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Craig Bellamy made the difference for Cardiff as they built on their impressive home form with a dominant second half performance against Neil Warnock’s Leeds.

Craig Bellamy is congratulated on his stunning goal by Cardiff captain Mark Hudson. Credit: PA

Leeds fans could perhaps be forgiven for being pessimistic about this fixture – their last win against Cardiff was in 1984 – and those in their good away support were dealt a blow almost immediately when Ross McCormack fell awkwardly during a strong but fair tackle from Jordon Mutch. The former Cardiff forward immediately waved to the bench to signal his discomfort, and after a lengthy stoppage he was stretchered off to be replaced by Luke Varney.

In his programme notes, Malky Mackay said that Cardiff were eager to get back into action following their dismantling of Wolves two weeks ago, but that did not look the case during a first half bereft of any real quality from either side. Heidar Helguson spurned the best chance just before the break, heading over when he found himself completely unmarked from Peter Whittingham’s outswinging corner.

The early loss of McCormack had given Leeds a real lack of attacking options with the ball on the floor and Neil Warnock attempted to remedy this with the introduction of bad-boy El Hadji Diouf at half time, but he was to have little impact, Leeds mostly resorted to direct tactics throughout. Instead, it was Cardiff who started to exert more influence on the match after the break.

Tommy Smith and Craig Noone both repeatedly turned in from their wings to fashion chances, either to be denied by Paddy Kenny in the Leeds goal or scrambled away by their resolute back four. Noone cut inside to beautifully curl the ball 30 yards over the Leeds defence and onto Smith’s foot at the back post, but he couldn’t keep his first time shot down.

Another good opportunity fell to Mark Hudson, who had loitered up front and found Kenny to be equal to his header across goal. A goal would have been a fitting reward for the Cardiff skipper who was simply faultless at the back all match.

As the Bluebirds struggled to make the most of these opportunities, Malky Mackay looked to substitute Craig Bellamy. Bellamy had recently admitted that he was still struggling to come to terms with the death of Gary Speed, but he didn’t show it on the pitch as he looked sharp and determined straight away. It was a free-kick following Tonge’s foul on Nicky Maynard near the corner of the box that gave Bellamy a chance to open the scoring. He did so spectacularly, driving a rising shot into the top corner of the Leeds net, leaving Paddy Kenny to dive at thin air.

Minutes later, Cardiff doubled their lead with a penalty. Maynard wormed his way goal-side of Tom Lees in the box where he went down under pressure. Up stepped Peter Whittingham who smoothly stroked the ball home to make it 2-0.

Just as it was looking to be an easy finish for Cardiff, Leeds’ Jamaican international Rodolph Austin smashed in a free kick from 30 yards, but perhaps Cardiff stopper David Marshall could have done better to keep the shot out.  With the home fans wary of a come-back, Leeds tried to remove their deficit but were unable to create any chances better than Lee Peltier’s mistimed header – Cardiff still looked the more likely to take a deserved three points. The Bluebirds now have three wins from three in their ‘lucky’ red kit at home.

Man of the Match: Mark Hudson

Attendance: 23,836

Referee: Paul Tierney

Teams

Cardiff City

(4-4-2)

01. David Marshall

02. Kevin McNaughton

03. Andrew Taylor

05. Mark Hudson ©

12. Matthew Connolly

07. Peter Whittingham

18. Jordon Mutch (Gunnarsson – 76’)

14. Tommy Smith (Y)

16. Craig Noone (Bellamy – 64’)

22. Heidar Helguson

23. Nicky Maynard (Cowie – 83’)

Leeds United

(4-1-3-2)

01. Paddy Kenny

02. Lee Peltier ©

03. Adam Drury (Diouf – 46’)

04. Tom Lees

05. Jason Pearce

08. Rodolph Austin (Y)

10. Luciano Becchio

14. Aidan White

18. Michael Tonge (Y)

25. Samuel Byram

44. Ross McCormack (Varney – 5’)

Chris Coleman’s Wales team will look to get their qualifying campaign off to a good start tomorrow, but opponents Belgium may be too tough.

Chris Coleman will be hoping that his team can improve on recent performances.

A year ago today Wales had just fallen to a narrow 1-0 defeat to England at Wembley. In truth, Gary Speed’s side had matched the English and had it not been for a late miss by Robert Earnshaw, they would have left Wembley with a deserved draw. But the performance was the key. Wales were not outclassed as they had been in the home fixture six months prior. Speed’s side was a work in progress, but progress was quick. Two wins over Switzerland and Bulgaria saw them finish their Euro 2012 campaign on a high, and an excellent 4-1 friendly win over Norway gave a glimmer of hope to Welsh fans looking forward to the qualification campaign for Brazil 2014.

Twelve months later and that hope has gone missing in the aftermath of the tragic loss of Speed. Chris Coleman has been given the difficult task of building on Speed’s work but he is yet to have the team playing with the same style and success as his predecessor – Wales are yet to score with him in the dugout. Going by his two matches in charge,  2-0 losses to both Mexico and Bosnia and Herzegovina, Wales could be in danger of falling back into an era of abject performances and player withdrawals. But, one must not be too quick to judge upon friendly matches, especially with a new manager – it took Speed until his fourth game in charge for Wales to earn his first win. Coleman can only be hopeful that his side will show their best when the pressure is on.

Wales have been drawn in a tricky group for the World Cup qualifiers. With Croatia as clear favourites and Macedonia as group minnows, the other four teams, (Belgium, Serbia, Scotland and Wales) all sit within seven places of each other in the FIFA world rankings. The key to success in such a tight group will be solid home form, since each side should be quite capable of taking points from another.

Coleman’s campaign kicks off tomorrow against Belgium but unfortunately his squad has been steadily eroded by a long string of injuries. Wales will be without eight players, including usual starters Craig Bellamy, Wayne Hennessey and Neil Taylor. Crucially though, the trio of Gareth Bale, Aaron Ramsey and Joe Allen are fit. If they are to have any hope of a positive result, then these three will have to perform to their best to outclass a star-studded Belgian team.

However, in recent years the Belgians have been tarnished with the tag of under-achievers, their team often amounting to less that the sum of its undoubtedly talented parts. But following a 4-2 win over the Dutch in August, the Red Devils will be more than hopeful of mounting a successful qualifying campaign. The Belgian side is now full of top class talent, with several players recently earning moves to join an already established Premier League contingent, and in their captain Vincent Kompany they can claim to have one of the world’s finest defenders.

Conversely, it is in defence where Wales may struggle. Coleman’s clumsy attempts to coax Ryan Shawcross and Ben Turner into his team showed a lack of trust in his current defensive options, who will have the tough task of keeping the likes of Eden Hazard, Moussa Dembele and Kevin Mirallas quiet.

With such quality throughout the Belgian side, they’ll undoubtedly be one of Wales’ tougher challenges this campaign. The Dragons will need to play like they did against England, but they also must hope that Belgium’s own golden generation don’t dazzle.

Wales v Belgium, 07/09/2012, KO: 19.45, Cardiff City Stadium

Peter Whittingham was the hat-trick hero as Cardiff came from behind to brush aside the challenge of Wolves, but a scintillating debut from Craig Noone stole the show.

Craig Noone congratulates Peter Whittingham. Credit: Huw Evans Picture Agency

After some promising early exchanges, the game burst into life during the tenth minute when Wolves’ new signing Bakary Sako curled a left-footed free-kick from 30 yards inside the bottom of Marshall’s left hand post to put the visitors ahead.

But the Bluebirds barely noticed the setback – their response was instant. A brilliant (speculative) volleyed through-ball (clearance) from Whittingham found Noone wide on the left (brackets for pessimists). The winger dribbled with pace and trickery into the box until he was felled clumsily by Ronald Zubar’s hanging leg. Referee D’Urso pointed straight to the spot and Whittingham, calm as ever, levelled the score at 1-1.

Now playing with confidence and precision, it took just three minutes for Cardiff to take the lead. Nicky Maynard found himself in space on the right, cutting the ball back to the edge of the area, where Jordon Mutch dummied cleverly to let the ball run to Whittingham, who doubled his tally with a low drive from the edge of the box.

Wolves’ best chance to equalise came mid-way through the first half. After some good passing down the right Sako squared a low cross along the Cardiff six yard box, Marshall parried Doyle’s effort at the far post and David Edwards’ follow up rebounded back to the Welshman, only for his second effort to loop high over the bar under pressure.

Cardiff were a constant threat on the counter, quick and direct running from Maynard and Noone combined with the guile of Smith caused the Wolves defence problems throughout. Of Cardiff’s new men, Noone in particular stood out, tormenting Zubar again and again. It will be a difficult task for Craig Bellamy to regain his place on the left flank, such was the excellence of the winger’s performance.

Maynard and Helguson showed glimpses that they could become a successful centre forward partnership. The two linked up well in parts and when Maynard almost played Helguson through on goal, the Icelander was thwarted only by the last-ditch long leg of former Cardiff man Roger Johnson. Conversely, Ebanks-Blake and Doyle for Wolves struggled to form an attacking understanding, their uncoordinated efforts were easily and repeatedly broken down by a solid Cardiff defence.

In the second half it was again Noone’s trickery that proved to be crucial. The wide-man was fouled just outside the Wolves box, giving Whittingham the perfect opportunity to complete his hat-trick. The languid lefty did so in spectacular fashion, his beautifully struck shot flying over the wall and into the top right hand corner of the goal. Malky Mackay had shown his desire to keep Whittingham at the heart of his team during the week, awarding the midfielder a new three year deal on Tuesday. Mackay’s  faith was repaid in some style.

Wolves huffed and puffed to get back into the game but Cardiff just sat back, waited for an inevitable mistake or poor cross and looked to counter. The away team had plenty of posession after the break, but their  inability to threaten the goal was obvious. Ståle Solbakken attempted to remedy this with the introduction of Frank Nouble, but the big man was kept quiet by both Hudson and Connolly.

With impressive showings from each of Cardiff’s new signings and a tactical shake-up from Malky Mackay, the Welsh side vastly improved upon their shaky showing at Bristol last week. They were pacy and incisive in their running and passing, these previously missing qualities demonstrated in abundance by Noone, Maynard and Smith.

With Kim Bo-Kyung still to make his debut and Craig Bellamy to return, Cardiff fans will be far more optimistic going into the international break following this performance. Next up are Neil Warnock’s Leeds, but if the Bluebirds can repeat this sort of showing they will have little to fear from any side.

Man of the Match: Craig Noone

Attendance: 22,020

Referee: Andy D’Urso

Teams

Cardiff City

(4-4-2)

01. David Marshall

02. Kevin McNaughton

05. Mark Hudson (c)

12. Matthew Connolly

03. Andrew Taylor

14. Tommy Smith

07. Peter Whittingham

18. Jordon Mutch (Y) (Gunnarsson – 59′)

16. Craig Noone (Cowie – 74′)

22. Heidar Helguson

23. Nicky Maynard (Mason – 68′)

Wolverhampton Wanderers

(4-4-2)

13. Carl Ikeme

23. Ronald Zubar (Stearman – 73′)

14. Roger Johnson

16. Christophe Berra

11. Stephen Ward

07. Sławomir Peszko (Forde – 83′)

28. Tongo Doumbia

04. David Edwards (Nouble – 73′)

10. Bakary Sako

09. Sylvan Ebanks-Blake (Y)

29. Kevin Doyle (c)