Cardiff City earned a sixth successive Championship victory and have surely clinched a place in the play-offs.
Manager Neil Warnock, though, is aiming higher – a top two finish and automatic promotion – and his Bluebirds are second with 10 fixtures left this season.
They are on 73 points after the 3-2 home win against Birmingham and Warnock said: “We set this target for the play-offs and we’re there today. We have to enjoy it.”
It was, though, an emotional match for Warnock, who was overjoyed when his team powered into a three-goal lead, ripping apart a visiting team who looked petrified whenever the ball was in or around their penalty area.
Mendez-Laing, Craig Bryson and Callum Paterson were the scorers and Cardiff went in at half-time 3-0 ahead.
Warnock’s first half delight, though, became fury after referee Peter Bankes awarded Birmingham the softest penalty I have seen in a long time.
There had been a little shirt pulling or shining at both ends, but then Bankes suddenly awarded a penalty at a Birmingham corner.
Players on both teams looked bemused. Why make that decision out of the blue when other ‘misdemeanours’ were allowed to pass without punishment.
That penalty, tucked away by Craig Gardner, changed the momentum of this game.
Birmingham, who have real ability going forward, had new belief which put them on the front foot.
Thankfully, Cardiff held on for the win they deserved and Warnock said: “It’s a great three points.
“We could have won by five or six, but once the ref had made that (penalty) decision, it gave Birmingham a lift.
“The penalty was for nothing. You wouldn’t have anything happen to you if you did that in a shopping centre.
“Not one player appealed for a penalty.
“It was nowhere near as bad as the foul on Junior Hoilett when his leg was taken from behind him.
“But we kept going and took the three points. The win was was deserved as well.
“He (Bankes) is a good referee, but he will be very disappointed with that.
“That could have cost us promotion if it had been 3-3 at the end.”
Cardiff’s chase for promotion goes on and they now turn to Tuesday’s rearranged away fixture against Brentford in London.
Joe Bennett was involved in setting up two of Cardiff’s goals, while Mark Grujic was a real force as he patrolled midfield with intent.
The direct running of Nathaniel Mendez-Laing was a factor, while Kenneth Zohore is looking more and more like his old self.
His pace and power causes opposing defenders major problems, while his hold-up play and awareness is getting better and better.
I did have some sympathy with Parkes over his failure to award Cardiff a penalty when Hoilett went down. It looked a foul from behind, but theatrical way Hoilett went down persuaded the referee it could have been a dive.
The inconsistency of Parkes, though, was a major disappointment.
While Cardiff tucked away another three points, making it 18 from the last 18 on offer, Birmingham manager Garry Monk was left to reflect on other defeat.
That’s the second in two matches since the former Swansea City player and manager took charge at St Andrew’s, but the Blues have now lost eight in a row.
His team look creative on the attack, forced a number of corners and made goalkeeper Neil Etheridge make a couple of big saves.
Defensively, though, Monk’s team were poor and he said: “We didn’t play too badly in the first half, but I was disappointing with those goals.
“The capabilities of our squad was there in the second-half. We defended much better.
“We created chances and I saw a lot today we can build on. The mentality, application and focus has to start today, not when we next step on a pitch.”
Gardner’s penalty and Maxime Colin blast four minutes into injury time lifted Birmingham, but their second goal proved too little too late. It could have been even worse for Cardiff, but goalkeeper Neil Etheridge made an amazing point-blank save to deny Birmingham skipper Michael Morrison.
Cardiff have won eight and drawn one of their nine home Championship matches against teams in the bottom half and continue to show they are a team with genuine promotion potential.
Cardiff City: N Etheridge, L Peltier (S Morrison 74), J Bennett, B Manga, K Zohore, S Bamba (capt), C Paterson, N Mendez-Laing (N Mendez-Laing 80), C Bryson (L Damour 37), M Grujic, J Hoilett. Subs not used: B Murphy (gk), A Pilkington, Y Wildschut, G Madine.
Birmingham City: D Stockdale, M Colin, M Kieftenbeld, C Gardner, L Jutkiewicz (C Adams 69), H Dean, S Gallagher, J Maghoma (J Boga 79), C Jenkinson (M Roberts 46), Jota, M Morrison (capt). Subs not used: T Kuszczak (gk), C Bramall, C N’Doye, J Lowe.
Referee: Peter Bankes.