It's done, if perhaps not dusted,
City are up. It's a shame that City are unlikely to be Champions,
their attacking power deserved it, but they've been undone by
defensive lapses. Chesterfield and Brighton may have ground out
results but Cardiff hammered teams. Exeter boss, Noel Blake, must
have considered enforcing early retirement on his eleven players
after the 6-1 drubbing on New Year's Day and Bristol Rovers never
really recovered from the Earnshaw inspired thrashing in the Cup.
Credit to the players and especially Sam Hamman for acting quickly to put problems right. Once the backroom problems were resolved City set about the task of winning promotion with joyous intent. It was all in stark contrast to Frank Burrows' approach. He seemed to view flamboyance or skill as a threat. Earnshaw's brilliant goal against Hartlepool two seasons back consigned him to the reserves and a trip to Grenock Morton.
The team that Burrows led to relegation showed on more than one occasion that they had enough good football in them to survive in Division Two. That they didn't was an insult and an affront to supporters. This season's Cardiff team didn't seem frightened of winning.
When Sam Hamman took over City were in a mess, especially after Billy Ayre was wrongly awarded a new contract by the previous board. Ayre began a rapid descent from the moment he led Cardiff to a 2-1 opening day victory at Exeter. He was soon demoted to head then assistant coach. Had he stayed he'd be driving the youth team coach by now. There was a tinge of sadness when he left Ninian, sadness that he hadn't been booted out months before.
Bobby Gould then began his loud but brief stint in charge. Like Ayre he was replaced after only one defeat - a 2-1 fold-up at Orient. After that it was apparent that he had been told to shut up and keep a low profile. Cork must have feared the worst when he was handed the reins, perhaps that's why he took City on a 14 match unbeaten run that proved the backbone of the promotion rush. During that run Gould stated he would not attend a match until City were beaten, absurdly considering himself an unlucky omen.
Cork added a tenacity to the City team lacking the previous season. Under Burrows it only seemed like you had to score once to beat them. Lincoln defended a 2-1 lead in to the 90th minute only to lose 3-2. Days later with seconds to go Hartlepool were celebrating gaining a point at Ninian Park only to have it snatched away.
By the time Exeter graced Ninian Park on January the first City were odds on for promotion. City played with such attacking verve in the second half they managed the seemingly impossible task of sending their fans away slightly disappointed with a 6-1 win. A record win seemed on the cards.
City faltered in February, they lost at Brighton instead of inflicting a confidence sapping defeat on the seasiders. Perhaps their title hopes ended there. Confidence in away games fell away alarmingly. They put up little resistance at Blackpool, Lincoln, Cheltenham or Darlington. A single point at those games would have put City in pole position.
City have been incredibly active in the transfer market this season and probably have a larger squad than at any time since the mid 1970s. In those days City had to put out four teams every Saturday because of commitments in the Reserve, Welsh and Youth Leagues. Lack of reserve team action has certainly has cost them dearly.
City's squad is vast, unwieldly even, Carl Muggleton wears 41 on his shirt. It's difficult to keep up to date on the progress of players. Russell Perret and Jason Fowler seem to have evaporated.
The new players have been a mixed bunch and none of them has really been an unqualified success. Leo Fortune West has proved largely skill-less. He's a nusiance to defenders and effective in a blunt sort of way but it's difficult to see him prospering at a higher level. He also was hugely expensive. City paid well over the odds for him and the money could have been better spent. The same goes for Gavin Gordon. Mark Walton couldn't defend a corner or a cross. Daniel Gabbidon and Rhys Weston have undeniable potential but both have been guilty of defensive lapses.
The truth is City built there success on players they already had. Legg has been outstanding. He virtually won the home game against Torquay on his own overcoming the poor performances of his teammates through sheer willpower. His long throws and set pieces have created countless goals.
Earnshaw proved to be the revelation everybody believed he would be. Were you watching Frank Burrows? Effortlessly reaching 20 goals for the season before injury. His performance against Bristol Rovers was in the Michael Owen class.
Paul Brayson scored 12 goals from substitute performances and in may ways has more to his game than Earnshaw. Brayson would have grabbed bigger headlines this season at any other club. Scott Young, a defender and veteran of many a poor City team matured as a defender of some stature and also chipped in with 12 goals. A fantastic achievement.
Mark Bonner and Willie Boland have also distinguished themselves.
The question is: where do City go from here? An immediate return to Division Three is unthinkable but easily achieved as Frank Burrows proved. An assault on promotion should be the target. Preston and Rotherham and Bury have proved that in recent years.