At least an afternoon featuring a referee’s change of heart over the award of a penalty, a player booked for kissing an opponent and two headed goals for Burnley’s Chris Wood was never dull.
If it was a little bad-tempered at times it probably reflected the tension of a relegation “six pointer” which ended with the home side all but safe mathematically from relegation and Cardiff travelling to Brighton on Tuesday knowing anything less than victory will surely extinguish their slim hopes of staying in the Premier League.
With every home supporter given a free club flag Turf Moor turned into a sea of claret and blue at kick off, lending the atmosphere something of the feel and fervour of a political rally.
As the game got underway Chris Wood very nearly offered the crowd an immediate reason to leap up and start waving those flags once more.
Burnley’s New Zealand striker should really have scored after making a headed connection with Dwight McNeil’s whipped-in free-kick but ended up hitting the post instead.
McNeil is still only 19 but he takes a mean dead ball and, allied to some dangerous crosses, such deliveries posed Neil Warnock’s defence a litany of problems.
Another home set piece saw Ashley Westwood threaten to score straight from a corner but Neil Etheridge extended a hand to divert the ball just as it looked to be curving into the bottom corner.
It was a warning Cardiff failed to heed at another corner. Executed by McNeil this time, it was met by an un-marked Wood whose perfectly timed advance met with zero resistance . All that remained was for Wood to glance a header beyond Etheridge and nudge Warnock’s players a step closer to the Championship.
The loss of Sol Bamba, Warnock’s best defender, to a season-ending injury has hit the Welsh side hard and their backline reverted to papier mache mode once again as Westwood found himself clean through with only Etheridge to beat. The goalkeeper, partly assisted by the distraction offered by a desperately backpeddling Sean Morrison, did well to come off his line and make an important save but he should never have been placed in that position.
Tom Heaton had so little to do he possibly felt mildly envious. Bar making a routine save from a Josh Murphy shot and watching Joe Bennett miscue a rare free kick over the bar, Burnley’s goalkeeper was free to bask in the April sunshine illuminating East Lancashire.
In front of him a series of tetchy sub-plots was unfolding involving assorted warring players. The most notable involved Bennett clashing with Ashley Barnes and involved both players being booked shortly before half-time – Cardiff’s left-back for fouling the home forward and Barnes for appearing to kiss Bennett twice on the nose in mischievous response.
Burnley’s entire team probably felt like kissing Mike Dean after the referee overruled one of his assistants, Darren Cann, who had flagged for a Cardiff penalty after spotting a handball on Ben Mee’s part. After pointing to the spot and initially appearing to tell Dyche’s protesting players he would not be discussing the matter with the linesman, Dean eventually walked over the touchline, spoke to Cann and overruled the decision. Replays suggested that in attempting to cut out a cross the defender had ended up accidentally heading the ball on to his hand.
That cameo left Warnock chewing game with a frighteningly manic intensity, presumably only heightened by the realisation that, less than a minute earlier Mee had been hit on the arm by a Cardiff shot. There seemed no intent and, had they spotted it, the officials would almost certainly not have given it but the whole episode perhaps persuaded Cardiff’s manager that fortune was frowning and not on his side.
With Brighton losing to Bournemouth the visitors had a huge incentive to up their second-half performance and duly did. While Harry Arter curled a shot tantalisingly over the bar, Junior Hoilett tested Heaton with a tricky 25 yard shot and Hoilett scuffed his shot after being cued up by Kenneth Zohore.
Burnley found their second wind and more clever wing playfrom McNeil prefaced Wood heading his second goal after the youngster’s cross was deflected by Managa. Dyche’s side had reached the nirvana otherwise known as 39 points. The Royal Dyche, situated a long goal-kick away from Turf Moor, could expect to do a brisk Saturday night trade.
Warnock saw another potential handball penalty ignored after Tarkowski appeared to divert Manga’s late shot and concedes his side are “running out of time and points’.