Middlesbrough 1-3 Cardiff City: Bluebirds remain in play-off spot

Middlesbrough 1-3 Cardiff City: Bluebirds remain in play-off spot
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Sean Morrison heads Cardiff ahead
Sean Morrison was Neil Warnock’s captain when he was Cardiff manager

Cardiff City remain in pole position to clinch the final Championship play-off spot following a 3-1 win at Middlesbrough that means the hosts are still not safe from relegation.

Former Cardiff manager Neil Warnock was unable to get one over on his former side in a contest that the Bluebirds dominated as they stayed sixth with a game to go.

Goals at the start of each half from Sean Morrison and substitute Josh Murphy set them on their way before Murphy’s second confirmed a deserved victory, though Britt Assombalonga curled home a 25-yard free-kick on 85 minutes to deny them a clean sheet.

Middlesbrough, who saw Jonny Howson sent off in the last minute for a second yellow card, are two points clear of the relegation zone and visit Sheffield Wednesday in their final game.

  • Saturday’s Championship action as it happened

Cardiff host Hull City, who look in desperate trouble at the bottom of the Championship, in their final contest of the season and will clinch a play-off spot unless they lose and Swansea win at Reading.

The Swans’ 1-0 win over Bristol City ensured the battle for sixth goes to the wire.

The reunion of Warnock and “his club, Cardiff City,” as he described them, added an intriguing subplot to a contest with ramifications at both ends of the Championship.

Warnock left the Bluebirds in November 2019 after three years in charge having led them from the Championship relegation zone to the Premier League.

Fondly remembered by Cardiff fans, Warnock would have been motivated by one of his signings, Leandro Bacuna, describing his football as “old fashioned” in the lead-up up to a game in which Middlesbrough knew a win would guarantee their safety in the Championship.

However, with the hosts having lost five of their last six at home and Cardiff having won five of their last seven on the road, it was tough to see the hosts containing the promotion-chasing Bluebirds.

Indeed, Cardiff, who have been tipped for promotion by Warnock, knew they could potentially clinch a play-off berth with a win and they started in perfect fashion by opening the scoring after three minutes.

The goal was annoyingly simple from a Boro perspective with Joe Ralls’ corner headed home by Morrison from close range, under little pressure, leaving Aynsley Pear no chance to make the save.

Joe Ralls also tested Pear from fully 25 yards out, but he palmed the ball to Junior Hoilett who blasted across goal and out for a throw-in from an acute angle.

Hoilett got no further chance to impress as he limped off after 17 minutes, replaced by Josh Murphy, with the quick Cardiff wide players getting plenty of chances to stretch the home defence.

From another fast counter Cardiff might have gone two ahead, but George Friend hauled down Robert Glatzel as he threatened to break clear, with Friend perhaps fortunate to only receive a yellow card.

The Bluebirds had a good grip on the contest with the hosts not really threatening until the final moments of the first period when Djed Spence curled straight at Alex Smithies and Spence also headed over from Marvin Johnson’s cross.

The hosts started the second half exactly as they did the first, switching off defensively as Cardiff carved them open on the counter-attack from a Boro free-kick as Lee Tomlin’s pinpoint pass found Murphy, who charged clear and confidently slotted past Pear.

Warnock tried to shake things up by making a triple substitution just before the hour mark and his side did improve with Marcus Tavernier’s vicious effort forcing Alex Smithies to tip the ball onto the crossbar.

Nathaniel Mendez-Laing then teed up Murphy who deflected home a third, before Assombalonga’s wonderful free-kick gave Middlesbrough a small consolation, but Cardiff deservedly held on.

Howson will miss Boro’s last game after his rash foul on Will Vaulks saw him given a second yellow card.

  • Saturday’s Championship action as it happened