Last night’s 2-1 win over Birmingham made it five consecutive home victories at Cardiff City Stadium to kick off the season with and had the added bonus of sending us to the top of the league for good measure. Having equalled the record of the last Cardiff team to get promoted to the top flight in 1959/60 by making it four home wins on the trot on Saturday by beating Blackpool, City have now matched the feat of the 1946/47 Division Three (South) Championship winning side by completing a nap hand of home victories in 2012/13. Next up at home for us are Watford (who I notice have won three of their five away games so far) on October 24 and if they could get the three points in that match, and make it six home wins to start the season off, then the current squad would have done something that no other City team have managed since we were elected to the Football League in 1920.
Anyone who watched us struggle so badly to create goalscoring opportunities, let alone grab victories, at home in the closing weeks of last season must be pinching themselves to make sure they aren’t dreaming as City continue to show a cutting edge and resilience which might well have seen us promoted if they had been present in February, March and April. It’s hardly as if we are beating mugs at Cardiff City Stadium – although the situation might change after the couple of matches being played tonight, four of the teams we have seen off are currently in the top nine with last night’s opponents being the only ones who will be in the lower half of the table after tonight’s matches and yet, with the possible exception of Huddersfield, who we faced with a smaller squad and without the confidence built up through winning games, I thought Birmingham were the best visiting team to play here so far this season.
By playing the extra man in midfield and deploying Wade Elliott to cut down Peter Whittingham’s time and options when in possession, Birmingham kept City quiet for long periods of the game – they had the better of the first half an hour I’d say and finished the game strongly. While they offered little aerial threat, the pace of Chris Burke, Peter Lovenkrands and Leroy Lita always gave them the option of hitting us on the break when we gave away possession and the introduction of Marlon King and Nathan Redmond for the last two named in the second half didn’t mean that their capability to cause our defence problems had been reduced at all. David Marshall had to be at his best to save Lita’s first half header and the keeper also did well to keep out King’s late effort, while Burke, more effective than he was when marked out of the game by Lee Naylor last season, fired fractionally wide just before half time.
Yes, with their stifling of central midfield and their pace on the counter attack, Birmingham would almost certainly have been good enough to have got something against the Cardiff City of late winter and spring 2012, but we carry so much more attacking menace now than we did then and from about the thirty five minute mark onwards, I had the feeling that their defence was close to breaking point whenever we attacked.
Listening to Radio Wales’ Ian Walsh give a generally positive review on what he had just watched, I was interested to hear him continuously come back to the performance of Heidar Helguson as being the only slight weak spot in a good all round display by the side. I think it’s fair to say that Walsh would have a fair bit of support for his views on our striker from many City fans as well, but I’m not too critical of Helguson at the moment – I thought he did well in the second half when he caused the Birmingham central defenders far more problems than they faced in the first forty five minutes. If I have a criticism of Helguson currently, it’s that he just doesn’t look like scoring – from memory, he only threatened once last night when he headed over from point blank range just before Birmingham equalised.
Although the cross for that chance was probably a bit too hard, it was put into a brilliant area by Craig Noone who, besides being a leading reason for our greater attacking sharpness, continues to provide little evidence of the weakness with his final ball that Brighton fans talked about when we signed him. Noone gave young American full back Nick Packwood an awkward evening, while on the other flank, Joe Mason may not have possessed Noone’s directness or pace, but he did mark his first start of the season with his trademark clever movement and ability to find space in the penalty area when he ventured infield and might well have scored if he hadn’t, perhaps, lacked a little match sharpness.
Helguson, Noone and Mason would provide three quarters of what would be a good attacking quartet at this level if the other member was of a similar standard to them, but, when that fourth man is Craig Bellamy, then they move up to be amongst the best in the Championship – especially if Bellamy plays as he did last night. Although he finished his first season with us very strongly, I cannot remember Bellamy being as good as he has been in the past two matches that many times in the first half of 2010/11. Maybe I’ve got this wrong, but, although it’s very rare that you can criticise his work rate, it seems to me that Bellamy has worked even harder for the cause than normal in the last two matches – his closing down of Blackpool defenders on Saturday led to the corner from which we scored our third goal and the way he harried the Birmingham players around him when they were in possession set a superb example to the rest of the team (especially when you consider that he has a pedigree which would see many just go through the motions if they were playing in the Championship in the latter part of their career).
Lee Clark said before the match that Craig Bellamy was only in this division because he wanted to play for his home town club and I’m sure that, after watching him be the main reason why his side left Cardiff pointless last night, the Birmingham manager feels exactly the same way now about him. Bellamy is never going to look happy in his work because it’s not in his nature, but I hope I’m right when I say that there are signs that he is prepared to give it a real go this season because he feels he is part of a group of players who will be doing the exact same thing – I’m not sure that was the case two seasons ago when we had too many big egos in the dressing room.
If Craig Bellamy can stay fit and is used properly by Malky Mackay, then there have to be grounds for thinking that this could be our season. However, I’m going to finish on a note of caution by saying that we cannot lose sight of the fact that we have to play twenty three away matches this season as well and in the four we’ve played so far, we have hardly been convincing. A win against a side currently in the bottom three and a very good point at third placed Brighton are not a cause for concern, but the manner of our defeats in the other two away matches certainly is. At the moment, Palace look to be a better side than many gave them credit for when we were beaten there, but losing when you had a 2-0 half time lead and being turned over 4-2 in a derby match before September is out can only raise doubts about how we are going to fare on our travels this season – we might be top now, but, given how tightly compacted the division is, we could find ourselves outside the top six by the time we play at home next if the lessons of Ashton Gate and Selhurst Park haven’t been learned.