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.
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
Referee: Andy D’Urso
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′)
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)