I always say I can’t choose between Ronnie Bird and Chris Pike whenever the subject of the best penalty taker you’ve seen at Cardiff comes up for discussion – both men took something like fifteen penalties for us each and missed just the one (Bird at the Vetch in a Welsh Cup tie in 1970 and Pike in a top of the table clash with Barnet in 1992) – if I really had to choose, I think I’d probably go for Pike because I get the feeling he took one or two more than Bird, but it’s very hard to separate them.
However, if you think of penalty taking as an art and put that together with it being probably the biggest test of nerve an individual gets in this team game, then another name springs to mind. Peter Thorne only took five penalties for us, but he never looked like missing one (that is, once you’d worked out what his method was!) and, if the measure of someone’s ability from the spot is the amount of confidence you have in them when they begin their run up to the ball, then Thorne was the best penalty taker I’ve seen for the club. I can remember watching Thorne’s first penalty for us against Gillingham at Ninian Park and thinking you lucky so and so as what seemed to be a scuffed shot rolled gently into the net in a fairly central position with the keeper Bossu having committed to going the other way – it looked like a replay of Andy Campbell’s infamous miss from the spot a few months earlier against Leeds except that Thorne was lucky that the keeper had guessed wrong.
Less than a month after that, City were awarded a penalty with the score 0-0 well into the second half against Forest. This time we were attacking the Grange End and so I had a better view of Thorne’s technique as he took a slow run up and, once again, rolled the ball not too far from the centre of the goal, yet the Forest keeper Gerrard was powerless to stop it. From closer range, I was able to see that Thorne had waited for Gerrard to show a sign of committing to going one way and then made sure he put the ball in the opposite direction – it didn’t need to be a powerful shot because there was no way the keeper could recover their balance enough to get there. Thorne took two penalties in away matches, at Leeds and Stoke, and he shut the racket being made by the home supporters out of his mind to score using exactly the same method. The one at Stoke was the last one Thorne took for us and by now keepers facing one of his penalties must have known what was coming, but the experienced Steve Simonsen was just like the rest – he blinked first in the poker game with Thorne and found himself picking the ball out of the net.
I can’t say for certain, but my impression now is that as many as three of the keepers Thorne beat did not even dive, they just put their weight on the one foot and were then unable to shift their balance quick enough to get to the gently rolling ball that was frustratingly just out of their reach. From memory, Brighton’s inexperienced American keeper David Yeldell didn’t dive when Thorne beat him sixteen minutes into what was a crucial game at Ninian Park in February 2005 between two sides too close to the relegation places for comfort. The penalty had been awarded when Richard Langley was fouled while trying to reach an Alan Lee header that had hit the bar and there were very few protests from the visitors about referee Russell’s decision.
With Brighton averaging less than a goal a game that season, they were always going to struggle after going behind and three minutes later (with still less than twenty minutes played), the game was as good as over when young centre half James Collins powered in a header from a Graham Kavanagh free kick out near the right hand touchline. City’s superiority was such at this point that the opportunity was there for a really big win, but, despite a run of improved results since the turn of the year, confidence had been dented by a first half of the season which has seen us perched just above the bottom three for most of the time. Therefore, City were perfectly happy to sit on their 2-0 lead and the rest of the match became a bit of a bore. That all round nice guy Leon Knight forced a good save from Neil Alexander (who had recently regained his place in the team after more than a year out which had seen him ranked below Tony Warner and Martyn Margetson in the goalkeeping pecking order at times) when the visitors threatened for just about the only time, but there was precious little to keep the crowd enthused.
Not that anybody was too bothered about that – the win took us seven points clear of the bottom three with a significantly better goal difference than those around us, it seemed we could start forgetting about relegation. The thing was though that, despite the long running saga regarding the proposed new stadium, the full extent of the club’s financial problems were still not known. However, when City next played on a Saturday at Ninian Park three weeks later, it was the day after Black Friday and we had sold Kav amid fears that, never mind relegation, there might not be a Cardiff City to support next season.
Under the circumstances, it was little wonder that the forward momentum of the early weeks of 2005 was, largely, lost and a 3-0 defeat at Preston in April looked at the time as if it could be a fatal blow to our chances of staying up. The team rallied from there though and two wins and two draws from our last four matches left us four points clear of the drop zone in sixteenth place. It had been a close run thing, but, in truth, City were just a decent goalscorer short of being a mid table team. The fact that they didn’t lose a single match to any of the bottom six clubs shows that City were better than the other teams who had spent the season fighting the drop and, unlike recent, more successful, City teams they were able to comfortably dispatch the three sides destined to go down at home – bottom placed Rotherham were beaten by a couple of Peter Thorne headers and Gillingham and Forest were seen off by 3-1 and 3-0 respectively with Thorne getting a couple in each match – significantly though, it had needed one of his ice cool penalties to put us ahead in either game.
12 February 2005
Cardiff City 2 Brighton and Hove Albion 0
City Alexander; Weston, Gabbidon, Collins (1), Barker; McAnuff, Kavanagh, Inamoto (Bullock), Langley; Thorne (1), Lee (Ledley) Subs (not used) Warner, Vidmar, Williams
Brighton Yelldell; Virgo, Hinshelwood, Butters; Reid (Harding), Nicolas, Carpenter, Jones (Watson), Mayo (Hart), McCammon, Knight Subs (not used) May, Hammond