After the international break Cardiff City returned refreshed for their assault on the Championship title. Malky Mackay named an unchanged starting line-up from their last game against Wolves. He made only one squad change – bringing back Craig Bellamy who had missed the games against Brighton and Wolves and two Welsh internationals due to a calf strain and nothing to do with his well-documented troubles Cardiff City manager Malky MacKay insists.
From the first whistle it was clear The Bluebirds were well up for the defence of their hundred per cent record at home this season and were buoyed further by the knowledge Leeds United had last beaten the Bluebirds in 1982 at the old Ninian Park ground.
The game got off to a furious start tackles flying in from both sides, the feisty atmosphere on the pitch echoed throughout the ground as both sets of fans also renewed the unofficial derby day-rivalry that has arisen between the two sides in recent years – it was heightened for this particular meeting by the fact Leeds United had turned out in an all blue strip.
Former Bluebirds striker Ross McCormack, was earmarked by many City fans as the main Leeds threat before the game however with just five minutes of play on the clock he came off the worse in a crunching fifty-fifty tackle and despite several brave attempts to solider on left he the field on a stretcher to rapturous applause from both sets of supporters, and appeasing the home crowd with the tradition Ayatollah. Luke Varney was his replacement.
Craig Noone, who had been a constant thorn in Wolves’ side picked up where he had left off and in the tenth-minute he curled in a cross which Leeds defender Tom Lees headed out for a corner, saving the bushes of the scrambling Leeds ‘keeper Kenny. The resulting corner was wasted and Leeds came down the pitch with gusto panic ensued in the City area at the Leeds counter-attack, with substitute Varney being denied by McNaughton, but his clearance fell to Sam Byram who’s shot brought about a sprawling save by David Marshall.
It has to be said the first half was a raucous affair, punctuated by the occasional outburst of skilful football, City found themselves frustrated by the bitty play caused by the constant and at time cynical fouling as did the Bluebird supporters who started to chant “shoot, shoot” at every opportunity – hoping one of the shots would test Kenny’s resolve in the Leeds goal. Several long range attempts on goal ensued, the best being by Jordon Mutch whose shot flashed just shy of the left-hand post.
The game appeared to be getting away from the referee, who seemed only too happy to simply lecture and scold the players and the game was suffering badly for it. He finally took charge and booked Leeds’ Jamaican international Rodolph Austin after he had cynically hacked down Maynard for the umpteenth time. The ensuing free kick failed to find its intended target Tommy Smith who, in frustration, lunged in with a scything challenge right through and from behind on Leeds winger Byram, he can count himself lucky he was only booked – had the tackle been a bit further up the pitch or committed by a defensive player it would undoubtedly have been a straight red.
Unfortunately the bookings didn’t stop the tactical and at times agricultural tackles by both sides, with Leeds making the lion share. It was a poor, ugly half really for the most part, from a Bluebirds supporters’ point of view it was salvaged by a flurry of good attacking play In the last ten minutes. Maynard turned in the box and fired at goal, his shot was deflected away, by what looked from the stands to be a flailing arm of one of the Leeds’ defenders, but the protests from the Bluebirds players were muted and no penalty was awarded.
None of the City fans, hand on heart, really want to watch their team play in red, but the choice as it stands is you do just that or walk away – and that’s not easy – football is emotive and gets into the blood stream most of us have turned up to watch our team when doctors orders would have confined us to a duvet on the sofa! Personally I attended the 2008 FA Cup semi-final at Wembley Stadium against Barnsley suffering from severe concussion, despite the nausea, ringing in the ears, dizziness, crippling headache and not knowing too much about what was going on at the time, I can honestly say I had a fantastic time and would do it again in a heartbeat!
Tommy Smith then fluffed yet another magnificent chance to open the scoring on 63 minutes as a McNaughton cross sailed over the Leeds defence, but Smith’s left-footed effort went agonisingly over. The 36 year old striker is a tireless workhorse, but as of yet his final touch in front of goal is lacking and he is yet to score for City in fact no striker as scored for Cardiff City this season.
Since the start of the half Craig Bellamy had been warming up to the Bluebirds supporters in fine voice chanting his name – on 64 minutes the Bluebirds wish was granted and Bellamy replaced Craig Noone.
Bellamy had an immediate impact, he picked the ball up and passed it to Smith who crossed the ball to the right-hand side of the box, Mark Hudson launched himself at it and his diving header was palmed away at full stretch by Kenny.
New Leeds loan signing Michael Tonge was shown a yellow just after the hour for bringing down Nicky Maynard on the edge of the box. Whittingham and Bellamy stood over the set-piece, with most expecting Whittingham to take one of his signature free kicks at goal, but not the Leeds defence who didn’t bother to form anything close to a proper wall, not that it would have mattered as the Welsh captain Bellamy charged at the ball the Cardiff City supporters got just what they craved and hoped for, a sublime goal reminiscent of Bellamy’s first goal in a City shirt at home to Doncaster two seasons ago. A hammered, but well placed curving strike high beyond Kenny into the right-hand corner of the net. The goal was unstoppable and few could be sweeter – Our Boy was home!
A mere four minutes later, Maynard, who was causing the Leeds defence all sorts of problems with his pace and silky skills, was brought down yet again. This time it was in the box, bringing referee Tierney to point to the penalty spot. Peter Whittingham stepped up and slotted the ball home sending Kenny the wrong way.
Malky Mackay sent on Aron Gunnarsson in replacement for Jordon Mutch to bolster things at the back however within a minutes of coming on Gunnarsson gave away a free kick for a foul on Luke Varney, Roldolph Austin’s effort sailed thought a gaping hole Cardiff had left in their wall after several players drifted off from where the City ‘keeper had positioned them leaving David Marshall completely wrong-footed and livid at the outfield players as he picked the ball from bottom corner of his goal.
A flurry of activity from the dugouts ensued Don Cowie came on for Nicky Maynard for the Bluebirds while Leeds substituted Luke Varney bringing on Dominic Poleon.
Leeds almost managed an equaliser their captain Lee Peltier heading just over from a right-sided cross. The five minutes of injury time were a period of concentrated defensive work by the Bluebirds as they sought to make it three league wins on the bounce at home. They held on to put their league points tally for the season to ten, placing them joint second in the league.