- Cardiff’s biggest win of the season so far
- Bluebirds unbeaten in 12 home league games
- Brighton suffer second away defeat of campaign
- Seagulls lose at Cardiff City Stadium for first time
CARDIFF City moved to within two points of the play-offs with a crushing victory over a profligate Brighton, who missed the chance to go joint-top of the SkyBet Championship.
The Bluebirds answered owner Vincent Tan’s calls to “shoot more” after back-to-back goalless draws in ruthless fashion as they raced in to a three-goal lead inside the opening half-hour.
Peter Whittingham’s classy effort, an Anthony Pilkington shot and Lex Immers’ potent finish put Russell Slade’s team firmly in charge.
Dale Stephens headed Brighton back in contention early in the second half but Whittingham’s penalty, after Connor Goldson’s foul on Pilkington, rounded off Cardiff’s biggest league win since April 2013.
The Welsh outfit have now climbed two places to seventh ahead of Saturday’s later games as they recorded only a second win against a team above them in the table this season.
Meanwhile, a Brighton win would have lifted them level on points with leaders Hull and above second-placed Middlesbrough, with both teams not in league action this weekend.
But their five-game unbeaten run came crashing to an end as they suffered only a second defeat on the road this season.
Chris Hughton’s team, which was three different from the midweek stalemate at the KC Stadium, had settled well amid difficult conditions in South Wales but were punished for defensive lapses as a clinical Cardiff took control.
Whittingham had already gone close with a free-kick which David Stockdale parried behind before the veteran midfielder nonchalantly stroked home the opener from Matthew Connolly’s pass on 16 minutes.
Three minutes later, Stockdale was heavily at fault when his poor clearance caught Dale Stephens unaware and he could not readjust as Pilkington curled in a shot which squirmed under the ex-Fulham keeper for his sixth goal of the campaign.
It got better for the Bluebirds when Immers benefitted from a ricochet off Goldson to fire in his second goal in three games since joining on loan from Feyenoord.
Brighton dominated possession for long periods in the first half and went close on a couple of occasions to reducing the arrears.
Inigo Calderon and Anthony Knockaert forced David Marshall into action and Bobby Zamora, on his 150th appearance for the club over three spells, stabbed Jiri Skalak’s centre off target.
The hosts had further opportunities with on-loan Leicester forward Tom Lawrence bringing an uncertain save out of Stockdale before the impressive Immers curled wide when manoeuvring space for himself on the edge of the box.
The Seagulls made a double change at the break as Tomer Hemed and the fit-again Liam Rosenior replaced Calderon and Steve Sidwell.
The substitutions appeared to do the trick and a Brighton recovery looked likely when Stephens, who scored in a 1-1 draw against Cardiff in October, nodded in Skalak’s left-wing cross.
But the visitors shot themselves in the foot as Cardiff, who lost right-back Fabio to injury, regained their three-goal advantage midway through the second half.
Referee Darren Bond, who could have penalised Lewis Dunk earlier for tugging back Bruno Ecuele Manga in the box, pointed to the spot after Goldson brought down Pilkington and Whittingham emphatically converted for his fifth goal of the season.
Brighton introduced Sam Baldock in place of Zamora but, aside from two wayward Knockaert efforts, could not muster any more sightings of goal.
Hughton will be desperate for a response to this uncharacteristically poor display at Bristol City next Tuesday night, having shipped four goals for the first time this season.
In contrast, it was the first time Cardiff had scored four goals for the first time since October 2012 – even without a recognised striker in their team.
And Slade will hope this convincing result can help his side build on their run of just one defeat in their last seven games and provide a launchpad to sustain their push for a top-six finish.
Substitutes: Peltier (on for Fabio 56′), Gunnarsson (on for Pilkington 74′) and Zohore (on for Lawrence 85′).
Not used: Moore (GK), Dikgacoi, Saadi, Oshilaja.
Booked: O’Keefe (2′)
Goals: Whittingham (16′, 66′ pen), Pilkington (19′), Immers (30′)
Substitutes: Hemed (on for Sidwell 45′), Rosenior (on for Calderon 45′) and Baldock (on for Zamora 67′).
Not used: Maenpaa (GK), Greer, Beram Kayal, Murphy.
Booked: Rosenior (72′)
Goals: Stephens (55′)
Referee: Darren Bond (Lancashire) – 8/10
Assistants: Andrew Turner (Devon) & Adrian Tranter (Dorset)
Fourth Official: Stephen Martin (Staffordshire)
“We have been creating chances. Today we were ruthless, took our chances and fully deserved the win. It was better than we hoped for. We’ve got a young midfield and new combinations over the pitch who haven’t played together a lot.
“I was pleased with the maturity of the performance. The front players worked tirelessly. Anthony Pilkington is a good finisher and he was a thorn in their side all afternoon. We are hoping the hunger takes us in to the play-off places. We’ve got tough opposition again on Tuesday and we’ll keep going. We need to keep improving.”
“We can have no complaints. Even if you come in to the game in the form we were in, if you are 3-0 down at any stage, particularly as early as we were, it’s a difficult one to come back from. For the form we’ve been in, we’ve generally defended well but we’ve conceded soft goals which isn’t like us. Ironically, at 3-1 we were back in the game and had two good opportunities but I can’t have any complaints.”