Norwich City give Cardiff scare

CARDIFF CITY 3, NORWICH CITY 1: 'Come on City, let's put these Canaries back in the cage and bolt that door,' said the Cardiff City PA man as the players ran out for the second half.

He had good reason to issue the warning after City had threatened to knock Cardiff's confidence sideways in an opening half which the hosts somehow finished two goals to the good.

An early double strike suggested that City had changed their clocks rather earlier than the rest of us and only realised after Michael Chopra made it 2-0 after 12 minutes, following Jay Bothroyd on to the scoresheet.

City will be kicking themselves when they see the replays: they'd already been given a warning that Cardiff had a special corner kick routine in their armoury.

It starts with Peter Whittingham, whose kick finds one of the two central defenders climbing to head it back across the area, where the sizeable Bothroyd awaits the second header.

Attempt number one had seen Mark Hudson head it, but Bothroyd's final header was poor. Attempt number two saw Gabor Gyepes send it into the danger area, with Bothroyd jumping higher than Russell Martin to put Cardiff ahead.

No one can say they weren't warned.

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Bothroyd then got in front of Leon Barnett to flick keeper Tom Heaton's kick into the path of Chopra, who got across Elliott Ward and slipped it under John Ruddy.

A dozen minutes on the clock, and Cardiff were already 2-0 up.

City's travelling fans have seen many a team crumble in the face of such adversity, but one of the advantages of following the 2010 model is that they seem to regard the negative scoreline as merely an interruption, not the final verdict.

Instead of wilting, they turned the tables on Cardiff and took the game to their hosts and, had they replied earlier, it might have been a very different outcome.

Simeon Jackson was nicely set up by Grant Holt, who had already had a goal disallowed for a push, but his volley from six yards towards a goal guarded only by one man, gave Heaton the opportunity to make a reasonably routine save. Wes Hoolahan, back in the starting line-up after last week's rest, was showing all the signs of a man revitalised: his quick feet left a couple of men rather larger than himself sticking their boots out at thin air. He ran three-quarters of the length of the pitch after Bothroyd's sloppy pass and forced Heaton into a decent save – why Cardiff retreated so easily only they know. Perhaps it was that knee-jerk reaction by teams who tend to drop too deep and allow opponents too much of the ball.

City were worthy of such respect –they camped around the Cardiff area, with Andrew Crofts and Korey Smith picking up a lot of loose balls as the hosts failed to clear their lines, inviting just more attacks.

The pressure had to pay off, and when left back Steven Smith sent a tantalising cross in to the near post, it did – but it took something special to execute it.

Cue Hoolahan, who would probably rather use his head for working out how to break down defences than connecting with the ball; that's for Holt and Co to do. But Hoolahan produced a Holt-type diving header which planted the ball in the corner, and left the midfielder needing treatment for a nasty looking nose injury.

Blood had been spilt for the cause, and it might well have been rewarded had it not been for the intervention of referee Graham Scott.

All was going okay, in the circumstances, but that changed within just a few minutes of Hoolahan's goal. Bothroyd swung in a cross from the right, Barnett headed it away and the ball hit Ward, a couple of yards inside the area on the left, waist high. The defender didn't dispute afterwards that it hit his hand; the question is: How can a player who can't get out of the way, who doesn't move his hand to the ball, who has his hands in a safe and innocuous position, be deemed to have handled a ball that comes at him out of the blue?

Did he gain an advantage he might otherwise not have got? Who knows? If his hand hadn't been there it looks like it would have hit his waist and he would have then turned and cleared as he did.

But Mr Scott immediately pointed to the spot, much to the delight of everyone in blue, and the disgust of those not. It's not for players to claim a referee is influenced by home supporters, but there did appear to be undue haste in the official's decision.

Unfortunately, when they're made, everyone has to live with them – and when the excellent Whittingham stroked the ball past Ruddy, the game changed.

City struggled to regain their momentum before half-time, when Cardiff regrouped, had a little think about what to do next, and decided the best option was to contain the visitors. Which they did well.

City rarely looked like scoring in the second half as Cardiff drew their sting. The only threats were to Ruddy's goal, with Bothroyd hitting the bar with an excellent shot, and then being denied by Ruddy.

It wasn't game over for City, but it was much tougher going.

Craig Bellamy showed more after the break, having been unable to really give Russell Martin a rough ride, while on the other flank Steve Smith's first-half booking was being exploited by Chris Burke, who began to run directly at the City left-back.

Bothroyd was an ever-present danger, while Chopra almost added to the scoreline with a volley that had Ruddy stretching to his right.

If the half-time scoreline had been misleading, the longer the game went on the more Cardiff looked value for their advantage and by the time the ref blew time, City were a spent force.It had been hard work, but it had, in a strange way, been a fruitful afternoon.

This game, perhaps more than any of the previous 13, was a reflection of City's place in the greater scheme of things in the Championship.

Cardiff are classy, perhaps the best side in the division; they have the players in place, a squad with depth and the ability to go out in January and add to it.

Most of the teams below them don't have that capacity. Queens Park Rangers have the finances, but they need to strengthen; they haven't got the firepower to match Cardiff, who might get away with what they already have.

It's early days, but it's looking increasingly like it could become a two-horse race.

Predicting the top two actually looks a lot easier than trying to work out who will be trailing immediately in their wake.

Norwich have faced the top two away from home and while they haven't been overawed by either, there is a clear difference in class. Fortunately, Norwich aren't the only team who would have to admit that.