Boston United 1-5 Cardiff City
by Barbara Singleton
Sometimes you just cannot argue against quality. And Boston United found, to their cost, that Cardiff City's multi-talented squad definitely fit that particular category. Second Division status might be the Welsh outfit's current level. But on the evidence of their polished performance at York Street, few would argue against the Bluebirds taking another giant stride up the football pyramid come next spring. Evidence of their strength in depth was ample when highly-rated striker Robert Earnshaw forced his way into the starting line-up for the first time this term. And the man whose pace, power and clinical finishing precision has already wooed Premiership scouts came up with the goods to devastating effect. Three smartly taken goals in a 17-minute first half purple patch provided ample evidence of his skills. And, although, they battled on gamely throughout, Boston never really had enough answers to suggest a way back into a first round Worthington Cup tie that was effectively dead and buried at half-time. By that stage, Cardiff had also seen a Chris Barker cross deflected into his own net off the head of home midfielder Tom Bennett to add to Earnshaw's quick-fire treble. At 4-0 in arrears there was never any way back. But creditably the Pilgrims managed to raise their game sufficiently to give their visitors some moments of concern after the break. The second half arrival of Matt Hocking, in place of the injured Bennett, to bolster the defence brought fresh stability while Mark Clifford's shift further up the field added width to the central area and helped to stem the Cardiff flow and at the same time trigger welcome impetus in the home ranks. Elsewhere across the midfield area, Simon Weatherstone and Neil Redfearn also grafted well but for little reward although both were out of luck on a couple of occasions apiece with shooting efforts. And in attack the ever-enthusiastic Stuart Douglas again endeared himself to the United fans with a never-say-die display, initially in tandem with Paul Ellender whose goal early in the second half brought deserved reward for a workhorse performance in a makeshift role. Once his legs had run their course, teenager Steve Burton re-emerged from a couple of recuperation weeks on the bench and suggested that enough zest and sharpness was back in his locker to perhaps persuade acting boss Neil Thompson that a return to a starting place might be imminent - particularly with Daryl Clare still struggling to shrug off a knee injury which kept him sidelined for a second successive match. Overall, there was no disgrace in taking a tumble to a side of Cardiff's quality. In fact, early on the Pilgrims had showed up well in carrying the fight to City with the first notable highlight being Douglas wrestling a hesitant Rhys Weston off the ball following a raking pass by Neil Redfearn. A subsequent pass inside to Ellender saw the makeshift striker's blast blocked by Spencer Prior. Boston had a let-off when Paul Bastock had to scramble to push away a Graham Kavanagh free-kick which took a deflection off Peter Thorne.
Then neat work down the right between Leo Fortune-West and Rob Earnshaw paved the way for Kavanagh to drill straight at Bastock. But even then, there was no indication of the avalanche to come. Cardiff's greater attacking flair with three men foraging for a breakthrough kept the United rearguard fully occupied and they reaped the reward on 25 minutes when Fortune-West careered down the left, shrugged off a Mark Clifford challenge and fed the ball back for EARNSHAW to slot in off the far post. Creditably Boston rallied purposefully and were twice unlucky not to have levelled in the space of 60 seconds. First Douglas raced onto an astute through ball from Mark Angel only to be foiled by a brave save from Martyn Margetson. And then Weatherstone seized possession from a Clifford throw and his lofted drive was clawed away by the City custodian. However, Boston's hopes of a recovery were blunted and then shattered with two more devastating pieces of finishing from the exquisite EARNSHAW. First he latched onto a neatly threaded pass from Kavanagh to slide under Bastock and then on 42 minutes completed his treble with a rasping 18-yard finish from a Fortune-West knock-down following another Kavanagh curling set-piece. The anguish was intensified seconds before the break when BENNETT unluckily got his head to a towering cross from Chris Barker and the ball looped beyond the reach of Bastock. Far from being deflated, though, Boston hit back in decisive fashion with their own strike of rich quality - ELLENDER smashing home a rising side-footed effort on 52 minutes after Weatherstone had helped on a cross from the left by Thompson. Boston battled hard to make a better show of things and might have cut the deficit still further when Douglas broke clear only for Margetson to produce an excellent sprawling save. However, Cardiff defused any potential home recovery threat, however unlikely, with Peter THORNE bursting through to cheekily chip over the advancing Bastock. At that point, the floodgates could easily have opened. But again, Boston refused to let their resolve diminish - work ethics illustrated by Bastock when he did well to clutch testing efforts by former Premiership man Andy Campbell and the hugely influential Kavanagh. And in reply some tidy work down both flanks and across the centre of the park from Boston players ensured that their counterparts still had plenty to occupy their thoughts during what remained of the encounter. Indeed, there were four notable moments when at least one more crumb of comfort could have been added to the Boston plate. A Redfearn free-kick from outside the box whistled inches wide and an on-the-run snap-shot by Burton was held by Margetson. But the Cardiff keeper really earned his corn in the dying throes with spectacular tip-away saves to deny Weatherstone and then Burton again as Boston - although well beaten - ended with a flourish.
United team: 1. Bastock, 2. Clifford, 3. Greaves, 4. Bennett (Hocking 46), 5. Thompson, 6. Redfearn, 7. Warburton, 8. S Weatherstone, 9. Douglas, 10. Ellender (Burton 73), 11. Angel (Cook 63). Subs (not used): Gould, Conroy (gk).
This report originally appeared in the Lincolnshire Echo.