in a two leg tie but still went out on aggregate does rather tend to prove that giantkilling acts haven’t really been a forte of Cardiff City’s in the past half a century or so! Anyway, in reverse order here’’s my top ten underdog City wins since 1963;-
10. 5 September 1979 – Cardiff 1 Everton 0 Second Round League Cup (Second Leg)
A couple of Brian Kidd goals gave the First Division side a comfortable looking 2-0 lead to take into the Second Leg of this League Cup tie at Ninian Park, but City had a decent team that year and Everton were to have an uncomfortable night of it before they edged through to the Second Round. Not for the first or the last time, City found themselves denied by the heroics of goalkeeper George Wood – the man who would sign for us some nine years later produced a string of fine saves and was only beaten three minutes from time by a shot from substitute John Buchanan. Everton scraped through 2-1 on aggregate, but it was hard not to wonder if the outcome might have been different if normal penalty taker Buchanan had been on the pitch in the first half to take the spot kick which Wood saved when BillyRonson took what I’m pretty sure was the only penalty of his Cardiff career.
9. 15 January 1972 – Sheffield United 1 Cardiff City 3 FA Cup Third Round
I suppose the 5-1 defeat at Sheffield United in a promotion shoot out in April 1971 is one of our most famous games of the past half century, but it tends to be forgotten that a few months later City went up to Bramall Lane and gained at least a modicum of revenge for that devastating loss. City were big underdogs going into the match, because although the home side’s very impressive start to the life in the top flight after pipping us to promotion had all but petered out, we were in the midst of a shocking decline which saw us finish nineteenth in the Second Division that year compared to the previous campaign’s third. On the day though, City showed form which belied their league position to pick up a thoroughly deserved win in which, incredibly, both Don Murray and Dave Carver found the net (Bobby Woodruff got the other one).
8. 28 October 1986 Cardiff 2 Chelsea 1 Third Round League Cup
City owed their place in the Third Round to the fact that, in the previous round, they were awarded the tie when Luton refused to relax their ban on away supporters at their Kenilworth Road ground. As City were in the Fourth Division and Luton the First at that time, it’s likely that we would never have got the chance to face top flight strugglers Chelsea if it had not been for the Hatter’s intransigence. City made the most of their luck though as they came back from a half time deficit of 1-0 (courtesy of a Keith Jones goal) to win 2-1 thanks to a couple of goals from Nick Platnaeur who was making his first start for the club after signing from Birmingham. Platnaeur later made a successful switch to left back, but, at the time of this game he was still operating as a striker and he showed good goalscoring instincts to equalise with a fine header and then be in the position to bundle home the winner from point blank range.
7. 8 January 1977 – Cardiff City 1 Tottenham Hotspur 0 – FA Cup Third Round
Although Spurs had the likes of Pat Jennings and Glenn Hoddle in their side and City were in the middle to lower reaches of the old Second Division at the time, this was perhaps not the huge shock that many made it out to be later. After all, Spurs were a poor team destined to finish bottom of the First Division and,even without the recently signed Robin Friday (who was cup tied), City had the forward players to cause their very dodgy defence a lot of problems. The goal which completely changed Peter Sayer’s career came very early in the game and the youngster from Pentrebane took all of the post match headlines, but, my recollection is that Tony Evans terrorised Spurs all afternoon with his pace and ability. The second half saw the visitors dominate possession, but, although there were some hairy moments for them to survive, City held on to their narrow lead relatively comfortably.
6. 3 April 1968 Cardiff City 1 Moscow Torpedo 0 European Cup Winners Cup Quarter Final replay
City were a mid table Second Division side when they met Russian Cup winners Moscow Torpedo for a place in the last four of the European Cup Winners Cup and they took a handy lead into the second leg of the tie thanks to Barrie Jones’ header at Ninian Park. However, with the Russian winter making it impossible for the return leg to be played in Moscow, City faced a round trip of almost 7,000 miles to Tashkent (now the capital of Uzbekistan) near the Chinese border. Despite a resolute defensive effort and some fine saves by Bob Wilson, City were 1-0 losers leaving the sides level over the two games at a goal apiece. The rules of the tournament in those days deemed that a replay at a neutral ground should be played under such circumstances and so it was that City made it through to what would be a heartbreaking Semi Final clash with SV Hamburg courtesy of a solitary Norman Dean goal in a game played in Augsberg West Germany with Wilson, once again, heroic in goal.
The close scores in all three matches suggest that the sides were evenly matched and it has to be acknowledged that the tie was played in Torpedo’s off season, but City had to be play all three matches without a trio of cup tied first team regulars (Fred Davies, Les Lea and Brian Clark). Furthermore, the replay saw 21 year old local boy Richie Morgan make his first team debut at centre half in place of the injured Don Murray. Morgan found himself up against Russian International centre forward Eduard Strelstov (above) who just happened to be a convicted rapist (there is speculation that this was a politically motivated conviction though), but came through what has to have been a huge test with flying colours as City enjoyed one of their great nights in Europe.
5. 10 March 1971 – Cardiff City 1 Real Madrid 0 European Cup Winners Cup Quarter Final (first leg)
I’m sure it will surprise many to see this game as low as fifth in my list, but it has to be remembered that City lost the tie overall – having quite recently been able to watch the second leg for the first time, I can say we were quite unlucky to go out (it surprised me how comfortable City looked in the Bernabeau until a couple of quick goals around the hour mark knocked us back, but, even after that, we had one or two opportunities level the tie). Besides Brian Clark’s goal, my main memories centre around Nigel Rees’ distinctive running style which saw his head bobbing up and down a little like Paula Ratcliffe’s does now, Ian Gibson proving once again that he was a surpemely talented player and maybe the most ridiculous booking ever for Peter King.
The Real Madrid team of 1971 was nothing like the side they had ten years earlier or the galacticos filled outfits of recent years – it definitely was one of the more beatable Real sides of the last fifty years and with us at the top of the Second Division seemingly on the brink of a return to the top flight, it wasn’t anything like as big a shock as a Cardiff win over Real Madrid would be today. In saying that though, Real were third in the Spanish League when they beat us and they did manage to reach the Final of the Cup Winners Cup that year (Chelsea beat them in a replay), so the win has to be recognised as a genuine candidate for the title of our most historic ever and it certainly was a never to be forgotten night for those of us lucky enough to have seen it.
4. 29 January 1994 – Cardiff City 1 Manchester City 0 FA Cup Fourth Round
City’s reward for a notable replay win at Ayresome Park against Second Division Middlesbrough in the Third Round was a home tie with Premiership side Manchester City. At that time we were a pretty ordinary outfit in the third tier of the league system, but Manchester City have nearly always been the sort of side that lower division teams would quite fancy their chances against in a one off match on their own ground and I remember that one or two pundits beforehand were tipping us to cause an upset. In the event, City were the equal of their more illustrious opponents while the game was goalless and Nathan Blake’s superb effort was a goal fit to win any game. The visitor’s response to Blake’s beauty was quite impressive and the rest of the match became something of a backs to the wall struggle, but when Mark Grew saved Keith Curle’s harshly given penalty, it became one of those matches that brings about a feeling where I just know we are going to win – it’s been proven plenty of times that this feeling isn’t infallible mind!
It was always on the cards that City’s matchwinner wouldn’t be at Ninian Park for long and his goal only accelerated his departure. However, it would have been nice to have at least had Blake there to help reach the Quarter Finals for the first time since 1927, but, instead he was sold a few days before the home tie with Luton in a ridiculous deal in which much of the possible transfer fee was dependant on his new club (Sheffield United) avoiding relegation from the Premiership – being Cardiff City, the result was inevitable of course, Luton beat us with a dodgy goal and Sheffield United went down!
3. 9 March 2008 – Middlesbrough 0 Cardiff City 2 FA Cup Quarter Final
I can never understand why some City fans try to write off the achievement of reaching the FA Cup Final two years ago by saying we didn’t beat anyone worthwhile in getting there. Middlesbrough were a mid table Premiership side who must have thought they would never have a better chance of winning their first ever FA Cup, there was a full house inside the Riverside Stadium and the general consensus amongst the “experts” was that we were like lambs to the slaughter. What we got instead was, quite probably, the most complete performance I have seen from a Cardiff City side given the occasion and what was at stake.
We didn’t beat Middlesbrough that afternoon by relying on the desperate defending and fine goalkeeping which played a large part in many of the ten games I am recalling here, we gave them a football lesson from the first minute to the last. There wasn’t a weak performance in our side as a wonderful goal by Peter Whittingham and a well directed Roger Johnson header gave us a comfortable first half lead which Middlesbrough never threatened to claw back – the closing minutes being played out in front of empty home stands where previously there had been so much anticipation and confidence is an abiding memory of one of my favourite ever City matches.
2. 15 December 1964 – Sporting Lisbon 1 Cardiff City 2 European Cup Winners Cup Second Round (first leg)
Season 1964/65 saw City’s first ever sortie into European club competition and after a solitary Peter King over two tight games was enough to see off the Danes from Esjberg in the First Round, a Second Round pairing with holders Sporting Lisbon surely spelled the end of their adventure. This only seemed the more certain because of the fact that the first leg was going to be played away from home against opponents who had only a few months earlier turned around a 4-1 first leg deficit by hammering Manchester United 5-0 in Portugal.
Instead though, City went to Lisbon and pulled off an amazing 2-1 win – unpredictable winger Greg Farrell got the first goal, while veteran Derek Tapscott came up with the winner from out on the right touchline with an effort which looked more like a cross than a shot. Even so, there was till much to be done at Ninian Park in the return game before a place in the Quarter Finals could be claimed. Being so young at the time, I can’t remember much about the game which was played two days before Christmas, but, by all accounts, it was a fractious affair with the Portugese side not taking their imminent elimination from the competition they had won the previous season well at all. The game finished goalless and City progressed through to face Real Zaragoza – once again, City got a great result away from home as they came back from 2-0 down to draw, but a solitary goal defeat in the return leg marked the end of what had been a great first season in Europe for us.
1. 6 January 2002 – Cardiff City 2 Leeds United 1 FA Cup Third Round
I’m not sure I agree with those who claim that Leeds’ demise can be traced back to that fantastic Sunday afternoon (the seeds for the financial meltdown of that club were sown in the two years before the match in my view), but there is no doubt that their team were never quite the same after an experience that, clearly, left many of the household names in their team badly shaken. At the time, Leeds’ very expensively assembled and very highly paid team were doing the business – they were top of the Premiership and looking nailed on certainties for the Champions League qualification which had become essential if the books were to be balanced at the club.
By contrast, our very expensively assembled and very highly paid team (by non Premiership standards anyway) were inconsistent under achievers whose manager would be sacked within six weeks, but, for those ninety minutes, they gave the then best team in the land a hell of a game. Okay, playing against ten men for all of the second half helped and the old ground was intimidating enough without all the missiles and after match stupidity, but City were already causing Leeds problems when Spencer Prior gifted Mark Viduka a goal and their response to going behind was to play some great football which culminated in Graham Kavanagh’s equaliser. City were never able to recapture their earlier quality after it became eleven against ten, but Scott Young’s career defining moment was enough to earn a victory which, sadly, was never given the credit it deserved because of all the furore about our former owner’s headline grabbing antics and the after match violence.