Some goals are bigger than others.
It was threatening to be a Very Average Friday for Sheffield Wednesday.
Had the Owls been held to a draw by Cardiff City yesterday, Carlos Carvalhal’s side would have dropped out of the play-off positions thanks to Fulham’s comprehensive win at Norwich City.
But Wednesday’s talismanic striker Fernando Forestieri stepped up off the bench to head in a late winner after Allan McGregor made a hash of keeping out Jordan Rhodes’ powerful shot.
It was Forestieri’s 12th goal of a stop-start season but unquestionably his most important as Carvalhal celebrated his 100th match in charge of the Owls in style.
It was by no means pretty. However, the Owls will feel justice was done, having marginally shaded a tight contest, and after referee David Coote inexplicably failed to send off Junior Hoilett in the first half. The Cardiff wide man blatantly pushed Daniel Pudil in the chest following an aerial duel but was only cautioned. It was a poor, weak refereeing decision.
Coote was far too whistle happy throughout and rarely allowed the match to flow.
Carvalhal said: “I don’t want to talk about that. In very few moments I talk about referees. But I think the game must be protected. The fans pay a ticket and want to see football. Referees must protect the football.
“I am not talking about this game, but football in general. If people do not see good football, maybe the next time they will not come to the stadium.”
Cardiff boss Neil Warnock joked he might have to bring a crash helmet to Hillsborough and it was no surprise he received some abuse from the home faithful due to his long-term allegiance with Steel City rivals Sheffield United.
His Bluebirds side were searching for their for their first victory on the road since Valentine’s Day and they made their intentions clear from the off. The Welsh club lined up in a 4-1-4-1 formation, with Greg Halford expertly screening the back four. They parked the bus and made things difficult for the hosts.
An early goal would have altered the Bluebirds game plan and Wednesday nearly broke their solid defensive shape down in the ninth minute.
Ross Wallace, a good outlet on the right, collected Gary Hooper’s clever flick and tried his luck from just outside the box but McGregor dived to his left to push the strike onto the post.
Although the Owls dominated possession and territory, Cardiff looked dangerous on the counter attack. Midfielder Joe Ralls had the Bluebirds best chances. Keiren Westwood fumbled his first effort, with Kenneth Zohore then flagged for offside.
Ralls was denied again by the agility of Westwood just before the half hour mark after he latched on to Kenneth Zohore’s neat pass.
At a subdued S6, the controversial flashpoint came three minutes before the interval. Hoilett was lucky to escape with a caution.
Warnock argued Pudil tumbled theatrically to the ground.
“Pudil didn’t have to do that,” he said. “He is better than that. You shouldn’t mess about like he did. Junior shouldn’t have done that, either. But I thought that was the only life in the first half, if I am honest.”
Pudil probably did make the most of it but Hoilett’s punishment should have been more severe. Coote’s call incensed Carvalhal, his staff and the crowd.
You can’t fault Cardiff of Warnock’s tactics. They set up to stifle, frustrate and hit Wednesday on the counter attack.
“It was a very even game, a mid-table battle,” admitted Warnock. “I said before the game that whoever gets in out of them or Fulham will go up. Though I thought they were average against us, they will have to do better if they get in the play-offs.
“If Fulham get in, they will go up because I look at the other three and the pressure they will be under. Coming from behind will help a team like Fulham.
“Wednesday won’t get many more difficult games than today. They were fortunate.”
Both sides continued to cancel each other out after the break. Wednesday’s firepower, though, came to their rescue. Rhodes, Forestieri and Atdhe Nuhiu all made positive contributions after being introduced. Carvalhal threw on the calvary and won, with Forestieri stooping to head in from 12 yards after Rhodes’ rising shot was palmed away by McGregor.
“To bring Rhodes and Forestieri on shows we are a little bit away from that,” said Warnock. “But next year, we can look to change our team at times. I wish it was the last game of the season but instead I have to put up with another four with nothing at stake.
“There was something at stake in this one, being a Unitedite. I really hope there is a Sheffield derby next year.”
Warnock revelled in playing the pantomime villain but his Cardiff team were unable to derail Wednesday’s momentum and promotion tilt.
Owls: Westwood; Hunt, Lees, Sasso,Pudil; Wallace, Bannan, Jones (Forestieri 62), Reach; Fletcher (Nuhiu 74), Hooper (Rhodes 54). Substitutes: Wildsmith, McManaman, Palmer, Semedo.
Cardiff: McGregor; Richards, Manga, Morrison, Bennett; Halford (Noone 86), Gunnarsson, Ralls (Whittingham 87); Hoilett (Pilkington 86), Harris, Zohore. Substitutes: Murphy, Peltier, Connolly, Lambert.
Referee: David Coote (Nottinghamshire)