Cardiff City maintained their five-point lead at the top of the Championship thanks to a 1-0 victory over Millwall at Cardiff City Stadium.
City took the lead in the early stages of the first half and comfortably held their lead up to the break. The goal came through Rudy Gestede, who was making his first start of the season, as he finished from a right-sided Craig Noone cross.
Aron Gunnarsson, also brought into the side following his winner against Crystal Palace on Boxing Day, was forced off by an injury just before half-time, with Jordon Mutch on in his place.
Mark Hudson tried his luck from the halfway line in the second half, but with few real chances after the break, City defended solidly to earn the three points.
Three days after a hard-fought win over Crystal Palace at Cardiff City Stadium, manager Malky Mackay sought to keep things fresh during the hectic Christmas schedule by handing French striker Rudy Gestede his first start of the season in place of Heidar Helguson, while Aron Gunnarsson came in for Jordon Mutch having headed the winner against the Eagles. Matthew Connolly, who had sat out the Boxing Day clash with Crystal Palace to serve a suspension, came back into the squad and took his place on the bench. Peter Whittingham made his 250th appearance for the Bluebirds.
With closest rivals Hull City winning 2-0 against Leeds United in the lunchtime kick-off at the KC Stadium, City needed a win against Millwall to maintain their five-point lead at the top of the nPower Championship. They started on the offensive – former Aston Villa defender Shane Lowry headed a Whittingham strike over David Forde’s bar after three minutes.
Minutes later, Whittingham won a high ball (Millwall midfielder Scott Malone stayed down following the challenge) and played in Craig Noone along the right wing. Noone cut inside and found Rudy Gestede in the penalty area, and Gestede made the most of his first start of the season by firing first-time beyond Forde.
GOAL: CARDIFF CITY 1-0 MILLWALL (Gestede, 7 mins)
The lead was nearly doubled on fourteen minutes as Bellamy too cut inside from the wing before seeing his driving shot cleared by a Lowry’s head, and from the rebound a foul on Craig Noone earned Millwall’s Liam Trotter a yellow card.
Millwall Substitution: Liam Feeney on for Scott Malone (19 mins)
Craig Noone’s next effort on twenty-one minutes followed some excellent build-up passing, but his resulting shot was wide of Forde’s post. Down the other end, Marshall was on hand to stop a glancing header from Henderson.
The goalkeeper was more heavily tested soon after as Henderson again got an effort on target. James Henry only managed to find the family stand with the rebound. If Millwall were to get an equaliser, Henderson looked the likeliest candidate. A left-footed shot from the ex-Watford and Sheffield United striker went to the right of Marshall’s goal. Craig Conway then saw yellow following an altercation with Adam Smith.
With everyone expecting a cross, Craig Bellamy stung the hands of Forde on the half-hour before James Henry missed one for the Lions following an excellent turn. A Bellamy volley was deflected wide for a corner five minutes before half-time before Mark Hudson was given space to force another save from Forde.
Aron Gunnarsson left the field with injury right before half-time, Jordon Mutch his replacement.
Cardiff Substitution: Jordon Mutch on for Aron Gunnarsson (45 mins)
HALF TIME: CARDIFF CITY 1-0 MILLWALL
The first play of the second half nearly brought a second for Cardiff. Bellamy pulled the ball back after a run down the left wing, and Jordon Mutch’s effort was deflected wide. Peter Whittingham put a free kick over the bar just a minute later as City looked to kill off the away side early on.
Mutch brought a save from Forde from twenty-five yards, and down the other end James Henry again found the stands with a wayward effort. Millwall mustered their closest effort yet on the hour as a Henderson effort looped onto the roof of the net. Craig Bellamy was ruled onside after he got behind the Lions’ defence, but his chipped attempt also found the roof of the net.
Millwall Substitution: Shaun Batt on for Dany N’Guessan (64 mins)
Marshall had to stop a James Henry free kick right after the away side’s substitution, pushing the ball away low to his left. Following a quiet ten minutes, Mark Hudson managed to inject some life back into the game as he attempted to beat Forde, who was off his line, from the half-way line. In his last action of the match, Craig Noone brought another save from Forde, the keeper requiring attention from his physio after keeping the ball out.
Cardiff Substitution: Don Cowie on for Craig Noone (72 mins)
Cardiff Substitution: Heidar Helguson on for Rudy Gestede (76 mins)
Shaun Batt tussled with Mark Hudson, bringing referee Mark Halsey to penalise him before he became a danger to Marshall’s goal. Adam Smith became the latest Millwall player to fire high and wide of the goal in injury time, as City completed a solid 1-0 victory and remained five points clear at the top of the npower Championship.
FULL TIME: CARDIFF CITY 1-0 MILLWALL