The first Premier League match between Welsh clubs was no classic, the anticipation greater than the event, but Cardiff and their supporters, who have waited so long for their turn at the top table, cared not a jot for all that after claiming local bragging rights with a goal from Steven Caulker, the England centre-half, who spent the 2011-12 season on loan at Swansea.
It was a result Cardiff needed – only their second win in eight league matches since that epic victory over Manchester City.
The goal, after 62 minutes, saw Caulker outjump Chico Flores at the near post to head home Craig Bellamy’s corner from six yards. Jonjo Shelvey would have prevented it had he not deserted his position on the line inside the upright.
Fraizer Campbell, on as substitute, might have doubled the margin in added time had he not been taken out by Michel Vorm, who was sent off for racing from his penalty area to bring down the Cardiff striker with a flying boot. Swansea had already used all their substitutes so Angel Rangel went in goal and saved the consequent free-kick, taken by Peter Whittingham.
Swansea were dominant in the first half but faded badly after the break and forfeited all three points for failing to translate possession into goals when the force was with them.
At the start the atmosphere was red or white hot, depending on your chosen colours, stoked up shortly before the kick-off by a high decibel rendition of the Cardiff anthem, “Men of Harlech” and the return to the starting line-up of Craig Bellamy, who enjoys iconic status locally and was greeted accordingly.
The two clubs have geography in common, but not much else. In terms of playing styles, it is not exactly Beauty v The Beast, but aesthetic v pragmatic probably covers it. Typical here was Malky Mackay’s selection for Cardiff of Don Cowie, a prosaic grafter, ahead of Kim Bo-kyung, who is much more of a creative influence, or Craig Noone, a genuine winger.
The pattern of play was entirely predictable: Swansea passing the ball around nicely and Cardiff defending assiduously and in numbers, hoping to nick a goal from a set piece, which is exactly what happened.
The Swans were on the front foot from the start, fashioning three chances in the first 10 minutes. Michu, set up by Wayne Routledge and Nathan Dyer, volleyed over from near the penalty spot then had a resounding drive from the edge of the D parried by David Marshall; Dyer fired wide after a lovely crossfield pass from Ashley Williams.
Cardiff’s only noteworthy goal attempt in a disappointing first half saw Bellamy’s free-kick deflected behind by Leon Britton. Their second strike, after 50 minutes, was no more productive, Whittingham shooting well wide from 20 yards.
Cardiff became more adventurous after the interval and had imaginative appeals for a penalty rightly rejected when Cowie, supplied by Bellamy, fell unconvincingly under Williams’s aerial challenge. Their improvement was rewarded when Caulker weighed in with his second goal of the season.
It was a lift the club needed. In recent weeks Cardiff’s supporters have been preoccupied with events off the field, notably the contratemps between Mackay and the club’s owner, Vincent Tan. The schism first manifested itself in the sacking, against Mackay’s wishes, of his head of recruitment, Iain Moody, and his replacement by Alisher Apsalyamov, a 23-year-old footballing novice from Kazakhstan, who had been painting the stadium as a work experience trainee at the start of the season. Apsalyamov’s appointment took on a farcical aspect on Thursday when the Home Office discovered he had no work permit and ordered him to stand down, temporarily at least.
Further disquiet among fans followed the revelation on Friday that Etien Velikonja, the Slovenian striker for whom Cardiff paid NK Maribor £1.7m, was signed by Tan, not by Mackay or Moody. Plainly not up to the standard required, Velikonja has made only three League appearances in 16 months, two of them as substitute and none since promotion to the Premier League.
Swansea, meanwhile, go from strength to strength, a model of how a club should be run. The board have hired a series of excellent managers whose teams have produced an attractive brand of football that continues to win new friends wherever they go.
And having put good men in charge, they let them manage, free from the boardroom interference that has reared its ugly head at Cardiff. In a further contrast, the Swans showed a net profit of £15.3m on the year ending 31 May 2013. Meanwhile their great rivals owe a potentially ruinous debt to Tan, who charges interest on it.
All that said, it was not Swansea’s day. They huffed and puffed in search of equality and Wilfried Bony, on for Michu, prodded wide at close range and Jonathan de Guzman threatened with a free-kick that Marshall spilled before recovering. The Scotland goalkeeper was more impressive in repelling a piledriver from De Guzman before attention focused on the other keeper’s rush of blood.
Cardiff City (4-2-3-1): Marshall 6; Theophile-Catherine 7, Caulker 7, Turner 6, Taylor 6; Medel 8, Whittingham 7; Cowie 6, Mutch 6; Bellamy 8; Odemwingie 6. Subs: Lewis, Hudson, Campbell, Kim, Noone, Gunnarsson, Maynard.
Swansea City (4-2-3-1): Vorm 5; Rangel 6, Flores 6, Williams 7, Taylor 6; De Guzman 6, Britton 6; Dyer 6, Shelvey 6, Routledge 6; Michu 6. Subs: Tremmel, Amat, Bony, Tiendalli, Canas, Pozuelo, Vazquez.
Referee: M Dean (Wirral)
Man of the match: Bellamy