Cardiff City 0 Wolves 1

Having been awarded not one, but two injury time penalties, I didn’t think Neil Warnock would have anything left to complain about.

Silly me.

Well before the fireworks at the final whistle, both managers had set the tone for a tense contest with cautious team selections.

Neither wanted to lose it in the early exchanges and a cagey first half did little to settle the nerves.

Although it was ultimately the class of Ruben Neves that opened the gates to victory, it’s worth remembering his sumptuous free-kick capped a period of the game in which Wolves were hitting their stride.

Passes were finally penetrating and both Benik Afobe and Diogo Jota were taken out in dangerous positions after Bonatini had already hit the post with the game’s clearest sighter.

The goal was just reward for weathering the expected bombardment and finding some sort of rhythm.

Cardiff were largely predictable and at times effective with their percentage balls forward, but Wolves defended crosses fantastically all night.

In fact, as the clocked ticked into injury time it did appear as if the worst had passed with the only disappointment that Cavaleiro and Costa didn’t take their glaring chances to kill the game.

Cue mayhem.

The first penalty was soft and manufactured, regardless of Conor Coady’s actions.

John Ruddy’s wonder save must rank alongside his heroics at the Madesjski earlier in the season as his finest moment.

Widely criticised of late with confidence and form deteriorating, this was the type of response you’d hope for from a former England international.

One can only imagine his frustration at having made that injury time save only to see the ref pointing to the spot again seconds later.

It’s smart play from Gunnarson when everyone, including Ivan Cavaleiro, was expecting the cross, and the correct decision.

Thankfully Junior Hoilett blinked at the crucial moment and the most remarkable victory of the season was secured.

Yes, Bristol City and Middlesbrough will always be fondly remembered but this must surely eclipse them both?

To emerge victorious after the concession of two stoppage time penalties would be unprecedented in any contest, but in the biggest game of the season it beggars belief.

It’s little wonder Nuno was on the pitch again. He, like the rest of us, had never experienced anything like it before.

As for Warnock’s complaint, there might be an accepted etiquette for handshakes at the whistle, but the Cardiff boss surrendered the moral high ground with his subsequent actions.

Truth be told, his vitriol only made the victory sweeter.

Wolves are going up. On that point, there can no longer be any argument.

Cardiff City Vs Wolves Preview

Defeat at Villa Park last month felt seminal.

But the gap to third has since increased to 11 points with only 18 left to contest.

Worth remembering then, as Wolves head to Wales for what feels very much like a cup final, that they don’t need to win this game.

Even in the context of the title, another demoralising setback doesn’t spell the end. This group have repeatedly shown they possess the resilience and mental strength to move on quickly.

Victory on the other hand would put an end to any lingering doubts about who is going to finish top of the pile come May.

I just hope then that the players don’t fear the challenge, but instead relish the opportunity and deliver the performance they’ve been building towards all season.

Cardiff

Hats off to Neil Warnock. He would have got my vote for manager of the year too. Cardiff were heading down last season when he took charge and now they look unbeatable.

If they do end up winning the league they’ll have achieved an abnormally high points total and given the advantages Wolves have enjoyed with their recruitment, it would surely rank as his greatest achievement as a manager.

His team are the epitome of Championship football, which is to say big and strong at the back, powerful moving forward and always direct.

They put a lot of balls into the box, recycle the play continuously and are very good at hanging in games when it isn’t going their way.

They showcased all those qualities on Monday when they definitely should have lost at Bramall Lane and somehow escaped with a point.

Wolves were simply overpowered in the reverse fixture at Molineux and can expect more of the same if they don’t come ready to fight tomorrow.

Wolves

It was a pleasant surprise to see Diogo Jota back against Hull and it’s probably only the front three where’s there’s a question mark over the team selection.

I would go with the above, which I think will best suit the game. Afobe up top gives us more power and pace to run in behind. I would have concerns that a combination of Cav, Costa and Jota could be too easily marginalised.

Nuno may decide that N’Diaye is a better bet in midfield and would give us greater protection at set pieces, but if we’re going to win it’ll be through outplaying Cardiff and Saiss is the better technician.

John Ruddy has looked progressively more uncomfortable the longer the season has gone on, but he can atone for recent errors with a big performance tomorrow.

Predictions

I can see Wolves getting a goal, dominating the ball and controlling the entire game. I can also see Cardiff coming out fast and simply overwhelming us.

Therefore, I’m going to perch on the fence and simply hope for the best.

A draw is definitely a better result for us than it is for Cardiff and I wouldn’t be unhappy with that outcome here and now.

1-1.

Up The Wolves!

Wolves 1 Cardiff City 2

I’m not surprised, just disappointed.

Embed from Getty Images

Cardiff, as expected, made it difficult for Wolves to play; marking tightly, giving away niggley fouls and generally denying their opponents any sort of fluency.

Unlike the wins over Middlesbrough and Derby, we didn’t win enough of those mini battles and you always felt the momentum was with Neil Warnock’s side.

They’re an impressive, powerful team, full of pace and menace. Zohore and Mendez-Laing were the danger men and really exploited the space down the sides of our back three.

Miranda struggled to get to grips with the impressive Zohore in the second half and that was the root cause of their opening goal.

Boly too had a few shaky moments and when he let the ball bounce between his legs, Mendez-Laing was quick as flash to run on the overlap and power home the winner.

That was a costly mistake because Wolves had got back into the game thanks to a well developed Bonatini equaliser and tails were up.

But once Cardiff got ahead for the second time, it felt like there was one inevitable conclusion.

Those are the moments that determine these horrible, knife-edge contests and Wolves were five per cent off it today.

There were positives in the shape of Enobakhare who I thought was excellent again and unfortunate to be taken off.

Jota too stuck to his task well and didn’t allow himself to be bullied by some rough treatment. He looks like he can handle the physical challenges that lie ahead.

Another goal for Bonatini too and those are the finishes we need, inside the box latching onto any little flick that might come his way. He had a strong second half.

Neves and Saiss weren’t able to influence the game as they have done previously and that really restricted our attacking potency.

I lost count of the number of inch perfect diagonal passes we saw at Derby, affording our wingbacks acres of space to play in the forwards.

Today, against a well disciplined Cardiff side, we rarely got into those key positions and for that you have to credit the opposition.

We saw some some dark arts for sure, as you’ve come to expect from a streetwise Warnock team, and they could easily have been a man down before half time, but these are the challenges you need to rise above if you want to be a top Championship side.

The time wasting, the gamesmanship, the off the ball fouls – it’s a dog-eat-dog league and the refs can’t see everything. You’ve got to find ways to win whatever the opposition are doing.

There’s still lots to feel good about moving towards what looks an easier run of fixtures, but this was a reminder about how hard this team has to fight to play their brand of football.

It was never going to be easy.