A PERFECT 10 for Cardiff City and a familiar tale of woe for Sheffield Wednesday.
On the surface, this just about sums up yesterday’s visit to the Welsh capital for the Owls as Craig Conway’s first goal of the season sent the Bluebirds back to the top of the Championship.
Scratch a little deeper, however, and the story of Dave Jones’s return to the club he managed to an FA Cup final during a six-year reign turns into one of ‘what if?’ and ‘maybe’.
What if, for instance, Gary Madine had converted the chance that came his way just before the hour with the score goalless and Cardiff looking to have run out of ideas?
Had the striker scored – as surely he should have, considering he was unmarked and had just goalkeeper David Marshall to beat – then maybe, just maybe, the Owls could have ripped up the form book and returned to Yorkshire with three points to show for their lung-busting efforts.
Certainly, Wednesday’s bold rearguard action against a side boasting the only 100 per cent winning home record in English football deserved better than a defeat that now means the Yorkshire club have taken just eight points from their last 17 games.
Manager Jones said: “Watching the game, I don’t think anyone could have said who was at the top of the Championship and who was near the bottom.
“The players worked so hard but, once again, a lapse in concentration has cost us.
“We’d frustrated them and had the best chance of the game to go 1-0 up but then ended up 1-0 behind and having to chase the game.”
Jones’s frustration at Wednesday not being able to see out the game after holding Malky Mackay’s title hopefuls at bay for so long was understandable with his clear intent from the first whistle having been to try to frustrate the home side.
The recall of David Prutton following his loan stint with Scunthorpe United saw the former Leeds man paired with Chris Lines as a protective barrier in front of the back four and the tactic worked a treat.
Okay, Cardiff may have dominated possession during a one-sided first half that saw, first, Mamady Sidibe and then his replacement, Madine, left isolated up front.
But Chris Kirkland still only had one save of note to make during those opening 45 minutes, a fine curled effort from Jordon Mutch being beaten away at full stretch by the Wednesday goalkeeper.
That he had so little to do was down entirely to the determination and resolve of the players in front of Kirkland who, to a man, threw themselves at whatever Cardiff launched into the penalty area.
Miguel Llera epitomised this ‘never-say-die’ attitude best with some tremendous blocks, the most impressive a header that diverted a thunderous shot by Mutch behind for a corner.
Martin Taylor, too, showed bravery to keep Andrew Taylor’s cross out of the danger zone as Heidar Helguson waited to pounce, and Lines also displayed guts in abundance to charge down a thunderbolt from Peter Whittingham.
The upshot was Kirkland being called into action just once during an opening 45 minutes that saw Wednesday rarely threaten.
That lack of potency from the visitors changed after the restart with the visitors’ big opening coming on 58 minutes when a sweeping move saw the ball worked to Madine inside the six-yard box.
With just Marshall in the Cardiff goal to beat, the 1,006 Owls fans – one of whom had spent much of the previous half-hour chanting ‘Gary Madine, goal machine’ over and over again – rose to acclaim what seemed a likely goal.
Instead, Madine shot tamely at the legs of Marshall and the chance was gone. By full-time, so had any hopes of claiming any reward from the trip to Wales courtesy of Conway’s stunning left-foot strike after the visitors had only managed to half-clear the danger.
Ten minutes remained on the clock after Conway struck from 20 yards and Cardiff defender Ben Turner had to be alert to cut out Michail Antonio’s cross that seemed destined for Rodri.
Marshall also had to deal twice with viciously in-swinging corners as opposite number Kirkland joined his team-mates in the opposition area, but there was to be no way back as Cardiff made it 10 wins from as many home games this season to set a new club record.
In contrast, Wednesday have now lost 13 of their last 17 league games to leave the forthcoming double header against fellow strugglers Bristol City and Barnsley as games that could go a long way towards deciding how their season pans out.
On the speculation over his own future, Owls manager Jones said: “I took the club up (last season) and went 20-odd games without losing.
“Then, you are losing in a division that is much harder and one where we haven’t spent the money that probably 10 other clubs have spent.
“We have a lot of players who have not played at this level and what they are learning is that every time you make a mistake at this level, you get punished for it.
“Sheffield Wednesday have been in the doldrums for 15 to 20 years.
“The fans and everyone associated with the club had fantastic feelings last season and probably forgot the last time they were here.
“We are trying to change that. The players have a responsibility to try and correct that.
“It is still very tight and we now have a lot of games coming up against teams around us.”