Cardiff City kept pace with Wolverhampton Wanderers and Sheffield United at the top of the table with a clinical 2-0 win over Brentford.
Cardiff took the lead after seven minutes, as Joe Ralls met a long throw with a half-volley that left Dan Bentley no chance of keeping a clean sheet.
Shortly after Neal Maupay’s contender for miss of the season, Cardiff doubled their lead through Danny Ward after the striker got on the end of Bruno Manga’s cross following some neat work by the Gabon international.
Cardiff started extremely well, and almost took the lead after Bentley completely missed a corner, the ball found its way to Sol Bamba but the goalkeeper recovered well to save his shot.
Ralls to the rescue
However just moments later, Bentley was powerless to stop Ralls’ effort fly into the back of the net from a long throw.
Cardiff needed a positive start to keep pace with Sheffield United and Wolves, and they definitely got that.
Going into the weekend, both Cardiff and Brentford were in the top three for Expected Goals For in the league this season. That was evidenced as we saw several close-range efforts from both sides.
However Cardiff’s defence was the deciding factor, the Bluebirds ranked second in Expected Goals Against this season, Brentford were 13th. (xG stats via Infogol)
The Bluebirds kept piling on early pressure, as Loic Damour and Liam Feeney combined down the right-flank but Ward couldn’t get his effort on target from the cross.
However the visitors were more than holding their own, and Maupay forced a superb fingertip save from Neil Etheridge to keep the scoreline at 1-0.
Ollie Watkins then found Yohan Barbet from a well worked free-kick, but the defender's effort flew over the bar.
Frantic few minutes
Maupay then had a golden chance to equalise, after finding himself five yards out with an open goal at his mercy, but the Frenchman somehow managed to put his shot well wide of the goal.
He took an eternity to take the chance, after a defensive mixup ensured Watkins could get the ball past Etheridge, found Maupay but his shot will go down as one of the worst misses of the season.
Brentford were then made to pay for that miss, as minutes later Cardiff went down the other end through Manga, he found Ward in the penalty area and tucked the ball home to double the Bluebirds’ lead.
Bees come back out buzzing
Brentford started the second half well, as they found Maupay in the area inside a minute of the restart but his shot was blocked wide by Sean Morrison.
Maupay reacted well to a lobbed ball by Nico Yennaris to fire a shot wide, before sending a shot from 25-yards out just over the bar. Brentford certainly were not without their chances.
Bentley, who had a torrid afternoon in goal, sent a pass straight to the feet of Ward but after combining with Craig Bryson, the striker was unable to double his tally for the afternoon and sent his shot over the bar.
The game turned feisty after an hour, as a poor challenge by Feeney cued Romaine Sawyers and Joe Bennett to start tussling with each other.
A swift counter attack by Feeney eventually found its way to Junior Hoilett, but his effort flew over the bar as Cardiff were not able to put Brentford away.
Brentford somehow fail to score
The Bees ramped up pressure, as Etheridge got down well to save a shot from Sergi Canos seconds before Lasse Vibe had a shot saved off the line.
Substitutes Vibe and Canos show the strength in depth that Championship sides have in the modern day, and its no coincidence that the likes of Huddersfield Town and Brighton make such good starts to life in the Premier League when the gap in quality is closing between the leagues.
Brentford then had a few half chances coming into the final 15 minutes, headlined by Watkins’ shot that went straight into Etheridge’s arms.
Bamba and Morrison were excellent in the closing stages, ensuring that Cardiff would not only walk away with the three points but also a clean sheet.
Cardiff almost got their third with just a few minutes to play, as substitute Frederic Gounongbe did well down the flank but couldn't tee up a teammate inside the penalty area.
The result means that Cardiff stay third, but with wins for Wolves and Sheffield United this weekend it was vital to get a victory today as they continue to push for automatic promotion.