Cardiff provided some much-needed respite for their manager, Dave Jones, last night by returning into the top two of the Championship with a hard-fought but fully-deserved victory over their promotion rivals Leeds.
How Jones welcomed Michael Chopra's late winner. Bizarrely as it may seem for a team in contention at the right end of the table, the longest-serving gaffer in the division has been forced to answer questions concerning his future in recent weeks.
"Some of the stuff that's been said and written has been nonsense, but then that's English football for you – there's been three managers gone in the last few days," said Jones. "But I am made of sterner stuff. And tonight proved that so is the dressing room."
In fairness to the wolves at Jones's door, the recent spell has been abject. Since Cardiff won 4-0 at Elland Road in October – which featured another Craig Bellamy masterclass – Leeds had gone 12 matches undefeated, putting themselves at the heart of the promotion race. Meanwhile, the Welshmen had won just three of their next 11 and lost five of their last seven.
But for large parts of this game it was as if those two contrasting months had not taken place. Bellamy was again at the fore. Even for a Championship player on a purported £90,000 a week, he could be described as having worked overtime. It was only just that his name appeared on the scoresheet.
His fifth goal of the season came in the 11th minute after a short corner produced a neat interaction between Peter Whittingham and Bellamy, which saw the latter side-foot under Kasper Schmeichel. It was a busy night for the son of the goalkeeping legend, having to turn away rasping strikes from Chris Burke, Lee Naylor and Whittingham.
Schmeichel's efforts seemed to have paid off on the hour mark, when Robert Snodgrass struck. His spectacular curler from the edge of the area left the luckless Tom Heaton stranded.
Yet Chopra was to save the night for Jones. It seemed Whittingham's through ball had got away from him, but somehow he managed to stick out a boot and clip it over Schmeichel. It was just as Cardiff, and their manager, would have wished.
Cardiff City (4-4-2): Heaton; Quinn (Blake, 75), McNaughton, Hudson, Naylor; Burke (McPhail, 79), Whittingham, Olofinjana, Bellamy; Chopra, Keogh. Substitutes not used Santiago (gk), Rae, Koumas, Matthews, Meades.
Leeds United (4-4-2): Schmeichel; Connolly, Collins, O'Brien, Parker; Snodgrass, Howson, Johnson, Gradel (Sam, 57; Becchio, 64); Paynter, McCormack (Watt, 57). Substitutes not used Higgs (gk), Bruce, Faye, Hughes.
Referee A D'Urso (Essex)
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