Cardiff City recorded their first win in eight years over Swansea City on Saturday thanks to an Aden Flint header in the opening ten minutes.
The Bluebirds have been on the receiving end of the South Wales derby as of late and no doubt fans will be relieved that a niggling feeling has finally been brushed under the carpet as they can finally claim bragging rights over their neighbours after their 1-0 victory at the Liberty Stadium.
After a promising start from Mick McCarthy’s men, Cardiff deservedly took the lead inside ten minutes after Will Vaulk’s long throw ping-ponged inside the Swans penalty area, before Aden Flint reacted first and powered a header into the roof of Freddie Woodman’s net.
The first half belonged to Cardiff as they pressed Swansea high up the pitch and stopped their rivals getting into any sort of rhythm. Goalkeeper Dillon Phillips didn’t face a single shot on target from the Swans who were all in all hopeless in the final third for the first 45 minutes.
Kieffer Moore should have doubled his side’s lead before halftime as he intercepted a calamitous pass from Freddie Woodman but failed to capitalise as his feeble shot was cleared off the line by defender Ryan Bennett.
The second half was a completely different story. Cardiff sat back for the rest of the game and invited the pressure on. Swansea dominated possession but a toothless front 3 could only muster a single shot on target.
The closest Steve Cooper’s men came was from a corner as Andre Ayew leaped superbly in the air only to see his effort agonisingly denied by the post. It seemed then and there that it just wasn’t to be for the Swans.
Morgan Whitaker was the only player to test Phillips as he saw his long range effort saved and the youngster should have least hit the target earlier on as he saw his shot from inside the penalty area trickle wide of the post.
As Cardiff continued to defend resolutely and sometimes heroically, with man of the match and captain Sean Morrison putting his body on the line on numerous occasions, McCarthy and his side were able to snatch all three points away from Cooper and co and take them back to the capital.
The result bares great significance for both welsh sides, with Cardiff once again knocking on the door of the top 6 whilst the Swans fall six points behind second placed Watford.
McCarthy has completely transformed Cardiff’s season. Before he took over the bluebirds were languishing in the bottom half of the league table and looking like a side devoid of any quality, confidence or identity.
Fast forward a couple of months and the veteran has miraculously got his side into a playoff race, having lost only once since his arrival at the capital and picking up a fantastic 29 points from a possible 42.
The victory over Swansea is his biggest as Cardiff manager yet, as not only does it leave his side just four points adrift of 6th placed Reading, it finally gave Cardiff fans derby day delight for the first time in eight years.
It seemed as if as he just ‘got it’ coming into this fixture. His preparation and talks leading up to the derby, as well how his team got stuck in during the first half and threw bodies on the line for the second, was a testament to how he has reinstalled a typically Cardiff way of playing into this team: Difficult to break down, horrible to play against and having that bit of quality to snatch results.
For Steve Cooper, the international break has come at the right time for him and his Swansea side.
Performances have significantly dropped as of late, and while the Swans have still had the ability of winning ugly for the past few months, there is a concern that the wheels are beginning to unhinge and that the unrelenting and unforgivable nature of the Championship is beginning to take its toll.
Having been defensively brilliant for the majority of the season, the Swans have been able to pick up results without playing amazingly. Freddie Woodman has 18 clean sheets to his name so far thanks to a well organised and resolute defence and has seen his side concede only 29 times in 37 games.
With no out and out centre forward at the club, Cooper has had to rely on the quality of Andre Ayew for goals, but with them drying up as of late (bar a few penalties), there is a concern from Swansea fans on where the next ones are coming from, especially because as of late they are leaking more at the other end compared to the beginning of the season.
With just the 45 goals from 37 league games, the Swans must re-build on what has seemed an unbreakable defensive wall for the most part of this season and continue to win games by one goal margins. Cooper will be eager to regroup and re-energise his players for the upcoming international break and motivate his players for a final push towards the end of the season.
There certainly hasn’t been a ‘Swansea’ way of playing this season from Cooper, but you can’t deny he is doing a solid job with little funds and a thin squad. His side should finish in the playoffs if they avoid a Forest-like disaster the Championship saw last year, but for them to achieve promotion they need to re-find that spark they had earlier on in the season.
With the bluebirds still within a chance of getting into the play-off, another South Wales derby may yet still be on the cards. That would certainly light a spark wouldn’t it? You just never know in football though…