Manager emerges from month of soap opera with his position fortified against owner Vincent Tan after defeat of Swansea
By the end of the game Malky Mackay's name had reverberated around the stadium and the Cardiff City fans were delivering a message to Vincent Tan that extended beyond showing support for their manager: "We're Cardiff City, we'll always be blue." This was a glorious day for Mackay, his players and the supporters, who have watched their club turn into a soap opera over the past few weeks but were able to enjoy the storyline that emerged here.
For Mackay victory was particularly sweet after everything he has had to put up with since the previous home game against Newcastle United almost a month ago and the fallout. The Cardiff manager made sure that he soaked up this derby triumph. After shaking hands with every one of his players on the edge of the pitch at the final whistle Mackay turned round and thrust a clenched fist in the air and blew kisses to the home supporters. There was a mixture of relief, satisfaction and vindication in those celebrations.
Steven Caulker's goal, in the 62nd minute, was enough to settle the first top-flight match between these fierce enemies on a dank evening in south Wales. A former Swansea player, and one of only 28 who have played for both clubs, Caulker told a story a little while back about how, on the day he travelled over to Cardiff to complete an £8m move from Tottenham, he stopped to put £6.20 in the Severn bridge toll and wondered how he would be received by the supporters at his new club, given his previous allegiances. He got the answer when the stadium erupted after he headed in Craig Bellamy's corner.
It was Mackay, though, who was the central figure. With the manager's position looking increasingly precarious before the game, the significance of this victory cannot be overstated. Tan, wearing a red Cardiff shirt under his blazer, was back in town to witness it unfold. Mackay had not spoken to the Cardiff owner when he came in for his post-match conference and, pointedly, chose not to mention Tan by name when asked about him. Instead Mackay paid tribute to his players for the performance they produced after "what they've had to endure" over the last four weeks.
Three days after the defeat by Newcastle Iain Moody was suspended from his position as head of recruitment. By the end of that week Moody had been sacked and Cardiff announced that his replacement was Alisher Apsalyamov, a 23-year-old from Kazakhstan who had spent the summer painting and decorating at the club while on work experience. Apsalyamov's new job was to "focus on gathering data on individual players".
It is unclear how successful he had been in that position before the Home Office turned up at Cardiff last week and forced Apsalyamov temporarily to stand down from his position over a visa issue. Either side of that development it emerged that Tan had been trying to pass on suggested substitutions and tactical changes during matches and that the owner had signed Etien Velikonja, a Slovenian international, for £1.7m at the start of last season without the prior approval of Mackay.
It was no surprise that Swansea fans enjoyed the chance to indulge in a little schadenfreude. "Vincent Tan is a Jack, he hates Cardiff," chanted the 2,200 travelling supporters. "We're Swansea City, we'll always be white", along with "You're not Welsh any more", while pointing at the Malaysian flag above their heads in the corner of the stadium, were other favourites during a first half when the singing provided more entertainment than anything on the pitch.
After playing within themselves during the opening 45 minutes against a Swansea side that controlled possession without offering much of a threat, Cardiff were a different proposition after the interval. It did not escape Mackay's attention that two of their most influential players during that period were signed by Moody in the summer. Caulker's goal separated the two teams while Gary Medel, the £11m recruit from Seville, was the outstanding player on the pitch.
At times the game was not particularly pretty to watch but Mackay was entitled to feel that he got his tactics and team selection spot-on. Bellamy, who is in the twilight of his career and has struggled to make much of an impact at times this season, played like a man possessed in the second half. With 10 minutes left he was sprinting back to his own goal and making a sliding tackle on Nathan Dyer that epitomised the spirit coursing through the Cardiff side. Whether that is appreciated by Tan is anyone's guess.
For the moment Mackay has some respite and can look forward to the next two home games, against Manchester United and Arsenal, with anticipation rather than trepidation. Asked whether there was a feeling that this would bring some calm, Mackay said: "Certainly till next Saturday at three o'clock."