Captain Mark Hudson scored with only minutes to spare as Cardiff City were made to work hard for a debut win in their new red kit. Huddersfield boss Simon Grayson will be disappointed to leave Wales with nothing as his side, who defended well and had good enough chances of their own to win the match, did almost enough to thwart the Bluebirds. The away team missed the clinical finishing of Jordan Rhodes, his absence, supposedly due to a calf strain, surely fuelling fears of an imminent move.
Though both teams could claim to have had the better chances of the match, it was David Marshall, with an outstanding performance in the home goal, who ensured that they remained just chances for the Terriers. The keeper was called into action inside of ten minutes after clumsy play from the Cardiff defence resulted in Adam Clayton being put clean through, but Marshall saved low to his right from Clayton’s weak shot. Cardiff struggled to get to grips with the match as scrappy play at the back repeatedly gifted Huddersfield easy and dangerous possession.
Cardiff were eventually able to regain their composure and started to control possession of the ball, though with little attacking incision. Huddersfield retreated into their own half and frustrated the home side with their tight marking and organised shape preventing the Bluebirds from creating any clean-cut chances, forcing Craig Bellamy, quiet on his second Cardiff debut, to come deep to look for the ball. Huddersfield remained a threat on the counter-attack, and in the 39th minute a strongly struck, dipping volley from Oliver Norwood drew Marshall into yet another fine save.
Chances came at both ends shortly before half-time, Heidar Helguson hit the bar with a floated header from Bellamy’s in-swinging corner, then Sean Scannell, lively throughout, did very well on the break to draw Marshall well out of his goal, the former Crystal Palace forward’s cross not quite finding a team-mate cleanly with the Cardiff goal unprotected.
At the break there were no changes from either manager, but a penalty shout from Helguson and the home fans in the 51st minute was waved away by referee Roger East after Joel Lynch appeared to climb all over the Icelander on the edge of the Huddersfield box.
Cardiff were looking to dictate the play and increase the pace but still Huddersfield remained a threat. Jordon Mutch’s left-footed shot was parried by Smithies in the Huddersfield goal, only for Aron Gunnarsson’s sharp follow up to be saved off the line allowing Smithies to smother. Shortly after, on the 65th minute, the visitors were thwarted by Marshall as he was forced to parry Scott Arfield’s strong, driven shot and only an excellent intervention from Hudson prevented the visitors from taking the lead from the rebound.
Just minutes later Craig Bellamy had his best moment of the match, turning Jack Hunt inside and out before the Welshman’s low cross found Kevin McNaughton on the edge of the area, who perhaps chose the wrong side of the goal to aim for, though forcing Smithies to push the ball wide.
Cardiff fans and players started to show their frustration, with Scannell drawing the ire of the home support for perceived time wasting, while Whittingham was booked for a late challenge; out of character for the usually laid-back midfielder.
With ten minutes to go, Marshall kept Cardiff in the match as the Scottish stopper again saved superbly from Arfield following a well-worked build up and strong running down the left flank from Scannell and Dixon. Malky Mackay left it late to make substitutions as he changed Don Cowie for Joe Mason and Jordon Mutch, who impressed on his home debut, for Filip Kiss.
As Cardiff desperately searched for a late winner, Bellamy pushed further towards the middle but still struggled for possession, while Mason’s excellent movement started to make room for more penetrating attacks. The twenty-one year old showed his guile on the ball to beat two defenders inside the edge of the box before his snap shot from 8 yards was deflected over.
By this stage, Huddersfield seemed happy to play for a point but could not stop Hudson pouncing from six yards out at the death to snatch all three points. The centre back showed a goalscorer’s instinct to slide in on a loose ball in the area after Mason’s header from McNaughton’s hopeful lob.
In response, Simon Grayson brought on Anthony Gerrard (the former Cardiff man booed, perhaps unfairly, by the home fans) and James Spencer, but by this stage there was nothing they, nor their team-mates, could do to stop Cardiff from taking all three points, perhaps undeservedly. Cardiff fans will be pleased that their side will sit atop the table for the first 12 hours of the season, but most will feel that performances will have to improve for them to be there come May, even if the team have already shown a crucial trait: that they can win ugly.
Man of the Match: David Marshall
Referee: Roger East
01. David Marshall
02. Kevin McNaughton
03. Andrew Taylor
05. Mark Hudson (c)
06. Ben Turner
07. Peter Whittingham (Y)
08. Don Cowie (Mason – 79′)
17. Aron Gunnarsson
18. Jordon Mutch (Kiss – 85′)
22. Heidar Helguson
39. Craig Bellamy
01. Alex Smithies
03. Paul Dixon
04. Oliver Norwood
05. Peter Clarke (c)
07. Sean Scannell (Spencer – 90′)
08. Adam Clayton (Y)
09. Lee Novak
16. Scott Arfield (Gerrard – 90′ (Y))
24. Keith Southern (Y)
32. Jack Hunt
33. Joel Lynch