Hoilett winner voted goal of the month
Junior Hoilett scored a spectacular late winner as Cardiff City staged a stirring second-half fightback to beat Wolves and climb out of the Premier League relegation zone.
Despite a barrage of set-pieces from the hosts in a first half low on quality from both sides, Wolves took the lead as Matt Doherty seized on a rebound to score on his 200th appearance for the club.
Cardiff hauled themselves back into the contest by sheer force of will, with Harry Arter twice close to scoring before playing a role in the equaliser which summed up this frantic encounter.
After a corner was half-cleared, Arter hoisted the ball back into the box and, with Wolves goalkeeper Rui Patricio seemingly blocked by Cardiff’s Callum Paterson, Sean Morrison was able to nod the ball down to Aron Gunnarsson, who struck from close range.
If that goal was a microcosm of the match, the winner was a total outlier, as Hoilett whipped in a fabulous first-time effort from 25 yards, clipping the crossbar on its way into the net.
That clinched just a third win of the season for Cardiff – lifting them up to 15th place in the table – and gave manager Neil Warnock a welcome birthday present before he turned 70 over the weekend.
For Wolves, a fifth defeat from six matches leaves them winless since 6 October and still 11th in the Premier League.
Goalscorer Doherty said his side’s form was a concern.
“That’s the nature of the Premier League, you have to be ruthless in both boxes,” he said. “Once you start losing games, it’s a slippery slope.
“We are worried. Coming into the season we had high hopes and we are a good team. We should be winning here, we should be beating Huddersfield at home. We need to look at ourselves.
“We are not used to losing games since the manager came in. The run we are on is uncharted territory for us.”
Both sides won automatic promotion from the Championship last season, though they had adjusted to life in the Premier League with rather differing fortunes.
Wolves’ intricate playing style – and their spending power in the transfer market – helped them take to the top flight with a flourish, initially.
By contrast, Cardiff’s more direct, often limited approach – and modest financial resources – contributed to a difficult start to the campaign which saw them enter this fixture second from bottom of the table.
Warnock’s men launched long throws into the Wolves penalty area in the early stages, hoping to feed off the scraps of possession which came their way.
The visitors also struggled to play with much fluency under the steady, pouring rain, though their first counter-attack of note led to a goal.
From a resulting Joao Moutinho corner, Raul Jimenez’s flicked header was superbly saved by Neil Etheridge and Doherty was the quickest to react at the back post, slamming the ball into the roof of the net.
Despite the pace they boasted in wide positions, Wolves did not threaten much from that point, although they defended stoutly in the face of determined Cardiff pressure.
Arter was an improbable candidate to bring them level, but twice he was inches away from doing so – once with a powerful half-volley which hit the post and again with a sweetly struck volley which whistled just wide after a slight deflection.
It was fitting that the attack dog of the Cardiff midfield was a key part of the equaliser, looping the ball back into the penalty area before it made its way to Gunnarsson.
That goal lit the fuse for a rousing end to the game from Cardiff, who secured victory in stunning fashion as Bobby Reid’s shot was blocked, with the ball rolling invitingly for Hoilett to smash his curling strike into the top corner.
Nuno Espirito Santo and Neil Warnock acknowledged each other before the match – in contrast to their previous exchange
There was an edge to this game, not least because last season’s corresponding fixture in the Championship had ended in such chaotic fashion.
Ruben Neves’ free-kick gave Wolves a precious 1-0 win – but only because Cardiff managed to miss two penalties in added time to spark ecstatic celebrations for their opponents.
As Wolves’ coaches and players ran on to the pitch at the final whistle, manager Nuno Espirito Santo forgot to shake hands with Warnock, who reacted furiously and refused to accept the Portuguese’s subsequent apology.
There was a more conciliatory tone in the build-up to this rematch, with both men saying they had moved on from that incident.
And while there was certainly a raw physicality to some of the collisions – with both sets of centre-backs commanding in the air – tempers did not boil over.
There was no shortage of passion, though, with the guttural roar from the home crowd at the final whistle demonstrating how much this rare victory meant to Cardiff.
This time, it was Warnock, rather than Nuno, who was on the pitch, albeit in a calmer fashion, striding towards his eighth decade with a beaming smile.
Reid 6 (for Murphy 66 mins)
K.Harris 6.5 (for Arter 76 mins)