Cardiff secured their first home victory in over two months over Birmingham thanks to Eoin Doyle’s first goal for the club and a penalty from Peter Whittingham. Russell Slade’s men had taken 4 points from a possible 6 in their last 2 games, against promotion-chasers Brentford and Bournemouth, and were looking to continue their good form against a side directly below them in the Championship table.
After something of a lacklustre first half, the game exploded into life on 50 minutes when substitute Matthew Kennedy picked up the ball following good work from Joe Ralls, before weaving between the defence and passing acutely to Doyle, who fired a shot past Blues keeper Darren Randolph into the bottom left hand corner. It was Doyle’s first goal since his deadline-day move from Chesterfield, and sparked a mass celebration around the Cardiff City Stadium from fans who hadn’t seen their team win at home since beating Fulham 1-0 back on January 10th.
Ralls and Kennedy continued to be a thorn in the Birmingham defence’s side, and with quarter of an hour to go, their tricky link-up play proved to be pivotal in releasing a ball for Doyle, only for the Irishman to be hacked down by Jonathan Spector for the penalty. Former Aston Villa midfielder Whittingham stepped up and smashed the strike home to give Cardiff all three points.
The game began with the same flair and tempo as seen in the midweek draw against the Cherries, with Ralls and Craig Noone working well together in supplying crosses for Alex Revell and Kenwyne Jones, a replacement for the in-form Federico Macheda, who was replaced after an injury in the warm-up. From a Whittingham corner, Jones flicked on for Sean Morrison to pounce, only for the defender to head over from close range after only two minutes.
The impressive Fabio, back in the team after injury to Lee Peltier and Matt Connolly’s loan move to Watford, was at the centre of every City attack down the right wing, with his ball releasing Scott Malone, who cut inside Spector, only for the move to break down. The Brazilian then found Malone again with an outstanding cross-field pass, only for Paul Caddis to intercept. Fabio, who has found himself out of the team in recent weeks, drew warm applause from the 26,000 strong crowd for his energy, enthusiasm and tackling ability.
Ralls was also something of a revelation. Something of a utility man under Slade so far, he made the middle of the field his own, out-tackling and out-shinning stalwart Aron Gunnarsson, who was later forced off at half time with an injury, and replaced by the livewire Kennedy. After half an hour, quick distribution from David Marshall, returning from injury, found Ralls, whose link-up with Revell saw him tee-up a fantastic ball for Gunnarsson, only for the Icelander to head just over Randolph’s bar in Cardiff’s best chance of the first half.
Not to be outdone, Ralls then produced a fantastic thirty-odd yard shot which very nearly dipped into the top right hand corner. If Ralls was the heartbeat of the team in this half, then Revell was the muscle, challenging Jonathan Grounds for every loose ball. It was this exuberance that perhaps cost him in the end, injury too forcing him off for Doyle. Birmingham offered very little in response, their best effort perhaps being a botched shot from Stephen Gleeson, which dug into the ground and bounced wide of Marshall’s goal.
The victors had their chances though, with David Davis robbing Whittingham of possession and feeding the teenage sensation Demarai Gray, only for Fabio again to perform a feat of defensive brilliance in stopping him. Cardiff broke and went straight up the other end, with Jones turning a defender before firing straight at Randolph. Worse was to come later on, when Kennedy supplied a golden opportunity to double the lead, City’s top scorer couldn’t add to his tally, firing over from yards out.
Cardiff’s dominance seemed to be too much for Blues manager Gary Rowett, who has led his side from 23rd to 15th in the space of months. When a throw-in decision went against Caddis, the former Burton boss grabbed the ball and threw it down in frustration, prompting the linesman to consult the referee, and Rowett was in the stands. His frustration was echoed by his players, who seemed dejected in the face of another defeat, having not won a league game yet in 2015. It was to get worse for them, as Spector bundled Doyle over for Whittingham to wrap up the win.
Not to be outdone by Ralls, Kennedy produced some fancy football of his own, beating one, two, three defenders before dragging his shot wide. He later found space to shoot and stung Randolph’s palms with a pile-driving effort. The former Everton academy player has found a new home and a new fan base in Wales, his determination and drive winning him many admirers. His partnership with Doyle proved to be fruitful, almost grabbing another goal late on, but for the shot to hit the post and bounce into Randolph’s arms. Cardiff stay fourteenth in the table, but are now sixteen points clear of the relegation zone.
Cardiff XI: Marshall, Fabio, Manga, Morrison, Malone, Whittingham, Gunnarsson (Kennedy ’45), Ralls, Noone (Adeyemi ’85), Revell (Doyle ’45), Jones
Subs: Moore, Gabbidon, O’Keefe, James
Birmingham XI: Randolph, Grounds, Kiernan, Spector (Robinson 85’), Caddis, Cotterill, Tesche, Davis (Thomas 65’), Gleeson, Donaldson, Gray (Dyer 65’)
Subs: Doyle, Novak, Zigic, Shinnie