Cardiff City faced Wolverhampton Wanders without two of their best players; Craig Bellamy and Big Ben Turner, while Nicky Maynard and Craig Noone made their debuts for the Bluebirds.
From the kick off The Bluebirds stole the ball from Wolves, Nicky Maynard’s pass led to a mazeyrun by Noone his cross into the box was too strong and easy for Wolves ‘keeper Ikeme to collect, his hoofed clearance fell to Cardiff’s Tommy Smith on the right wing who skipped past the Wolves midfield, however his through ball did not carry enough weight to reach Mutch who was surging forward in support. McNaughton picked the ball up in defence and burst forward down the right, his pass to Mutch resulted in a Cardiff City corner. Whittingham took it, it was put behind for another corner, this one was pounced on by Noone who struck a powerful and sweet volley, but it was straight at Ikeme who gathered it gratefully.
The Bluebirds dominated the early exchanges Whittingham, Mutch, Noone and Maynard all very impressive, but a soft free kick was taken quickly catching City keeper’ Marshall by surprise, Bakary Sako’s shot found the bottom right corner of the net. One nil Wolves.
It was a shocking goal to concede and highlighted the concerns voiced by Cardiff City supporters about the lack of depth and cover in defence, it was also the sort of set piece Bellamy would have held up from being taken with one of his trademark moans, but while we were carrying out the goal post-mortem, Whittingham found Craig Noone with a superb cross field ball, the new boy ghosted into the box and skipped past Ronald Zubar who clumsily brought him down. Penalty! Whittingham stepped up, coolly and slotted it straight down the middle, his body positioning sending the hapless Ikeme the wrong way. The chant of Bluebirds – Bluebirds rang around Cardiff City Stadium drowning out the taunts of the Wolves fans.
After the restart it was all Cardiff, Maynard receiving the ball on the right, played an intelligent low cross to Whittingham who was waiting on the edge of the area, Mutch dummied, Whittingham fired in a low drive from eighteen yards into the right side of the goal, leaving Ikeme with nothing to do other than pick the ball out of the back of the net. Turnaround complete.
Mutch picked up a booking for a tackle that even though he won the ball, by referee Andy D’Urso because he deemed it to be dangerous. The game was breathless end to end exciting, brilliant and woeful by both team at times, an Ebanks-Blake header then brought the best out of Marshall, who dived full stretch to his right to collect the ball.
A Wolves defender under pressure from Maynard made a rash back pass which Ikeme could only hack away, the resulting in a corner, fell to Whittingham who intelligently passed to Smith, who received the ball on the right of the box, cut in and curled a left footed shot just wide.
Sako then picked the ball up on the edge of the Cardiff box, a long winding run resulted in a breathlessly tired finish, an over hit shot from a narrow angle. When Ebanks-Blake fired a shot across goal from twenty yards that went wide of the post the Bluebird supporters all let out a sigh for relief, McNaughton, Mutch and Smith were causing a lot of problems down the right working well as a trio, however the final ball was missing. Sako, who was proving to be the thorn in Cardif City’s side, picked up a low cross across the Cardiff six yard box, but the angle was too tight and Marshall parried before Cardiff cleared, but impressive Sako surged forward again pulling Mutch back with him for extra cover, but he found himself skipped past by a few tricky step-overs, before Sako fired in across, but Noone picked his cross up and embarked on an eighty yard mazy run, skipping past two players in gold before rifling a shot Ikeme parried before smothering the ball gratefully.
Half time and my first chance to look around Cardiff City stadium, which was 98% blue the red shirts in the minority, and also to engage with fellow supporters, some were shaking their heads still struggling to pick out their own team playing in alien colours which wasn’t helped by Wolves playing in their traditional gold, one supporter complained he was colour blind and in the flow of play it looked like two teams in grey to him! Another supporter – a season ticket holder for over forty years who had embraced the rebrand to begin with tapped me on the shoulder and tearfully said “That’s it I’m done, there’s not one of us out there, I don’t care how well they are playing it’s not my team.. I can’t watch it any more I’m out of here.” He tweeted to that effect then looked to the sky bit his bottom lip and walked out.
The second half started brightly with me and the supporters round me shell shocked, it was end to end stuff littered with mistakes – loose and poor second balls, Wolves were holding the ball for long periods in the middle of the park, but a lazy pass allowed Noone to make a break. His pass to Maynard who with no other options open to him with some skilful tricky forced a corner after Roger Johnson put it out when many thought he could have played for a throw in. The Bluebirds fans chanted RJ – RJ at the former City favourite Johnson responded with an ayatollah to the Bluebird supporters delight, RJ was and always will be one of us.
Much took the corner it fell to McNaughton on the edge of the box, who was promptly fouled, Whittingham took the twenty yard free kick. He curled it precisely over the wall – Ikeme pulled off an stupendous leap and save to reach the ball at the bottom left corner of his goal.
The Wolves defence were struggling to handle Noone’s turn of pace and close control, he won a succession of corners for the Bluebirds. In the interim Wolves gave Cardiff a scare or two; a good cross that was eventually cut out by Smith, an Ebanks-Blake header on goal that lacked any sort of pace to trouble the Cardiff goalkeeper.
Malky possibly mindful of the booking he had picked up substituted Jordon Mutch for Aron Gunnarsson in the 58th minute, Helguson broke away but Johnson covering extremely well with a great sliding tackle. Not long after, McNaughton picked up the ball in space after some nifty footwork from Smith, but still looking to score for the first time in three years he decided to have a shot, which was deflected out for a throw. Gunnarsson sent in a trademark long throw, but Ikeme collected under pressure. Noone, who had terrorised the Wolves defence all game, skipped parallel to the edge of the box after a cheeky step over, and was again brought down twenty three yards out, to the left of the goal, Bluebird supporters licked their lips as Whittingham stepped up, he impudently sent a whipped shot to the top right corner that was placed perfectly into the side netting, out of reach of Ikeme, the Whitts hat trick brought about pandemonium amongst the Bluebirds supporters the chants of BLUEBIRDS – BLUEBIRDS rang the loudest they have this season.
Cardiff fans were still singing as Malky brought off Maynard. The striker’s début was impressive his pace, intelligent positional play a joy to behold.
Mackay then brought off Craig Noone to a standing ovation from the Bluebird supporters. It signalled a return to the one up front formation and Whittingham dropping deeper which had failed Cardiff City in the previous games lacking Bellamy and with the team as a whole tiring, this was a move designed to protect the score line.
Cardiff City were in cruise control now, and Wolves looked out of ideas, however they did deny the Bluebirds possession for long periods. The game all became a bit scrappy and midfield head tennis once again prevailed, but Cardiff looked comfortable sitting back and hitting Wolves on the break, with Cowie shooting from the edge of the box, but the shot lacked any real venom and was saved. Smith, weaved in and out in the box before firing a shot that was deflected for a corner. The corner was taken quickly, with Whittingham playing a smart one two and sending in a great ball that was punched away by Ikeme.
The remaining minutes of play offered very little both teams tiring badly and Wolves their heads down looking broken. But a terrific result and performance from Cardiff City.