Cardiff City 0 Wolves 1 (Neves 67)
The latest stunning strike in the Ruben Neves collection could prove invaluable to Wolves’ season, as Nuno Espirito Santo’s men won on a night of incredible drama at Cardiff City.
Billed as the biggest game of the season pre-match, Wolves didn’t disappoint and thoroughly deserved to move nine points clear of their nearest rivals with just five Championship games remaining.
Neves’ stunning free-kick, his fifth incredible strike of the campaign, was enough to separate the two teams in South Wales, as he beat the wall to find Neil Etheridge’s top corner after the break.
However, in a night of high drama in South Wales, that was only the start, as the hosts remarkably missed two injury time penalties.
First, John Ruddy’s brilliant save denied Gary Madine, before Junior Hoilett, with the last kick of the game, watched his spot kick cannon off the underside of the bar and away to safety.
All that drama meant Wolves moved 14 points clear of third place and the euphoric scenes in the away end said everything about the value of that victory.
It was an exciting start to match the atmosphere in South Wales, with a series of corners for each team coming to an end when Sol Bamba planted a header into the ground and wide of Ruddy’s goal.
It took just seven minutes for Neves to test Etheridge with a trademark effort from range, as the goalkeeper beat away his shot, and did the same to keep out a powerful Jota strike soon after.
The hosts threatened next, as Kenneth Zahore steadied himself and struck an effort across goal, forcing the save out of Ruddy, before Cardiff wasted the best chance of the half.
For once, the Wolves defence fell to sleep, allowing left-back, Joe Bennett the chance to run in behind, but with a host of bodies waiting for the cut-back, he opted to shoot and fired wide.
Soon after, Yanic Wildschut’s side-footed free-kick forced a fingertip save from Ruddy, while at the other end Romain Saiss blazed an effort over the bar from long distance, when the simple pass looked a better option.
There would be nothing to choose between the two sides in the opening period, despite a hotly-contested 45 minutes at the Cardiff City Stadium.
Half-Time: Cardiff 0 Wolves 0
Buoyed by Nuno’s half-time words, Wolves came out for the second-half with the bit between their teeth and when Leo Bonatini was slipped in he rounded Etheridge before seeing his cheeky effort come back off the front of the post.
The striker’s time on the pitch wouldn’t last much longer however, and once he was replaced by Helder Costa, Benik Afobe moved into a more central role. It wasn’t long after however, when Neves blazed a free-kick over the bar.
Wolves’ next substitution saw Jota leave the field for Ivan Cavaleiro. Jota’s last contribution was to win a free-kick on the edge of the Cardiff box after a foul by Sean Morrison.
Neves was simply fine tuning his radar minutes earlier and produced yet another moment of brilliance this time. His inch-perfect free-kick flew into the top corner and sent the visiting supporters into raptures.
With 13 minutes remaining Afobe left the field to a standing ovation from the away supporters, with Alfred N’Diaye taking his place.
City naturally came into the game more when 1-0 down but were struggling to test Ruddy. N’Diaye shot at Etheridge on 84 minutes and Aron Gunnarsson shot just wide at the other end.
With time running out Wolves should have doubled their lead, but after outmuscling Lee Peltier, Costa couldn’t make his effort bend enough and shot off target, before Cavaleiro’s weak shot was saved by Etheridge.
The late chances were falling to the visitors, but after Costa and Cavaleiro combined, the latter’s powerful effort was too close to the Cardiff stopper.
However, if onlookers thought it was over as a contest, the drama was only just beginning.
Two minutes into added time Conor Coady was adjudged to have pulled down his man and Mike Dean pointed to the spot. However, Ruddy had done his research and brilliantly turned Madine’s penalty around the corner.
The drama wasn’t finished though, with Cavaleiro then penalized for lunging in on Gunnarsson. Hoilett took responsibility this time but his shot from 12 yards cannoned off the underside of the bar and away.
Seconds later Dean blew the full-time whistle to spark wild scenes of jubilation from staff, players and fans alike, as Wolves made great stride towards their overall target with just five Championship games remaining.
Full-Time: Cardiff 0 Wolves 1
Cardiff: Etheridge, Peltier, Bennett, Morrison ©, Zohore (Pilkington 84), Bamba, Gunnarsson, Paterson (Mendez-Laing 51), Bryson, Hoilett, Wildschut (Madine 70).
Unused Subs: Murphy, Manga, Damour, Traore.
Booked: Peltier 61, Morrison 65
Wolves: Ruddy, Doherty, Douglas, Bennett, Neves, Boly, Coady ©, Jota (Cavaleiro 66), Afobe (N’Diaye 77), Saiss, Bonatini (Costa 58).
Unused Subs: Norris, Batth, Gibbs-White, Hause.
Booked: Saiss 74, Costa 89, Neves 90
Referee: Mike Dean
NEXT UP: Wolves vs Derby County, Wednesday 11th April.