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REPORT: Cardiff City 4 Blues 2

Blues lose in South Wales.

BCFC

It was an afternoon of bitter disappointment laced with controversy for Blues in Wales.

Leading through Kristian Pedersen's early goal, Blues dominated their hosts in a blistering opening half-an-hour.

But they couldn't make things count as Cardiff got level via a dubious penalty, scored by Joe Ralls, and then netted again through Curtis Nelson eight minutes later.

Danny Ward was red-carded in the 52nd minute and you felt this was the opportunity for Blues to fire once more and rediscover their initial command of the game.

But Cardiff got a decisive third goal through Ralls, in the 69th minute, and Blues were left to wonder how on earth they didn't secure something out of a match they by and large bossed.

Ivan Sunjic's 89th minute rocket reduced the arrears and then things began to hot up again.

Harlee Dean was sent-off in added-time for apparently leading with an elbow during an aerial challenge, a further questionable refereeing decision, and Ralls added a fourth goal for Cardiff - and completed his hat-trick - with another penalty.

It was a sorry, unsatisfactory end to the game for Blues and a complete contrast from the beginning when they were outstanding and looked the much likelier winner.

Pep Clotet's side rained down 25 shots on Cardiff's goal throughout, 17 from inside the area - the highest tallies from throughout the whole of the EFL. But the shift in momentum from the penalty award against Dean was telling.

Blues got a fantastic start, going ahead inside three minutes.

It came after Blues were prepared to try and pass their way through, with Jutkiewicz getting hauled down in a central position, 35 yards out.

Fran Villalba chipped the free-kick towards the angle of the six-yard box where Jutkiewicz rose high and headed at goal.

Neil Etheridge got a hand on the attempt, it floated down towards the opposite post and although Kerim Mrabti flew in and couldn't force it over the line, Pedersen was also there and he got the vital touch, sliding the ball into the net.

Blues continued to make the running and poured forward at will. Jutkiewicz had free header that Etheridge saved at the second attempt and after a surge by Sunjic,  good angles were worked for Mrabti and Jutkiewicz in the box, but neither could get a shot off.

Then, after repelling a couple of Cardiff corners, Blues swarmed into attack again and a sweeping passing move saw Dan Crowley whip a low shot just wide of the post from just outside the box - it was a breakneck start in the swirling rain.

In the 14th minute, after Blues engineered a quick throw high on the right, Mrabti got into space and waited for runners to hit the danger area, he rolled it into Jude Bellingham's path and he should have scored, but his firm sidefooter from 12 yards cleared the bar and hit the back stanchion support behind the goal.

Then, three minutes later, Blues ripped Cardiff apart down the right-hand flank when Maxime Colin went surging through, taking Mrabti's lay-back. Remarkably Blues had a three on two attack; Colin squared the ball to Crowley, he guided a sweeping shot that hit the post, rebounded off Etheridge's head and went behind - so, so close and it could so easily have gone in off the 'keeper.

Blues were all over a shellshocked Cardiff. They had created several excellent openings, were dominating possession (62 per cent in the half) and Etheridge had to be on his toes to tip over a fierce rising drive at the back stick byJutkiewicz after another cleverly-constructed move, with Mrabti again at its heart.

'Warnock, sort it out' chanted the agitated home fans - and we had not even played a quarter of the match.

In the 26th minute Cardiff finally got some sort of joy, from a short corner when Nathaniel Mendez-Laing angled in a ball towards goal and Ward got in front of everyone and touched it wide.

Cardiff got on level terms in controversial circumstances, in the 30th minute.

From a corner, the referee saw something no one else did and awarded Cardiff a spot-kick, as Dean and Marc Roberts went up with their attackers in robust fashion.

There didn't seem to be any holding, no obvious infringement, as bodies clattered to the ground after the ball was headed clear.

Not so for Andy Madley, who pointed to the spot and Ralls stepped up and fired the ball into the bottom right-hand corner, as Lee Camp went the other way. It was incredibly tough on Blues, as Cardiff had been gifted a way back into a game they were struggling in.

Blues, recovering their composure, threatened again when Pedersen did a lovely pirouette turn just over halfway and dribbled on, towards the edge of the area. The ball was switched to Crowley, who fired in a shot on target that hit Aden Flint.

In the 38th minute, Cardiff took the lead, from a left wing corner. Camp made a superb reflex stop from a Flint header and as a furious scramble ensued, Nelson had three hacks

at the loose ball and eventually forced it into the roof of the net, from a couple of yards.

Camp then turned over a curling, lofted attempt from Junior Hoilett from just outside the box as Blues once again had to regroup.

From a free-kick of their own, Dean found himself free at the back post, passed sideways to Jutkiewicz to shoot, and his attempt - Blues 11th of the half - was blocked in front of the target by Nelson. Again, another near miss.

There had been nothing pretty, nothing sensational from Cardiff in their comeback; in fact they had been outplayed but went in for the break in the lead.

As Madley walked his way off the pitch, Craig Gardner waited for him to ask why he had made the contentious penalty award - it had turned the match on its head.

Half-time: Cardiff 2 Blues 1

In the 49th minute Cardiff scored, from a left wing corner, Nelson heading down and in - but Madley ruled it out, indicating there had been a tug on the shirt. Another eagle-eye spot by the referee . . .

Cardiff had more purpose about them in the second-half and when Ralls crossed from the left of the area, the ball only just missed  Ward as he dived in to try and glance it home from inside the six-yard box.

Ward was then the villain of the piece, going in off the ground with two feet on Mrabti in a midfield skirmish. No surprise, Ward was sent-off immediately - Madley brandishing the red card within seconds.

Mrabti was speared around his ankles and shins as he went in to tackle and thankfully he was not seriously hurt.

Cardiff left Mendez-Laing up front on his own and sat in two banks of four behind, readjusting to the dismissal.

Blues got their second wind and Etheridge made a good stop at the foot of his post when Mrabti chested down a misdirected header and directed a scuffed shot from close-range.

Villalba had two pot-shots from distance that flew over the crossbar before Blues made their first change, bringing off Mrabti and sending on Jacques Maghoma in the 65th minute.

Colin, weaving his way into the box, fired towards the top corner and the ball slammed off Nelson, who was in the way among a massed ranks of blue shirts.

Cardiff were gamely hanging in there as Blues continued to try and press home their numerical advantage.

But, in the 69th minute, after Blues conceded a free-kick wide on their left, Cardiff got in down the side and scored a clincher. Mendez-Laing escaped to the byline, diverted the ball back to Ralls, who calmly picked his spot and whipped a left-footer past Camp from inside the area.

Blues had switched off, Neil Warnock sat down the two substitutes he was about to bring on and it was a real uphill task for Blues in the remaining 20 minutes or so.

At a corner there were appeals for handball when Pedersen's header struck Ralls, but nothing was doing. It looked a very, very good shout as well.

Then Dean joined the attack, making a great run in behind to take Crowley's pass to drive it across the six-yard box - Flint stuck out a leg to clear.

Cardiff defended their lead in typically determined fashion as Blues threw on Odin Bailey to basically go all out attack, with 10 minutes left.

The frustration were evident when, in the 85th minute, Jutkiewicz felt he was tugged down in the penalty area, grabbed the ball and when he realised Madley blew against him for handball, he booted the ball miles down the pitch for which he was booked.

Still, though, Blues pressed on with Colin having a shot blocked and then Etheridge saving with his feet from Maghoma's effort from a tight angle. Villalba's half-volley came lashing off substitute Sol Bamba for a corner as Cardiff looked to hold out.

With a minute left Blues gained home when Sunjic let rip from 25 yards and found the bottom corner - a stunning strike.

Four minute added-time were indicated and Blues were roared on by their travelling hordes and Cardiff got jittery and tried to kill the clock as often as possible.

Then Dean was sent-off, for leading with an elbow on Ralls, as he went up for an aerial challenge, which sparked a melee involving a clutch of players. Madley seemed to be influenced by the reaction of the Cardiff players in showing red.

It got worse for Blues when Roberts hauled over Omar Bogle and conceded a penalty. Ralls slammed it low to the left giving Camp no chance (90+5 minutes).

Cardiff (4-4-2): Etheridge, Peltier, Bennett, Flint, Nelson (Bamba 85), Bacuna, Pack, Ralls, Ward, Mendez-Laing (Paterson 80), Hoilett (Bogle 75). Subs not used: Smithies, Vaulks, Murphy,Tomlin.

Goals: Ralls (pen, 30), Nelson (38), Ralls (69), Ralls (pen, 90+5)

Sending-off: Ward (52)

Blues (4-4-2): Camp, Colin, Pedersen, Dean, Roberts, Crowley (Bailey 80), Bellingham (Gimenez 69), Sunjic, Villalba, Mrabti (Maghoma 65), Jutkiewicz.
Subs not used: Trueman, Harding, Clarke-Salter, Davis.

Goals: Pedersen (3), Sunjic (89)

Sending-off: Dean (90+4)

Booked: Sunjic (33), Jutkiewicz (85), Roberts (90+5)

 

Referee: A Madley

 

Attendance: 23,778

 

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