Cardiff City vs Wolverhampton Wanderers
WHITTINGHAM HATRICK SEALS CITY WIN
A Peter Whittingham wonder-show earned City a fantastic three points against Wolves at Cardiff City Stadium.
The visitors took the lead in fact when debutant Bakary Sako curled home a free kick on ten minutes.
But City earned a penalty from the very next attack as the outstanding Craig Noone was felled inside the area by Ronald Zubar. Whittingham stepped up and slotted home the spot kick.
And things got even better three minutes later as a Whittingham finished off a superb forward flowing City move. Nicky Maynard controlled well on the City touchline before cutting in field; his pass across the penalty area was left by Jordon Mutch for Whittingham to fire home left-footed into the bottom corner of the net.
Wolves pushed for the equaliser into the second half but things were eventually wrapped up in the sixty-fifth minute. Eyeing his hat-trick Whittingham stepped up to curl home a terrific free-kick into the top right hand corner of the goal. It was the perfect finish to a sublime all-round performance from Whittingham and the City team.
Cardiff instantly won the ball from the kick-off, sending it Nicky Maynard's way. Noone then impressed with a tricky run, but over hit his last touch for the oncoming Ikeme to collect. Smith on the right wing was equally as impressive in the opening few minutes, skipping past the Wolves midfield, but his neat through ball did not carry enough pace to reach the onrushing Mutch.
Marshall then saved a Wolves header from a deep cross, before McNaughton burst down the right on the counter, playing in Mutch who won the corner. Although Whittingham couldn't find a Cardiff player, a second corner then proved more fruitful as Noone popped up with a volley, however his powerful effort fell straight to Ikeme.
Against the run of play, a quick free kick on the right of the Cardiff goal caught Marshall by surprise, with Bakary Sako finding the bottom right corner of the net at the Cardiff goalkeeper's near post. It was an unfortunate goal to concede, but the Cardiff fightback was exceptional.
GOAL: CARDIFF CITY 0-1 WOLVERHAMPTON WANDERERS (Sako, 9 mins)
Almost instantly, Craig Noone was found with a superb Whittingham cross field ball, the new boy ghosting into the box and skipping past Ronald Zubar who brought him down. Whittingham stepped up, as cool as ever and slotted it straight down the middle, with Ikeme guessing incorrectly.
GOAL: CARDIFF CITY 1-1 WOLVERHAMPTON WANDERERS (Whittingham, 11 mins)
Cardiff looked the more confident side out of the blocks after a goal apiece, and the Bluebirds were in control as Maynard received the ball on the right. The debutant striker then played an intelligent low cross to Whittingham who was waiting on the edge of the area, and after Mutch dummied, Whittingham fired in a low drive from eighteen yards into the right side of the goal, giving Ikeme no chance.
GOAL: CARDIFF CITY 2-1 WOLVERHAMPTON WANDERES (Whittingham, 14 mins)
Cardiff had battled for a lead and it boiled over when Mutch picked up a booking for a tackle that even though he won the ball, was deemed dangerous by referee Andy D'Urso. Another Ebanks-Blake header then brought the best out of Marshall, who dived to his right to collect the ball. Wolves were feeling the pressure, with a back pass needing to be cleared by Ikeme, conceding a corner, which again fell to Whittingham. The playmaker intelligently chose to pass to Smith, who received the ball on the right of the box, before cutting in and curling a left footed shot just wide.
Sako then picked the ball up on the edge of the Cardiff box, a winding run resulting in an over hit shot from a narrow angle; it would have been asking a lot to score under pressure from the faultless Cardiff defence. On the half hour mark, Ebanks-Blake then fired a shot across goal from twenty yards that went wide of the post, much to the delight of the Cardiff fans. McNaughton, Mutch and Smith were causing a lot of problems down the right working well as a trio, however they couldn't make the final ball count.
Wolves responded through Sako, who picked up a low cross across the Cardiff six yard box, but the angle was too tight and Marshall parried before Cardiff cleared. A great Noone cross was then cut out by Ikeme, and Mutch showed great work ethic, tracking back for fifty yards to contain Sako, who himself enjoyed a decent first half.
The impressive Sako then crossed in following a few tricky step-overs, but the even better Noone picked his cross up and embarked on an eighty yard barrelling run, skipping past two players in orange before rifling a shot that Ikeme parried then collected. Noone's final contribution of the first half came from a corner that he delivered well into the six yard box, Ikeme diving onto his knees to beat it away.
HALF TIME: CARDIFF CITY 2-1 WOLVERHAMPTON WANDERERS
The second half started brightly with McNaughton using time afforded to him on the right to bomb forward, before laying off Smith to cross, with every player missing the ball, Helguson inches away. Wolves responded well, keeping the ball for long periods but Cardiff often caught them on the break, winning a corner after Roger Johnson put it out when many thought he could have played for a throw in. The corner fell to McNaughton on the edge of the box, who was then fouled, with Whittingham taking the twenty yard free kick. He curled it precisely over the wall - a sign of things to come - but Ikeme did very well to reach to his bottom left corner, making a good save.
Noone, who was certainly a contender for man of the match at this point already, had more success down the left, the Wolves defence unable to handle his turn of pace and close control, winning a succession of corners for the Bluebirds. Wolves then gave Cardiff a scare with a good cross that was eventually cut out by Smith. Ebanks-Blake sent a header to Marshall but it lacked any sort of pace to trouble the Cardiff goalkeeper, with Malky then bringing off the impressive but tiring Jordon Mutch, a good tactical decision considering he had also picked up a booking.
Substitution Cardiff: Aron Gunnarsson on for Jordon Mutch (58 mins)
Helguson intelligently broke away but didn't have the turn of pace his strike partner possesses, Johnson covering extremely well with a great sliding tackle. Not long after, McNaughton picked up the ball in space after poetic footwork from Smith, but his decision to shoot was perhaps the wrong one considering the support he had in the box, with the shot being deflected out for a throw. Gunnarsson sent in a trademark long throw, but Ikeme collected under pressure. Noone, who had terrorised the Wolves defence all game, skipped parallel to the edge of the box after a cheeky step over, and was again brought down. Whittingham stepped up twenty three yards out, to the left of the goal, and audaciously sent a whipped shot to the top right corner that was placed perfectly into the side netting, out of reach of Ikeme to complete his hat trick.
GOAL: CARDIFF CITY 3-1 WOLVERHAMPTON WANDERERS (Whittingham, 65 mins)
Cardiff fans were in great voice as Malky brought off Maynard. The striker's début impressed many with his pace and positional play, causing Wolves many problems, in particular his support of the two wingers.
Substitution Cardiff: Joe Mason on for Nicky Maynard (67 mins)
Malky then brought off the fantastic Craig Noone to a standing ovation from the home support, with Scotsman Don Cowie replacing him to help close out the game.
Substitution Wolverhampton: Frank Nouble and Richard Stearman on for David Edwards and Ronald Zubar (72 mins)
Substitution Cardiff: Don Cowie on for Craig Noone (73 mins)
Gunnarsson made an excellent run, deftly chipping the ball with his wrong foot to Mason, but the pass was cut out by the Wolves defence at the last. Cardiff were cruising by now, and Wolves looked out of ideas, however they did deny the Bluebirds possession for long periods. Cardiff were looking comfortable sitting back and hitting Wolves on the break, with Cowie shooting from the edge of the box on one occasion, but the shot lacked any real venom and was saved. Smith, who impressed on the right, weaved in and out in the box before firing a shot that was deflected for a corner. The corner was taken quickly, with Whittingham playing a smart one two and sending in a great ball that was again punched away by Ikeme.
Substitution Wolverhampton: Anthony Forde on for Slawomir Peszko (82 mins)
Wolves never really threatened in the whole of the second half, with Cardiff happily sitting back, then keeping the ball when they earned possession. With four minutes of added time, Cardiff worked to close the game out, winning a corner and then keeping the ball near the flag. A frustrated Wolves looked like they lacked energy, Cardiff's intense pressure and relentless wing attacks paying their toll. In the dying minutes McNaughton gifted Wolves the ball on the corner of the box, but the lacklustre cross from Sako summed up Wolves game as it was cut out by Marshall.
This was a great victory for the Bluebirds against a team that will surely be there or thereabouts at the end of the season. Malky Mackay can now look to the international break to solve his selection headache he's been given on the back of so many excellent performances.
FULL TIME: CARDIFF CITY 3-1 WOLVERHAMPTON WANDERERS