The 2002/03 Nationwide Second Division campaign comes to an enthralling finale this weekend, when big spending Cardiff City take on Ian Holloway’s tenacious Queens Park Rangers at the Millennium stadium in the play-off final on Sunday.
Both sides reached this stage after hard fought victories in the play-off semi finals. Cardiff City recorded a narrow 1-0 aggregate victory over local rivals Bristol City, whilst the Hoops triumphed 2-1 on aggregate over Ian Dowie’s Oldham Athletic, thanks to a late Paul Furlong goal in the second leg that settled a tense clash at Loftus Road.
Cardiff City will start slight favourites, only because they challenged so strongly for automatic promotion for the majority of the season, only to fall away to sixth in the final standings, together with the fact the final is located within their city boundaries.
However, Queens Park Rangers will certainly be no pushovers and proved over the last third of the season that they are a match for any side in the Nationwide Second Division. Indeed, the West London club proved the point by defeating the Bluebirds 2-1 at Ninian Park the last time the two sides met at the beginning of April, which did much to erase an embarrassing 4-0 reversal at home to Lennie Lawrence’s men back in November.
As one would expect with sides challenging for promotion, there is an abundance of talent available to both managers, with each team possessing plenty of potential match winners.
The Bluebirds' elusive Robert Earnshaw, with 31 league goals to his name during the regular season, broke Cardiff City’s goal scoring record that had stood for almost 80 years, and together with Peter Thorne, they have a proven marksmen who revel in the big match atmosphere. In midfield, playmaker Graham Kavanagh has vast experience and has a cultured football brain, whilst at the back goalkeeper Neil Alexander and Danny Gabbidon were extremely impressive in the semi final triumph over close rivals Bristol City.
The West London side, have possibly more experience overall within their ranks and certainly a higher percentage of players who have played at the highest level, although they are without the influential Richard Langley, who misses out through suspension. The free scoring front pairing of Kevin Gallen and Paul Furlong have both seen service further up the league ladder and their experience could be an advantage in trying to quell the intimating atmosphere that is bound to be created within the stadium.
The match, with a 3.00pm kick-off is being televised live on SKY TV, so why not make a date to watch the action and drama unfold whilst enjoying the virtues that is Nationwide Second Division football. The contest is bound to be an extremely tense and close affair, with the prospect that one goal or even penalties may be the deciding factor.