AS Neil Warnock stepped off the team bus 90 or so minutes before his latest return to Hillsborough, the welcome afforded the lifelong Sheffield United fan was surprisingly cordial.
Amid the odd pantomime ‘boo’ and shout of ‘oink’, a reference to the derogatory term by which Warnock’s beloved Blades are known among the less tolerant of Wednesday’s support, one fan even asked for a selfie with the Cardiff City manager.
Come kick-off, however, the hostility had reached the levels more normally associated with a visit from a lifelong Blade who arrived in S6 looking to extend a remarkable run against the Owls.
In his previous 13 meetings at the helm of several clubs, Warnock had lost just once. For much of yesterday’s clash, that ability to frustrate his old foes seemed set to continue.
With Greg Halford employed in the same defensive midfield role that had helped Warnock’s Rotherham United claim a shock triumph at Hillsborough last season, the Bluebirds looked firmly on course to claim a point from a dour goalless draw.
But Fernando Forestieri delivered just when Wednesday needed their talismanic figure the most.
Wednesday won’t get many more difficult games than this one before the end of the season. They were fortunate.Cardiff City manager, Neil Warnock
Collecting the ball 10 yards inside the Cardiff half, the Argentinian looked up and played a delightful ball to Jordan Rhodes.
Some might have been happy to stand back and admire their own work, but not Forestieri, who immediately scampered forward in support of his team-mate.
The value of this became evident the moment Allan McGregor had got a strong hand to a thunderous shot from Rhodes, Forestieri being in the right place at the right time to head the rebound into the by now vacant goal.
Cue wild celebrations on three sides of Hillsborough as Warnock, with hands buried deep in pockets, stared dejectedly down at the floor.
With just six minutes remaining, he knew the game was up and a first defeat to Wednesday since being in charge of Crystal Palace in 2009 was on the way.
“I thought we were going to get a point,” said the Bluebirds’ chief. “We controlled large parts, they had one shot in the first half and the goal in the second half.
“But I can’t remember another threat from a team that is sixth in the league, spending £10m-£12m or whatever it is they spent in January and again last summer.
“Wednesday won’t get many more difficult games than this one before the end of the season. They were fortunate.”
As for a race for the play-off spots that includes three Yorkshire contenders, Warnock added: “I said before the game that whoever gets in out of them (Wednesday) or Fulham will go up.
“Though I thought they were average against us, they will have to do better if they get in the play-offs.
“If Fulham get in, they will go up because I look at the other three and the pressure they will be under. Coming from behind will also help a team like Fulham.
“Being a Unitedite, I really hope there is a Sheffield derby next year.”
Up to Forestieri heading in his 12th goal of the season, Warnock had seemed firmly on course for another satisfying visit to S6.
Cardiff had kept the hosts firmly in check via a combination of hard work and some dogged play from the likes of Halford and Bruno Manga, the game’s outstanding performer at centre-half.
An early opening for Ross Wallace apart that Hull City loanee McGregor turned on to a post, Wednesday struggled to break down the well-organised visitors.
Halford’s presence as a defensive barrier in front of the back four was a big factor. Just as he had done in Rotherham’s 1-0 triumph 13 months earlier, the utility man harried and hassled the Owls out of their stride alongside the equally industrious Aron Gunnarson.
Barry Bannan tried his best to get things going, but it proved a hard slog for the home side, who had to survive a couple of anxious moments before Forestieri struck.
Joe Ralls wasted the best of these in the first half when unable to capitalise on a delightful pass from Kenneth Zohore, his shot being sufficiently close to Kieren Westwood for the Owls goalkeeper to save smartly.
Five minutes after the restart, Halford was agonisingly close to making the breakthrough only for a knock-down from Gunnarsson’s long throw to bounce agonisingly out of reach as he tried to apply the final touch inside the six-yard box.
It proved to be the last time Wednesday’s goal came under any serious threat. Until the final quarter, it was a similar story at the other end.
The introduction of Forestieri, Rhodes and Atdhe Nuhiu from the bench brought more attacking threat but, even so, Cardiff looked set to stand firm.
Jack Hunt’s cross being turned on to the outside of a post by Manga reinforced that impression, especially as earlier in the afternoon the visitors had been the beneficiary of a similar slice of good fortune.
It came courtesy of referee David Coote, the official adjudging Junior Hoilett pushing Daniel Pudil to the floor warranted a yellow and not red card shortly before the interval.
Home coach Carlos Carvalhal and the vast majority of the 28,007 crowd were rightly incensed.
But, thanks to Forestieri, those jeers had been turned into cheers come the final whistle as the home fans celebrated a long awaited victory over their old foe from across the Steel City.
Sheffield Wednesday: Westwood; Hunt, Lees, Sasso, Pudil; Wallace, Jones (Forestieri 62), Bannan, Reach; Hooper (Rhodes 54), Fletcher (Nuhiu 74). Unused substitutes: Wildsmith, McManaman, Palmer, Semedo.
Cardiff City: McGregor; Richards, Morrison, Manga, Bennett; Halford (Noone 86); Hoilett (Pilkington 86), Gunnarson, Ralls (Whittingham 87), Harris; Zohore. Unused substitutes: Murphy, Peltier, Connolly, Lambert.