Leicester City played with nerve and verve. In contract, the Bluebirds started brightly and faded, seemingly affected by the emotional atmosphere around Cardiff City Stadium.
The passing fluency and movement which put Neil Warnock’s team early on was replaced by desperate attempts to win possession against a Leicester team who found their composure and dominated for well over half of this match.
Warnock’s men tried, oh how they tried, but this wasn’t their day.
It was an awful occasion in terms of the tragedy of a week earlier and before kick-off football was irrelevant with fans from both clubs uniting when they paid tribute to Leicester owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha and the other four people who lost their lives in a helicopter crash.
Some Leicester players – including former Cardiff City goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel – were in tears during a minute’s silence, but once the match started football had to be the focus.
Forever in our hearts. pic.twitter.com/OXBAE1GBZA
— Leicester City (@LCFC) November 3, 2018
The home team started well, knocking the ball around with Victor Camarasa and Harry Arter prominent. Left-back Joe Bennett has had a good season and produced his best display so far over the 90 minutes.
He was man of the match by a mile.
“It’s been a strange week and I’m glad it’s out of the way,” said Warnock.
“The players gave everything and the fans were amazing. The respect they showed and the way they were together. It was emotional out there.
“It’s been astonishing how difficult it has been this week, three or four players in particular. Whether things were triggered for them by what happened I don’t know.
“Training has not been the same and we had to have a word with the lads. But nobody could fault their effort and it was fine margins. It was bitterly disappointing not to pick up points.”
Warnock: "I can't fault the effort."
— Cardiff City FC (@CardiffCityFC) November 3, 2018
While Leicester players and staff flew to Thailand where they will attend the funeral of Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, Cardiff were left to dissect a performance which was some way below their best.
A team playing with a centre-half at right-back (Bruno Manga) and a midfield player at centre-forward (Callum Paterson) are going to find it tough at Premier League level.
Manga and Paterson are both high quality players in their own right, but they are not the answer long-term in current positions.
How can Warnock and his coaches bring the best out of Kenneth Zohore, who did not even make the match day squad against Leicester?
Cardiff are finding goals hard to come by and have failed to score in six Premier matches this season, the joint worst along with Huddersfield and Southampton.
Emotional day in the world of football today. Very disappointed that we didn’t come away with anything today. Support was great and loud as always! Thank you #cityasone #bluebirds #football #goalkeeper #cardiffcityfc pic.twitter.com/PRqWS9VBXK
— Neil Etheridge (@Neil38Etheridge) November 3, 2018
Warnock’s warriors looked jaded during the second half, running out of ideas in attack and spending ages trying to win back the ball.
While 3,000 Leicester fans sang their players seemed happy with a huge release of emotion after the darkest week in the club’s history.
Supporters sang ‘There’s only one Vichai’ throughout the 90 minutes and goalkeeper Schmeichel, a former Cardiff player, said: “He had a big affect on my life. He affected so many lives in a good way.
“A man we are proud to have known. We are all thinking of his family. We are hurting, but what are they going through? We wanted to do it for them and hope we did his family proud.”
— Cardiff City TV (@CardiffCityTV) November 3, 2018
The home team had to look on, taking in a defeat which looks the most damaging result in a season during which Cardiff have played 12, won one and lost nine.
Warnock’s men have slipped into the bottom three because Newcastle earned a win and right now it’s looking bleak for the Bluebirds.
The winning goal came after 55 minutes when Ben Chilwell crossed and Demarai Gray side-footed a half volley into the net.
Leicester’s celebrations were wild. You could see how much it meant to them.
Winger Gray took off his shirt to reveal a T-shirt with the words ‘For Khun Vichai’ – he was booked by referee Lee Probert.
The entire Leicester team celebrated with Schmeichel running the length of the pitch to join in.
Cardiff’s Victor Camarasa fired against the bar from a free-kick with the score at 0-0, but there was no doubt in my mind that Leicester deserved to win.
Perhaps they dealt with the grief around this match better than home players. It must have affected both teams in different ways.
Leicester had 60 per cent possession over the 90 minutes, while even when Cardiff did have the ball they were unable to hurt their visitors.
This match was, in many ways, all about Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha. But Cardiff desperately needed a point or more and their players looked devastated when the final whistle blew after five minutes injury time.
I felt Leicester would struggle to deal with the emotions and perhaps, if Cardiff could have scored first, it may have turned out that way. But once Gray’s goal went in this was firmly in Leicester’s control.
Leicester’s captain Wes Morgan: “This was for the chairman. We felt the pressure before the game. It was a scrappy game, the lads fought to the very end.
“We were close to the chairman. We know what his wishes were. He used to come down at home games, have a joke and laugh, always say ‘want win and three points’.
“We have an emotional connection with the fans, so we stayed till the end and celebrated victory with them.”
Leicester manager Claude Puel: “It was a normal thing for us to have the players and staff for the minute’s silence, it is important for solidarity and we want to give our best for our chairman, step by step, to continue his work.
“It is a family and I think Vichai with his warmth, it is a mission to keep this way, and put in place a project that we must try to continue. When we saw the flowers in front of the stadium – it is a family and the feeling that our chairman gave this club.”
Leicester goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel: “That was a tough game not just on the pitch but mentally. There are a lot of exhausted people in there now but I am proud of this team and the club, the way everyone has handled themselves has been unbelievable. We were very lucky to know Khun Vichai.
“It was difficult, coming out for the warm-up was tough, the first 10 minutes I couldn’t steady myself, I was shaking a little bit. But it was nice to get a win to take to Thailand now and hopefully we did his family proud.”
The Cardiff City club, players and fans showed their respect, warmth and support for Leicester, but there was universal dismay around the stadium at the defeat.
“He [Vichai] was a good man,” said Cardiff defender Sol Campbell. “I had the chance to meet him and he was a big loss.
“It was difficult for us, the whole build-up wasn’t easy to handle. But that is not an excuse, the gaffer warned us about this.
“Obviously we pay respects before and after, but during the game we are professional.”
Goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel was in tears during the minute’s silence before this emotional Premier League match.
There were many more tears at the end when Leicester City players went down to the away section at Cardiff City Stadium to celebrate their success in honour of Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha.
Manager Claude Puel was pushed to the front by goalscorer Demarai Gray and received their applause, saying: “It was tough to find the balance of emotions – self control, desire, aggression.
“It was good to share the winning feeling with fans, players and staff. The Leicester family together.”
Cardiff had started brightly and were the better team for 20 minutes or so, but Leicester’s Premier experience started to shine through.
The home team simply could not win possession or, when they did, keep it for long enough to threaten.
Warnock’s Bluebirds worked, they battled, but did not have the quality to deny a club who were Premier League champions not too long ago.
This was a defeat which hurt, deeply. Next Saturday against Brighton at home (12.30pm) the Bluebirds must fly high.
Cardiff City: Neil Etheridge, Bruno Manga, Sean Morrison (capt), Sol Camba, Joe Bennett, Josh Murphy (Gary Madine 85), Harry Arter (Danny Ward 80), Victor Camarasa, Aron Gunnarsson, Bobby Decordova-Reid (Junior Hoilett 65), Callum Paterson. Subs not used: Alex Smithies (gk), Greg Cunningham, Loic Damour, Kadeem Harris.
Leicester City: Kasper Schmeichel, Ben Chilwell, Wes Morgan (capt), Demarai Gray (Danny Simpson 71), Jamie Vardy, James Maddison (Vicente Iborra), Marc Albrighton, Ricardo Pereira, Harry Maguire (Jonny Evans 27), Nampalys Mendy, Wilfred Ndidi. Subs not used: Danny Ward (gk), Kelechi Iheanacho, Fousseni Diabate, Christian Fuchs.
Referee: Lee Probert