Long after the final whistle had sounded they were still singing loud and lustily. Deep down, the Cardiff supporters must know that the challenge over avoiding relegation from the top flight remains formidable, but three vital points had just been banked and for another week at least they will believe that the miracle demanded by manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer might just be taking shape.
When you are down and almost out it helps to come up against a team with little to play for. It took Cardiff well past the hour to realise that this was a game Southampton were trying hard not to win, and when the penny dropped the result was decisive as central defender Juan Cala grabbed the initiative to plot an unlikely route towards survival.
It still needed a couple of outstanding saves from David Marshall to protect the lead, but Solskjaer insists this was a result that had long been coming and, moreover, one that was fully deserved in the context of previous disappointments.
Last week’s tame surrender against Crystal Palace had been followed by revelations that two club employees had been disciplined after their team line-up had been leaked to their opponents. Solskjaer said the issue had “galvanised” the squad and helped concentrate minds on the task in hand.
“We have dealt with it as a club and ended the week on a high,” said the manager, who was enjoying only his third victory in 14 League games. “The pressure was on more than ever but the players focused really well and now we need more of this. Now we are only three points behind the teams above us.”
The pattern was set from the outset: the home side building attacks with poise and precision while Cardiff back-pedalled to form a blue wall of defiance. So deep were the visitors that Southampton could advance almost to the edge of the 18-yard line before coming under serious pressure.
The goalscoring chances began to stack up: Rickie Lambert headed over; Adam Lallana cleverly found Gaston Ramirez in space but Steven Caulker just got his body in the way in time to divert the shot on to the crossbar and away to safety.
More obvious opportunities came and went after Cardiff’s goal. Southampton manager Mauricio Pochettino admitted they lacked a clinical edge. “It was a steep learning curve for us because all that possession means nothing if you can’t convert it into goals,” he said.
According to Solskjaer the memory of the Palace debacle was a factor in Cardiff’s inability to show nothing more than defensive resolution in the opening 45 minutes. They improved after the interval and signalled their intent when Jordon Mutch went close.
Five minutes later and , following Peter Whittingham’s free-kick, Cala seized on a poor clearance from Calum, veered left to shake off a couple of defenders before planting a firm drive beyond Gazzaniga.
Now Cardiff really did have something to defend. The best chance on a frustrating afternoon for the Saints arrived for young Sam Gallagher after Morgan Schneiderlin adroitly lofted the ball forward. The substitute shot first time but Marshall had advanced off his line to smother the shot, and shortly after he got down well to deny Nathaniel Clyne.
Southampton (4-3-2-1): Gazzaniga; Chambers (Clyne, 67), Fonte, Lovren, Shaw; Davis, Cork (Prado, 79), Schneiderlin; Ramirez (Gallagher, 66), Lallana; Lambert
Cardiff (4-1-3-1-1): Marshall; Theophile-Catherine, Caulker, Cala, Fabio (McNaughton, 78); Medel (Zaha, 61); Kim, Whittingham, Daehli (Bellamy 87); Mutch; Campbell.
Referee: Jonathan Moss.
Man of the match: Marshall (Cardiff)
Match rating: 5/10Reuse content