Aron Gunnarsson's sixth goal of the season secured a famous comeback.
Snapshot: Cardiff City came back from a goal down to beat Crystal Palace 2-1 on Boxing Day. Palace dominated the early part of the game after taking a third minute lead through Mile Jedinak. But on the stroke of half time City were level, as Craig Noone fired home a Craig Bellamy lay-off.
The second half was largely one-way traffic, influenced somewhat by the introduction of Aron Gunnarsson at half time. And it was the Icelander who sealed the points in the seventy-third minute with a bullet near-post header that moved Cardiff on to fifty points and extended their lead to five points at the top.
Chronological report: With both teams failing to score only once so far this season, all was set for a thrilling top-of-the-table clash at CCS. Ian Holloway returned for the second time this season, this time bringing with him hotshot Zaha and top scorer Murray. Coming off the back of a fantastic win at Leicester, City looked to open the gap at the summit of the table, whilst Palace had drawn their last three league games, falling to third behind Hull.
Both sets of supporters were in excellent voice, the large travelling Eagles contingent making themselves known. Cardiff kicked off attacking the Grange End, enjoying a good spell of possession before a Crystal Palace counter attack earned the Eagles a corner following Bolasie's run down the right. The ball was driven in at an awkward height and Cardiff failed to deal with it, leaving Eagles captain Mile Jedinak to volley home from inside the six yard area.
GOAL: CARDIFF CITY 0 – 1 CRYSTAL PALACE (Jedinak, 4 mins)
Hudson was then booked for a challenge on Zaha after nine minutes, the captain having to tread carefully for the remainder of the game. Palace had started well showing composure going forward, although Cardiff were slowly starting to forge chances their selves; Bellamy was inches from controlling a Mutch lofted ball that would have left him one-on-one. Peter Whittingham delivered a good ball from a long-range free kick that Palace cleared, but only as far as Craig Noone, who hit a ferocious volley that sailed wide.
A second Whittingham free kick yielded better results, Helguson hitting a rebound that was blocked, before a Palace counter attack left Cardiff wide open. Zaha picked up the ball near the touchline, and made it to the edge of the box unchallenged before cutting onto his right and bending a shot to the far corner. The ball ricocheted off the crossbar, Marshall forced into an incredible reaction save from the follow up effort to keep Cardiff in the game.
David Marshall had more work to do, parrying a twenty-five yard free kick from Owen Garvan, McNaughton clearing. Cardiff's best chance of the game then came when Marshall drilled a visionary kick that beat the entire Palace team, leaving Bellamy one-on-one. But with much to do, his effort fell wide of the post.
Kevin McNaughton was enjoying a good game against Zaha, the winger receiving a booking for dissent following numerous good challenges from the Cardiff right back. Cardiff were in the ascendancy, enjoying much of the ball and creating well, Noone and Conway both providing good deliveries that weren't met. Whittingham was then released down the right, playing a cute pass back to Bellamy, but the Welsh striker couldn't direct his effort toward goal.
Bolasie was booked for a foul on Noone, and as the half drew to a close Cardiff had turned it around. On the forty-fourth minute, Bellamy collected the ball on the left, drilling a low cross into the path of Noone, the winger's left-footed finish leaving Speroni with absolutely no chance.
GOAL: CARDIFF CITY 1 – 1 CRYSTAL PALACE (Noone, 44 mins)
Crystal Palace tried to respond, top-scorer Murray firing over from ten yards, and the final act of the half saw a Jedinak free kick saved comfortably by Marshall as the referee's whistle blew. Cardiff had finished the half vastly superior, following a poor start.
HALF TIME: CARDIFF CITY 1 – 1 CRYSTAL PALACE
Substitution Cardiff: Aron Gunnarsson on for Jordon Mutch (Half Time)
City came onto the pitch early, signalling their intent. Palace won a corner, ex-Cardiff defender Gabbidon's glancing header flying across goal before going behind. The game then lost tempo with a lengthy stoppage for both Garvan then McNaughton.
The Cardiff defence were resilient, Hudson in particular using his strength well to keep Zaha quiet, as Cardiff searched for a killer pass. Bellamy was flagged offside in what would have been a golden opportunity, and Whittingham came close to playing an exquisite ball to release Conway, but it was cut out.
Substitution Cardiff: Rudy Gestede on for Heidar Helguson (56 mins)
Cardiff's best chance of the second half so far came from a deep Whittingham free kick, Hudson the target. The captain headed back to Gunnarsson, the Icelander coolly finding Bellamy who's shot hit the underside of Speroni. As the rain lashed down, Bellamy was released again by Gunnarsson, but was again flagged offside. The Welsh striker's workrate once again was exceptional, forcing Speroni into distribution errors and stretching the Eagles defence.
After an impressionable first fifteen minutes, Zaha was now mute, whilst Noone was getting the better of Parr winning two free kicks on the left that were defended well. Cardiff were pressing and dominating possession, and it seemed only a matter of time before Cardiff found the net again.
Conway then won a free kick on the right hand side of the Palace goal, Whittingham's much-anticipated effort deflected over to give City a corner. Bellamy whipped the ball to the near post, and Aron Gunnarsson jumped to dispatch his sixth goal of the season with a good headed effort.
GOAL: CARDIFF CITY 2 – 1 CRYSTAL PALACE (Aron Gunnarsson, 72 mins)
Cardiff were now in absolute control, Palace consistently giving away free kicks in dangerous areas as frustration set. Whittingham tested Speroni from 30 yards, his effort clipping the crossbar, as City looked to put the game beyond doubt.
Substitution Crystal Palace: Andre Moritz on for Yannick Bolasie (74 mins)
Substitution Cardiff: Joe Mason on for Craig Noone (75 mins)
Mason now partnered Gestede up front with Bellamy moving to left wing, and Mason's movement was stretching Palace from the off. Gestede was showing his value defensively, winning aerial battles from a corner and throw in successively, before Gabbidon attempted the spectacular with a forty-yard effort that sailed wide.
Substitution Crystal Palace: Jermaine Easter on for Jonathan Parr (87 mins)
Holloway replaced booked right back Parr with forward Easter in an attempt to salvage a point, but the Eagles were reduced to long range efforts and wasteful passing. With four minutes of added time announced, Mason was released before being flagged offside, receiving a booking for shooting after the whistle had blown, as Palace searched in vain for a goal. It never came, and the final whistle blew to rapturous applause from the sold-out Cardiff support. Bellamy picked up Man of the Match, but the entire team could have collected the accolade - such was the level of performance to turn the game around. Cardiff remain perched at the top of the Championship, and now look to Millwall at home on Saturday.
FULL TIME: CARDIFF CITY 2–1 CRYSTAL PALACE