Neil Harris admitted Cardiff City’s play-off hopes have taken a nose-dive after a defeat to Nottingham Forest which ended with Callum Paterson and Leandro Bacuna literally at each other’s throats.
The Bluebirds boss insisted there were no serious issues between the pair who clashed at the end of the 1-0 defeat and had to be pulled apart by teammates.
Tiago Silva scored the only goal of the game as Harris’ side suffered his first Championship defeat at home since he took over from Neil Warnock in mid-November.
The result leaves the Bluebirds six points behind the play-off places with questions marks over internal discipline, although Harris insisted the dust-up was simply an over-spill of passion rather than a long-term falling out.
Harris said: “I didn’t see it at the time because I was shaking (Forest manager) Sabri Lamouchi’s hand.
“But Pato and Leo have come into the changing room cuddling through the door. They weren’t smiling, but understanding the frustration.
“You don’t want to see a disagreement between players in public, but it’s a passionate game and they are passionate players.
“It shows a caring nature to the changing room that they want to go well and we want to do well. We were disappointed not to get the result.
“An underlying issue? No. Overflow into the changing room? Not at all. I will have to ask them what it was about once we are done here.”
Asked if was concerned, Harris added: “I played like that. I manage like that. I like personality, I like character, I like a winning mentality and there is an argument at full-time then it will be boiled down to the fact we didn’t win the game.
“In the heat of the moment, I’ve got no problem with that. But as long as the heat of the moment is dealt with. I’ve got no complaint at all about passion. But in the modern world we just have to be careful doing it in public, out on the pitch. It could be seen as something more major than what it is.”
In the space of three games in 10 days, Cardiff’s promotion play-off hopes have gone from promising to remote.
A careless draw at home to struggling Wigan was followed by an insipid defeat away to Stoke City. Here, they showed more appetite for the fight, but Forest were always the more incisive team and the home side could have had few complaints if the margin had been greater.
The Bluebirds’ back-to-back defeats have coincided with the absence of their most influential player, Lee Tomlin. Without the injured midfielder, they pose few threats from free-kicks and the fluency that leads to opportunities for the front players disappears.
In Tomlin’s absence, Cardiff have failed to score and although they had an appeal for a penalty turned down when Josh Murphy was sent sprawling in the first-half, it was the nearest they came to causing Forest any real discomfort.
And Harris admitted the top six now looks a long way off, although he vowed the team would keep battling.
“We had those game-changing moments all season while I’ve been here. Have we taken them often enough? No. And that’s why we’re just outside at the moment.
“The teams that are consistent in those moments, have that quality. That’s the difference between winning games and not winning games.
“It puts us further away. That goes without saying. It’s difficult to catch Forest now.
“But there is so much improvement in us that we have to keep pushing. We have been a long way away more than once this season and we’ve fought our way back. The difference now is that games are running out, so we have to turn the draws and defeats into victories.
“While the gap is not getting too far, we will always chase it. But tonight was an important game and Saturday becomes major now.”