Bluebirds victorious in Severnside derby
Cardiff City restored their four-point cushion in the Championship automatic promotion places as Kenneth Zohore’s late strike sank rivals Bristol City.
A full-blooded first half was high on endeavour and passion but low on chances, the best of which Cardiff could not convert.
They upped the ante after the break and, with eight minutes left, Zohore blasted in from close range.
Cardiff stay second in the table, four points clear of Aston Villa in third.
Bristol City, meanwhile, remain sixth but a run of one win in 10 league games means they are only two points in front of Middlesbrough, who are seventh.
The managers, Neil Warnock and Lee Johnson, had both stoked the fires for this encounter; the former saying there is “genuine” bad blood between the two and the latter dismissing the atmosphere at Cardiff City Stadium as being less than intimidating.
With a bone-chilling breeze swirling around the venue, there was certainly hostility in the stands as both sets of players confronted each other with the aggression that has come to be associated with this fixture.
After just five minutes, Bristol City’s Nathan Baker was booked for handing off Callum Paterson in the face, sparking the first melee of a niggly, scruffy affair.
There was no lack of commitment from either team but, with the ball spending long periods in the air, scoring opportunities were at a premium.
One scramble in the visitors’ penalty area saw Gary Madine and Joe Ralls go close with two blocked shots in quick succession, while Liam Feeney had the game’s first strike on target when his sliding effort from Sol Bamba’s fine through ball was saved by Frank Fielding.
Cardiff sought to increase the tempo and the introduction of Zohore at half-time proved significant, with the Danish striker bringing some much-needed dynamism to the Bluebirds attack.
His low cross was almost turned into his own net by Korey Smith and the visitors seemed unsettled by Zohore’s pace.
Bristol City had chances of their own, with substitute Jamie Paterson seeing one deflected effort go narrowly wide, but Cardiff were rewarded for a positive second-half effort.
Ralls delivered a low cross from the left and, four days after scoring the winner at Ipswich, Zohore was on hand to fire in another crucial goal to extend Cardiff’s unbeaten run in the Championship to eight games.
Cardiff City manager Neil Warnock said: “It was never going to be pretty. The pitch was terrible, the wind was bad, it was the coldest day of the year, the ball was lively and it was a derby.
“We said at half-time it would be a sloppy goal, make sure we don’t make a mistake because it’s a mistake which will cost the game.
“We’re delighted to come out of it with three points. I thought we shaded it. I thought we had the better opportunities but it was always going to be close.
“And it was great to come out with another clean sheet – that was our target we set at the start of the season, 16 clean sheets. It’s a great achievement.”
Bristol City manager Lee Johnson said: “It was a horrible game, let’s be honest. I got in for free and I still want my money back.
“I’m disappointed. It was the game we expected it to be, scruffy and scrappy, conditions not ideal, pretty much a 0-0 game.
“I was pleased with the way we stood up to the physicality of the Cardiff side but I thought we were mediocre on the ball, which was the bit which bugged me more than anything.
“We set up with a side which was good in physical duels but we didn’t particularly play our game and get the ball down enough and show that bravery.
“We’ve got to be a bit better. It’s a bit of a dilemma because your little ones are your good footballers, naturally a bit braver on the ball, and the taller ones are a bit more physical and sometimes revert to type.”
Zohore 7 (for Madine 45 mins)
Harris 6 (for Feeney 73 mins)