Promotion can never be won at this early juncture but it can conceivably be lost. For Wolverhampton Wanderers, a club well versed in the art of squandered opportunities, a crisis is looming. They have followed a close season of mis-management with seven weeks of struggle.
It is hard to ascertain whether the Wolves board starved Dave Jones of sufficient funds in the summer or if the manager was mistakenly happy with what he had already. But the bottom line is that they have signed four players to replace the 11 who left after their Premiership adventure ended - and are falling well short of the mark.
The club's chairman, Rick Hayward, pledged in May that promotion would not only be won first time, but accomplished in style. What are those words worth now? Wolves were second best to a Cardiff City side who had slipped to within one place of the foot of the table and supposedly pushed their manager, Lennie Lawrence, towards the brink.
Now, with that League run of six defeats and one draw impressively ended, the spotlight is on Jones, with Molineux submerged by the familiar fractious gloom which descends whenever Wolves' rating drops quicker than autumn leaves.
Wolves have not won there in five attempts, this abject second-half decline coming accompanied by abuse of Jones; that's goalkeeper Paul Jones, not his manager. The irony of this eventful afternoon was that a player Wolves sold to Dave Jones' Stockport County for £60,000 in his late 20s and then bought back for £250,000 on a three-year contract at the age of 36 should be treated so differently by the opposing fans.
Warmly greeted by the away following in view of his continuing sound international form, he was pilloried by some home supporters after his partial clearance from Welsh colleague Paul Parry's corner had been brilliantly volleyed past him by the outstanding Graham Kavanagh.
Cardiff's 3-1 lead was more than some could bear and the keeper was subsequently booed - not only a self-defeating show of anger but an unjust one. Jones was one of the few Wolves players to perform decently.
"You have to rise above the crowd having a go," manager Jones said. "You can't let the moans and groans get to you. We have conceded too many of the same type of goals and, as a defensive unit, we were very poor."
Cardiff, despite Alan Lee's first-minute one-on-one miss, broke through with a sharp finish from the lively Parry, then rode their luck as Carl Cort's instant equaliser was followed by an offside decision after Kenny Miller had finished well.
Peter Thorne nodded them back in front and after Kavanagh's 59th-minute goal, such was their control that Paul Ince's late consolation came out of the blue. "We haven't turned the corner but we have started the process," said Lawrence. "We have followed up the good midweek win we had in the Carling Cup."
Goals: Parry (11) 0-1; Cort (12) 1-1; Thorne (48) 1-2; Kavanagh (59) 1-3; Ince (85) 2-3.
Wolverhampton Wanderers (4-4-2): Jones; Lowe (Cameron, 64), Clyde (Bjorklund, 31), Craddock, Naylor; Newton, Ince, Olofinjana, Seol; Cort, Miller. Substitutes not used: Oakes (gk), Andrews, Clarke.
Cardiff City (4-4-2): Warner; Williams, Gabbidon, Vidmar, Barker; McAnuff (O'Neil, 79), Kavanagh, Boland, Parry; Thorne, Lee (Bullock, 86). Substitutes not used: Alexander (gk), Robinson, Collins.
Referee: M Pike (Cumbria).
Booked: Wolves: Naylor, Craddock. Cardiff: Lee, Kavanagh, Williams.
Man of the match: Kavanagh.
Attendance: 27,896.Reuse content