FORMER Swansea defender Steven Caulker hailed a “great win” after his header earned Cardiff a 1-0 victory in the Barclays Premier League’s first south Wales derby yesterday.
Caulker met Craig Bellamy’s corner to decide the match and lift the Bluebirds ahead of their opponents in the table.
The Swans pushed for an equaliser, but could not find a way through and had goalkeeper Michel Vorm sent off at the death for bringing down Fraizer Campbell when the striker was through on goal.
Caulker, who spent the 2011-12 season on loan at Swansea, said: “It was really intense, especially the last ten minutes. I thought the boys did well and stuck together. It’s a great win. It’s a big three points and we’ll go again against Aston Villa on Saturday.”
Bellamy added: “It’s always a hard-fought game and today was no exception. Next month we have got really tough fixtures ahead of us. We really needed three points.”
Cardiff boss Malky Mackay’s position has been in the spotlight in recent weeks because of new owner Vincent Tan’s decision to get rid of his head of recruitment Iain Moody. Asked if this win had eased the pressure on him, he said: “There’s pressure on me every week, every Saturday. It’s a tough uncompromising league, but it’s the only place to be.”
But he admitted the victory would have “put a lot of smiles on people’s faces”. He added: “It’s a good day all round – obviously a hugely important day locally and also as far as we’re concerned. Tactically, we played very well. I thought, to a man, we were excellent in that regard and exposed them as well.”
Michael Laudrup was disappointed to lose the game at a set-piece. The Swansea manager said: “It was a very tight game. We knew it would be. You can’t give Cardiff the chance with set-pieces.
“One set-piece – a corner – and they scored a goal. That was more or less all the chances they had in the whole game. It hurts to lose a derby, but that’s how it is.”
The Dane felt his side were in control of the game before the goal. He said: “I think we dominated well in the first half in midfield. We only had a couple of chances but we kept them away from any chances.
“My thought was during the second half to bring in one or two more offensive players and then they scored.”
Laudrup accepted Vorm deserved to see red, adding: “He’s last man, so it’s what can happen.”
The game failed to live up to the hyped build-up, with few chances at either end. Michu missed Swansea’s best opportunity in just the fifth minute as Swansea looked to control possession amid the deafening noise of the opening exchanges. Michu brilliantly controlled Jonjo Shelvey’s cross, but, having done the hard part, then volleyed well over the bar.
The Spaniard then warmed Scotland goalkeeper David Marshall’s hands from distance as Swansea started with the greater authority.
The expected on-field hostilities soon arrived as Angel Rangel and Craig Bellamy exchanged words as it took Cardiff time to settle, but Ben Turner’s strong challenge on Shelvey sparked a gradual change in proceedings.
As predicted, Cardiff threatened at set-pieces and Leon Britton came close to diverting a Bellamy free-kick into his own net. A couple of dead-ball deliveries from Peter Whittingham forced Vorm to punch unconvincingly and, as Cardiff got a foothold in midfield, the action dried up.
There was at least a modicum of action early in the second half. Peter Odemwingie narrowly failed to connect with Caulker flick-on, before Whittingham drove wide following a purposeful surge from Kevin Theophile-Catherine.
The Bluebirds had half-hearted penalty appeals for a foul on Don Cowie by Ashley Williams turned away by Mike Dean, refereeing in the Welsh capital for the first time since being struck by a coin in this fixture four years ago. But they got their reward for their strong start to the second half in the 62nd minute, and it was Caulker who stung his former club.
The England defender rose above Chico Flores, the man Swansea signed to replace him following the end of his loan spell, to powerfully head home a Bellamy corner.
Marshall saved a sharp Vazquez effort as the game entered five minutes of stoppage time, and Swansea’s misery was completed when Vorm saw red after racing from his area and clattering Campbell.