Liam Palmer left Hillsborough on crutches as Sheffield Wednesday manager Garry Monk lost his unbeaten Hillsborough record.
Scotland defender Palmer was the victim of a horror tackle from Junior Hoilett – who somehow escaped a red card – and had to be helped off the pitch early in the second half with an ankle “the size of a balloon”.
By that time, the scoring was complete, Owls captain Tom Lees heading in after two early goals from Cardiff duo Robert Glatzel and Hoilett.
It meant a first home defeat for Monk, and just the second Hillsborough loss in the Championship this campaign. The only other home defeat came in August, to QPR, under caretaker boss Lee Bullen.
Monk said: “They were poor goals to concede after we started really well.
“Against the type of team Cardiff are, you know how difficult they’re going to make it.
It’s reckless and it’s out of control, whether your feet are on the floor or not. I’ve got a player on the treatment player with an ankle the size of a balloon and if you can’t see that from four yards away as the fourth official or the referee, you have to ask them.Garry Monk
“We responded with the one goal back and in the second half we pushed and we tried but with the set-up they had and the lead that they had, we couldn’t quite break them down and unfortunately we couldn’t quite get that equaliser.
“In the first half I thought we played some good football and opened them up a few times. Unfortunately, we just gave ourselves a little bit too much to do.”
In the previous 11 games at Hillsborough, Wednesday had conceded just seven goals – the best home defence in the division.
So, most inside the stadium were left rubbing their eyes when the Bluebirds – with just a solitary win on their travels this season -–were 2-0 up inside eight minutes.
‘How bad must you be, we’re winning away’ teased the visiting Welsh supporters.
They were bad.
The Owls – normally well-organised and miserly at the back – displayed a late flash of festive spirit in gift-wrapping Cardiff a fifth-minute lead.
Lee Tomlin’s quickly-taken free-kick found Glatzel, and despite the attentions of defenders Lees and Palmer, the striker was allowed to fire off his shot, which Cameron Dawson failed to block.
It got worse three minutes later. Tomlin was once again the provider, as Cardiff were allowed to play through the static home defence.
This time, Hoilett had the freedom of Hillsborough, loitering unmarked around the penalty spot, to side-foot home Tomlin’s low cross.
Two shots on target, two goals. It was the type of clinical finishing which the Owls have failed to show this season.
Sam Winnall’s goal-bound effort was blocked by defender Jazz Richards, before goalkeeper Neil Etheridge tipped away Barry Bannan’s long-range strike.
If captain Lees was to blame for Cardiff’s opening goal, he atoned somewhat on 18 minutes, heading in Bannan’s corner at the back post.
Unfortunately, that was the last of the scoring as 2019 ended on somewhat of a whimper for Monk’s team.
After throwing away a 2-1 lead to concede twice in stoppage-time and lose 3-2 at Stoke City on Boxing Day, this was another missed opportunity against a team who have struggled on their travels.
No Wednesday player could convert after a huge goalmouth scramble, Adam Reach drilled an effort over, while in stoppage-time, substitute Atdhe Nuhiu escaped the visitors’ rearguard but his shot ended up in the Kop.
It summed up a match when most of Wednesday’s players struggled. Too often, Bannan was left to carry his team-mates, with Jacob Murphy and Kadeem Harris ineffective on the wings, while Winnall – starting in placed of the injured Steven Fletcher, with Jordan Rhodes on the bench – was left to feed on scraps all afternoon.
The visitors – who had to make two injury-enforced changes in the opening 45 minutes – were lucky not to finish the match with 10 men, when Hoilett launched into a shocking tackle on Palmer, which saw the Owls full-back substituted and leaving Hillsborough on crutches.
Instead, referee Tim Robinson left home fans fuming, handing out just a yellow card, while Scotland international Palmer had to be helped off the pitch.
Monk said: “I don’t want red cards for players, it’s not about the individual but if you’re talking about the tackle, it’s nothing other than a red card.
“It’s reckless and it’s out of control, whether your feet are on the floor or not. I’ve got a player on the treatment player with an ankle the size of a balloon and if you can’t see that from four yards away as the fourth official or the referee, you have to ask them.”
Palmer is now a major doubt for the New Year’s Day visit of Hull City, as sixth-placed Owls look to avoid a third successive defeat.
Sheffield Wednesday: Dawson, Palmer (Borner 63), Irofa (Rhodes 58), Lees, Fox, Hutchinson, Bannan, Murphy (Nuhiu 88), Reach, Harris, Winnall. Unused substitutes: Wildsmith, Lee, Pelupessy, Odubajo.
Cardiff City: Etheridge, Richards, Flint, Nelson, Bennett (Vaulks 36), Bacuna, Pack, Mendez-Laing (Bamba 42), Tomlin (Paterson 83), Hoilett, Glatzel. Unused substitutes: Murphy, Smithies, Ward, Madine.
Referee: T Robinson.