Cardiff City in FA Cup final after 81 years

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.

Cardiff-born Ledley’s first-half volley at Wembley was enough to set up a final clash against Portsmouth on May 17 and make City the first Championship club to reach English football’s showpiece match 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 senior football 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 more than £20-million. Now they can dream of emulating that 1927 triumph.

“It was a difficult ball coming down but I just hit it, the luck was in,” said midfielder Ledley (21) of his ninth-minute strike. “It’s great for the fans.
We’ll go into the final with confidence and try to win it.”

Bluebirds boss Jones added: “I won’t get 1927 rammed down my throat any more. It was a tough game but entertaining. Everyone today did their part and there were spells in the game when Barnsley were on top. But we kept our nerve and control. For our football club, with everything that’s gone on this year, it’s a fantastic achievement.”

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.

It might have been a different story at Wembley if Kayode Odejayi, Barnsley’s match-winner against Chelsea, had made the most of a glorious chance in the 67th minute. The Nigerian striker had an age to pick his spot but only managed to shoot tamely into the side-netting.

“We had chances, I felt we were always in the game but it just wasn’t to be,” said a rueful Davey. “All the players deserve a lot of credit for what they’ve done and I am proud of every one of them.”

Reflecting on Odejayi’s opportunity, Davey added: “He’s outstripped the defence and unfortunately he’s missed the target. He’ll be disappointed but we lose together and we win together. We’ve got to make sure we stay in this division and now, after today, we’ve got six ‘cup finals’.”

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

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

Ledley’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 Odejayi’s goalbound header was alertly cleared by Glenn Loovens.

Cardiff’s former England winger Trevor Sinclair went close to a second goal before he preserved City’s lead by hacking Istvan Ferenczi’s shot off the line.

Then came Odejayi’s chance and with his miss went Barnsley’s hopes.

For much of the decade Cardiff had played host to the Cup final at the Millennium Stadium while Wembley was being rebuilt. Now the city’s team will get a taste of the big occasion themselves.—Sapa-AFP

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