As home introductions go this was dreamland for Cardiff City as Malky Mackay’s newly-promoted outfit pulled off one of the biggest shocks in Premier League history against Manchester City.
The Bluebirds produced a remarkable second-half recovery with three unanswered goals following Edin Dzeko’s 51st minute opener to stun the 2012 champions. After Aron Gunnarsson equalised, Fraizer Campbell became the toast of the Welsh capital with two set-piece efforts past City and England goalkeeper Joe Hart as wild celebrations surged around the Cardiff City Stadium.
Alvaro Negredo netted an injury-time consolation for Manuel Pellegrini’s men, but Cardiff deserved nothing less than maximum points here. Pellegrini will no doubt be concerned by City’s marking at the duo of corners in the space of eight minutes from Peter Whittingham and Don Cowie.
Cardiff boss Mackay said: “I’m absolutely delighted. For everyone at the football club it was a long time coming. You could see that in the build up. It meant a lot to a lot of people. I’m very proud of a lot of people at the club with the result being what it is at the end of the game.
“The players, the fans who made an unbelievable atmosphere and staff who work at the club. They have been through tough times at the club and it was great to see smiles on their faces.
“Before the game, I told the players that they have to believe because we deserved to be here. You saw the belief. We had a disciplined approach to how we were going to play. We knew how City would hurt us and we tried to counter.
“They only lost one game from a winning position last season, but to come back and deservedly win the game shows the great character that we have.”
Last season’s Championship winners harried and hassled City for large spells, and even created the better chances in front of a passionate home support. They were forced to rally after Dzeko’s opener early in the second half, but they were level six minutes later.
Kim Bo-Kyung was the architect, ghosting down the right flank and, after Hart thwarted Campbell from close-range, Gunnarsson followed up to slam the ball home.
It had been 51 years since Cardiff last scored in the top division, but it was worth the wait as Mackay’s players, owner Vincent Tang, below, the staff and Bluebirds’ supporters united in extraordinary and joyous scenes.
Dzeko thought he had answered Manuel Pellegrini’s warning shot in emphatic style to hand the title contenders the lead. The Bosnian forward scored a 25-yard wonder strike to rock the Welsh side.
City boss Pellegrini had told the 27-year-old to start converting his chances or risk being shipped out of the Etihad Stadium after he had missed a glut of opportunities in the opening 4-0 destruction of Newcastle on Monday.
Dzeko came up trumps early in the second half when he linked up cleverly with strike partner Sergio Aguero before arrowing a powerful right-footed drive past Cardiff goalkeeper David Marshall.
It was tough on Cardiff to fell behind at that stage, but it was another lesson of life at this level. Games against the top teams will not determine Cardiff’s fate next May, but this victory is a great bonus – and it came courtesy of Campbell’s persistence.
He threatened twice in as many minutes at the end of the first period, but the former Manchester United striker was unable to convert.
The first opportunity saw Campbell outsprint Javier Garcia and Joleon Lescott from Gunnarsson’s lofted through ball, yet he put the ball wide of Hart’s left-hand upright on the stretch.
Within 60 seconds, however, the dangerous Campbell almost capitalised on slick City defending to grab the all-important advantage.
Spanish midfielder Garcia, drafted in to play in the unfamiliar role at centre-back following the injury to Vincent Kompany, failed to deal with Marshall’s long punt, and Campbell raced clear only for Hart to thwart him.
On this evidence, you can see why Manchester City need to buy a centre-back before the transfer window closes on 2 September.
Cardiff kept coming and City appeared stunned when Gunnarsson’s leveller was added to by Campbell’s brace from close-range. Yet City chief Pellegrini refused to blame Hart or his back four for the manner in which they conceded.
Pellegrini said: “It’s a pity to lose, but I don’t think that our defence cost us today. There was no problem in central defence. We lost because we weren’t concentrating on two corners and that decided the match.
“Defending set-pieces is a duty for the whole team, not just the goalkeeper or the defenders. I don’t think we deserved to lose this match.
“It doesn’t matter who is guilty. We will have to work on set-pieces. We didn’t play well – but we didn’t play badly either. Cardiff didn’t surprise me, but it was difficult for us because they had 10 players near their penalty box.”
For Campbell, it was the stuff that boyhood dreams are made of. Having won his solitary England cap against the Netherlands under Stuart Pearce in 2012, Mackay now hopes that the 25-year-old can force his way into Roy Hodgson’s plans.
“There’s no reason why he can’t do it,” he said.
“He has to keep working hard, keep his head down and play like that against top players. I thought Fraizer gave their backline a torrid time. I was delighted to get him from Sunderland for £600,000. It was an incredible bit of business on our behalf.”
For Bellamy, it was also a day to remember against his former club. “We can hold the crowd responsible for the three points, they were incredible,” he enthused.
“This Premier League’s so tough and not every week we’re going to have Man City but one or two teams, we’re going to need them to be as positive as that if we’re going to try and stay in this league.’’