Cardiff City failed to return to winning ways as they were held to a draw by Blackburn Rovers, which, in all honesty, was a clash that the visitors should have claimed three points from.
Particularly in the second half, Tony Mowbray’s side constructed a real onslaught, which entailed hitting the woodwork on three occasions as they carved out the lion’s share of chances.
So, by all accounts, Cardiff may have been considered lucky to have avoided defeat on the afternoon, though, after going ahead twice, they really needed to typify more solidity.
If Cardiff’s playoff ambitions had not already been extinguished following Monday’s shock thumping away to Sheffield Wednesday, they certainly have ceased by now.
Even though that heading into the game, there was little at stake barring pride, the Bluebirds still needed to craft a reaction after two successive defeats- and, it must be said, they did that to begin with.
The inclusions of Josh Murphy and Harry Wilson- both of whom had not started in the 5-0 loss at Hillsborough- sparked a sense of energy into the City attack, whereas Kieffer Moore also displayed signs of liveliness that had perhaps been absent in recent weeks.
Football is very much a game of stereotypes and, far too often, strikers of Moore’s sculpt and stature are dismissed of possessing anything semi-resemblance of technical prowess, however the 16-goal forward swiftly put that notion to bed.
Gracefully, the Welsh International glided through the Rovers defence at ease in a move completely created on his own and was only denied by a crucial last-grasp challenge early on.
Moore, without a doubt, looked back to his best. The star striker was pivotal to everything positive that went Cardiff’s way and, were it not for blazing a critical chance over the bar after a Will Vaulks delivery, could have undoubtedly fired his side into the ascendancy.
Merely three minutes later, a huge decision would go against the Bluebirds in truly infuriating fashion.
Wilson, a source of dynamism and invention in the final third, took the ball past Blackburn shot stopper Tomas Kaminski. In what was a golden, unmissable opportunity for the hosts, the Belgian brought Wilson down outside of the area, which was only met with a yellow card.
Subsequently, referee Jeremy Simpson was convened with fury-fuelled shouts from Aden Flint and Curtis Nelson, both of whom had felt the challenge was worthy of a dismissal, but the flurry of protests failed to sway the Englishman’s decision.
Shortly after, however, Cardiff would obtain justice.
The Bluebirds won a free kick on the edge of the area and it had all seemed teed up for Wilson- a renowned specialist from dead ball situations to try his hand. Instead, Wilson laid it off handsomely to Vaulks, who made no mistake in rifling the ball home after twenty minutes to put his side one goal ahead.
To be perfectly honest, it was an unstoppable strike. As we all know, Vaulks harbours that alluring ability to naturally unleash thunderous strikes from all angles, and he did that once more, slamming his shot past the maelstrom of red jerseys to leave Kaminski helpess.
At that point, Cardiff seemed in cruise control. The goal was nothing short of what they deserved and, with their liveliness and endeavour going forward, a second goal did not appear a million miles away.
And whereas the likes of Wilson, Moore and Murphy earned a range of plaudits for their attacking showings, Tom Sang and Perry Ng also impressed yet again.
The two wing backs, both hailing from Liverpool, struck up a awe-consuming partnership on either flank, frequently bombing forward and slotting into the midfield with ease.
But, on the cusp of half time, Blackburn pulverised the deficit in what was a real source of frustration for Mick McCarthy’s men.
Harvey Elliott raced down the wing and dispatched the ball into the path of Adam Armstrong. The speedy forward, who has been in red-hot form in Lancashire this campaign, sent Ciaron Brown the wrong way before firing towards goal.
It was not an ideal return to action for Alex Smithies. The 31-year old had not played for the Bluebirds since coming off 11 minutes into his side’s 2-0 win at Bristol back in February owing to illness and subsequently, Dillon Phillips had made the spot between the sticks his own.
There was almighty pressure on Smithies to cement his place back in the starting XI, though he would have done his case no favours by fumbling home Armstrong’s tame effort into the back of the net to gift Blackburn an all-important equaliser.
The phrase ‘football is a game of two halves’ turned out to be synonymous with the fixture; Cardiff had thoroughly set the tempo in the first half, however, it was their opponents who would come roaring out of the blocks after the interval and carve out a host of chances.
That first chance- or, what would be the first of many, came in the form of Sam Gallagher, a player who had emerged as a real menace for the Cardiff backline owing to his physique and aerial prowess.
He laid down a marker of what was to come as the second half wore on as, in its early stages, he cut into the box and created panic and came only whiskers away from putting Rovers ahead as his powerful shot cannoned off the woodwork.
Armstrong sought to embody their newfound superiority, firing two shots at goal to further put Cardiff under the cosh.
Again, luck would not be married with Blackburn when, in the 65th minute, Bradley Johnson aimed to fire the ball past Smithies, although his effort struck against the outside of the post.
Barry Douglas was next to rattle the woodwork as his free kick, which seemed destined to nestle the postage stamp of the goal, clattered the crossbar.
A school of thought kicked in that an elusive goal for Blackburn was coming, and it was not hard to see why.
But, in a move totally betraying the run and rhythm of the game, Joe Ralls crafted something out of nothing to suddenly put Cardiff back ahead.
The substitute, who had come on less than ten minutes prior for Murphy, intercepted a loose pass and interchanged with Wilson before slotting home in cool fashion to send a real shock down Blackburn spines.
Then, Mowbray exhibited an act of desperation-turned-brillIance as he made a quintuple substitution in an all-or-nothing attempt to get back on level terms.
Cardiff did look to be holding firm and could have even had a third goal. Wilson had caught Kaminski well out of his territory and, despite the onrushing run of Moore, decided to try the spectacular, releasing a searing effort from miles out which was palmed away by the 28-year old.
The influx of fresh legs unsurprisingly added more life to Blackburn. In particular, young winger Tyrhys Dolan caught the eye as he drifted into pockets space and utilised his sharp, laser-like movement, giving Perry Ng a very testing man-marking job in process.
As the match approached its final stages, it seemed that Cardiff were, albeit against the run of play, going to hold out and secure victory, but that was not to be the case.
Lewis Holtby- part of Mowbray’s bench election- fizzed an intricate through ball into the path of Armstrong, who waltzed past Flint before poking the ball underneath Smithies to ensure that Rovers headed back to Lancashire with a point on the board seconds before full time.
Whilst it was undoubtedly a dagger in the hearts of Cardiff supporters, few could testify that it was what Blackburn deserved after a true second half foray.
The result now leaves the Bluebirds an almighty nine points away from 6th-placed Bournemouth, who kept up their winning ways with a routine 4-1 victory over Coventry City.
Consequently, it does appear Cardiff will be playing Championship football next year, having seen their playoff aspirations crushed in recent weeks. Next up, a daunting trip down the M4 beckons, in which they will lock horns with Reading on Friday evening.
The Berkshire side have not been in fine form themselves- only winning once in their last six outings, a disappointing run that has left them in outside of the top six and currently, one place above Cardiff. For the Royals, it certainly is a must win as they look to keep chase with Bournemouth.
Blackburn meanwhile, had also lost their last two fixtures prior to the trip to South Wales and will be looking to bridge any lingering relegation frights with a home match against Derby County next weekend.