A wintry Friday evening at Ewood Park greeted Cardiff City and their travelling band of 600 supporters, who were along with the nation watching on TV to see The Bluebirds chalk up a stupendous and rare away win to see-off fellow Championship promotion hopefuls Blackburn Rovers.
Cardiff fielded the three Craig’s Conway, Noone and Bellamy in an attack minded team that signaled Malky Mackay’s intent to take the game to Blackburn and send a message out to the chasing pack that The Bluebirds mean business and are not about to settle for anything less than promotion to the promised land.
It was a slow burning game initially with Craig Conway seemingly all over the pitch, first he produced a tracking run and tidy tackle that prevented Blackburn’s Jordan Rhodes from delivering a cross from the right after he had been allowed to run with the ball out wide, minutes later Andrew Taylor’s throw-in found Conway who was felled as he jinked away from his marker.
Craig Bellamy stepped up to take the resulting free kick, but his effort drifted disappointingly high of the back-post. It was to be Blackburn who had the first real chance at goal, Mauro Formica wrong-footed Mark Hudson five yards outside the Cardiff area, the City captain lunged in with what can best be described as a clumsy challenge. Earning himself a yellow card from referee SimonHooper, Hudson’s fifth of the season meaning an automatic one match ban. City fans shook their heads in disbelief at the moment of madness from Hudson and pondered why the yellow cards are not wiped for Championship players at the end of November. The Cardiff City wall blocked the initial shot from the free-kick itself, then cleared the follow-up effort.
The match was a scrappy, even affair, until City poured forward on the counter-attack. Whittingham freed Don Cowie wide on the right and his deep cross found Craig Conway wide on the left who picked out Andrew Taylor on the overlap; it took two Rovers defenders to prevent Craig Noone from turning the cross home at the back-post. It served to spur on The Bluebirds.
On the half-hour mark tempers boiled over, several players were involved in a spot of handbagging in the centre-circle resulting in young Blackburn defender Jason Lowe being booked following his petulant reaction to his clash with Craig Bellamy. Cardiff wasted no time working the ball to right, where Noone who picked out Mark Hudson as he darted in-front of his marker Scott Dann and guided a header down and past the hopeless Blackburn ‘keeper Paul Robinson.
Minutes later a similar move very nearly doubled City’s lead. Craig Conway, playing with confidence on the Cardiff left, looked to have lost possession whilst trying to turn away from two defenders, but somehow he not only recovered his feet, but also stole the ball back flashing in across which was tantalisingly just centimetres away from making contact with Heidar Helguson’s head at the back-post.
Cardiff were now in control and running the show, twice they came just inches away from doubling their advantage before the break, Craig Noone was the catalyst on both occasions.
Half-time and Blackburn needing to change it up made a substitution: Colin Kazim-Richards replaced Markus Olsson. It seemed to work at the restart, Joshua King, blazed a decent chance high into the stands, before the on-loan Manchester United striker raced onto a ball in the left of the box before calmly slotting the ball past David Marshall to pull Blackburn level.
The home side invigorated poured on the pressure and Cardiff City could have found themselves behind as Colin Kazim-Richards powerful shot was deflected narrowly wide and Rovers bombarded the City box with a series of corners. Cardiff were staunch in their defence though and rode out the storm.
The Bluebirds retook the lead via local hero Craig Bellamy, who had enjoyed a fine spell as a Blackburn player and who had been greeted very warmly by the Blackburn supporters, but he was to be the catalyst in what followed which was to break many of their hearts.
Bellers picked up the ball on the edge of the area, played a one-two with Heider Helguson and taking the return pass onto his left, he jinked outside a defender, before firing back across Paul Robinson into the back of the net, to mass celebration from City players and supporters alike.
David Marshall then produced a stupendous save he had to readjust in mid-air after Jordan Rhodes’ shot was deflected, Rhodes was alert to the rebound though, he squared the ball to Formica at the back-post who crashed his effort off the bar it was to be his last contribution to the game as he was taken off and replaced by Fabio Nunes, Cardiff City also made a substitution: Kim Bo-Kyung on for Craig Noone,.
Jordan Rhodes who had looked alert all evening sparked a contentious moment midway through the second-half as he and Hudson tangled on the edge of the Cardiff area and Rhodes threw himself to the floor, replays later showed Hudson had made contact, but outside the box and that Rhodes had withstood that contact taken the ball on, but lost control before pulling off a dive that would have been worthy of Tom Daley!
Referee Simon Hooper was less impressed though and quickly waved away all Blackburn protestations much to The Bluebirds relief.
Blackburn continued to look dangerous going forward, and the game looked far from safe for the Bluebirds until Cardiff hit them on the break for a decisive third.
Joe Mason, fresh and eager, took a Heidar Helguson flick-on , he wrong-footed his marker and to bore down on former England keeper Paul Robinson, one-on-one, the youngster calmly, simply and sweetly slid the ball home.
Just a minute later and the City faithful were delirious. A loose pass in midfield was pounced on by Kim Bo-Kyung who broke away, he played a neat one-two with Helguson on the left, before finishing clinically across Robinson.
Faithful Rovers supporters who had started to leave as the third goal went in started to pour out disgruntled, several launched their scarves angrily onto the pitch. These were elderly gentlemen and young female supporters it as to be noted normally the cornerstone of level-headed support at games, not petulant youths or the remnants of the old firm that still posture at the back of stands reliving their youth. A fact which was shocking and borne out by one man looking for all the world like everyone’s favourite grandfather, who was to be repeatedly shown launching his scarf furiously onto the pitch, well into the wee small hours on the news channels, a damming indictment of the modern game that fans are pushed to the point of breaking thanks to owners meddling with history, tradition and the very fabric of their team.
In the dying minutes of the game Rudy Gestede replaced Heidar Helguson, but all eyes were on the clock the final whistle blew Cardiff City were four points clear at the top going into the Christmas period. It felt great to be a Bluebird!