It was heartbreak for Aitor Karanka’s men.
In a topsy-turvy encounter at the Cardiff City Stadium Blues came from behind to lead before falling at the last. Marc Robert’s response to Robert Glatzel’s opener and Ivan Sanchez’s wondergoal seemed to have secured a third consecutive away success.
This appeared even more likely when, for the second time this month, Neil Etheridge saved a penalty as he denied Glatzel from 12 yards.
Instead, it was heartbreak for Aitor Karanka’s men as goals from Harry Wilson and Sean Morrison saw Blues take nothing from a game in which they deserved so much more.
There were four changes to the team that played Watford at St. Andrew’s Trillion Trophy Stadium on Saturday. Captain Harlee Dean returned after serving his one-game suspension and Maxime Colin, Ivan Sanchez and Jon Toral also featured from the off. Saturday’s starters Josh Dacres-Cogley, Mikel San José and Gary Gardner were amongst those at the disposal of Karanka on a strong bench.
Blues, looking for three wins on the spin away from home for the first time since 2015, spent most of the opening five minutes pushed back and subjected to an aerial bombardment from the hosts. Whether it was flighted passes down the left or balls launched into the box from Will Vaulks’ long throw, Cardiff set out their stall early.
This was nothing Blues were not a match to, and it was the visitors who carved out the game’s first serious effort on goal. Triggered by a Toral touch that opened up the middle of the park, the ball was swept wide to Ivan Sanchez and the Spanish winger stung the palms of Alex Smithies with his low drive.
Determined to continue with this brand of passing football, there was an undeniable misfortune that this style of play led to the opening goal for Cardiff. Liverpool loanee Harry Wilson intercepted a Clarke-Salter pass - that left Mark Roberts exposed - and the ball was worked to Glatzel who fired Neil Harris’ team in front with ten minutes played.
Despite the setback, it speaks volumes about Blues’ character that they did not let their heads drop. Even the questionable booking shown to Toral could be put down to the team’s commitment to not giving their opponents a moments rest. It was just frustrating that all Blues had to show for such industry before the 30-minute mark was an overhit Maikel Kieftenbeld volley.
That frustration was, however, soon to evaporate as the visitors drew level through an unlikely source. When it is considered that Lukas Jutkiewicz and Marc Roberts combined for the equaliser, it would be fair to assume that the former had added the finishing touch. But it was Roberts who turned centre forward to set himself from the striker’s knockdown and conjure the composure to fire across goal into the far corner.
There was no doubt this lifted Blues and both Toral and Jutkiewicz saw shots blocked before Jonathan Leko whistled a skidded effort past the post. Cardiff, bristling from the concession, mounted a response, but a combination of Dean and Ivan Sunjic blocked a Marlon Pack attempt as the half drew to a close.
Half-time: Cardiff City 1 Blues 1
The second half began much like the first with the Bluebirds looking to dictate play, although they got little change out of a Blues backline that limited them to two speculative goes from distance by Vaulks.
Then, as with the opening 45 minutes, it was Sanchez who hit the first shot in anger – except this time he had his eye in for his first goal in blue. The play again went through Toral who opted not to feed the purposeful runs of Leko and Jutkiewicz, instead picking out Sanchez who had only just made his way into Cardiff’s half.
He, of course, knows the talent of his compatriot, but even he must have been surprised at the spellbinding run and shot the followed. Leaving Cardiff‘s left side in his wake, Sanchez swept inside and rifled the ball into the top corner to complete Blues’ turnaround.
Such fine work was almost undone when the team from South Wales hit the post from a corner, before seeing their own follow up blocked by recent substitute Mark Harris. But Blues' endeavour to come from behind had earnt some good fortune.
What followed owed nothing to luck. With Clarke-Salter adjudged to have handled in the area, Etheridge denied his former club with an outstanding penalty stop. Remaining grounded until the last possible instant, he then flew to his left to push Glatzel’s penalty past the post.
Blues number one could do nothing about what happened next as Cardiff equalised with 13 minutes left. Wilson, who may have fancied the penalty himself, made no mistake after latching onto Pack’s disguised pass.
This concession did nothing to deter Blues’ ambition of winning in the Welsh capital and Sanchez forced Smithies into a save. Then, in the passage of play that followed, recently introduced Jeremie Bela curled one just off target.
Cruelly, the team who looked most likely to win ended up with nothing, as Cardiff captain Sean Morrison found space to head home with the clock approaching 90.
Cardiff City (4-4-2): Alex Smithies, Leandro Bacuna, Sean Morrison, Curtis Nelson, Joe Bennett, Will Vaulks, Marlon Pack, Gavin Whyte (Mark Harris 63), Sheyi Ojo (Greg Cunningham 93), Harry Wilson, Robert Glatzel (Sol Bamba 90).
Substitutes not used: Dillon Phillips, Filip Benkovic, Joel Bagan, Kieron Evans, Keenan Patten, Chanka Zimba.
Booking: Bacuna 28, Ojo 43.
Blues (4-2-3-1): Neil Etheridge, Maxime Colin, Marc Roberts, Harlee Dean (captain), Jake Clarke-Salter, Maikel Kieftenbeld, Ivan Sunjic, Jon Toral (Jeremie Bela 60), Ivan Sanchez, Jonathan Leko (Alen Halilović 61), Lukas Jutkiewicz.
Substitutes not used: Andrés Prieto, Josh Dacres-Cogley, Gary Gardner, Adam Clayton, Mikel San José, Riley McGree, Scott Hogan.
Booking: Toral 20.
Referee: Michael Salisbury