Cardiff City 3 Manchester City 2
A goal from Aron Gunnarsson and a brace from Fraizer Campbell proved too much for one of the title favourites on a day when top flight football returned to the Welsh capital for the first time in 51 years.
The scenes around the city were truly amazing, with Malky Mackay, who spent £28 million over the summer in a bid to fight relegation, admitting: “I am absolutely delighted. For everyone at this football club, this day was a long time in coming. But what a day it was.
“It meant a lot to a lot of people so at the end of the game, I have to admit I felt very proud for those people. Of course I felt proud for the players, but the fans too and the members of staff who work here. They have been through some tough times.”
Not such a joyous afternoon for opposite number Manuel Pellegrini though.
The Manchester City manager said: “I don’t think our defence cost us today. There was no problem in central defence. Cardiff didn’t cause us many problems, but the game was decided by two corners.
“Defending set-pieces is a duty for the whole team, not just the goalkeeper or the defenders. It doesn’t matter who is guilty.
“When we scored the first goal I thought it could be easy for us because we were playing a team that had 10 players in their box. But we didn’t play well. However, we didn’t play badly either.”
Pellegrini was forced into one change from Monday’s 4-0 rout of Newcastle — Vincent Kompany was missing through injury so Javi Garcia came into the back four alongside Joleon Lescott. And it was Lescott who was in the thick of the action inside 90 seconds when Campbell latched onto Craig Bellamy’s pass before slipping on the edge of the six yard box.
Cardiff worked tirelessly to close down City, employing a 6-4-0 formation whenever the visitors crossed halfway.
Edin Dzeko had one tame header comfortably saved by David Marshall after 30 minutes, but other than that, Cardiff rarely allowed the visitors an inch of space in the 18 yard box.
Four minutes before half-time, Campbell had, perhaps, the best opportunity of the half.
A lofted pass from Gunnarsson sent Campbell clear, but he was unable to get his shot away.
It was Manchester City who began the second half with greater purpose — Lescott shot way over the bar after a miscued shot from Pablo Zabaleta before Dzeko, in the 51st minute, produced a shot of supreme quality to break the deadlock. Sergio Aguero touched off a pass from Yaya Toure and Dzekjo unleashed an unstoppable drive from 25 yards.
Then came the moment the home fans had dreamed of. Kim Bo-Kyung escaped around the right and crossed for Campbell whose shot was well saved at his near post by Hart. However, Gunnarsson followed up and beat the England keeper from five yards.
Alvaro Negredo was given the final 22 minutes of the game and Cardiff came under increasing pressure. But it was at the opposite end that the game’s most important goal came. Peter Whittingham, so often the scourge of the Championship in recent seasons, produced a typically inch-perfect delivery from a corner on the right and when Campbell lost his marker Pablo Zabaleta, the former Manchester United and Sunderland striker bundled the ball over the line with his shoulder.
The home fans could hardly believe their good fortune. Still, there was more to come and with City still firing blanks for the most part, it was the Bluebirds who struck the killer blow. Substitute Don Cowie whipped in a corner and Campbell this time met it with his forehead and gave Joe Hart no chance from point-blank range.
Negrado pulled one back in stoppage time and Aguero did have a chance to draw City level after that. However, Cardiff held on and dealt the visitors an early blow in their bid to wrestle the title back from their neighbours.
Mackay said: “When I bought Fraizer from Sunderland I knew we had done a bit of good business. He is brave and strong and he has worked so hard over the summer.”
CARDIFF CITY: Marshall 7; Connolly 6, Turner 7, Caulker 7, Taylor 7; Medel 7; Gunnarsson 8, Whittingham 6, Kim 7 (Mutch 90,5), Bellamy 7 (Cowie 83,6); Campbell 9 (Cornelius 90,5).
MANCHESTER CITY: Hart 6; Zabaleta 6, Lescott 5, Garcia 5, Clichy 6; Navas 6 (Nasri 55,6), Toure 6, Silva 8, Fernandinho 5 (Milner 77,6); Aguero 7, Dzeko 6 (Negredo 69,7).
Referee: Lee Probert.
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