A sensational hat-trick from Harry Wilson helped Cardiff City to a stunning 4-0 win over Birmingham City.
The Welsh outfit ran riot in the Midlands. In truth, it was a joy to watch them in full flow. It was back to the clinical, uncompromising Cardiff City we saw at the start of Mick McCarthy’s reign and Birmingham could not handle it.
Wilson struck twice in the first half to hand City a commanding lead before substitute Mark Harris looked to have sealed it with a sensational finish in the second half.
But Wilson wasn’t done there. He sent a late free-kick bending into the far corner to ensure the match ball was his.
The Bluebirds looked bright and bubbly right from the very first whistle.
That disciplined, organised shape we saw at the start of McCarthy’s tenure was back and a crispness of passing and clarity in the game plan was restored.
The high press which yielded such positive results a few months ago was back in full flight, with the Kieffer Moore, Wilson and Rubin Colwill pendulum causing Blues all sorts of trouble.
Birmingham didn’t help themselves, mind you, and were far too accommodating as hosts, but the Bluebirds made them pay.
With just nine minutes on the clock, City’s press forced Birmingham into an error when Zach Jeacock’s pass to Marc Roberts left the Blues skipper in all sorts of bother.
Roberts tried to get it out but his pass found Wilson, who looked up before smacking it with the outside of his boot from 25 yards and into the top corner, leaving Jeacock with no chance whatsoever.
Birmingham barely had a sniff as Cardiff grew in confidence, with wing-backs Perry Ng and Ciaron Brown having a greater say on proceedings than in previous weeks.
It was Brown’s tremendous diagonal ball over the top which led to Wilson’s next big chance of the match. The Liverpool forward chested it brilliantly into his own path before drilling a volley at Jeacock, who could only get enough on it to see it continue spinning towards his line. A sprawling Birmingham defender managed to get back in before a Cardiff foot could poke it over the line, though.
But Wilson would not be tamed for much longer.
He won a free-kick dead in the middle of goal, 25 yards out and, truth told, it was right in his wheelhouse. He did not strike it as he would have liked, but the wall was poor and the ball squeezed through it before trickling into the bottom corner, leaving Jeacock rooted to the floor.
By the time the half-time whistle blew Wilson could have had four, with the last chance of the half seeing him drag a golden chance wide of the mark after a driving run to the edge of the box.
Harris replaced Moore at half-time and he had a golden chance to stretch the lead just after the restart, but Jeacock managed to deny his shot from point-blank range.
Then, just seconds later, Birmingham played themselves into all sorts of trouble when Wilson, again, was gifted possession on the edge of the box before he slid the ball into Colwill’s path. The youngster struck his effort sweetly from 10 yards out, a brilliant chance, but it was straight at Jeacock’s chest. Colwill was left enraged that he had missed such a gilt-edged chance.
But it was all Cardiff and it was a matter of time before a third went in. And when it did, it was a cracker.
Cardiff caught the hosts cold on the breakaway when Harris cushioned a header into Josh Murphy’s path on the left wing. Murphy did well to get the ball under control before curling a delicious, outside-of-the-foot pass into Harris’ path.
The striker still had it all to do, though, but made light work of it when he smacked home on the half-volley from 20 yards out, sending it whistling into Jeacock’s bottom corner at a serious rate of knots.
It was all over but for the shouting when Wilson stepped up to put the cherry on the cake. If some had been left disappointed by his lack of free-kick goals this season he ensured that argument was put to bed when he sent a trademark free-kick soaring into the far corner to net City’s fourth and his seventh of the season.
What a wonderfully-satisfying way to sign off the last away trip of the season.
Birmingham City XI: Jeacock; Dacres-Cogley (Sanchez 61), Roberts (Dean 79), Friend, Seddon; Stirk; Sunjic (Gardner 79), Harper (Gordon 62); Leko (McGree 73); Cosgrove, Miller.
Subs: Trueman, Pedersen, Bela, Jutkiewicz.
Cardiff City XI: Phillips; Ng, Nelson, Flint, Brown; Ralls, Pack, Bacuna; Colwill (Murphy 64), Wilson (Williams 86); Moore (Harris 46).
Subs: Smithies, Bowen, Evans, Ojo, Davies.