Cardiff City moved seven points clear at the top of the nPower Championship on New Year's Day with Joe Mason’s 41stminute strike securing our first win at Birmingham in forty-six years.
Despite being second best for spells of the first half, it was the large away following that were the happy fans going into the break. A strong shot from outside the area from Craig Conway was parried by Jack Butland to Joe Mason who put the Welsh side ahead from close range.
The second half saw very little in terms of chances - a much more even affair with neither team really gaining taking the game by the scruff of the neck. Despite a shout for a penalty late on there were no nervy moments for the visitors. City held on for another impressive win on the road, extending their away form to five games unbeaten and yet again strengthening their position at the top of the Championship table.
Cardiff started the game with over 2,200 following City fans behind them. It was Birmingham who had the first shot on goal via Rob Hall, his effort from the edge of the area causing David Marshall little problem in the Cardiff goal. The Blues' second effort was a lot more dangerous though, as Wade Elliott’s strike whistled past the right hand post after just seven minutes.
Ben Turner earned Cardiff the first corner of the game after getting on the end of an Aron Gunnarsson throw inside the area. The resulting corner from Craig Bellamy forced Jack Butland to punch clear and away from immediate danger.
The opening twenty minutes went by without major incident. Nathan Redmond showed attacking intent with a jinking run into the Cardiff half; the ball eventually came back to him, but again the effort was struck directly at City’s Scottish stopper. Redmond then had another shot a couple of minutes later, this time Marshall had to dive low to his left to parry the ball away from goal and the defence cleared their lines safely. As the half approached the mid-point it was definitely the home side that were looking more dangerous, largely thanks to the attacking threats of Redmond and Ravel Morrison.
The Birmingham fans thought they had taken the lead on the half hour mark when the ball nestled in the bottom left hand corner before play was pulled back for an offside. The shot came from Morrison, but he was rightly deemed to have received the ball in an offside position.
Birmingham City Substitution: Morgaro Gomis on for Callum Reilly (32 mins)
After being drafted in last minute after Haydn Mullins got injured in the warm up, Callum Reilly had to be taken off himself through an injury of his own. The Midlands side started to increase the tempo with ten minutes left of the half. A timely block from Ben Turner denied Rob Hall from possibly opening the scoring and Marshall soon followed with a strong punch away from a wide free kick.
Cardiff relieved the pressure when Kim Bo-Kyung broke from in his own half to win a free kick midway into the Birmingham half. Nothing came of the set piece, but it marked a change in momentum. City started to get hold of the ball for longer periods. Craig Conway went on his first attacking run of the game down the right flank. He cut inside on the edge of the box and fired a hard low shot to Butland’s left. The 'keeper managed to get a hand to the effort, but could only direct the ball into the path of the onrushing Joe Mason. Mason, about ten yards from goal, slotted the ball home to give the league leaders the lead.
GOAL: BIRMINGHAM CITY 0 – 1 CARDIFF CITY (Joe Mason, 41 mins)
The remainder of the first half went by with no major chances for either side.
HALF TIME: BIRMINGHAM CITY 0 – 1 CARDIFF CITY
Cardiff City almost had a dream start to the second half when a long ball over the top found Mason. Butland collected the ball, then spilt it, but managed to regain it before Mason poked home. City then had a second chance within as many minutes when a Matt Connolly shot looked to be going into the bottom corner. Luckily for the home side Curtis Davies was in the right place at the right time to clear off the line and prevent City taking a 2-0 lead.
Cardiff City Substitution: Don Cowie on for Jordon Mutch (50 mins)
The Don Cowie substitution showed that Malky Mackay was looking for a way to gain control of the central midfield area. Immediately after the change it looked like the attempt was to be in vain as Birmingham had control of the ball and were looking the more threatening side. A number of balls were played in the Cardiff area but importantly the lead was still intact. The home team were starting to see a lot of the ball, but the pressure on the ball from the Cardiff team was relentless and did not allow Birmingham to create anything.
Cardiff City Substitution: Craig Noone on for Kim Bo- Kyung (67 mins)
Birmingham City Substitution: Jake Jervis on for Wade Elliott (70 mins)
Cardiff City Substitution: Rudy Gestede on for Joe Mason (70 mins)
With three quarters of the game now gone Birmingham were still far from coming close to an equaliser. Chances seemed to be few and far between. Lee Clark’s men still had the better of possession but lacked composure in the final third.
Birmingham City Substitution: Mitch Hancox on for Will Packwood (77 mins)
Seventy-eight minutes marked the first attempted shot for a long period for Cardiff City. The ball seemed to sit up nicely for Craig Bellamy from thirty yards out. Invited by the bounce Bellamy shot but could only put his effort wide. City were controlling things at what appeared to be a pivotal stage of the match.
There was a possibility of a red card for Jake Jervis on eighty-three minutes when he slid into Connolly late, with his foot high and studs showing. He made contact with Connolly who may have done the Birmingham replacement a massive favour by getting up off the floor immediately. The referee showed Jervis a yellow card.
There was a chance of a second for City with little more than five minutes left of normal time. Conway broke down the right and found himself in the area. Perhaps a slightly heavy touch allowed the defender to block his eventual cross with Bellamy lurking inside the six-yard box. Despite the Blues still needing a goal it was Cardiff who were doing all the pressing. Clark’s side were now resorting to hitting hopeful balls forwards and very nearly paid for it with Craig Bellamy bounding forward. He beat a number of defenders but could not find that killer ball to Don Cowie.
Four minutes were indicated by the fourth official, to the delight of the home support. They could sense that there was time for a comeback. There was a hearts in mouths moment in injury time for the travelling City faithful when cries went up for handball when the ball cannoned of Matt Connolly in the area. To the annoyance of the home fans the official denied them a spot kick. There was to be one more corner for Birmingham City, Butland came up from his goal. The ball came in, was cleared and the final whistle blew. The players left the field to the chorus of ‘we are top of the league’ from the away support as it signalled the end of a hard fought 1-0 victory for Cardiff City.
FULL TIME: BIRMINGHAM CITY 0 – 1 CARDIFF CITY
Full report and reaction to follow