Cardiff City recorded a fifth-successive home victory under the Friday night lights as they saw off the visiting Reading 2-1.
The Bluebirds broke the deadlock midway through the first half when Peter Whittingham’s fierce corner kick delivery was turned into his own net by Royals centre-back Alex Pearce.
It continued to be a nightmare evening for Pearce as, with half time looming, he hauled down his former teammate Adam le Fondre for a City spot-kick. The challenge earned the defender a red card and saw the score-line doubled, as Whittingham dispatched the resultant penalty with consummate ease.
The Royals set up a nervy finale when Michael Hector drove a low shot through Marshall with ten minutes remaining, but City held strong to earn the points and take themselves to within three points of the playoff positions.
The Bluebirds took to the pitch for the first time in almost two weeks following the international break, and after taking a few minutes to get back into the swing of things, it was the home side who created the first half-chance of the match. Anthony Pilkington, who started out wide on the left flank, swung the ball in to former Royal Adam le Fondre, whose header comfortably cleared Adam Federici’s bar.
Despite that opportunity, it was to be a slow start to this encounter, as neither side managed to maintain a significant period of pressure in the opposition’s half.
However, in Anthony Pilkington, City had a player who looked eager to create something. His clever turn inside on the fifteenth minute gave him a sight of goal from inside the Reading penalty area, only for their back-line to reassemble and block his low drive.
Cardiff didn’t have to wait much longer for the opener though. After Chris Gunter had put the ball out for a corner at the far post, a sense of expectancy increased around the stadium with Peter Whittingham strolling over to take the corner kick. As expected, he caused the visitors some serious difficulties with a trademark delivery that Royals centre-half Alex Pearce could only turn past his own ‘keeper.
GOAL: CARDIFF CITY 1-0 READING (Alex Pearce OG, 20 mins)
The goal settled down what had been a somewhat tense affair up to that point, but it was Reading who would create the next opportunity. Welsh winger Hal Robson-Kanu knows the Cardiff City Stadium well from international duty, and he strode forward with purpose through the middle of the park before spreading the ball out wide to Jordan Obita. The youngster was in plenty of space on the left, but his subsequent effort was well saved by David Marshall.
City carried on pressing in search of a second as the pace of the game rose. A couple of corners and a dangerous free-kick delivery from Whittingham kept Federici on his toes in the Reading goal. However, the Bluebirds’ best opening was squandered when Pilkington failed to get the ball out of his feet after showing great desire to drive into the box.
As half time approached, the Cardiff back line held firm to keep their opponents safely at bay, despite a brief period of pressure. But, with three minutes of injury time, there was plenty more drama before the whistle blew.
When Adam le Fondre squirmed past his marker in box, Alex Pearce made his evening even worse as he hauled his former teammate down illegally. The referee had no option but to dismiss the Royals defender and award a penalty. Peter Whittingham held his nerve from the spot, sending Federici the wrong way, and doubling City’s lead before the break.
GOAL: CARDIFF CITY 2-0 READING (Peter Whittingham pen, 45 mins)
HALF TIME: CARDIFF CITY 2-0 READING
Reading substitution: Garath McCleary replaces Simon Cox (45 mins)
The second half commenced with the wind still in City’s sails. The second goal, and consequent red card, seemed to have given them a comfortable buffer in this game, which they soon looked to increase. Pilkington was again first to threaten as he tested the reflexes of Federici after cutting onto his right foot. The Reading stopper palmed it away though, to keep his side within two goals.
Reading were now set up to counter attack, with a healthy dose of pace on the wings brought through the introduction of Garath McCleary. However, their ten men were set to be under some pressure in this second half, and could have found themselves further behind had Craig Noone controlled his curling effort.
With City enjoying plenty of space in the final third, le Fondre looked keen to capitalise and net against his former employers. His strike from the left flank didn’t quite dip in time though, as it had looked set to nestle in the top corner.
With chances for the visitors now few and far between, they would have to make the most of each one to come their way. But unfortunately for them, Oliver Norwood was unable to test Scotland’s number one when his free-kick flew past the ‘keeper’s post. Meanwhile, John Brayford came close at the other end as his marauding run culminated in a left-footed shot that was dragged just wide.
Cardiff substitution: Mats Møller Daehli replaces Craig Noone (69 mins)
Reading substitution: Jake Taylor replaces Danny Williams (71 mins)
Cardiff substitution: Fábio replaces Matthew Connolly (75 mins)
The Bluebirds looked set up to attack with Mats Møller Daehli and Fábio now on the pitch. They were content simply to keep the ball away from their opponents. However, as the match approached its final ten minutes, Reading soon ensured that they’d face a nervy conclusion though, as they pulled one back against the run of play.
City were unable to clear the ball as it ricocheted around the box following a Reading corner. After several efforts were valiantly blocked, the ball broke to Michael Hector, who drove low from just outside the box. Marshall was unable to get a clear sight of the ball due to the amount of bodies in front of him, and was powerless to prevent it squirming between his legs and into the back of the net.
GOAL: CARDIFF CITY 2-1 READING (Michael Hector, 81 mins)
Reading substitution: Nick Blackman replaces Hal Robson-Kanu (82 mins)
Both Macheda and Daehli came close to responding immediately to save what looked to be some nervous final minutes for City. Federici once again stepped up to deny Macheda’s close-range shot though, while Daehli, following up on the rebound, fired into the side-netting.
Cardiff substitution: Kenwyne Jones replaces Federico Macheda (88 mins)
With the fourth official signalling four minutes of injury time, hearts were in mouths around Cardiff City Stadium as the rain began to pour down. Cardiff were doing well to hold the ball high up in the corners of the pitch though, and remained strong enough to see out the game. A collective sigh of relief came as the final whistle blew and City hung on for the fourth home win of Russell Slade’s tenure, adding pressure on the teams above before the Saturday encounters.
FULL TIME: CARDIFF CITY 2-1 READING
Attendance: 20,643 (852 away fans)
Cardiff City: Marshall, Connolly (Fábio), Turner, S Morrison, Brayford, Noone (Daehli), Whittingham, Gunnarsson, Pilkington, le Fondre, Macheda (Jones).
Subs not used: Manga, Adeyemi, R Morrison, Moore.
Reading: Federici, Kelly, Gunter (C), Pearce, Hector, Norwood, Williams (Taylor), Robson-Kanu (Blackman), Obita, Murray, Cox (McCleary).
Subs not used: Andersen, Cummings, Cooper, Tshibola