Cardiff City vs Birmingham City
Cardiff City left Cardiff City Stadium with three points on a night marked by an unrelenting downpour, to record a historic fifth successive home victory in a close-fought game against Birmingham City.
Chances were created by both teams, with Birmingham initially enjoying much of the ball, but fantastic work rate from the Bluebirds didn't allow the Blues to play, before Cardiff stepped up a gear. The pressure told, Bellamy firing home with a simple finish that caught Butland's leg as it rippled the net after Hudson beat the offside trap and squared. With the rain pouring down, Cardiff finished the first half with a well earned lead.
The restart brought a refreshed Birmingham who quickly found an equaliser through Leroy Lita, on loan from Swansea. A free kick was whipped in by Wade Elliott, and Lita beat the trap for a simple tap in that gave Marshall no chance.
The goal galvanised Cardiff, the response immediate and devastating. A Whittingham corner that once delivered seemed to ricochet around the six yard box for an age before an off-balance Mark Hudson smashed the ball into the Birmingham net. The captain's goal turned out to be the difference between the two sides; in the aftermath Cardiff enjoyed much possession, before a nervy last ten minutes were brought to a close by referee Kevin Friend.
The cheers rang out around CCS, with chants of "We are top of the league" ringing true. The Bluebirds sit at the top of Championship table after nine games, separated by one point from Leicester.
Coming into this game, the Bluebirds looked to take their winning streak at home to five games following an inspiring 3-0 win over promotion rivals Blackpool. Birmingham were still recovering from their 5-0 destruction at the hands of Barnsley at home; however, the Blues went some way to make amends with a good away win on Saturday at Brighton, in which ex-Cardiff winger Chris Burke scored a fantastic long range volley. With the CCS enjoying a healthy 20,278 crowd, Cardiff started the first half attacking the Grange End.
Jonathan Spector had the first opportunity of the evening after a neat one-two on the edge of the Cardiff box, but his effort was high and wide. Noone's excellent run after good interplay with Bellamy brought about a good crossing opportunity, and not long after a cut back from Mason resulted in a Bellamy volley that sailed over the bar.
The pressure continued as Mason was then adjudged to be offside from a cute Whittingham ball, and on the eight minute mark McNaughton played a fantastic lofted pass down the line for Mason to cross, the ball ricocheting out to Noone who fired over.
Cardiff were then denied a penalty for a push on Noone, the controversial decision proving unpopular for the Cardiff home support. A brilliant free kick from Wade Elliott found Leroy Lita in space in the Cardiff box, Marshall stopping the goal-bound effort with a fantastic save to his bottom right. Cardiff responded with a good attacking move that led to a corner; Whittingham delivered, Hudson coming to within inches of meeting the ball at the far post.
Hudson then gave the ball away on the half way line, with Birmingham breaking at speed. Lita received the ball outside the box, but blasted his effort over the bar. Noone then drew a foul from Elliott, Whittingham hitting the wall with the resultant free kick.
Although the Bluebirds were chasing the game for periods, the high pressure wasn't allowing Birmingham to play, the Blues often forced backward or into a mistake, Cardiff capitalising on the break. Hudson found himself onside after a good long ball by Taylor, and he found his self with an opportunity after initially trying to header through to Bellamy, but the striker volleyed wide.
Helguson then found space down the right to create Cardiff's best chance so far, hooking an intelligent cross to pick out Gunnarsson who fired straight at Butland. As the heavens opened, Chris Burke embarked on a mazy run that ended with his shot flying just wide of Marshall's far post, before Cardiff garnered an emphatic response. Whittingham picked out Hudson on the right hand side of the Birmingham goal, the centre back still upfield from a Cardiff free kick that was cleared, and the captain played a fantastic squared pass to Bellamy who was tasked with the simplest of finishes.
GOAL: CARDIFF CITY 1-0 BIRMINGHAM CITY (Bellamy, 38 mins)
Cardiff had gathered momentum, Birmingham enjoying little of the ball, and Gunnarsson tracked back fantastically before playing Mason in down the right, who played a ball to the near post that Butland collected. On the forty five minute mark, Bellamy tried his luck from a fourty yard free kick, his powerful effort not dipping enough. Half time was met with a raucous applause from the home support, the Bluebirds containing Birmingham well before gaining control of the game.
HALF TIME: CARDIFF CITY 1-0 BIRMINGHAM CITY
With no sign of the rain letting up, Birmingham had the first chance of the half, Spector delivering a fine low cross that Leroy Lita, on loan from Swansea City failed to get on the end of. Noone then whipped a fantastic cross in that caught Helguson by surprise, the ball flying over the bar.
Substitution Birmingham: James Hurst on for Will Packwood (50 mins)
Hudson received a booking for a challenge on Lita, and the free kick, taken by Wade Elliott, caught out a static Cardiff defence, Lita beating the offside trap to finish from six yards.
GOAL: CARDIFF CITY 1-1 BIRMINGHAM CITY (Lita, 52 mins)
However, Cardiff responded quickly through Craig Bellamy, whose cross was deflected out for a corner, and with Whittingham typically whipping the ball into the six yard box, the resultant scramble was converted by Hudson, the captain slotting home from deep inside the area.
GOAL: CARDIFF CITY 2-1 BIRMINGHAM CITY (Hudson, 57 mins)
It was a great response from Cardiff who had controlled the game up until Birmingham's equaliser, and after the restart things continued in the same way. The Bluebirds pressure forced the Blues deep into their own half. An Aron Gunnarsson long throw fell to Mason, who with space hit a half volley over the bar.
Substitution Birmingham: Marlon King on for Leroy Lita (65 mins)
Cardiff then had a strong penalty shout waved away, Bellamy being brought in the box as he laid Mason off, with Mason's effort forcing a good save from Butland. The challenge temporarily forced Bellamy off the pitch to a standing ovation, whilst Whittingham stepped up to take the corner. Delivering an inswinging ball to the near post, Butland first palmed the ball straight into the air before palming away for another Cardiff corner on the opposite side, Noone taking. Bellamy returned to action, but was booked for dissent by referee Kevin Friend as Cardiff's corner was cleared only as far as Taylor.
On the seventy minute mark a quick free kick to Bellamy forced Butland to rush out and collect the ball as the striker was shaping up to shoot.
Substitution Birmingham: Nathan Redmond on for Peter Lovenkrands (73 mins)
With a quarter of an hour to go, Hudson headed down to Mason who laid off Gunnarsson, the Icelander's effort fizzing just wide of Butland's far post. Out of the blue, Burke found his self with time and space down the left, and Birmingham were breaking with pace before Whittingham made a fantastic sliding challenge to halt his former team-mate, winning the ball cleanly in the process. Bellamy then came off to another standing ovation, to be replaced by Don Cowie.
Substitution Cardiff: Don Cowie on for Craig Bellamy (78 mins)
Marlon King broke away and put a good effort to the right of Marshall from twenty yards, but the Cardiff goalkeeper was alert and saved comfortably.
Substitution Cardiff: Kim-Bo Kyung on for Craig Noone (83 mins)
With four minutes to go, Mason was taken out on the forty yard mark, and a quick freekick squared led to Kim-Bo Kyung coming close from six yards. With a significant five minutes of time added on, Cardiff were defending with their backs to the wall, before Marshall claimed a cross to the relief of the crowd.