Cardiff City 0 Norwich City 1
- Credit: Paul Chesterton/Focus Images Ltd
Cameron Jerome returned to haunt his old club with a diving header which earned Norwich City their first away win in nine league games.
The striker's ninth goal of the season, heading home a Wes Hoolahan free-kick in the 40th minute, was enough to earn a hard-fought success for Alex Neil's team at the Cardiff City Stadium.
The visitors arrived in South Wales looking to end a run of eight away games without a win in the league, stretching all the way back to a 2-1 victory at Wolves on October 1 – with a six point-gap to the play-off places to close ahead of kick-off.
City boss Neil threw deadline day signings Yanic Wildschut and Mitchell Dijks straight into battle, as the only two changes to the team which started the previous weekend's 2-0 home win over Birmingham.
Dijks replaced Robbie Brady at left-back, following the Irishman's £13m switch to Burnley, and Wildschut started on the left wing due to Steven Naismith's hamstring strain – with Jerome starting up front despite Nelson Oliveira's return from suspension.
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Cardiff went into the game in good spirits though having won their third home game in succession when beating Preston 2-0 in midweek and made just one change to their starting XI, with Lee Peltier replaced at right-back by Matthew Connolly due to a knee issue.
It was the hosts who had the best chance of a tame opening period, when lone striker Kenneth Zohore rose highest to meet Connolly's curling cross from the right, only to head weakly at John Ruddy.
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Dijks showed what he was capable of going forward, losing Kadeem Harris with a body swerve and whipping a cross in from the left, only for Jerome to be adjudged offside.
Jerome was again offside in the 23rd minute after a surge forward from Jacob Murphy but the striker had his best chance on the half-hour, seizing on Sean Morrison's slip but seeing Cardiff keeper Alan McGregor out quickly to block his low shot with his left boot.
The former Bluebirds striker did find the net 10 minutes later, to put the Canaries ahead through his third goal in four games.
Lovely build-up play started with Timm Klose keeping the ball in play on the left to find Dijks, before Jonny Howson and Wes Hoolahan exchanged passes to press forward, until Aron Gunnarsson chopped down Jerome 30 yards from goal.
Hoolahan took the free-kick and Jerome wanted the ball most, diving headfirst to nod the low ball into the bottom-right corner from six yards for 1-0.
Joe Ralls lashes a shot wide from 25 yards as Neil Warnock's physical side looked for an immediate response.
Norwich had stood up to the aerial bombardment throughout the first half though, surviving four of Iceland international Gunnarsson's trademark long throws, and almost went in 2-0 to the good.
Jerome seized on a loose ball on the edge of the box in the 45th minute but saw McGregor sprawl to his left to tip his shot around the post, as City went in to the break with a narrow lead.
The Canaries' top scorer was booked for a late tackle on Harris four minutes into the second half, the first in a spate of bookings during the second period.
Howson was lucky not to be booked soon after for a rough challenge on Jazz Richards but made sure of his yellow in the 77th minute when taking one for the team to bring down Zohore.
Ruddy had a far busier half, dealing with several crosses and doing well to punch clear a sumptuous corner from Peter Whittingham in the 58th minute in particular.
Alex Tettey finally picked up the 10th yellow card he had been avoiding since early January for a late tackle on Richards, unnecessarily, to activate a two-game suspension.
Josh Murphy replaced Wildschut but it was his brother taking the plaudits in the 76th minute, superbly tackling back to deny Harris after he had got behind Ivo Pinto, winning the ball cleanly despite the protests of the home fans.
That came just three minutes after home substitute Rhys Healey had gone down in the area under Klose's challenge, wanting a penalty, but only earning himself a booking for simulation.
An almighty game of pinball broke out in the final stages as Cardiff piled on the pressure but City survived their most dangerous moment, when substitute Craig Noone tore in to the box from the right wing and saw Ruddy deflect his low shot away, only for Harris to lash well over.
With Nelson Oliveira on for Jacob Murphy to help keep possession and Ryan Bennett on for Hoolahan to help defend in the closing stages, the Canaries clung on to finally taste away success again.
Norwich: Ruddy; Pinto, Martin (C), Klose, Dijks; Tettey, Howson; Jacob Murphy (Oliveira 80), Hoolahan (Bennett 88), Wildschut (Josh Murphy 71); Jerome. Unused subs: McGovern (GK), Whittaker, Godfrey, Pritchard.
Goal: Jerome (40)
Booked: Jerome (49), Tettey (68), Howson (77)
Cardiff: McGregor; Connolly (John 86), Morrison (C), Bamba, Richards; Kadeem Harris, Ralls, Gunnarsson, Whittingham (Healey 72), Hoilett (Noone 70); Zohore. Unused subs: Murphy (GK), Halford, Mark Harris, Gounongbe.
Booked: Connolly (74), Healey (76) Referee: Chris Kavanagh (Lancashire)