Welsh passion is too much for City

Cardiff away. Discuss. Less tackling a football club or even a city - more an entire nation. When the fixture computer whirrs into action during those lazy summer weeks it's a safe bet supporters and players alike swiftly gloss over their impending trip to south Wales.

Cardiff away. Discuss. Less tackling a football club or even a city - more an entire nation. When the fixture computer whirrs into action during those lazy summer weeks it's a safe bet supporters and players alike swiftly gloss over their impending trip to south Wales.

Ninian Park is old, decaying, ramshackle. The electronic scoreboard is fixed permanently on 45 minutes. Two sides of the ground are still dominated by outdated terracing.

The Emirates it is not. But within those environs beats a Welsh passion - a collective pride that transmits itself onto the pitch and the men who embody the fans' fervour.

Supporters from the wrong side of the Severn Bridge are treated to welcoming anti-English rhymes from nearest neighbours.


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A mammoth Welsh dragon mural painted on top of the Spar Family Stand breathes fire from the opposite end of the ground - a permanent reminder to brave away supporters they have wandered into something quite unique on their Championship travels.

At five to three Paul Jones sauntered into this vibrant corner of the Principality. Not the ex-Southampton and Wales international. No, this was the Cardiff-born baritone. Cue a stirring acapella rendition of Welsh hymn 'Men of Harlech' suitably backed by an expectant home choir.

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As passionate calls to arms go it was right up there with Delia. And boy did it work. Three minutes in and City were kicking off for the second time of the afternoon after Welsh international Paul Parry had fired past Tony Warner via the luckless Jason Shackell.

The blue tidal wave poured forward with Shackell and defensive sidekick Gary Doherty forced into early overtime.

Cardiff had set the tone and with thoughts of promotion stirring Welsh nostrils they were not looking for reverse gear. Norwich's afternoon started at 3pm, you sensed Dave Jones had Cardiff climbing the dressing room walls long before kick off. Perhaps he had left the door open for his namesake and 12,000 Welsh voices to conduct the home team talk.

The Bluebirds' boss was a great deal more charitable in his pre-match notes.

'This afternoon sees another difficult one for us,' he wrote. 'Although in the lower half of the table Norwich are one of a number of big clubs in this division who have been in the Premiership with facilities to match on and off the field.'

Carrow Road is certainly a wonderful arena - with or without the St George's cross. But the current team is a long, long way short of the promised land.

Supporters know that, pundits know that, Peter Grant even knows that. The Scot is still in the early stages of rebuilding. Post-January transfer window and Norwich are slowly being remoulded in the image of their passionate boss. Full of honesty, endeavour and burning desire to succeed.

Ask that fly on the wall in the Ninian Park dressing room at half-time if Grant demands anything less than maximum output from his charges.

Or at Carrow Road on Tuesday night after the Rams had smuggled all three points.

Derby inch towards that glass fronted Premiership elevator. Anyone who watched them pummelled for long spells at Carrow Road last week would concur Norwich are also on the right track. Billy Davies relied on an instant goal return from one of his multiple million pound men, David Jones, to keep their promotion push rolling.

We won't mention the men in black.

Likewise Cardiff moved into fifth spot thanks to Parry's lazy left peg and two acrobatic saves from man of the match Neil Alexander as Norwich responded to Grant's clarion call.

What chance now the Bluebirds sneaking through the Premiership back door - their fervent support decamping across town to the more upmarket surroundings of the Millennium Stadium for a home play-off final.

Study the two starting line-ups at Ninian Park and how many Cardiff players scream for inclusion in the green and yellow? Michael Chopra is a cert - would City be languishing in 17th if Robert Earnshaw's groin had not given way at the turn of the year? No chance.

But how many others would be automatics on Grant's team sheet. Riccy Scimeca, Stephen McPhail? Good honest players with Premiership experience. The same category you could pop Youssef Safri and Lee Croft into. Joe Ledley and recently crowned football league apprentice of the year Chris Gunter - homegrown talents now blossoming in the first team; the same youthful path trodden by Shackell and more recently Chris Martin.

You have to look beyond the mere personnel currently at Grant's disposal. Davies has got his wallet out and splashed the cash. Jones has built by stealth since taking control in May 2005. There's no right or wrong way to scramble up the Championship pole.

Both are on course for success and both were given time - time to sort the wheat from the chaff. Birmingham boss Steve Bruce has enjoyed the best of both worlds. A generous board and stay of execution after the chair was kicked from under them at the top table.

Bruce arrives at his former stomping ground tomorrow night on top of the pile and heading for an instant return.

But there has been nothing instant about the Blues' ascent. Relegation prompted a radical overhaul - proven Championship horses like Gary McSheffrey better suited to the trip than European aristocrats like Walter Pandiani.

Bruce then had to hang on when lift-off was delayed. Now the rocket is firing. Grant's graph took another dip in south Wales. Two wins forward, two defeats back. The City chief needs to flatline over the final meaningless run-in. No better jumping off point than downing the top dogs in front of a full house at Carrow Road.

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