WELSH WINNERS: CARDIFF CITY PAINT SOUTH WALES BLUE IN VALIANT DERBY DAY VICTORY
An infectious sense of euphoric delirium swept over the Welsh Capital on Saturday evening as, after eight long years, Cardiff City claimed the bragging rights from the South Wales Derby.
Upon the final blow of the referee’s whistle, you could really see what it meant to Mick McCarthy and his troops. In the huddle, a passion-laced sense of unified spirit emanated through our TV screens and provided, perhaps, a stark contrast to the aura of previous derbies.
Though not only did it sway the glorified pride back to the Capital, it also proved to be a monumental step in Cardiff’s playoff charge.
Recent form, which many cite as a consequence of fatigue, has stalled the Bluebirds’ top six ambitions to a certain degree; but now, only four points separate Cardiff and 6th-placed Reading, who crucially lock horns next month.
On the other hand, a second successive defeat for Steve Cooper’s side has thoroughly hampered their pursuit of automatic promotion, with six points now the divide between themselves and Watford.
From the off, the two sides were willing to abandon the static complacency that some of the recent clashes have yielded.
Previously, Cardiff have been accused of starting derbies on the back foot, failing to impose themselves and displaying a sincere lack of motion and enthusiasm.
That notion was quickly etched in history though as the Bluebirds set the tone immediately, wasting no time in putting their opponents under the cosh.
Almost instantly, the game was fiery and fast-paced, embodying all the typical traits of a cultured derby match.
Within the opening five minutes Connor Hourihane called Dillon Phillips into action with a deceitful, low-hit free kick to transmit nerves down the spines of Cardiff City supporters.
But after only eight minutes on the clock, Aden Flint fired the visitors into the ascendancy with an emphatic diving header as he capitalised on the bedlam caused in Swansea’s area from Will Vaulks’ long throw in.
Evidently brimming with confidence and momentum in their stride, Cardiff continued to ask questions as the first half grew on.
Flint’s domineering header just four minutes later sailed over the bar, whereas Leandro Bacuna tested Freddie Woodman with a powerful drive after latching on to a menacing through ball courtesy of Vaulks.
By all accounts, Swansea were powerless to match Cardiff’s enthralling endeavour.
The Bluebirds, who pressed high and remained organised all over the pitch, prevented the hosts from unearthing their rhythm and tempo, restricting them to a solitary on target during the first half.
Even still, Cardiff were left feeling blue as Kieffer Moore failed to seize a golden opportunity on the stroke of half time.
Owing to his relentless high pressing, Moore was able to intercept a detrimental pass from Freddie Woodman, who had been caught far out of his goal. But after taking the ball past the 24-year old, Moore could only watch on in despair and frustration as his tame effort was cleared away by Ryan Bennett.
Whilst Cardiff assumed the wealth of opportunity before the interval, Swansea came out of it a reformed outfit as they avidly chased a route back into the game, marrying their iron fist of the game’s possession aspect with a host of chances.
Morgan Whittaker was the epitome of Swansea’s increased attacking output; on his own, he fired nine shots at goal and was a constant menace in the Cardiff area, using his sleek frame and quick feet to put the Bluebirds under sustained pressure.
Catalyst forward Andre Ayew came the closest to engineering redemption for his side as his headed effort achingly met the woodwork twenty minutes from time.
Seemingly, fate was not beckoning on Swansea’s side, who simply could not grasp an end product despite asking all the questions.
Sean Morrison, encompassing his buoyant ‘do or die’ spirit, bravely put his body on the line on numerous occasions, notably stepping in to throw himself in the way of Whittaker’s goal-bound strike.
And, as the curtains descended on a nervy evening of football, Whittaker released a dangerous effort from the edge of the box, though Phillips was there to ensure his net would not be rippling.
It was about as good a defensive performance as you will ever see.
Aden Flint, who looks a man reborn under the tuition of Mick McCarthy, did not let up after his early opener and proved to be a colossus at the back throughout the game.
Morrison and Ciaron Brown also excelled as part of an disciplined, water-tight backline, whereas Joe Ralls and Tom Sang caught the eye in their unnatural wingback roles to nullify the threat of Roberts and Bidwell.
But for Swansea, it signals a dire need for improvement. Once again, the Swans displayed a sense of toothlessness in front of goal, something which has proved to be a real plague to them as of late.
Ultimately, it is hard to argue that Cardiff did not deserve the victory. They were simply far more well drilled than their aggrieved foes and showcased a genuine direction at the other end of the pitch.
Now, the International break poses a refreshing opportunity for both sides to rest up in the hectic, heated Championship schedule, which has undoubtedly harnessed the two as of late.
After the layoff, Swansea will travel to the West Midlands to play Birmingham City, a match where three points can only be the acceptance if they are to rekindle their chase for second place.
Cardiff, however, host Nottingham Forest and closely follow that with a trip to Sheffield Wednesday the following Monday.
Though their exultant derby win has revived a turbulent playoff bid, they can not afford to revert to prior performances given the closely-riding competition in that element of the table.
It is now the twilight of the campaign and the upcoming few weeks will emerge as decisive for the two loggerheads of South Wales.