Jay Bothroyd, touted last weekend for an England call-up by Cardiff manager Dave Jones, swept the Welsh side to within two points of the Championship summit with the late goal that broke his former club, Coventry. Only three minutes remained when Bothroyd converted Chris Burke's cross to collect his ninth goal of the season, prompting Jones to reiterate his belief that the striker would offer Fabio Capello an intriguing alternative
"I had Kevin Davies in my team [at Southampton]. He's 33 and he's been picked, whereas Jay is only 27," said Jones. "Jay is strong in the air, has pace, holds the ball up well and can shoot with either foot. If they're looking for something different, he's worth looking at."
Bothroyd's winner came minutes after the Ricoh Arena crowd jeered at the sight of Jones withdrawing another ex-Coventry forward, Craig Bellamy, who at £6.5m is still the Sky Blues' record buy. At that stage the contest could have gone either way, Gary McSheffrey's goal having cancelled out Peter Whittingham's controversial early penalty for Cardiff.
The award by referee James Linington, which came after Ben Turner appeared to pull back Michael Chopra as he attacked Whittingham's cross, divided the managers. Coventry's Aidy Boothroyd insisted it was "very soft" and said he would "send a letter [of complaint] to the referee's body". Jones, himself a Coventry player a quarter of a century earlier, claimed Chopra had been "dragged back" and was surprised Turner had received only a yellow card.
For much of the first half Cardiff looked a cut above Coventry, their big-name front three causing consternation. Gradually, Boothroyd's side began to assert their style, a more physical one in which the ball is frequently airborne. That said, McSheffrey's second goal since returning from Birmingham was strictly ground-level, the winger taking Aron Gunnarsson's pass and dancing past Kevin McNaughton before angling a shot beyond Tom Heaton.
But the quality of Burke's delivery drew the best from Bothroyd, leaving Jones to reflect that Cardiff were "breathtaking at times going forward" and Boothroyd to lament "an entertaining game for the neutrals, but a lesson for us".
Coventry City (4-4-2): Westwood; R Keogh, Wood, Turner, Cranie; Gunnarsson, Carsley, Clingan, McSheffrey; Platt, Jutkiewicz (King, 70). Substitutes not used Ireland (gk), Doyle, Baker, McIndoe, O'Donovan, Cameron.
Cardiff City (4-3-3): Heaton; McNaughton, Hudson, Gyepes, Naylor; Burke, Olofinjana, Whittingham; Chopra (Koumas, 71), Bothroyd, Bellamy (A Keogh, 82). Substitutes not used Marshall (gk), Rae, McPhail, Blake, Wildig.
Referee J Linington (Isle of Wight).