Caulker settled a desperately tight south Wales derby in which neither side really assumed control when he rose to power a header into the corner of the net from Craig Bellamy's corner-kick.
It was perhaps apt that a former Swansea player scored the winning goal in the first fixture between the Welsh sides in the top flight.
Defeat was harsh on Michael Laudrup's side, whose miserable day was compounded by the loss of Michu to injury midway through the second period and a red card for goalkeeper Michel Vorm in stoppage time after he raced from his line to bludgeon substitute Fraizer Campbell to the deck with the visitors pressing for an equaliser.
Angel Rangel replaced Vorm in goal for the closing minutes, but the damage had been done. Caulker opted not to celebrate the winning goal against his old club, but questions will be asked of Jonjo Shelvey who should have blocked Caulker's header but mysteriously left his left-hand post as the ball crept beyond him.
Cardiff move a point above Swansea in the table into 12th spot with their local foes in 13th place after their 10 games.
3' - MICHU CHANCE: Chance for Michu on the turn, but he turns to wallop a volley well over the bar. That has to go down as a miss by the Spanish forward.
9' - MARSHALL SAVE: Michu on the run for Swansea. Gets the shot away from distance, but Marshall well positioned to make the stop diving slightly to his right.
53' - PENALTY CLAIM: Bellamy heads back across the visiting goal. Appeals for a penalty against Williams after he connected with Cowie. Probably the right call by the match official.
62' - CAULKER GOAL: Caulker arrives to nod into the net from the Bellamy corner. Cardiff have the lead. Flores outjumped. Poor defending really.
87' - DE GUZMAN FREE-KICK: Marshall doing just enough to get the ball behind a post. Bounced in front of him, but he got his body in the way of the De Guzman effort.
88' - MARSHALL SAVE: Corner comes to nothing, but Pozuelo's stinging hit from 18 yards is swatted away by the dive of Marshall.
90+1' - VORM RED CARD: Swansea down to 10 men. Vorm with a late challenge on Campbell. Nowhere near the ball as he sped from his goal. Had to go.
The last three meetings between the sides have now ended 1-0, but this is the only of those three in which the home team has won.
Swansea have now lost five of the six PL away games they’ve played with Mike Dean in charge, winning once.
Cardiff’s first win since 28th September, after two losses and a draw, moves them above Swansea in the Premier League table.
Cardiff win the first ever top flight South Wales derby.
TALKING POINT: Where does the win leave Cardiff manager Malky Mackay? Various media reports before this match spoke of a tense relationship between Mackay and club owner Vincent Tan. It has been suggested the pair don't speak with Tan recently replacing Mackay’s friend and head of recruitment Iain Moody with the 23-year-old Alisher Apsalyamov. This win is certainly better for Mackay than Tan, but who knows how long he is destined to continue working under such an unpredictable owner.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Steven Caulker (Cardiff): Impressive performance at the heart of the home area. Vital contribution with his historic winner.
Cardiff: Marshall 7, Taylor 6, Caulker 8, Turner 7, Whittingham 6, Medel 6, Odemwingie 6, Mutch 6, Cowie 6, Theophile-Catherine 6, Bellamy 7..subs: Campbell 7, Kim 7, Gunnarsson 7
Swansea: Vorm 5, Rangel 6, Williams 7, Chico Flores 6, Taylor 7, Britton 5, Shelvey 5, De Guzman 6, Routledge 6, Dyer 6, Michu 5..subs: Pozuelo 6, Vazquez 6, Bony 6
MATCH IN A TWEET
- Sports & Recreation
- Steven Caulker
- Craig Bellamy
- Cardiff City
- Fraizer Campbell