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 turns 70 on Saturday.
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.”
A tale of two promoted sides
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.
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.
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.
Man of the match – Sean Morrison (Cardiff)
Cardiff, the comeback kings? – the stats
- Cardiff have won consecutive home games in the same top-flight season for the first time since 1961-62.
- This was the first time Wolves have lost a league game that they opened the scoring in since February 2017 (2-1 v Burton Albion), ending a run of 44 such games without defeat.
- Cardiff have won three of the past four Premier League home games in which they have conceded the first goal – coming back to beat Fulham (4-2), Brighton (2-1) and Wolves (2-1).
- Cardiff have picked up nine of their 11 Premier League points this season from trailing positions, the joint-most in the division alongside Arsenal.
- After losing just one of their first eight games in the Premier League this season (W4 D3), Wolves have since lost five of their past six (D1).
- 91% of Cardiff’s points in the Premier League this season have been won at home (10/11); the highest ratio in the competition.
- Since the start of last season, Hoilett has been directly involved in more league goals (21 – 10 goals, 11 assists) than any other Cardiff player.
- Gunnarsson scored his first Premier League goal since August 2013, when he netted the Bluebirds’ first goal in the competition (v Manchester City).
Cardiff are at West Ham on Tuesday (19:45 GMT) and Wolves are at home to Chelsea on Wednesday (19:45 GMT).