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03/04: Reports:

Nationwide Division One, 28/10/03, 7.45pm
Cardiff City
Human nature
By Matt Rowson

Regular readers of this column may recall from an earlier preview's-worth of ranting the problems that I've had identifying a reputable plumber to replace a cantankerous boiler.

I'm happy to be able to report (and am taking care to touch wood as I type this) that chez Rowson is now furnished with brand new Combi boiler and boasts not only warm radiators but also hot water from hot water taps. Crucially, this has meant an end to ice-cold showers, an invigorating experience that was nevertheless becoming increasingly likely to result in heart failure as the seasons changed. The relief is something akin to what one might feel if Micah, Heidar, Richard Lee and Gavin Mahon all reported fit for Tuesday evening, Robbo won the lottery, bought out his contract at West Brom and re-signed for the Hornets, and Johnno reappeared offering to play for free and bulldozed his way back into the side with performances to compare with those of four years ago. Or something.

The gentleman who played the instrumental and previously problematic role of installing the thing was recommended via a friend of my grandmother's. Not only did he display a commitment to the job that Heidar himself would have been proud of, but when, on arriving to complete the final odd jobs, he noticed that Tsega's Fiesta had a flat tyre with her late for work he saved the day by changing it for her. It should go without saying that this is the kind of thing that reaffirms your trust in human nature.

And frankly, we could do with a similarly pleasant surprise on Tuesday evening. Last Saturday was spent in thoroughly affable company in Whyteleafe, and whilst it's twenty years since we played a league game at Ninian Park the reputation that Cardiff has couldn't suggest a starker contrast. Colours might be scarce on Tuesday evening.

On the pitch, City have a very experienced squad and occupy a comfortable mid-table position. Injuries and suspensions are proving an obstacle, however, particularly in attacking positions. Defensively they look strong, but three of their last five games have ended goalless.

In goal will be Neil Alexander, a recent call-up to the Scottish national squad who arrived from Livingston two years ago. His cover is the former Manchester City man Martyn Margetson.

Regular right-back Rhys Weston, a Welsh international, is out with a cartilage injury, but former Grimsby and Ipswich fullback Gary Croft, the first man to play a league game wearing a security tag, has impressed in his absence. On the left, Chris Barker was a 600,000 signing from Barnsley two years ago can also cover in the centre.

The central pairing looks particularly strong; former Middlesbrough man Tony Vidmar has almost seventy caps for Australia, whilst Danny Gabbidon has looked hugely impressive in his games for the Welsh national side. Spencer Prior, who has done the rounds of Division One clubs over the years, is generally on the bench. Scott Young, a scorer in the famous cup win over Leeds a couple of years back, is out with a long-term injury.

In midfield, the absence of Irishman Willie Boland, who serves the third of a three-match ban following a sending-off away at Palace, leaves a vacancy in the fetching-and-carrying central position. Former Blackpool man Mark Bonner has taken his place, although his industry isn't matched by the rest of his game. Alongside him, Irish international and team captain is the grey-haired Graham Kavanagh, City's first 1million signing when he arrived from Stoke two years ago.

On the left, Rhodesia-born Welsh International John Robinson can be relied on to sweat for the cause, but Julian Gray, on a month's loan from Palace, has thus far scarcely been used and with his loan due to expire could get a run on Tuesday. On the right, Jamaican international Richard Langley arrived from QPR in August. Other midfield options include Gareth Whalley, who was in Bradford's Premiership side, and Leyton Maxwell, a former Liverpool trainee who spent a year on-loan as part of Stockport's notoriously awful relegation side and doesn't appear to be popular at Ninian Park. Jason Bowen, another bit-part player, is out with a hip injury.

Up front, Robert Earnshaw is obviously the main man... the impish Zambia-born Welsh international has sixteen goals already this season in all competitions. The problem is alongside him... Irishman Alan Lee, colossal as Rotherham beat us at the Vic last season, is out with a knee injury; Peter Thorne, an experienced striker with over a hundred league goals to his name, has a hamstring problem and former Boro striker Andy Campbell was sent off at Palace with Willie Boland and completes his suspension on Tuesday. This has left a rare opening for target man Gavin Gordon, not held in the highest regard by the City faithful although he did impress in the recent win at Coventry. Youngster James Collins is likely to be the only option on the bench.

Following Saturday's win at Franchise we're unbeaten in six games, but the tests begin to get a bit sterner for the next month or so, starting with Tuesday night. The resilience of our improved form is about to be tested.