Two large slices of luck were enough for Cardiff City to beat a spirited Bristol City side 2-1 and take all 3 points in the Severnside derby.
Two Joe Mason crosses were turned into their own goal by Bristol City defenders either side of a Jon Stead goal for the home side, which helped to push the Bluebirds back into the play-off positions and leave Bristol City fighting for their lives down near the bottom of the Championship table.
Cardiff went into this game only one point off the play-off spots after Wednesday’s 2-2 away draw against fellow play-off chasers Brighton. Although it was a positive, confidence building result against a strong side who haven’t lost this year, the disappointment of taking only a point from yet another winning position would surely have left the team feeling that they still had a point to prove.
There are no easy games in the Championship, but the Bluebirds would have felt very confident crossing the Severn for this game at Ashton Gate. Bristol City started the game only 5 points above the relegation zone and, prior to their 3-2 midweek win over Leicester City, had lost 6 out of their last 7 games. They also haven’t coped well since losing striker Nicky Maynard, who is still the club’s top scorer this season, to promotion favourites West Ham United in January. And if that wasn’t enough, the Bluebirds’ last meeting with the Robins earlier in the season ended in a very comfortable 3-1 win at the Cardiff City Stadium, with Cardiff leading 3-0 after only 35 minutes.
Cardiff started with a team unchanged from the game with Brighton. After a strong first performance since joining on loan from Portsmouth, Liam Lawrence retained his place in the starting line-up on the right of midfield, alongside Peter Whittingham who continued his great run of playing in every game this season.
Bristol City made one change from the side that beat Leicester with youth system product Joe Bryan being replaced by Martyn Woolford.
The first half started off slowly with both sides playing tentatively and neither really taking control of the game. An early Bristol City shout for a penalty was turned away by referee Michael Oliver after the ball struck an outstretched Ben Turner hand on the edge of the area. Although the ball did hit Turner’s hand, it would’ve been an extremely harsh decision to give a penalty and had the Robins carried on playing they may have had a good chance on goal.
Both sides had a few half chances early on, but the first real chance came on 28 minutes when neat play between Joe Mason and Don Cowie found Kenny Miller on the right hand side of the area. The Scot fired a strong right foot volley straight at David James, who was making his 900th club appearance, to parry out for a corner.
Bristol City’s best early effort came in the form of a long range snapshot from Brett Pitman from the left hand side which stung the hands of David Marshall in the Cardiff goal.
There was a long delay halfway through the half when Aron Gunnarsson and Louis Carey clashed heads, with Gunnarsson coming off worse needing his head bandaged up. But it was this delay in play that provided the best chances for both sides when the game came alive in first half injury time.
Jon Stead worked hard to get to the Cardiff byline and get a cross in, with Mark Hudson only able to clear as far as an unmarked Stephen Pearson on the edge of the area, who blasted a shot well over the bar and wasting what proved to be a costly chance.
Cardiff still had time left to attack up the other end and made the most of it. Neat build-up play from Whittingham and Cowie found Mason on the right of the area and after driving at the defence put a fast paced ball cross the Bristol City goal which caught out on loan Middlesbrough defender Stephen McManus, who put the ball into his own net.
Cardiff would have counted themselves lucky to be leading at the break as neither side had really taken the game by the scruff of the neck. Although Bristol would’ve fancied their chances of getting an equaliser in the second half, knowing that Cardiff have dropped 23 points from winning positions this season, the most in the league.
And that equaliser did come early in the second half. After a bright start from the Bluebirds, a long ball down the right hand side allowed Foster to get behind Andrew Taylor where he was able to pull a ball back into the path of Stead who hammered the ball home, giving goalkeeper Marshall no chance. Cardiff haven’t kept a clean sheet in 9 games now, which will surely not please manager Malky Mackay.
Bristol brought on Albert Adomah on the hour and he quickly became a strong attacking threat for the home side. With Cardiff pushing to get a second Bristol were restricted to playing counter-attacking football and looked to find Adomah as often as they could.
This tactic nearly yielded a goal as Adomah found space on the right to play a ball to substitute Sean Davis, his long range curling effort forcing a great save from Marshall.
Cardiff kept pushing and a great ball over the top of the Bristol City defence from Whittingham, who will soon find out if he crowned Championship Player of the Year, set up Miller from close range. Luckily for Bristol, Liam Fontaine got a crucial touch on the ball to clear the danger, although Miller felt there was more contact on him than the ball. Miller is currently going through his biggest goalscoring drought since joining the Bluebirds and will be hoping his form in front of goal takes a turn for the better, with only 11 games left in a tight Championship campaign.
On 81 minutes, Bristol City had a chance to take all three points. The lively Adomah whipped in a ball from the right wing, finding Pitman unmarked near the six yard box and forced a great reaction save again from Marshall. Adomah setup a similar chance for Pitman four minutes later again, but this time from a much more awkward angle at the back post the effort somehow hit the base of the post.
It was Cardiff who snatched the points late on when Mason was again was given too much room in the box and allowed to put another ball across, from the left and Kalifa Cisse turned into his own net to send 788 travelling Bluebirds back over the bridge happy.
The result will be a difficult one for Bristol City to take and leaves them only four points from the relegation zone, giving the Robins fans a nervous end to the season.
But this win was just what Cardiff needed and, with three home games in eight days coming up, they will hope this makes the bad run they were on a thing of the past. There’s no reason why they can’t push on to solidify a play-off spot and maybe even have the automatic chasers looking over their shoulders.