Flying Chopra lifts Bluebirds

Cardiff City 3 Bristol City 0: New surroundings and striker's red-hot boots have inspired Cardiff to lead the Championship. James Corrigan reports on the City revival
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The Independent Football

Early days, no question, but still heady days for Cardiff City. Top of the Championship, a gleaming stadium and a striker so on fire that he took off his right boot yesterday and threw it to the ground – it was just too hot to handle. Yes, Michael Chopra's original goal celebration summed up a lunchtime when everything appeared new in the Welsh capital.

The calamitous end to last season certainly seemed mired in a different era. With four games to go, in-form Cardiff looked primed to gain automatic promotion before a 6-0 defeat at Preston precipitated an extraordinary tumble which ended with the Bluebirds missing out on the play-offs by a solitary goal. It would not be easily forgotten. Apparently, it has been.

"The local press talked about the hangover affecting the start of this campaign and if we had still been playing at the old place then I'm sure it could have," said their manager, Dave Jones. "But we had to start again and here was the perfect place to do that."

Of course, there was another score settled here, what with Bristol City being their nearest and undearest league rivals from over the border. Yet for once, in this traditionally hostile parish, there was so much more than bristling enmity at stake. The Sky cameras were in town and the Bluebirds were desperate to show they were worthy; of both their place in the table and their flashy, new home.

It is fair to say they made their case rather emphatically. While Chris Burke was the match's most eye-catching performer, it was Chopra's routine which was inevitably to grasp the headlines. It was delivered after he exquisitely steered home his side's second with the outside of that right boot. That is seven in four games for the Geordie. Sizzling, indeed. His team-mates whip it around, and he whips them in. It appears so straight-forward on this slick playing surface.

So much for the inevitable grumblings about the ground-share with the Cardiff Blues, (who made their debut here in a friendly with Leicester on Friday night), although perhaps the third week of January will be a more appropriate time to go passing agronomical judgement. For now it seems to work, and when you are top of the league the "for now" is the only thing which matters.

This was not the Severnside derby of yesteryear, or even last year, and that was no bad thing. Cardiff have rebuilt their image as well as their stands. The FA Cup final appearance of two years ago was a stepping stone and, whatever their continuing financial fears, Peter Ridsdale's tenure as chairman has, ostensibly, been impressive. As well as the move, Jones now has the up-to-date training facilities for which he so publicly craved. And then there's his playing squad.

It may have been chilling for these away fans to contemplate, but Burke would likely only have been a sub if Ross McCormack had been fit. The latter was expected to leave in the summer, along with Cardiff's favourite local lad, Joe Ledley. Both have, so far, remained. If anything, Jones's troops have been strengthened. On Saturday, he signed the highly-rated Kelvin Etuhu on loan from Manchester City and the striker sparkled when coming on for Chopra yesterday.

By then, the three points were as good as bagged. A clever flick from Burke to Adam Matthews allowed the impressive teenager to unfurl the rasping cross which forced Jamie McCombe to turn into his own net. Then, moments before the break, Burke set up Chopra for the drama's main act.

The visitors enjoyed their chances – most notably Marvin Elliott hitting the post – but a second-half fightback never seemed likely. It was left to Burke to yet again play provider, this time teeing up his countryman Gavin Rae. It was the ideal moving-in present.

Cardiff City (4-4-2): Marshall; Matthews, Hudson, Gerrard, Quinn; Whittingham, Rae, Ledley, Burke; Chopra (Etuhu, 80), Bothroyd (Magennis, 89). Substitutes not used: Enckelman (gk), Gyepes, McPhail, Blake, Comminges.

Bristol City (4-3-3): Gerken; Wilson, McCombe, Fontaine, McAllister; Elliott, Hartley (Sproule, 75), Johnson (Williams, 75); Haynes, Clarkson (Akinde, 46), Maynard. Substitutes not used: Basso (gk), Carey, Ribeiro, Blackman.

Referee: K Friend (Leicstershire).

Attendance: 20,853.