Cardiff City restored their ten point lead at the top of the nPower Championship with a battling win at Leeds United on Saturday.
In an intense and often fraught affair at Elland Road it was City who started the brighter, though Neil Warnock's Whites soon found their stride to make it a more even contest.
Craig Bellamy thought he'd given City the lead two minutes before the break, only to see his poached effort ruled offside.
But Cardiff were much the better side after the interval and were rewarded in kind just after the hour mark. Fraizer Campbell entered the fray in place of Kim Bo-Kyung and with only his third touch of the game and just two minutes into his debut, connected with a Bellamy goal-bound effort to nick in and score at the near post.
Leeds pushed for the equaliser in the remaining half hour, but aside from a point blank Tom Lees effort which David Marshall palmed instinctively off the line, City were rarely troubled inside the penalty area. The final whistle signaled another away victory for Malky Mackay's table-toppers - and the fifteenth game in a row that Leeds have failed to take three points off Cardiff City.
Cardiff wasted no time in setting a positive marker with Aron Gunnarsson surging forward in the opening seconds and, from the right of the area, forcing Paddy Kenny to tip over an awkward shot and the top corner. City continued to target the Leeds left in the opening exchanges, Craig Conway getting free to the by-line moments later, but his low cross was cut out inside the six-yard box. Leeds’ sole sighter saw Luke Varney cut inside on the left but fire his shot high and wide of David Marshall’s goal.
Rodolph Austin disrupted a rather timid opening on the fifteen minute mark when he earned himself a yellow card for a late, clumsy tackle at full-stretch on Gunnarsson in the midfield area. Up to that point Leeds had probably been the brighter, committing men forward in numbers and looking to overload City at the back. With the pace of Craig Bellamy, the movement of Tommy Smith and the vision of Peter Whittingham though, City were looking dangerous on the break.
Leeds’ clearest sight of goal arrived in controversial circumstances after twenty-five minutes. Gunnarsson broke up play in midfield by getting his toe to the ball in midfield and it trickled towards the Cardiff area where Marshall picked it up. Referee Mike Dean decided the move warranted the award of a back-pass and gifted the home side an in-direct free-kick just yards inside the City area. Both Marshall and Craig Bellamy found their way into Mr Dean’s book for their overly aggressive protestations, but luckily for Cardiff the situation amounted to nothing as far as the score-sheet was concerned as the wall held firm to deflect Ross McCormack’s strike wide after El-Hadji Diouf had touched it off.
With thirty-five rather uneventful minutes played, Marshall made a huge save to ensure the match remained goalless. Leeds won a dubious free-kick, one of many, on the City right and it allowed McCormack to swing a testing ball over that was flicked on to an un-marked Ross Barkley at the back-post. He controlled the ball calmly and fired it goal-ward only to see Marshall scrambling across to get his bag frame in the way and keep Cardiff level. Minutes later Barkley had another chance, picking up a loose ball at the edge of the City area, but he flashed his shot well wide to the right.
In the closing moments of the first-half City thought they had taken the lead only for the linesman’s flag to spoil the celebrations. Gunnarsson found Craig Conway on the right with a fine raking pass, the Scot turned Aidy White and delivered a deep cross that Tommy Smith turned back in with an intelligent header. Craig Bellamy was quicker to the ball than Paddy Kenny and he flicked the ball home only to see the dreaded luminous orange and yellow quarters raised on the far side.
HALF TIME: LEEDS UNITED 0-0 CARDIFF CITY
Leeds began the second-half in much the same vein as they competed the first and had Cardiff under pressure from the off, but City defended a couple of early corners stoutly and saw Michael Brown’s strike slice high into the stands behind Marshall’s goal.
From there Cardiff finally carved a foothold in the match. With Gunnarsson’s dominant performance in the centre of the park setting the platform, City’s forward players were finally on the front foot and, in Tommy Smith in particular, were starting to find pockets of space in and around the Leeds area.
Cardiff City Substitution: Fraizer Campbell for Kim Bo-Kyung (61mins)
The change brought about an immediate impact from the new City hero. Leeds were guilty of surrendering possession deep in their own territory and it allowed Conway to pick out Bellamy; he chested the ball under control and rather scuffed a volley towards goal, but there was Fraizer Campbell, two minutes into his Cardiff debut, to turn it home from close range.
GOAL: LEEDS UNITED 0-1 CARDIFF CITY (Campbell, 63)
Leeds United Substitution: Habib Habibou for El-Hadji Diouf (72mins)
Cardiff City Substitution: Heidar Helguson for Craig Conway (78mins)
Despite the slender lead, the home side still looked dangerous when pouring forward in numbers, and David Marshall was forced into another great save to keep City ahead with ten minutes left on the clock. Mark Hudson was booked in the build up for dangling a leg in-front of the surging Barkley and it allowed Leeds to launch a free-kick, and then a corner into the Cardiff area. From the latter, the ball was nodded back in and Tom Lees was the first to react, diverting the ball back towards goal with a close-range header, but Marshall was on hand to instinctively beat the ball out. During the scrambled clearance that followed there were accusations of hand-ball launched in Hudson’s direction, but on this occassion Mr Dean’s ruling was favourable to City.
The closing stages were eventful as the home side threw bodies, and the ball, forward with urgency at the Cardiff box. But not for the first time this season City’s defensive organisation was composed under pressure and held firm to see out the remaining minutes for a vital away win. A ten point lead at the top restored.
FULL TIME: LEEDS UNITED 0-1 CARDIFF CITY