by Callum Ellis
Date: Sunday, 31st March, 2019.
Venue: Cardiff City Stadium.
RELEGATION-threatened Cardiff City suffered a controversial home defeat at the hands of a lacklustre Chelsea.
Goals at the death from Blues captain Cezar Azpilicueta and substitute Ruben Loftus-Cheek snatched victory from the Bluebirds and left manager Neil Warnock fuming with officials.
Victor Camarasa had put the home side ahead early in the second-half but two late goals cancelled out the Spaniard’s opener. Azpilicueta nodded the visitors level from an offside position with six minutes remaining, before Loftus-Cheek completed the comeback in stoppage time.
The result leaves Cardiff five points adrift of Premier League safety.
Warnock named an unchanged starting line-up from the Bluebirds’ 2-0 victory over West Ham prior to the international break. Eden Hazard and N’Golo Kante surprisingly dropped to the bench as Maurizio Sarri made two changes from the defeat against Everton.
Josh Murphy was a constant threat for the hosts throughout the afternoon and went close to setting up the opening goal early on. He evaded a challenge of David Luiz and reached the byline bus was unable to pick our a team-mate in the penalty area.
Chelsea nearly broke the dead-lock minutes later. Willian was afforded too much time on the edge of the penalty area and laid a pass into the feet of Pedro, who curled onto the roof of the net with a fine effort.
Cardiff, however, quickly created another chance of their own. Harry Arter slipped in Murphy and he cut inside onto his left foot, before curling agonisingly wide of Kepa’s far post.
Defender Antonio Rudiger fancied his chances and would have really had to produce something spectacular to beat Neil Etheridge from range. His attempt sailed wide of the target without testing the Philippines shot-stopper.
Murphy continued to cause the visitors problems and forced Jorginho into referee Craig Pawson’s notebook following a cynical challenge on the winger.
Premier League action today in Cardiff. 📷
— Matthew Lofthouse (@MLofthousePJ) March 31, 2019
And it was the Premier League strugglers who took an unexpected lead just after the restart. Arter’s low cross was instinctively volleyed home into the top corner by Camarasa, leaving goalkeeper Kepa helpless. It was the Real Betis loanee’s second consecutive goal after netting against West Ham three weeks ago.
Belgian wizard Hazard was likely to feature at some point in the afternoon and was quickly thrown into the action following the opening goal.
The hosts felt they should have been awarded a penalty when Rudiger had a hold of Morrison’s shirt, before bundling the Bluebirds’ skipper to the ground. Despite appeals for a spot-kick, referee Pawson waved the protests in the first of several controversial events.
Warnock’s men, however, rode their luck at times and escaped a scare as Willian flashed an effort wide of Etheridge’s post with just a quarter-of-an-hour remaining. It looked as though a valiant defensive display had earned them back-to-back home victories.
Chelsea hit back in controversial fashion. Marcos Alonso flicked on Willian’s corner, and despite standing in an offside position, Azpilicueta nodded home to draw the visitors level. Assistant referee Eddie Smart failed to raise his flag and the goal was allowed to stand, leaving the Bluebird faithful and Warnock furious on the sideline.
The veteran boss Warnock, who admitted after the game that he would not have even been satisfied with a point, was soon left with nothing. It was Willian again who provided the delivery for Loftus-Cheek to head home the winner in stoppage time.
Cardiff were left hard done by at the full-time whistle as their battle for Premier League survival now turns to the Etihad Stadium on Wednesday night.
Speaking after the game, Warnock said: “I think if anybody was in doubt before today, VAR has got to be the answer. They [officials] need help don’t they. VAR would have sorted the goal out in 10 seconds. It’s soul destroying. I can understand the lads being so down because we played so well.”
Chelsea boss Sarri added: “We were lucky because in the first half we didn’t play very well. It was a goal very similar to the last one against Everton. We were lucky for the first goal but in the end I think we deserved to win.”
Star player: Josh Murphy
Cardiff Starting XI: Etheridge, Peltier, Morrison (C), Bennett, Manga, Arter (Ralls 80′), Gunnarsson, Camarasa, Murphy (Mendez-Laing 89′), Hoilett, Niasse (Zohore 85′).
Subs not used: B.Murphy, Baucna, Harris, Decordova-Reid.
Chelsea starting XI: Kepa, Azpilicueta (C), Rudiger, Luiz, Alonso, Barkley, Jorginho (Loftus-Cheek 64′), Kovacic, Pedro (Hazard 53′), Higuain, (Giroud 77′) Willian.
Subs not used: Caballero, Kante, Hudson-Oodi, Christensen.
26′ – Yellow card for Jorginho.
34′ – Yellow card for Harry Arter.
46′ – Goal for Victor Camarasa.
61′ – Yellow card for Cesar Azpilicueta.
84′ – Goal for Cesar Azpilicueta.
86′ – Yellow card for Aron Gunnarsson.
87′ – Yellow card for Antonio Rüdiger.
91′ – Goal for Ruben Loftus-Cheek.
(Featured image: Matthew Lofthouse)