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Wednesday, 1 May, 2002, 21:26 GMT 22:26 UK
Stoke break Cardiff hearts
Souleyman Oulare deflects home the Stoke winner
Souleyman Oulare deflects home the Stoke winner

Cardiff City 0 Stoke City 2
(After extra-time, agg 2-3)

It was the late, late show for Stoke City as goals from James O'Connor and Souleyman Oulare took them to the Second Division play-off final.

O'Connor and Oulare earned Stoke a 2-0 win over Cardiff after a night of high tension at Ninian Park.

O'Connor's free-kick, deflected by Oulare, in the 115th minute sent the visiting fans into ecstasy and gave Stoke their first win in a play-off semi-final at the fifth attempt.

But the goal was not without controversy as the free-kick was given for a challenge by Spencer Prior that looked innocuous at best.

Leo Fortune-West tangles with Wayne Thomas
Leo Fortune-West tangles with Wayne Thomas

The former Leicester defender, incensed by the decision, earned himself a red card for his prolonged protest.

As if that was not dramatic enough it was only O'Connor's strike in the final minutes of normal time that had taken the game into an extra half hour.

After 90 minutes when a clear chance, never mind a goal, had looked unlikely O'Connor popped up to convert after a superb run down the left from full-back Clive Clarke.

His cross was cleverly headed back by Bjarni Gudjonsson at the back post and O'Connor was on hand to slide the ball past Neil Alexander from eight yards.

Cardiff, in front of an exuberant home crowd, had looked edgy throughout and too many of their passes went awry, the chief culprit being former Stoke star Graham Kavanagh.

Stoke had started well and Tony Dinning forced a good save from Bluebirds keeper Alexander.

Cardiff were almost made to pay for their slackness six minutes before half-time. O'Connor broke down the left and when his low cross reached Chris Iwelumo it looked easier for the forward to score than miss.

Robert Earnshaw fires in a shot at the Stoke goal
Robert Earnshaw fires in a shot at the Stoke goal

He managed, though, ballooning the ball over the crossbar from inside the six-yard box.

Cardiff boss Lennie Lawrence obviously had some choice words to say at half-time as his side came out fired up after the interval.

And they almost took the lead six minutes into the second half when Robert Earnshaw cleverly flicked on a Peter Thorne shot, bringing a superb full stretch save out of Neil Cutler.

Stoke, knowing they had to score to have any chance in the tie, pushed forward more and more but as full-time approached they began to leave gaps at the back. Cutler did well to grab Thorne's header on the line after it had looked set to loop over him and into the net.

But their pressure finally paid off through O'Connor and Oulare's late strikes.


Cardiff: Alexander, Weston, Young, Prior, Croft, Boland, Kavanagh, Bonner (Maxwell 112), Fortune-West, Earnshaw (Campbell 88), Thorne (Bowen 105).
Subs Not Used: Bywater, Collins.

Stoke: Cutler, Thomas, Handyside, Shtaniuk, Clarke, Gudjonsson, O'Connor, Dinning (Vandeurzen 104), Gunnlaugsson (Cooke 88), Iwelumo (Oulare 71), Burton.
Subs Not Used: Viander, Brightwell.

Att: 19,367.

Referee: M Dean (The Wirral).

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 ON THIS STORY
BBC Sport's Ian Brown
"The winning goal was shrouded in controversy"
Cardiff defender Rhys Weston
"Stoke held their nerve a lot better than we did"
Cardiff skipper Graham Kavanagh
"To go out in the manner we did was disappointing"
Stoke boss Gudjon Thordarson
"We showed great character"

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