By Shaun Davey
Cardiff City leapfrogged Birmingham into 7th place, just two points shy off a play-off spot after they won 4-1 against promotion chasers Brighton and Hove Albion.
Cardiff were looking to break a duck of not scoring in their last two Championship games and they did so in style as the Bluebirds recorded their biggest home win since August 2013. In a wet and windy lunchtime kick-off at the Cardiff City Stadium, the home side were hoping that a win against automatic promotion chasers Brighton would kick-start crucial momentum and offer hope of a Wembley outing come May.
Cardiff started slowly though and it was the away side who had the lion share of possession, controlling the first quarter of the game. A nasty challenge on Calderon from O’ Keffe in the first minute could have resulted in a red card but referee, Darren Bond, only showed a yellow.
Despite the possession, by the half hour mark the game was, remarkably, out of sight for the visitors. On 16 minutes, after good forward play from Pilkington and Immers, who dragged the defenders away, it left space for an unmarked Whittingham to poke home from close range. It was 2-0 just three minutes later after good work from Pilkington on the right, who cut inside from the challenge of Lewis Dunk, before lashing one under the arms of the hopeless Stockdale.
City with their tails up, pushed further on and were rewarded again on the half hour mark. A shell shocked Brighton defence were caught napping once again and Cardiff picked Albion apart at the back. A sloppy loose ball from the defender fell to the feet of Immers who slid the ball into the corner from close range to make it 3-0: a first home goal for the Dutchman and now 2 in 3 games. Before the match Slade said that they ‘lacked a goal scorer but were not giving up on promotion”, but perhaps he has found that goalscorer in Lex Immers, who flourished in his number ten role, just behind the striker. Cardiff were dominant and managed to keep a strong passing momentum in the constant heavy rain. Brighton could not deal with the potency of Cardiff’s 4-2-3-1 formation, which allowed Fabio and Lawrence on the wing to run tirelessly up and down the touchline. A resilient defence was nearly broken just before half time though as Brighton’s Jiri Skalak had time to cut inside and curl a wicked ball towards David Marshall’s near post, only for Bobby Zamora to poke it wide when the goal was gaping.
Vincent Tan and Russell Slade urged their side to ‘shoot more’ and be more clinical in the week and they certainly got their rewards in a fantastic first half of football. But Brighton are not just in contention for an automatic promotion spot for any reason and for a side who have only lost once away from home in the Championship all season they started the second half the strongest, creating numerous opportunities to get back in the game. Anthony Knockaert looked dangerous on the wing for The Seagulls, and then on 55 minutes they bagged what would be their only goal. A lovely ball from Skalak on the left found Dale Stephens who rose highest to divert the ball past Marshall. The game then seemed to swing into Brighton’s momentum, Albion swarmed forward in numbers after the goal with the Bluebirds becoming far sloppier at the back.
Any fears of a comeback were dashed on 65 minutes though when Anthony Pilkington was tripped in the box by Goldson and referee, Bond, pointed to the spot. Whittingham then stepped up and smashed the penalty into the top corner, sending Stockdale the wrong way and scoring his second of the game.
Late pressure from the away side was not enough though and the Bluebirds managed to keep their composure and secure a big scalp against 3rd placed Brighton. With City’s promotion hopes still at the forefront of everyone’s minds, Russell Slade’s men travel to Middlesbrough on Tuesday evening, hoping to build on this momentous result.