GOOD DAY HUNTING... BUT CITY MUST NOW STAY AHEAD
CARDIFF City returned to winning ways in dramatic style with two goals in the closing moments to see off Norwich at Carrow Road, earning themselves three crucial points in their bid to return to the Premier League.
Kenneth Zohore came off the bench to net just four minutes from time, before star man Junior Hoilett netted with a sublime volley to make sure of the win.
The result, coupled with Fulham’s slip-up at home to Brentford, made it a brilliant day for the Bluebirds. Here we take a look at the key talking points to emerge...
THE HUNTER BECOMES THE HUNTED AGAIN
NEIL Warnock made the comment, of course, after the 1-0 loss at Aston Villa which saw Fulham leapfrog the Bluebirds into second place.
Cardiff ’s manager reckoned he would rather be hunting down, than being chased by others.
Well, his team have wasted no time hunting down, the weekend results meaning they have jumped back above Fulham into second place.
It was not inconceivable for Cardiff to have found themselves trailing the Cottagers by four points on Saturday night. Indeed, many feared that would happen, with Cardiff losing at Norwich and Fulham bashing Brentford.
But in the space of a few hours the opposite unfolded – and in beautiful fashion if you are a Cardiff fan.
What it means is that the Bluebirds are back in the ascendancy, a point clear, with a game in hand too.
Surely, with games fast running out, you would prefer to be in a situation like that – even if it means being hunted.
Simple equation. If Cardiff win three of their remaining four matches, then the hunters can’t catch them.
End of. The Bluebirds have their Premier League destiny very much in their own hands.
GUNNARSSON ANSWERS HIS CRITICS
ARON Gunnarsson has come in for a fair bit of stick following his recent showings, with some fans pointing out the side’s failure to win in three games coincided with his return to the side from injury.
Given the calibre of opposition – Aston Villa, Wolves and away at playoff chasing Sheffield United – a lot of that criticism has perhaps been a little unfair.
Remember, Gunnarsson was returning in the most daunting of circumstances, having to mark Jack Grealish, Ruben Neves and David Brooks – amongst the most talented players in the division – and at the same time needing to get up to match sharpness immediately.
The critics were right, in a way, to point to the lack of legs in the Cardiff midfield, but Warnock addressed that by bringing Craig Bryson and Loic Damour back in at Carrow Road.
That, in turn, gave Warnock an incredibly powerful bench to utilise in
the closing moments. Bruno Manga, Kenneth Zohore, Marco Grujic and Callum Paterson would walk into many starting XIs in the Championship and Anthony Pilkington is not bad, either.
Gunnarsson was impressive in the first half at Carrow Road, but understandably ran out of steam after the break. However, it’s another 90 minutes in the legs and he will be better for it.
Warnock has stuck by his Icelandic warrior, who perhaps hasn’t been as bad as some have suggested.
He will continue to stick by him too. Gunnarsson remains one of the first names on the Cardiff team-sheet and more than played his part in this hugely impressive win.
HAVE CARDIFF LOST SOL?
THE jubilation of the travelling Cardiff fans was as fervent and wild as we’ve seen the whole season, and you can understand why.
Bluebirds supporters have seen their nerves shredded to pieces in recent weeks by their stuttering recent form, and thoughts must have been racing into overdrive just before halftime at Norwich.
Sol Bamba’s last-ditch tackle to deny Dennis Srbeny will have caused a few palpitations in the typically noisy away end, and again when the striker flicked an effort onto the post just a few moments after.
And when Bamba, who hurt himself in his bid to stop Srbeny in the previous incident, was forced off with injury, many Cardiff fans may have been initially fearing the worst.
But, just as the Ivorian himself echoed the gaffer’s call for calm before the game, it’s not quite time to push any panic buttons just yet.
Warnock revealed that the injury was not nearly as bad as some may have thought, stating that the talismanic centre-back could even be in contention to face Nottingham Forest next weekend.
Let’s hope so. Bamba arguably has been the best defender in the league this season, and Cardiff are unquestionably a superior side with him in it.
That said, and despite a couple of nervy moments, Bruno Manga is a very capable deputy.
So, whatever happens, don’t panic.
ZOHORE PROVES A POINT
WARNOCK’S decision to drop Kenneth Zohore and pick Gary Madine up top raised eyebrows.
Cardiff’s main striker could easily have bagged a couple of goals at Aston Villa and would have been itching to go again against Norwich.
As it was, Warnock waited until the 73rd minute before throwing him into the fray.
Fair to say, Zohore instantly made his mark, setting the Bluebirds on course for their priceless victory with his cleverly struck opening goal.
The signing of Madine was intended to put pressure on Zohore to perform and he has certainly risen to the challenge.
Warnock talked up his £6m signing afterwards, saying he had paved the way for the win. ‘I think Madine did the work and then Ken got the cream!’
Perhaps, but it’s likely Zohore will be back in his familiar starting spot against Nottingham Forest on Saturday – which is where most Cardiff City fans want him to be.
Whatever, Warnock once more appears to have managed the situation brilliantly.
CARDIFF CITY JUST ATTRACT DRAMA
NEVER leave a Cardiff City match early. This was the fourth game running to have been decided in the last five minutes, and the first time in that run that such drama has yielded a win.
Having snatched a point at Sheffield United, Cardiff have been on the receiving end of two narrow defeats that have been decided in the final few minutes, missing two penalties versus Wolves before being undone by Jack Grealish’s 85th-minute stunner at Villa Park.
To lose two crucial games in such a manner will have presented a real test of character in the Cardiff City camp – a test they’ve shown little sign of shying away from.
Seeing the drama tilt in their favour this time around will make this victory taste just that little bit sweeter.
AN OVERDUE CLEAN SHEET
IT is commonly accepted Cardiff’s promotion campaign has been built upon a solid defence – and rightly so.
Yet, believe it or not, this was their first clean sheet since back in February, when Bristol City were blotted out in the 1-0 Severnside derby.
That result secured Warnock’s preseason target of 16 clean sheets for the season, and their inability to keep another one over the last seven games will have been a disappointment.
If Cardiff can regain their previous defensive solidity, it could well provide them with the boost needed to get themselves over the line.
Neil Warnock shows his joy at the final whistle
Captain Sean Morrison, pictured closing down Norwich’s Mario Vrancic, will have been delighted with another Cardiff clean sheet