Cardiff Box Clever To Sleigh Palace
A wet Boxing Day afternoon in Welsh capital, a sell out crowd with both sets of supporters in full voice and full of festive cheer set in scene for a thrilling top-of-the-table clash at CCS.
Cardiff kicked off attacking the Grange End, passing the ball freely while feeling their way into the match but a misplaced pass was punched on by Bolasie who took off on a counter attacking run down the right. He earned the Eagles a corner which was driven in at an awkward height, Cardiff failed clear it, it fell to Palace captain Mile Jedinak who volleyed the ball home from inside the six yard area.
With just four minutes in the clock The Bluebirds were a goal behind.
Things got worse for the home team when captain Mark Hudson was booked for a hasty challenge on Zaha after nine minutes. Palace had the upper hand, composed and confident on the ball, although Cardiff did forge chances their selves; Bellamy was inches away from a lofted Mutch ball while Peter Whittingham took a long-range free kick which the Palace defence cleared it, but only as far as Craig Noone, who hit a ferocious volley that sailed wide.
A second Whittingham free kick faired little better, it was blocked Helguson hit a shot off the rebound straight at a Palace defender, they broke immediately on the counter attack Cardiff were wide open. Zaha picked up the ball near the touchline, and made it to the edge of the box unchallenged before cutting onto his right and bending a shot to the far corner. The ball ricocheted off the crossbar, The Bluebirds big Scottish ‘keeper David Marshall was forced into a stupendous reaction save from the follow up effort, the Cardiff supporters all breathed a sigh of relief we were still in the game.
Whittingham charged down the right, playing an a cute pass to Bellamy, but the local legend and world class striker couldn’t quite direct his effort towards goal, it felt like he was trying too hard. The lively Bolasie was then booked for a foul on Noone, Bellamy collected the ball on the left, and drilled a low cross into the path of Noone, the winger’s left-footed shot left Palace goalkeeper Speroni with absolutely no chance. On the stroke of half time Cardiff had leveled.
The Cardiff defence were resilient, but they needed to be, captain Mark Hudson in particular was using his strength well to keep Zaha quiet.
Cardiff searched for what felt like would be the killer next goal. Bellamy was flagged offside on what would have been a golden opportunity, and Whittingham played an exquisite ball to release Conway, but he was blocked before he could make anything of his run.
Cardiff’s best chance of the second half so far came from a Whittingham free kick in a deep position which found its intended target Mark Hudson. The Bluebirds captain headed back to Gunnarsson, the Icelander coolly passed the ball to Bellamy who’s shot hit the underside of Speroni’s bar before bouncing out and being hoofed clear.
Conway then won a free kick on the right hand side of the Palace box, Whittingham’s much-anticipated effort deflected over to give City a corner. Bellamy whipped the ball to the near post, and Aron Gunnarsson jumped and placed his header firmly past Speroni’s, for his sixth goal of the season.
Cardiff were now in the ascendancy, frustration set in for Palace who gave away a series of niggly free kicks in dangerous areas, but Cardiff could only come close from one of them.
Mason came on to partner Gestede up front with Bellamy moving to left wing, and Mason’s movement stretched Palace within minutes of him coming on.
Crystal Palace manager Ian Holloway decided to roll the last of his sides’ dice he replaced booked right back Parr with forward Easter in an attempt to salvage a point, but the Eagles were reduced to long range efforts and their passing was going astray.
The final whistle blew to rapturous applause from the sold-out Cardiff Boxing Day fixture which had seen Cardiff City became the first team in British football to reach the half-century points mark, and go five points clear at the top of the Championship.