Opening games can be notoriously unreliable indicators of a season, but it’s doubtful many Norwich fans will be quite so circumspect in assessing this desperately frustrating first afternoon’s work in the Welsh capital.
Norwich are one of football’s archetypal yo-yo clubs, which brings with it a fervent expectation that when the momentum swings downwards, as it did emphatically with Premier League relegation in May, progress in the opposite direction from the Championship will be appropriately swift and hassle -free.
If that scenario is about to play out, it is on hold, and on the evidence of defeat to a revamped Cardiff side which featured eight debutants, a different fate could lie in wait.
The Norwich manager, Dean Smith, will scarcely need reminding that he arguably has less wiggle room than any of his Championship counterparts. While this was only an initial setback, he has no other option than to preside over an immediate improvement when Wigan visit Carrow Road on Saturday.
“We should be leaving with at least a draw, but we will get better,” Smith said. “We were hurried and lacked quality in the final third. Our creativity has to be much better in terms of our runs and final passes.”
A goal early in the second half by Romaine Sawyers, a summer signing from West Bro, was enough to earn Cardiff all three points which were understandably greeted with fist-pumping by the manager, Steve Morison.
“We are on the right path, but we are still a work in progress,” he said. “The game was very close, but we had that one moment and they didn’t. We’ve only won one game and we have to make sure we back it up with a performance next week.”
The former Millwall striker has overhauled his squad this summer, with 13 players leaving and 14 arriving. But the combined outlay on recruits amounts to no more than the £50,000 Cardiff handed to non-league Lewes for the services of broker Ollie Tanner.
If Morison was not reading too much into one result, he acknowledged that when you’re trying to mold a new side winning is precious oxygen.
Cardiff finished full value for their victory even if – when Perry Ng was dismissed in the 74th minute for a second yellow card after pulling back Milot Rashica as the visitors looked to counterattack – that victory looked in doubt.
They were saved the trouble of a feverish rearguard action at the end when the Norwich captain, Grant Hanley, saw red for a tackle on Mark Harris that warranted a second caution which evened out the numbers.
Cardiff dictated much of the early tempo, working some intricate triangles in midfield and showingcasing a much-vaunted change in approach from the more direct policy of recent seasons.
Norwich made their presence felt more as the first half progressed and Todd Cantwell forced Ryan Allsop to tip his fierce effort around the post in the 20th minute.
The goal came four minutes into the second half when Sawyers received the ball 25 yards out. His crisp strike fizzed through a crowd of bodies into the bottom corner of Tim Krul’s net.
Afterwards Smith, who worked with Sawyers at Walsall and Brentford, claimed the shot was meant as a cross, but Cardiff fans will not have cared.
Norwich had their moments such as when Kenny McLean met Cantwell’s corner with a side-footed volley that came back off the crossbar. But Teemu Pukki reacting angrily to a challenge by Joe Ralls in the 66th minute, triggering a shoving match which saw Ralls and teammates Ng and Andy Rinomhota all booked, summed up their frustration.