Cardiff City 2:3 Leicester City (4:3 pens)
A huge performance from City was not enough to get them to Wembley: after winning 3-2 on the night to level the tie they then crashed out at the penalty shoot-out stage…
Nigel Pearson reunited his old strike partnership of Fryatt and Howard for this play off showdown, with Waghorn and Spearing making way.
The game kicked off in a white hot atmosphere and Cardiff were in charge for th eopnein gspell, carving City’s defence up time after time.
After just 4 minutes Whittingham went clear, but sent his shot narrowly wide with only Weale to beat.
Two minutes later Whittingham forced Weale into a good save from a free-kick and then it was Chopra’s turn to go close, sending an effort wide when well placed. Boothroyd then fired a shot inches wide, before the home side made the breakthrough in the 21st minute.
Boothroyd nodded a long ball into the path of Chopra, who tucked the ball under the advancing Weale for a simple finish that left City with a mountain to climb.
They set about climbing that mountain three minutes later…
Fryatt got on the end of a through ball, the ball looped up onto Howard’s head and he nodded it back to Fryatt who fired in a shot on the run from 12 yards. Marshall half blocked it but the ball had enough momentum to trundle slowly over the line and it was the Leicester corner’s turn to celebrate.
City had their tails up now and ten minutes later they levelled the tie. A long free kick from Gallagher was nodded goalwards by Howard and the ball hit Hudson’s head and looped over the keeper and into the net for an unlikely own goal.
There were chances for Fryatt and Whittingham late in the half but the teams level on aggregate at the break.
That state of affairs did not last long into the second half as City delighted their noisy following making it 3-1 on the night in the 49th minute.
Gallagher’s corner from the right was cleared back to him and he delivered a precise cross to the far post where King was waiting unchallenged to nod the ball home.
For a while Cardiff’s heads went down and the crowd were quiet, a goalmouth scramble saw the ball cleared off Cardiff’s line, but City couldn’t add a fourth.
The home side then levelled the tie in the 70th minute and City Wembley dream began to unravel.
Referee Howard Webb and his linesmen failed to spot Chopra in an offside position before he was brought down by Bruce in the area. It was par for the course for Webb who’s officiating had grown increasingly erratic as the game progressed. Whittingham sent Weale the wrong way with an assured penalty and the whole stadium was transformed into a cauldron.
Bothroyd smashed a shot against the bar after a good run; Hobbs blocked a Chopra shot on the line and then Whittingham sent a free-kick against the bar as Cardiff piled on the pressure.
However, City almost booked a trip to Wembley late on when Howard saw his well struck volley beaten away by Marshall. The Bluebirds’ keeper then punched a Waghorn corner onto his own post in time added on, but there was no avoiding extra time.
The pace slackened a little in the additional half hour, but both sides had chances to win the tie.
A low drive from McCormack was tipped round the left hand post by Weale, and Etuhu forced a good save from the City keeper at his near post. Spearing then found Waghorn in space on the left and he chested down well before volleying wide of the right hand post.
But the two sides could not be seperated and the evening moved on to the dreaded penalty shoot-out…
At first things seemed to be going well for City. The shoot-out took place at the end where the visitors were housed and Berner coolly planted the ball past Marshall.
Chopra responded in kind and then Howard sent Marshall the wrong way, before McCormack levelled with another textbook spot kick.
Solano then sent an unstoppable shot past Marshall before Ledley’s low shot just evaded Weale to square at 3-3.
Then Kermorgant stepped up, and what was going through his mind we may never know.
He opted for a ridiculous delicate chip that Marshall shooed away with one hand and the Cardiff City stadium erupted.
It was a horrible moment, compounded when Kennedy took a proper penalty to put Cardiff in the driving seat.
Waghorn, with possibly his last kick in a City shirt hit a decent enough shot but Marshall flew to his left to tip it away and the season was over.
An inconsolable Waghorn had to be half dragged away as the home fans poured onto the pitch.
It was a devastating end to what will be looked back upon as a season of quite some achievement.
Nigel Pearson summed up the evening and the campaign: “Tough – it’s tough on the players. I think tonight our performance epitomised us this year. I think the commitment, desire, application was first rate. I can’t ask a great deal more. Once you get to a penalty shoot-out it’s about dealing with it and they’ve been better than us in it. There are a lot of very, very disappointed players in there and although the emotion’s a bit raw at the moment, I’m proud of what they’ve achieved this season.”
Cardiff: Marshall, McNaughton (Quinn 89), Hudson, Kennedy, Burke (Etuhu 60), Whittingham (McCormack 89), Ledley, Blake, McPhail, Chopra, Bothroyd. Subs Not Used: Enckelman, Gyepes, Wildig, Capaldi.
Leicester: Weale, Berner, Bruce, Hobbs, King, Dyer (Waghorn 72), Solano, Wellens, Gallagher (Spearing 72), Fryatt (Kermorgant 89), Howard. Subs Not Used: Logan, Vaughan, N’Guessan, Morrison.
Referee: S Bennett (Kent). Attendance: 26,033.