A MEASURE of how Neil Warnock’s latest attempt to get one over old foes, Sheffield Wednesday, panned out could be clearly seen in his body language.
For the opening half hour, the new Cardiff City chief was calmness personified as his side took an early lead and then control of proceedings.
Even fourth official Andy Woolmer was left alone, as Warnock rarely moved from his sentry post at the front of the home technical area as the Owls were made to toil.
Wednesday belatedly gaining a foothold in the game during the closing stages of the first half then brought about a slight change in the demeanour of the Bluebirds chief but it was after the restart that he became truly animated.
Daniel Pudil’s equaliser to cancel out Peter Whittingham’s early free-kick being followed by the visitors pushing strongly for a winner brought Warnock to life.
Instructions were suddenly being bellowed at the home players, while Woolmer also found himself on the end of a few verbal volleys as decisions started to go against the hosts.
Come the final whistle, however, and Warnock was all smiles again as he shook hands with Carlos Carvalhal – underlining his satisfaction at maintaining his unbeaten start to life in south Wales.
A point apiece was, on the balance of play across the 90 minutes, just about right and if the Owls did harbour any disappointment at being denied all three then they at least had the consolation of having moved into the play-off places for the first time this season.
The draw also maintained the upturn in form that before last night had seen Wednesday win five of their previous seven outings.
Another victory on Saturday against QPR and Carvalhal’s men really will have put a slow start to the campaign to bed as the club looks to go one better than last term’s play-off final heartache.
In that respect, the portents are good – even if last night the Yorkshire side were guilty of starting far too slowly against a Cardiff outfit that took the lead inside eight minutes.
A clumsy challenge on the edge of the penalty area by Sam Hutchinson on Craig Noone created an opportunity that seemed tailor made for Whittingham.
So it proved with the Bluebirds stalwart stepping forward to curl a trademark left-footed free-kick over the wall and beyond Kieren Westwood.
It was the worst possible start for an Owls side who had been given an early indicator of the intent that Cardiff had to build on the 2-1 victory over Bristol City that marked Warnock’s bow as manager.
Rickie Lambert, with the very first touch of the game, had provided that warning with an audacious 50-yard effort straight from the kick-off that Westwood did well to palm over the crossbar.
The former Southampton striker also went close on the half-hour with a volley on the turn that flew just over after Wednesday had failed to deal with Aron Gunarsson’s long throw.
Had that gone in or the snapshot on the stroke of half-time from Sean Morrison that was headed off the line then the Owls’ hopes of claiming any form of reward from the trip to south Wales would have been as good as over.
As it was, Wednesday could at least seek solace during the interval for the manner in which – the Morrison effort apart – they had finished the first half on top.
Gary Hooper and Adam Reach both brought flying saves from Ben Amos during that stint when the visitors were on top, while more composure from Almen Abdi could have seen the Owls capitalise on a cynical foul by Morrison on Kieran Lee 20 yards from goal that earned the Bluebirds captain a yellow card.
Judging by how the visitors restarted, this strong finish had engendered a sense of belief and the equaliser duly arrived in the 55th minute.
A cleverly disguised pass from Adam Reach released Hooper, who drilled a low cross that found Daniel Pudil unmarked six yards out. The Czech Republic international needed no further invitation, his shot so ferocious that even the presence of Amos and two Cardiff defenders on the line could not keep the ball out.
As Wednesday poured forward in search of a winner, Ross Wallace fired just over following neat play from Fernando Forestieri.
Will Buckley was denied a clear run on goal by the quick thinking of Amos as the goalkeeper raced from his line to intercept a through ball. Warnock’s response was to shout further instructions and these did the trick as Cardiff redoubled their efforts to grind out a hard-won point.
Cardiff City: Amos; Peltier, Bamba, Morrison, Bennett; Whittingham (O’Keefe 85), Gunarsson, Ralls, Hoilett; Noone (Pilkington 62), Lambert (Chamakh 62). Unused substitutes: Wilson, Richardson, Connolly, Harris.
Sheffield Wednesday: Westwood (Dawson 32); Palmer, Lees, Hutchinson, Pudil; Wallace (Buckley 75), Lee, Jones, Abdi (Forestieri 46), Reach; Hooper. Unused substitutes: Loovens, Emanuelson, Hunt, Nuhiu, Forestieri.
Referee: D Bond (Lancashire).