Ledley ends Cardiff's 81-year wait to reach the FA Cup final

Cardiff City booked a place in the FA Cup final for the first time in 81 years as Joe Ledley’s goal clinched a 1-0 semifinal win over Barnsley on Sunday.

Ledley’s first-half volley at Wembley was enough to set up a final clash against Portsmouth on May 17 and make Cardiff the first Championship club to reach English football’s domestic showpiece since Millwall in 2004.

The Welsh team’s last appearance in the final came way back in 1927 when they beat Arsenal to become the only non-English team to win the world’s oldest knockout competition.

Since then Dave Jones’s side have spent decades marooned in the lower divisions and they rank as one of the most unlikely finalists in FA Cup history.

The Bluebirds are 12th in the Championship and only narrowly avoided going into administration last month with debts of over £20-million. Now they can dream of emulating that 1927 triumph.

For Barnsley their first appearance in the semifinals for 96 years was tinged with sadness. The Titanic had sunk nine days before the Tykes were last at this stage and their hopes of a return to Wembley for the final went the same way.

Simon Davey’s team had given the Cup a welcome touch of romance this season with remarkable victories over Liverpool and Chelsea.
But they have taken their eye off the ball since knocking out Chelsea and woke up on Sunday morning to find themselves in the Championship relegation zone.

Cardiff had proved they could play on the big stage by outclassing Middlesbrough in the quarterfinals, and Jones’s team took the lead in the ninth minute.

When Tony Capaldi’s long throw was only half-cleared, Rob Kozluk could only head towards Ledley. The Wales midfielder hooked a superb dipping volley into the roof of Luke Steele’s net from just inside the penalty area.

The 21-year-old’s goal could have knocked the stuffing out of Barnsley but they came back well. Cardiff keeper Peter Enckleman gave them a helping hand when he completely missed a long punt into the area, but Kayode Odejayi’s goal-bound header was alertly cleared by Glenn Loovens.

That sent a wave of uncertainty through the Cardiff defence and Dennis Souza almost punished their nervousness with a header from Brian Howard’s corner that flashed wide.

Cardiff found their composure soon enough and when Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink’s shot was weakly parried by Steele, Trevor Sinclair looked certain to score. Instead Steele sprang across to bravely block Sinclair’s close-range effort.

Sinclair had been denied at one end but it was his turn to save the day moments later as the former England winger hacked Istvan Ferenczi’s shot off the line.

Gavin Rae was too close to Steele with a diving header from Ledley’s cross as Cardiff searched for a second goal after the break.

Odejayi, Barnsley’s match winner against Chelsea, had a glorious chance to outstrip even that memorable moment when he ran clean through in the 67th minute.

The Nigerian striker had an age to pick his spot but only managed to shoot tamely into the side-netting. It proved the decisive moment as the belief suddenly flooded out of Barnsley’s tiring players.

Cardiff breathed a sigh of relief and raised the tempo again. Peter Whittingham skimmed the crossbar with a curling long-range strike before Rae was denied by Steele moments later.—AFP

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