Cardiff City fell to Derby County – who now move joint-top in the Championship table – as two strikes in the first half allowed Steve McClaren’s visiting team breathing space.
In truth, the scoreline did not reflect the Bluebirds’ efforts – Russell Slade’s side much improved from last week’s clash with Reading - though the home side could not find a crucial goal.
With Derby happy to sit on their lead and counter-attack, Cardiff piled on the pressure as substitute Kenwyne Jones went closest with a powerful, headed effort though this high-intensity spectacle ended with a two-goal win for the away side.
Russell Slade made two changes from last weekend’s FA Cup clash, Stuart O’Keefe and Lee Peltier both making their debut in Bluebirds colours - replacing Fabio and Kewyne Jones, the pair taking up a place on the bench. Gabon international Bruno Ecuele Manga was also amongst the substitutes following his return from the Africa Cup of Nations.
The lively Simon Dawkins was first to threaten for the visitors, sending a low cross across Cardiff’s penalty area that was ultimately fruitless. Matt Connolly then stopped a dangerous run from Jeff Hendrick with an authoritative, crunching tackle on the edge of the eighteen-yard box.
Kadeem Harris, playing wide left surged with regularity in the opening stages; however, his final ball was dealt with adequately by Rams central pairing Jake Buxton and Richard Keogh.
On eight minutes, referee Paul Tierney awarded Derby County a penalty. Chris Martin stepped up from twelve yards, striking cleanly to the bottom left of the goal; however, Simon Moore was equal, palming away to the delight of he home support.
Derby continued looking dangerous as they ventured forward, winger Dawkins’ pace proving a good outlet for the visitors. Countering on the same wing, Noone found his self in good space on occasion but Derby again defended well.
Rams shot stopper Grant had to keep his wits about him when Alex Revell’s deflected effort nearly looped into the top corner.
Cardiff City were starting to hit their stride when Derby County came with a sucker punch – neat play around the City box involving Welshman Will Hughes allowing Jamie Ward the time and space to pick out Moore’s far corner, the ball deflecting in harshly off Scott Malone.
GOAL: CARDIFF CITY 0-1 DERBY COUNTY (Scott Malone o.g., 21 mins)
Cardiff rallied, Noone earning a free kick inside the final third that Whittingham whipped to the far post – but again, County defended well. Cardiff were by no means deflated – Gunnarsson skipped past two challenges and found Whittingham who picked out Revell but the forward’s pacey shot was held by Lee Grant.
Lee Peltier drew spirited appreciation from the Bluebirds faithful for dispossessing Will Hughes and then Dawkins in quick succession, surging forward and delivering a floated ball - Revell agonisingly close to meeting it.
Derby County Substitution: Jake Buxton replaced by Cyrus Christie (41 mins)
A small delay due to the replacement of Derby centre-back Buxton preceded the official’s announcement of two minutes of added time. County regained possession and advanced into Cardiff’s final third, Jeff Hendrick spreading the ball out wide for substitute Cyrus Christie to cross. Chris Martin making no mistake from six yards, heading into the top-right corner of the City goal.
GOAL: CARDIFF CITY 0-2 DERBY COUNTY (Chris Martin, 45+1)
HALF-TIME: CARDIFF CITY 0 – 2 DERBY COUNTY
With a mountain to climb, Cardiff started the opening exchanges of the second half with energy and commitment - typified by Revell’s dogged determination up front to close down the Rams defence. The hard work nearly paid off as the Bluebirds new signing won a corner that dropped tantalisingly in the Derby box but Cardiff were not quick enough to capitalise.
Derby County Substitution: Simon Dawkins replaced by Mason Bennett (50 mins)
Winger Dawkins’ removal signaled Derby moving to a more defensive shape, though substitute Mason Bennett picked up a near-instantaneous booking for a challenge on Bluebirds left-back Peltier.
Cardiff City Substitution: Aron Gunnarsson replaced by Kenwyne Jones (62 mins)
Derby were struggling to hold possession and within a minute Noone curled a cross from deep that powerhouse Kenwyne Jones met perfectly; Grant however was in top form throughout, tipping the powerful header over the crossbar. County responded when Hughes threaded through Bennett but Simon Moore spread his body to avert the danger.
At the other end, top-scorer Kenwyne Jones found time to turn and attack the Derby area, moving the ball to Revell; his effort deflected and cleared.
Cardiff City Substitution: Kadeem Harris replaced by Fabio (70 mins)
Matt Connolly picked up Cardiff’s first booking as he collided with England U21 international Hughes to quell a Rams counter-attack. With Cardiff searching for a goal to get back in, County were happy to sit back and break with pace in the wide area.
Derby County Substitution: Jamie Ward replaced by Craig Bryson (77 mins)
Whittingham nearly managed to squeeze a shot away after a good midfield exchange but Derby – camping on the edge of the area – closed down the opportunity instantaneously.
Cardiff City Substitution: Stuart O’Keefe replaced by Tom Adeyemi (79 mins)
Jones was winning the aerial battle but the day was not to be Cardiff’s as twice Lee Grant collected to stop the pressure. For all the effort and desire the Bluebirds could not grab a crucial goal, the referee blowing up to signal the end to the high-tempo Championship clash.
FULL TIME: CARDIFF CITY 0 - 2 DERBY COUNTY
Cardiff City: Moore, Peltier, Malone, Morrison, Connolly, Whittingham, Gunnarsson, Noone, Harris, Revell. Subs: Fabio, Manga, Jones, Macheda, Adeyemi, Ralls, Wilson.
Derby County: Grant, Forsyth, Keogh, Dawkins, Hendrick, Martin, Ward, Hughes, Shotton, Mascarell. Subs: Roos, Christie, Bryson, Bennett, Calero, Warnock, Bent.