Neil Warnock believes his Cardiff City team have reached the point of no return and that if they lose at Brighton on Tuesday they will be heading for relegation.
That is not to say Warnock thinks the fight has left his squad – far from it – but with games fast running out and the five point gap between themselves and safety still there, realism has come to the fore.
“From their point of view it’s probably all over if they beat us,” admitted Warnock after the club’s latest controversial defeat, a 2-0 loss at Burnley.
“It depends on the night and if things go for us. Hopefully, we’ll have a bit more luck than we’ve had lately and that we’re ready for it. Burnley have earned their luck and Sean Dyche has done a fantastic job.
“We’ve got to look at them. They went down the first year he was here, they rebuilt the club back up and now they’re doing really well. We don’t want to go down but they’re a lesson we’ve got to learn.”
The Bluebirds can close the gap between themselves and Brighton to two points if they win at the Amex Stadium.
Even then the Seagulls would still have a game in hand, but with Brighton having a tough run-in – and seemingly having hit a low point with their 5-0 home thrashing to Bournemouth being their third defeat on the bounce – hope would live on for Warnock and his players.
The fact that Warnock has now begun to talk about “rebuilding” points to a feeling that the veteran manager is preparing for the worst.
Having failed to keep Crystal Palace, Sheffield United and QPR in the Premier League, Warnock has earned the right to pessimism, even if he can point to a string of historic injustices and owners’ bad decisions that undermined him.
There were more hard luck and dubious call stories at Turf Moor, where Cardiff were denied a penalty when referee Mike Dean changed his mind, plus two others decisions that went against the visitors that might have resulted in spot kicks.
Warnock was more sanguine than he had been after the 2-1 home defeat to Chelsea and he resisted any temptation to suggest there is a pattern of decisions against him that could be the result of some sort of vendetta.
Others, however, may be more sceptical about why Cardiff appear to need to do far more than most teams to earn penalties.
There may not be bias, but perhaps there is disbelief among officials that a team that has only scored 28 goals all season, could possibly have been thwarted by anything other than their own incompetence.
Warnock, who the FA has decided to charge following comments he made after the Chelsea defeat, added: “I’m just trying not to get fined. I’ve been advised.
“But I’m absolutely distraught underneath. I just can’t understand how someone 70 yards away can influence the two officials. Darren Cann is a top linesman, so I can’t tell you any more.
“I find it very strange, but the way things are going we keep getting kicked in the teeth but I can’t fault the lads one way or the other.
“In the second-half, we stepped it up and I thought we were super. They really tried hard, the fans were brilliant and now we’ve got to, once again, overcome disappointments, decisions etc and get ready for Brighton.
“But I bet Brighton are rubbing their hands that they get to play us on Tuesday.”
Chris Wood deservedly gave the hosts a 31st-minute lead but Cardiff looked to have been presented with a great chance to equalise moments after the restart when Ben Mee was penalised for handball.
It was assistant Darren Cann who raised his flag but, after a discussion with Dean, the referee changed his mind, leaving Cardiff’s players Warnock furious.
Cardiff had two more strong penalty appeals turned down late in the second half and Wood made sure of the points with his 13th goal of the season in injury time.