You could be forgiven for getting a little tired of the Cardiff v Leicester fixture. The two sides will meet tonight for the twelfth time since Leicester returned to the Championship. Because both teams have consistently been pushing for promotion, these fixtures tend to be of utmost importance – always tense and cagey. Cardiff lead the league, but need a win to keep the chasing pack at arm’s length, while Leicester could do with a confidence boost to help consolidate their place in the play-off positions. It’s set to be a crucial encounter.
Here’s a look at some of the more memorable recent matches between the teams.
Starting a run of fixtures that would see the clubs meet in the league and both English cups, the Bluebirds and Foxes were drawn together for a fourth round FA Cup tie in 2009. Both sides took the lead before Peter Whittingham scored an extraordinary free kick from near the corner flag to get Cardiff back level, then injury time goals from Chris Burke and Ross McCormack put the Bluebirds in the fifth round of the cup. The riveting, back and forth match gave a hint that some excellent clashes were to come.
In what many fans would describe as Cardiff’s best ‘backs to the wall’ performance at the Cardiff City Stadium, the Bluebirds scraped a 2-1 home win over their play-off rivals in March 2010 to bolster their flagging play-off hopes having lost to them just two weeks prior. Though the home side looked comfortable at half time thanks to Ross McCormack and Peter Whittingham, the man who would prove to be a thorn in the side of Cardiff’s defenders throughout that season, Steve Howard, pulled one back for Leicester. The Cardiff defence, already patched up with full back Paul Quinn as a makeshift central defender, was really tested when James Vaughan was put through on goal. Gabor Gyepes though, was prepared to do whatever it took to stop Vaughan scoring. It took a full on rugby tackle. With Gyepes dismissed and Cardiff effectively down to nine men after Chris Burke pulled up injured, their back four, consisting of three full backs and a winger, held on in the biblical rain to deny Leicester an equaliser.
But that epic encounter proved to be just a taste of the incredible pair of matches that were to follow. After Cardiff ended the 2009/10 league season in fourth and Leicester in fifth, they were due to meet for the fourth and fifth times that season in the play-offs.
The first leg at, what was then known as, the Walkers Stadium took place on a gloriously sunny May afternoon. In the end, Leicester felt aggrieved to lose to Peter Whittingham’s brilliant free kick that was smashed in off the inside of Chris Weale’s post. That goal sparked a frantic last ten minutes. The Foxes had two penalty shouts turned down and David Marshall made a couple of wonder saves to make sure Cardiff had a lead to take back to South Wales. The small lead proved vital.
It all looked to be going swimmingly for Cardiff when Michael Chopra beat the offside trap to give the Welshmen a 2-0 aggregate lead in the second leg. But Leicester showed their resolve, to make it the best play-off tie that the Championship has seen yet. Shortly after Chopra’s goal, Matty Fryatt, after a neat one two with that man Steve Howard, pulled one back for Leicester. Just ten minutes later Howard again caused havoc as his header flicked off Mark Hudson into the Cardiff net, which meant that Leicester had drawn level at 2-2. The previously boisterous home crowd were stunned when Andy King put Leicester ahead just after half time.
The tie had been completely reversed. Cardiff struggled and laboured to create good chances, while Jack Hobbs nearly put the match beyond Cardiff as his header was hooked off the line by Peter Whittingham. But Whittingham was unruffled when just minutes later he swept away a penalty to level the match at 3-3 on aggregate. Chances for both sides followed, for Cardiff both Whittingham and Jay Bothroyd hit the bar while Michael Chopra had an effort saved off the line, then Steve Howard drew a brilliant save from David Marshall. A tense period of extra time passed without score, so penalties followed.
Tension almost unbearable, players from both sides calmly and excellently slotted their penalties until the shoot-out score was 3-3. It was the turn of Leicester’s Frenchman, Yann Kermorgant. He ambled to the penalty spot, placed the ball and took the worst chipped Panenka penalty of all time. It didn’t even reach the goal-line, allowing David Marshall to simply bat the ball down with his left hand. Mention the name Kermorgant to a Leicester fan and even now they’ll visibly cringe. Mark Kennedy then slotted his kick for Cardiff, meaning that Martyn Waghorn had to score to keep Leicester in it. Despite striking what looked a good penalty, Waghorn’s shot was superbly saved by Marshall, sparking pandemonium in the stands and a joyous pitch invasion. But there was a truly classy act by the veteran Kennedy, who ignored his celebrating teammates in an effort to console the distraught youngster Waghorn.
Cardiff went on to lose a similarly back and forth final 2-3 to Blackpool, meaning that they would face the Foxes for the next three seasons. Plenty of close league encounters followed and Cardiff again edged Leicester in a penalty shoot-out on their way to the League Cup final in 2012.
These two teams are by now the most familiar of foes, but there’s no sign that this familiarity is breeding anything other than a strong desire to escape the Championship. They will both be desperate for a win that will lessen the likelihood of facing each other yet again in this division.