For Sheffield United the Premiership door is rocking on its hinges after they all but burst through it yesterday. Last night only the mathematicians and Leeds United were daring to delay the party, but should the latter not gain the maximum return against Reading today then the champagne will leave the ice officially.
From Neil Warnock's reaction, however, they had been already been testing the corkscrew in the minutes after Danny Webber's match-winner. "We're very close now," said the manager, knowing that only goal difference can stop a return to the promised land Sheffield United vacated so painfully 12 years go. "I feel quite emotional. The last time I came to Cardiff to play a Dave Jones team it wasn't a happy occasion. I owed him one."
Warnock was referring to the 2003 play-off final at the Millennium Stadium when Jones's Wolverhampton sliced the Blades' hearts in two and for long periods here at Ninian Park they once again looked Premiership-bound in their dreams only. For until Webber's moment of rich inspiration (it could yet be worth £15m) the only player who seemingly had the first idea was Cardiff's Jason Koumas. And even that idea was not bright enough to totally lift the gloom.
Mind you, Koumas's efforts could and should have been enough to give the home side the first-half lead. Before Kevin Cooper failed to make the most of a wonderful Koumas through ball in the 44th minute, the Welsh international had signposted his threat with glorious touch after glorious touch. In the 38th minute, for instance, a Koumas free-kick was so well disguised that, in a packed penalty area, the left post was only thing to get near it. It was to the visitors' relief that the ball found boarding instead of net.
Not that United acted on Warnock's half-time backside-kicking immediately. Perhaps their ineptitude was born of nerves, maybe of tired legs, or - whisper it - even of a lack of talent. But if they have proven anything this season it is that they compensate for any shortcoming of skill with guts and when Webber struck in the 76th minute it was with plenty of the former.
Picking up a Cameron Jerome pass from the halfway line towards his own area, Webber took the ball to the left-hand edge of the box before picking his spot. Using the Cardiff defender Neil Cox as disguise, he curled a sumptuous shot inside Neil Alexander's far post.
"It's amazing, until then it was the worst game Danny's has had for us, "said Warnock. "But it sums us up as we never, ever give up. When I arrived here six years ago, never in my wildest dreams did I think we'd get to the Premiership. There's no club more progressive than us."
"This wasn't a good Friday - it was a great Friday."
Cardiff City: Alexander; Weston, Purse (Cox, h-t), Loovens, Ledley; Cooper (Parry, 68), Scimeca, Boland (Whitley, 33), Koumas; Thompson, Jerome. Substitutes not used: Barker, Ndumbu-Nsungu.
Sheffield United: Kenny; Kozluk, Short, Morgan, Unsworth; Montgomery, Jagielka, Tonge, Armstrong (Kabba, 62); Shipperley (Akinbiyi, h-t), Webber (Ifill, 80). Substitutes not used: Geary, Lucketti.
Referee: M Jones (Wales).Reuse content