In the grand scheme of things, the result was never going to matter. Cardiff City’s clash with Bournemouth on Saturday was, first and foremost, an opportunity to reflect on the tragic disappearance of Emiliano Sala and David Ibbotson, the pilot who was flying the club’s new signing from Nantes to south Wales when their plane went missing over the English Channel. Cardiff fans paid tribute to the pair in touching fashion, singing a song about Sala which acknowledged that, although they had never seen the striker play, he would always have a place in Bluebird hearts.
It was an emotional occasion for all involved, with manager Neil Warnock – a veteran of the game who revealed last week that he considered walking away from football in the wake of the tragedy – visibly close to tears at the end of one of his post-match television interviews.
“The last 10 days or so, I can’t begin to explain how difficult it’s been,” the 70-year-old told reporters in his press conference.
“Knowing the lad, Emiliano, as I did, I knew he’d have been really with us today. I just thought the whole club was amazing. I was really pleased for the chairman, Mehmet Dalman and Ken Choo. I was the proudest man to be manager of the whole club today, because the fans were just amazing. And I thought we deserved it.”
They certainly did. Cardiff took full advantage of a bizarre piece of defending from Steve Cook in the fifth minute, Bobby Reid slotting home a penalty after the Bournemouth centre-back inexplicably handled the ball in the area. That early goal made it even easier for the hosts to enact their game plan, which was based around sitting deep, ceding possession and springing forward at pace on the counter-attack.
Oumar Niasse, a January loan signing, troubled Bournemouth’s backline with his pace and willingness to run in behind, which in turn opened up space for Reid between the lines. Josh Murphy provided further speed on the left flank, while the selection of Callum Paterson on the right meant this was a very attacking line-up by Warnock – even if City spent much of the first period camped inside their own half.
They were rarely troubled by the visitors, though, with Bournemouth lacking ideas in the final third. Aron Gunnarsson and Joe Ralls did an excellent job of protecting a well-organised back four, denying their opponents space in and around the penalty box. Eddie Howe acknowledged that his team were poor and deserved nothing from the game, with another lax piece of defending – this time from Nathaniel Clyne, who played goalscorer Reid onside – allowing Cardiff to double their advantage at the start of the second period.
The pattern of the match remained the same thereafter, with Bournemouth enjoying plenty of possession but failing to do much with it. Indeed, it was Cardiff who had the better chances throughout the 90 minutes, and they fully deserved the victory which moves them to within two points of safety with 13 games remaining.
“It was strange,” Warnock reflected. “I was all right until I got across to the far side. Some of [the fans] usually go home earlyish, but it seems everybody stayed – and the noise volume was… it just got higher and higher.”
“I’ve never heard anything like today, ever, and I’ll remember it for the rest of my life. I just felt today really immense pride in everybody. It was as if we had to show everybody our support for him, really. Coming back to the main stand to see my wife and my kids, it just hit home that we’d done him proud today.”
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(Greg Lea of thesetpieces.com).