Cardiff City defeated Blackburn Rovers 1-0 in their first match of the New Year, with Joe Mason on target as the Bluebirds returned to winning ways.
A SOLID START
The early exchanges saw both sides enjoying spells of possession; venturing into the opposition half in search of an opening goal. The energetic Craig Noone cut inside, and from the edge of the area saw his shot blocked by Rovers’ skipper Grant Hanley. Moments later, former Bluebird Craig Conway’s attempt was similarly blocked at the other end. A fine save from Blackburn keeper Jason Steele denied Anthony Pilkington, after a low shot from 20 yards. Steele got down to stop the shot, and divert the ball away from Aron Gunnarsson, who was following in. After 20 minutes, Joe Ralls came close to finding his first goal of the campaign, but his curling strike dipped over the crossbar.
Conway was doing his best to grab a goal against his former club, although his powerful strike arrowed wide of the target. However, it was the Bluebirds who were in the ascendancy, and came close following a good move. A clever backheel from Noone found the emerging Lee Peltier, and via Gunnarsson and Tony Watt, the ball worked its way to Pilkington. The winger’s low cross was destined for the boot of Mason, but the ball was hastily cleared away for a corner before the returning striker could make contact.
BLUEBIRDS MAKE THE BREAKTHROUGH
Cardiff picked up their search for an opening goal immediately after the restart, with Gunnarsson coming close. He fired a vicious effort across the face of goal, which avoided Mason at the back post, and went just wide of the upright. Full-back Peltier tested goalkeeper Steele moments later, with a cross intended for Pilkington, which the stopper came out to deal with. Blackburn too had chances, with Conway again at the heart of Rovers’ play. He found space on the edge of the box, but fired another shot wide of David Marshall’s post. Following a floated free-kick, Ben Marshall crossed towards the middle of the box, but Shane Duffy’s header was easily held by Marshall.
After a spell of Blackburn pressure, the home team got back on the ball, and finally broke the deadlock. Former Brighton & Hove Albion winger Noone picked up the ball on the right flank, drove towards the edge of the box, and bent a shot towards the far post. The ball was seemingly goal bound, before a crucial goal-line block from Duffy prevented the ball from finding the back of the net. Instead, it diverted into the path of Mason. He coolly slotted home, for his 6th goal of the campaign - and his second against Blackburn this season. The away team looked to reply immediately, but Rhodes’ free-kick was blocked by the Cardiff wall.
The Bluebirds came close to doubling their advantage, with 65 minutes on the clock. Some determined work from Watt saw him win the ball in the final third. He was brought down on the edge of the area, following a marauding run. From the resulting free-kick, Noone fired the ball wide of the target.
The ever-lively Watt had another run at the Blackburn defence soon after, before having a powerful shot on goal. Steele was forced into making a fine save, with the ball bouncing to safety in the form of a Rovers defender. The visitors’ attempts to get one back intensified in the final quarter of an hour, but the City defence held firm.
After a spell without the ball, Watt had a chance to secure the victory. Following great link-up play with Malone and Pilkington, the striker found himself through on goal, with only Steele in his way. The Scot tried to slot the ball past the ‘keeper, but was somehow denied, with Steele making a superb stop, and then holding onto the ball. Some excellent passing in the final few minutes saw the Bluebirds hold out to take all three points, and make a winning start to 2016.
FULL TIME: CARDIFF CITY 1-0 BLACKBURN ROVERS (Mason’ 58)
Cardiff City: Marshall, Peltier (Fábio 77’), Malone, Manga, Connolly, Gunnarsson, Ralls, Pilkington, Noone, Watt (Ameobi 87’), Mason (O’Keefe 80’). Subs not used: Moore, Dikgacoi, Whittingham, Macheda.
Blackburn Rovers: Steele, Marshall, Duffy, Hanley, Olsson, Lawrence, Williamson (Lenihan 70’), Akpan, Conway, Koita (Delfouneso 59’), Rhodes. Subs not used: Raya, Spurr, Kilgallon, Guthrie, Evans.