By Shaun Davey
Cardiff City kept their chances of securing a Championship place off-spot alive as they recorded a vital 1-0 win against fellow promotion-chasers Ipswich Town at the Cardiff City Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
Cardiff were hoping to break into the Championship play-offs with a win over East -Anglian play-off rivals Ipswich, who at the start of play were level on points with the Bluebirds, with both teams locked together on 55 points in seventh and eighth respectively. However, that outcome was also dependent on other results going the welsh side’s way.
Cardiff were looking to bounce back from only their second home defeat of the season to Leeds United in mid-week, but the Tractor Boys have an excellent record away from Portman Road this season and have earned the same points on the road as Championship leaders Burnley, and it was the visitors that started off the brighter.
With just four minutes on the clock a hopeful ball into the edge of the box found ex-West Ham man Freddie Sears who struck a tame shot at Cardiff goalkeeper Simon Moore, who did well to smother the ball to safety before any on-rushing Ipswich players could tap it home.
The deadlock was broken in the 18th minute and perhaps came against the run of play. Good work from Craig Noone on the left allowed him to whip a ferocious cross into the box that had to be headed away from danger.
From the resulting corner Peter Whittingham whipped a beautiful cross into the box, finding the head of powerful Gabonese centre back Bruno Ecuele Manga who rose highest, unmarked in the box, to head it past Bialkowski in the Ipswich goal. It was a route one goal, but it was pivotal in this late stage of the season, when it is vital to get points on the board.
Cardiff continued to get into good areas after the goal, but lacked that killer instinct and where often shot-shy in front of goal. Peter Whittingham delivered some beautiful crosses into the box and the Tractor Boys were under the cosh, but the first half ended with some pressure from the visitors as they tried to claw themselves back into the game.
A teasing ball in from the right stung the fingertips of Simon Moore, who did brilliantly punching it safely away, it was a solid game from Cardiff’s second choice goalkeeper, only playing today due to a late illness picked up from Scottish number one David Marshall.
Ipswich tried to change things up in the second half replacing the ineffective Kevin Bru with Brett Pitman and it was the latter that was nearly involved in a freakish goal on 58 minutes, some sloppy defending from Manga nearly let in Freddie Sears to score a tap in, only to be cleared off the line by Bluebirds defender Scott Malone. A case of good fortune and being in the right place at the right time.
Malone was involved again five minutes later as he breaks clear of the Ipswich defence with a darting run up field, but his ferocious shot just whistled wide past Bialkowski near post. In truth, neither side created anything of real note after that, as Cardiff were committed and defended extremely well, limiting Ipswich to half-chances.
As the game entered the last 20 minutes you felt that Cardiff should push for a second, just to give them some breathing space, and on 75 minutes they nearly got their reward, good interchange from Pilkington to Noone allowed the latter to strike a hellish shot only for it to be blocked by Tommy Smith for a corner.
Cardiff seemed to lack a killer instinct though and could not finish Ipswich off as they pushed for an equaliser.
But at this stage of the season, with only nine Championship games left to go, it was vital that Cardiff held out for the three pivotal points in their quest for the play-offs and potentially the holy grail of Premier League football next season.
After Sheffield Wednesday’s win over Nottingham Forest at the City Ground, the Bluebirds maintain the status-quo with the sixth-placed side but have now opened up a three-point gap between themselves and Ipswich.
A big roar echoed around the ground as Robert Madley blew the full-time whistle and next up for Cardiff are three crucial games that could make or break their season.
They travel to the Madejski Stadium to take on Reading before hosting automatic promotion chasers Derby County and end the month of March with a daunting trip to Lancashire and leaders Burnley.