Cardiff City have waited 51 years to return to the top flight, but will have to remain patient a little longer as they seek their first points and goals in the elite. A well-taken brace from Joe Cole and Kevin Nolan ensured £15m Andy Carroll was not missed by West Ham whose fans delighted in singing 'we are top of the league', which they were until Villa scored their third at the Emirates.
The Hammers only played well in patches, but like any Sam Allardyce team they were organised and competent which was enough against a Cardiff side short of attacking threat. It was not until the 85 minute that Jussi Jaaskelainen made a save in anger. That may change when £8m Dane Andreas Cornelius returns from an ankle injury but the supply line will need to be improved. Record buy Gary Medal was tidy in possession but showed no indication of why he was nicknamed 'pitbull' at Sevilla, or why he cost £11m.
“We showed we were ready,” said Allardyce of his team. “We won comfortably. Perhaps we didn't take as many chances as we would have liked, but we defended superbly.” Allardyce, who only deployed one summer signing, Stuart Downing who produced a bright cameo off the bench, added: “We have a really good squad with competition all over the pitch.”
“We started slowly,” said Cardiff's Malky Mackay, “after that we had plenty of possession but not enough penetration. They only had three shots on target but they were clinical.”
It was May 1962 when Cardiff slipped out of the top flight, relegated with Chelsea and replaced by Liverpool and Leyton Orient. Alf Ramsey’s newly-promoted Ipswich Town won the title, by three points from Burnley. The life of one of their players, Welsh international Derek Tapscott, underlines what a different world it was then. One of 16 children he left school at 14, became a bricklayer, did national service, and was then spotted playing for Barry Town by Arsenal at 21 playing in London for several years before joining Cardiff.
These days the Welsh club are bankrolled by a Malaysian entrepreneur who has changed their shirt colors and may yet alter the name, and have in their team players from South Korea, Chile and Benin. There is a token Welshman, local boy Craig Bellamy, who has now represented seven different clubs in the Premier League. Bellamy showed plenty of enthusiasm and had Kim Bo-Kyung released him during a tenth-minute counter-attack after a long inside-out run into space, rather than shot himself, might have given the day a different plot.
Bellamy was furious at Kim and irked again three minutes later when West Ham went ahead after Mohamed Diame mugged Kim in midfield. Jarvis was sent clear on the left and advanced before cutting the ball back, wrong-footing the Cardiff defence. Cole had to reach behind himself to kill the cross but then span and whipped a shot inside the far post.
Cole should have struck again eight minutes later when freed by Mark Noble but his attempted chip went into David Marshall's arms. With Diame and Jarvis going close in the opening minutes of the second half the only surprise was that it took West Ham until the 76 minute to score a second goal and secure the points. They nearly scored just after the hour when Joey O'Brien improbably dribbled through before releasing Mobido Maiga whose shot was turned aside at full stretch by Marshall. Maiga made a decent fist of deputising for Carroll. He obviously lacks the Geordie's aerial threat but he held the ball up well and his link-play was demonstrated in the interchange with Mark Noble which led to Nolan clipping a first-time shot inside the post for the second.
Belatedly Cardiff pressed forward. Jaaskelainen tipped over Connolly's header and Nicky Maynard shot over from close range, but it was too little, too late. Mackay now prepares for their home bow, against Manchester City on Sunday, with Allardyce warning that home form will determine whether they survive.
West Ham (4-1-4-1): Jaaskelainen; Demel, Collins, Reid, O'Brien; Noble; Cole (Vaz Te, 90), Diame (Diarra, 82), Nolan, Jarvis (Downing, 72); Maiga.
Substitutes not used: Tomkins, Rat, Adrian (gk), Morrison.
Cardiff (4-2-3-1): Marshall, Connolly, Caulker, Turner, John; Gunnarsson, Medel, Bellamy (Gestede, 75), Kim (Maynard, 75), Whittingham; Campbell (Mutch, 90).
Substitutes not used: Hudson, Smith, Mutch, Cowie, Lewis.