It is hard to say that it was worth the wait when 450 minutes of football had elapsed since Aston Villa's previous goal, but Leandro Bacuna's wonderful free-kick was certainly a strike to cherish and ended up liberating Paul Lambert's players. After playing within themselves for much of the game, Villa went on to run out comfortable winners after Libor Kozak added a second, six minutes from time, to secure a rare home victory.

This was only Villa's 11th league win here in their past 44 matches and just the seventh since Lambert took over as manager at the start of last season. They deserved the points on the balance of play but for long periods it was difficult to see where the goal was going to come from against a Cardiff side who showed little ambition and defended in numbers.

In the end it was a set piece that provided the breakthrough. Gary Medel was booked for cynically pulling the shirt of Bacuna, who picked himself up and curled a sublime 30-yard free-kick inside David Marshall's near post.

It was even better than the free-kick Bacuna executed against Manchester City at the end of September, in a 3-2 win that marked the last time Villa had scored, and finally gave the home fans something to cheer at the end of a long afternoon.

With Cardiff offering little as an attacking force and seemingly content to settle for a point before Bacuna's goal, it was difficult to see Malky Mackay's side getting back into the game once they fell behind. Any faint hopes the visitors had of salvaging something from a mundane match were extinguished when Kozak's close-range header, after Matthew Lowton had nodded the ball back across goal, beat Marshall.

Lambert was delighted with the outcome. "I thought the players were excellent, when you look at the side we put out, we had nearly half a team out," said the Villa manager, who was without four players, Gabriel Agbonlahor, Andreas Weimann, Fabian Delph and Antonio Luna through injury. "I thought we were worthy winners."

Lambert praised Bacuna, who had just been pushed into a more attacking role before the move that led to the goal, when the Dutchman could have released Christian Benteke before he was fouled.

"I thought his free-kick against Manchester City was world class but I thought that one surpassed it," Lambert said. "I thought it was a perfect free-kick. I've seen Leo do it in training before, it was just fantastic technique. It went up and down really quickly and there wasn't much room for him to aim at."

Signed from FC Groningen for a small fee, Bacuna is one of a number of foreign players who arrived in the summer under the radar. "We won't be able to go out and buy those big type of players. Randy [Lerner, Villa's chairman] has been great [in the past] but we can't do that any more," Lambert said. "We have to look at that market of the young lads, give them the opportunity and hopefully they take it."

Up until Bacuna's goal Villa had huffed and puffed without success. Booed off at half-time, Lambert's side improved but still looked bereft of ideas as to how to break Cardiff down. Kozak's downward header, from Bacuna's left-foot cross, forced a decent save from Marshall and Benteke, who had a day to forget, wasted a couple of headed opportunities as the home supporters started to become more and more restless. Bacuna's moment of brilliance completely changed the mood.

For Cardiff, there was disappointment that they conceded so late, although they never did enough to threaten Villa. The closest they came to scoring was in the 10th minute, when Medel drilled a flat free-kick that Kozak, running back towards his own goal, headed past Brad Guzan and inches wide of the far upright.

For Mackay, the day finished with inevitable questions about his future. With Iain Moody, Cardiff's former head of recruitment, joining Crystal Palace as their sporting director, Mackay was asked whether it was possible that he would also go to Selhurst Park. "I'm the Cardiff City manager and proud to be that," he said.