Second half defensive calamity sinks Bluebirds
Derby County moved back into the play-off places after coming from behind to beat Cardiff City 3-1 at Pride Park.
Cardiff led 1-0 at the break through Callum Paterson’s right-footed volley after 30 minutes following a Joe Bennett cross from the left.
But it was former Cardiff City striker Cameron Jerome who made the game’s telling impact, scoring either side of Matej Vydra’s 20th goal of the season.
Cardiff stay second, one point ahead of Fulham, while Derby move back to sixth.
A win for Warnock’s Cardiff would have seen them needing just one win from their final two matches to clinch promotion, but instead they will have to beat Hull and Reading if third-place Fulham pick up maximum points.
For Derby, their play-off hopes are back in their hands after leapfrogging Millwall in to sixth.
Gary Rowett’s side still face the difficult task of travelling to fourth-placed Aston Villa on Saturday, but they will have enjoyed getting back to winning ways.
The first big chance of the game fell to Welsh international, and former Cardiff forward, Tom Lawrence but Neil Etheridge was quick off his line to deny him.
Minutes later, Cardiff felt aggrieved not to have been awarded a penalty after Bradley Johnson appeared to move his arm towards the ball in the 18-yard box.
Derby looked dangerous on the break throughout the first half but, as has been the case all season, Cardiff caused their opposition trouble with very little possession.
And it was Warnock’s side who opened the scoring just before the half-hour mark, Paterson’s right-foot volley beating Scott Carson at the near post.
Bennett’s floated cross from the left-hand side went over the heads of a rising Gary Madine and Marcus Olsson, leaving Paterson alone to give the Bluebirds the lead.
Neil Etheridge was on hand once again to deny an on-rushing Andreas Weimann before Joe Ralls blazed over for Cardiff from 20 yards with the last kick of the first half.
Neither manager opted to make a change at half-time, and it was Derby who came out of the dressing rooms on the front foot.
A sloppy challenge from Bruno Ecuele Manga gave Lawrence a shooting opportunity from a free-kick after 50 minutes but his effort was blocked by a sizeable Cardiff wall.
Despite the lack of clear-cut opportunities early in the second half, the intensity on the pitch was cranked up a notch or two, Sol Bamba and Cameron Jerome exchanging words on more than one occasion.
Rowett introduced the Championship’s top goalscorer Matej Vydra on the hour mark as Derby’s search for an equaliser intensified but the final ball escaped the home side when they needed it.
For all the pressure Cardiff absorbed, the best chance of the second half fell the way of the visitors.
Joe Ralls’ burst into the box evaded Derby’s defenders before he squared the ball to Madine, who could not make proper contact with the ball when six yards out.
But just as Cardiff were ruing their missed opportunity, Derby struck at the other end through former Cardiff striker Jerome.
Derby’s January signing from Norwich used his strength to hold off the attentions of Sean Morrison before rolling the ball past a sliding Bennett and Etheridge to level the score.
The Rams continued to pile on the pressure, searching for their second of the game, which prompted Warnock to ring the changes.
The introduction of Kenneth Zohore and Anthony Pilkington gave Cardiff a foothold in the game for a matter of minutes but it was Derby who struck the hammer blow.
A cross looked to have been dealt with comfortably by Yanic Wildschut but the Norwich loanee took too long on the ball and was dispossessed by Andre Wisdom, who squared the ball for Vydra to power his effort past Etheridge from 12 yards out.
Wildschut had the chance to make amends for his error at the other end but he failed to hit the target from an acute angle after the ball fell kindly to him.
And the game was put to bed minutes later as Jerome once again got the better of the Cardiff defence following a Morrison mistake, and Etheridge could do nothing to stop the Derby striker netting his second of the night.
Cardiff City manager Neil Warnock: “We are disappointed. I thought we should have won the game if we were anything like ourselves.
“Second half we have made defensive errors for every goal and that’s not like us at all. We have to regroup now. It’s not very often you see us make defensive errors like that.
“We will be sad tonight but that’s life. Most clubs would swap positions with us, Derby included.”
Derby County manager Gary Rowett: “I think when you look at the statistics in the divisions we have only come back once to win all season and most teams are exactly the same.
“We switched off once in the first half and we were behind and at that point it was deflating but the players stuck at it and second half I thought we were superb.”