Cardiff City’s return to the Cardiff City Stadium posed a need for improvement, especially from their two previous games on the road, in particular for Neil Harris, who arguably had his future balancing on his team’s performance. The visitors, Luton Town, under Nathan Jones’ second spell at the club, were undefeated in their previous 4 matches. An emphatic performance from the home team resulted in a 4-0 victory.
Neil Harris’ position as the Bluebirds manager had come under increased scrutiny, receiving fire from fans and pundits alike, much in thanks to the underperforming nature of his players, a squad who were touted to be contenders for the automatic promotion spots.
With reoccurring defensive woes, changes were expected, with many seeing this game against the Hatters as a perfect opportunity to introduce highly-rated Croatian centre-half Fiłip Benković to the fold, however the three changes came elsewhere.
Harris’ reintroduction of Will Vaulks to the starting lineup signified a move to a more dynamic midfield, with Sheyi Ojo replacing Junior Hoilett, and Cardiff City academy graduate Mark Harris earning his first professional debut.
Nathan Jones named a mostly unchanged side from their weekend draw with Birmingham, bringing in the experienced Ran Tunnicliffe for Elliot Lee.
The whole changes for City seemed to spark them into life from the offset for the first time this season, attacking with intent through Kieffer Moore, who latched onto an inch-perfect pass from international teammate Harry Wilson, seeing his shot deflect wide.
From the resulting corner, the Bluebirds showed their intent, with captain Sean Morrison connecting with a flicked-on header from a sweetly delivered Harry Wilson delivery, turning it in at the back post.
Things went from strength to strength for the home side, with the Bluebirds academy product Mark Harris scoring his first competitive goal for the club on 10 minutes. Sheyi Ojo picked the ball up in his own half, showcasing his speed and guile while running at the Hatters defence, placing his pass through to the youngster, who confidently slotted it to the left of Sluga.
Luton showed some threat in attack, attempting to string together a few passes in midfield, before Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu effort from range was tipped past the post by City’s Alex Smithies.
With the confidence of Harris in attack, the Bluebirds were quick to show their counter attacking threat, with the young Welshman seeing a volley from 30 yards deflect wide. Cardiff were in the hunt for a third, and went close on a number of occasions. Harris’ confidence oozed after netting his first, having the chance to double his personal tally, pouncing on a Sluga mistake, however seeing the subsequent shot blocked by the Croat.
Kieffer Moore was given an opportunity to make it 3 before the interval, latching onto a ball, chesting it down, and thundering a left-footed effort at Sluga. Nathan Jones’ side’s inability to deal with the danger of the Cardiff attack was clear, making two changes before the end of the first half, in an attempt to stop the flow of the game.
Halftime: Cardiff City 2-0 Luton Town
Though this tactical change seemed to stem the tide periodically, with an early Glen Rea shot narrowly brushing past the post, the Bluebirds pressure continued. Joe Ralls, his last two goals coming in the defeat to QPR, saw a perfect chance to score City’s third of the afternoon squandered, meeting a flicked on header from Morrison, only to see it go wide of the target.
After several chances, Cardiff finally got their third, a goal coming on the hour mark from Kieffer Moore. An in-swinging Harry Wilson corner found the head of Moore, who made no mistake in finishing from close range.
Cardiff began showing a ruthlessness they had seldom shown this season, hunting for goal after goal, with several opportunities being squandered, with first a Harry Wilson strike from 35 yards being blasted over the crossbar, and then a golden opportunity for Ojo to head in from 2 yards being put over the bar too.
Due to the congestion of the festive-period fixture list, Neil Harris made full use of his five substitutions, ensuring that important legs remained fresh, giving the likes of Ralls, Moore, Wilson a rest.
Even with the spree of changes, the Bluebirds weren’t finished, pressing high up the field to secure the ball, winning a corner as a result. In the aftermath of confusion from a Marlon Pack corner, Ojo picked the ball up on the edge of the box, smashing it home into the bottom right corner of the net, putting the final cherry on the cake for an impressive Cardiff performance.
However, the defensive frailties reared its ugly head once again, as Welsh international Joe Morrell went close for the visitors, clattering the woodwork from outside the box, to unhappy fervour from Neil Harris on the touchline.
With the sound of the final whistle at the Cardiff City Stadium, it signified a first clean-sheet for Cardiff since their comfortable 3-0 win over Barnsley. Facing Huddersfield next, the Bluebirds will be hopeful this result is what kickstarts their season.
As for Luton Town, their previous impressive outings showed for nothing, as they were comfortably beaten by a Cardiff team short on confidence. They will be hoping for a better outcome against league leaders Norwich next.
Fulltime: Cardiff City 4-0 Luton Town
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