Neil Warnock’s Cardiff City showed up Monday afternoon with one goal: to seemingly foul Jack Grealish whenever they could, whether or not he was on the ball.
They also found a way to win the match, 1-0, through Joe Ralls’ 17th-minute goal.
As the match hit the quarter-hour mark, Cardiff started causing problems for Villa on set pieces, with the hosts using the patch to claim a 1-0 lead. After Villa conceded a free kick in a dangerous position, former Villan Joe Bennett put in a poor free kick that was almost certainly destined to go behind harmlessly for a goal kick. But Mark Bunn opted to claim the cross anyway and, in the process, carried the ball over the end line, unnecessarily conceding a corner.
While Villa dealt with the first free kick by putting it behind, albeit nervously, they weren’t able to replicate the feat on the ensuing effort. Bunn made an initial save, but it wasn’t corralled; Villa’s ensuing clearance attempt smacked straight into Ralls, the ball ricocheting into the back of the net for the 1-0 lead.
In truth, the Bluebirds probably should’ve gone 2-0 up at the close of the first half, threatening again off a set piece — Kenneth Zohore first hit the woodwork, then with Bunn out of his net, Bennett saw an effort cleared off the line by Albert Adomah. A minute or two later, Jordan Amavi got in between another Zohore effort and the goal, with the Cardiff forward otherwise 1-on-1 with Bunn.
After a pair of halftime subs — Gabby Agbonlahor and Aaron Tshibola coming on for starting central midfield duo Gary Gardner and Ashley Westwood — the Claret and Blues worked their way into the match in the second stanza. In the 63rd minute, Ross McCormack had Villa’s best chance of the match when he hit the crossbar on a free kick from the edge of the box, and as play continued, Agbonlahor and Adomah had chances to equalise that passed without goals.
To add insult to injury on a day where Grealish was targeted the whole match and Cardiff got away with drying the ball off in advance of long throw-in attempts, around the 80th minute, Villa had a penalty shout denied when Alan Hutton was pulled down in the box.
While they applied pressure, Villa didn’t have a clear-cut chance the rest of the way.