In the first 68 minutes of the most important match in the Championship—second-placed Cardiff City hosting league leaders Wolves—it didn’t seem like a title decider. There were few real chances to speak of. No team seemed to dominate the match. In other words, it was tepid. Insipid even. However, the last 25 minutes produced some of the most incredible and wild drama that I have ever seen in a football match.
It began with a free kick. Wolves’ Diogo Jota was brought down outside the box. Talisman midfielder Rúben Neves stepped up to take the free kick. It was perfect. The ball flew into the top left corner of the net, sending the Wolves fans into raptures. After this moment, Wolves put more and more pressure on Cardiff. In the 85th minute, Hélder Costa received the ball and made a Cardiff defender fall with an outrageous turn. However, Costa, alone and in front of the goal, inexplicably missed the target.
When referee Mike Dean gave five minutes of added time, Cardiff was not putting much pressure on the goal. However, with two minutes left in the match, Cardiff launched a ball into the box. Wolves captain Conor Coady was marking Anthony Pilkington, a Cardiff forward who received the ball, and Pilkington went to ground, perhaps a little too easily. Dean awarded Cardiff a penalty, a dubious decision with the minimal contact. Gary Madine, another Cardiff forward, stepped up to take the penalty. However, Wolves keeper John Ruddy produced a fantastic save to save the match. Or so it seemed, because, with seconds to play, Wolves winger Ivan Cavaleiro produced a silly challenge in the box, bringing down a Cardiff player. Dean awarded the Bluebirds yet another penalty. This time, Junior Hoilett stepped up to take the penalty. It rocketed off the crossbar. Dean blew his whistle, and Wolves somehow escaped with a victory at the home of their title-pursuing rivals.
After the match, hwoever, the drama did not end. Nuno Espírito Santo, the Portuguese manager for Wolves, ran onto the pitch to celebrate with his players upon hearing the full-time whistle. Afterwards, Nuno left to offer his hand to his counterpart, the controversial Cardiff manager Neil Warnock. However, clearly upset with Nuno’s celebration, Warnock repeatedly told Nuno several things unfit for print and refused his handshake. Even in the press conference, Warnock doubled down, saying that he would not accept any type of apology from Nuno, although Nuno graciously expressed regret for his actions in his own press conference.
Wolves are now in a very comfortable position, 9 points ahead of Cardiff and 11 in front of Fulham and the automatic promotion places. They face Derby County at Molineux on Wednesday. Cardiff, meanwhile, will travel to face Aston Villa on Tuesday.
I actually watched a youtube review and the highlights of this game and I couldn’t agree more that this was one of the wildest games I have ever seen. To concede not one, but TWO penalties in extra time of a title decider in itself is crazy. For both of those penalties to be misses made it absolutely surreal. I don’t usually venture out of top-tier football, but on this occasion, I would’ve been crazy not to. Maybe there’s something to be said for lower league football. I remember in one of our panels one of the speakers said a lot of people watch lower league football because they felt it was more true to the sport and more real, less commercialized. I definitely look forward to seeing Wolves in the premiership next season and really hope you guys are able to keep Ruben Neves. I remember what a big deal it was when he was signed and everyone was absolutely shocked such a young talent decided to ply his trade in the second league of England. Neves has proved he’s a top-class talent and Wolves biggest struggle now will be fending off interest from the big clubs looking for a new striker.