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)

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.

Aron Gunnarson celebrates his captain’s late winner. Credit: Huw Evans Picture Agency

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

Attendance: 21,127

Referee: Roger East

Teams

Cardiff City

(4-2-3-1)

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

Huddersfield Town

(4-5-1)

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