NEIL WARNOCK last week summed up Cardiff City’s attempts to strengthen during the January transfer window as the equivalent of “climbing a mountain with butter on your hands”.
After the second goalless stalemate of the season between Huddersfield Town and the septuagenarian’s Bluebirds, such a wry sentiment could equally apply to the Yorkshire club’s fight for Premier League survival.
Normally, a point on the road at the home of a relegation rival – especially after a losing run such as the one the Terriers had been on – would make for a satisfying afternoon.
This, though, did little to advance Town’s hopes of clawing their way out of trouble with the gap to safety remaining at an imposing eight points.
Life is not about to get any easier for the Terriers, either, with their next four outings including encounters with champions Manchester City, Arsenal and Chelsea.
Hence the frustration felt in the Principality at referee Lee Mason, whose decision to overturn his own penalty award 14 minutes from time denied David Wagner’s men a precious victory.
Assistant referee Stuart Burt was behind the change of heart. He felt Florent Hadergjonaj had committed the foul and not Joe Bennett, the polar opposite view to how Mason had interpreted a tussle that began just outside the penalty area and ended with the Town full-back crashing to the floor after being impeded.
Mason was closer to the action than his assistant, who moments after the penalty award had faced an intimidating scrum of Cardiff players led by Bennett.
The officials will deny this impacted on their deliberations but the bottom line is the change of heart removed at a stroke the lifeline that Huddersfield had needed from their trip to south Wales.
“It was a very weird situation to be given a penalty and then having it taken away,” Terriers goalkeeper Jonas Lossl told The Yorkshire Post.
Personally, I was already in the mind-set that we were 1-0 up. But then we did not have it. That decision was a hard blow.Jonas Lossl
“Personally, I was already in the mind-set that we were 1-0 up. But then we did not have it. That decision was a hard blow. We needed that penalty and we needed the three points.
“We are definitely not satisfied with one point. I feel we deserved the three.”
Cardiff failed to register a single effort on target during the 90 minutes. The locals in the 30,725 also booed their team off at both half-time and full-time.
The draw, though, prevented Warnock’s men from dropping into the relegation zone. Come the end of the season, it may also be the one that keeps the Welsh club up.
For Town, however, the trip to the Valleys was merely the latest instance of a victory being there for the taking only for Wagner’s men to lack the necessary killer instinct.
Huddersfield displayed far more ambition than has been the case on the road. Witness how six of Jason Puncheon’s team-mates broke with the loanee early in the second half as he darted into the Cardiff half at pace.
But, for all this adventure and willingness to take more risks, the Terriers rarely looked like beating Neil Etheridge.
Crystal Palace loanee Puncheon, impressive on his league debut, drilled a low shot wide from 25 yards early on, while Elias Kachunga had a first-half effort blocked by Bennett.
After the interval, Alex Pritchard wasted another promising break after Sol Bamba and Sean Morrison had crashed into each other. Just two defenders were back as the diminutive midfielder had three team-mates in support but all he could do was pick out Bruno Ecuele Manga when trying to find Kachunga.
Right at the death, Laurent Depoitre’s looping header was comfortably saved by Etheridge.
Moments later, the final whistle blew and Wagner headed straight for the officials to register his protest over the penalty that never was.
Cardiff, it should be noted, had a big appeal of their own for a spot-kick turned down in the first half. Hadergjonaj, in trying to prevent Junior Hoilett converting an inviting cross from Nathaniel Mendez-Laing, clipped both the man and the ball but Mason waved play on.
It was a let-off for Town but not one that eased their sense of frustration on the flight home from the Welsh capital after an opportunity to recover some of the ground lost on their rivals in the previous six weeks had gone begging.
“We are where we are and we have to face that,” added Lossl. “It leaves us with 16 games left and a big belief we can turn this around.
“The performance against Cardiff was worth three points. We deserved to win the game.”
On the prospect of facing City on Sunday, the defiant Terriers goalkeeper said: “We got results against them last season. Why not again?
“The thing that pleases me is we keep showing the right attitude and keep putting in the performances. We have that belief.
“For us, the end result is what matters – and that means staying up.”