2:19pm Tuesday 30th May 2006
SAINTS almost pulled off a smash and grab raid at Bolton, but in the end their Cardiff return dream died.
In a night of highs and lows, but only one goal at The Reebok, Saints slipped to a 115th-minute loss that dumped them out of the Carling Cup at the quarter-final stage.
Ultimately, Saints were left to rue three missed chances in the final seconds of normal time.
They got stronger as the game went into the final stages and then into extra-time, but one crushing moment ended up costing them dear.
The first half was a generally uneventful affair which Bolton bossed.
Their dominance came in the midfield, where Ivan Campo sat in front of the defence directing operations and creating the space out wide for Sam Allardyce's tricky men to try and weave their magic.
After only two minutes, Henrik Pedersen's header was superbly saved by Antti Niemi and the follow-up bravely blocked by Michael Svensson.
Niemi also had to be on his guard against Jay Jay Okocha while Stelios and Kevin Davies also threatened.
For Saints, Paul Telfer's saved long drive and Agustin Delgado's tricky near post backheel were as close as they came.
Gordon Strachan will have been pleased to get his side in level at half time.
They re-organised and re-shuffled and looked better.
Svensson made Kevin Poole punch clear at a corner but then Bolton took over again with a few good chances again.
Okocha drove wide from distance while Niemi again proved why he is the best keeper in the Premiership by tipping over from Nicky Hunt from distance.
The duel between Okocha and Niemi continued as the Finn again saved from the Nigerian before ex-Saint Simon Charlton drove the ball on to the bar.
After that, Strachan made two changes with Delgado, making his first start since December 1 2002, being replaced by Chris Marsden.
Marian Pahars pushed up front for two minutes before he also came off for Neil McCann.
There were several moves around with McCann being a striker, then a midfielder, with Rory Delap doing a good job as a makeshift striker.
It helped as both Delgado and Pahars struggle with the pace of the tie and both looked short of fitness on a cold night.
And it was about this time that Saints came strong again, and stayed the strongest throughout the rest of the game.
Niemi saved from Okocha on 77 minutes and then, on 82 minutes, Jason Dodd saved his side with a brilliant far post defensive header as substitute Mario Jardel looked to finish from close range.
But then, in the final stages of the second half, Saints had the chances to win the tie - if any of them had gone in, there was not enough time for Bolton to get back into it.
Brett Ormerod's shot was turned over by Poole before Delap got in a a strong header from Dodd's corner which was hacked off the line by Ibrahim Ba.
Just seconds later, Ormerod should have done better when he burst through.
The in-form striker - three goals in two games - did well to beat the offside trap and had three men spare in the running ahead of him. The angle wasn't on for a quick ball but, rather than run at goal and then shoot or square, he drifted a bit wide and wasn't able to take advantage of the situation.
Then, only seconds after that, Ricardo Gardner was robbed by Dodd who squared to the feet of Delap.
He swivelled and hit the ball first time, but the shot whistled just wide.
The first half of extra-time was relatively uneventful with McCann's ball to David Prutton, whose shot was deflected wide, being the best chance.
But in the final 15 minutes of the added time, Bolton grabbed the lead and a semi-final place.
With 115 of the 120 minutes gone, Saints' hearts were broken.
Youri Djorkaeff's corner from the left was inadvertently flicked on by Delap. It fell at the far post to Anthony Barness, who had only just come on.
He fired a wicked first time effort into the centre of the Saints goal, where Pedersen turned it in from close range.
Overall, Bolton probably just shaded it - but it was still hard on Saints, whose League Cup hopes have now died at The Reebok twice in three seasons.
The dream of Cardiff for this season now relies on the FA Cup... we've been here before.
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