By Paul Jones
Neil Harris has accused referee Gavin Ward of naivety after his Cardiff City side were left to contemplate a significant blow to their play-off hopes.
The Cardiff manager was aggrieved over a penalty decision awarded against his team that sparked their 2-0 defeat at Fulham.
Fulham danger man Aleksandar Mitrovic scored from the spot after the Serbian striker was judged to have been pulled to the ground by Cardiff’s young defender Dion Sanderson.
Replays shows Sanderson having hold of Mitrovic’s shirt, but the Fulham player makes the initial grapple and then falls theatrically to the ground after turning his body into his opponent.
“The penalty, was it a penalty, was it not?” said Harris. “I think it is soft at the end of the day, but he’s a clever striker, the best in the business at this level. I think the referee was naive there.
“Experience outweighed a bit of naivety at the back post, but I thought it was cheap.”
Mitrovic marked his return from a three-match ban with a bullet spot-kick at Craven Cottage as Fulham sealed a fourth straight league win.
Josh Onomah later fired his third goal of the season to rubber-stamp a crucial victory for Scott Parker’s men in their quest for automatic promotion.
But it leaves Cardiff in danger of falling out of the play-of places by the end of the weekend.
Back-to-back defeats for the Bluebirds means if rivals Swansea City can get just a point at home to Leeds United tomorrow, they will leapfrog Cardiff and move into the top six.
Cardiff were unlucky when Joe Ralls hit the bar in the first-half, but Harris had few complaints about the result, other than the penalty decision.
He added: “We played with a lot of bravery in the second half, but we didn’t do enough in the penalty area, and that’s where games are won and lost. Fulham were better in both areas.”
“We got into some good areas, but didn’t win any second balls…. that is the frustration.
“I will never be happy with a defeat, but the performance was strong. The performances have been strong since March. We have got to earn the right to stay in the top six.”
Cardiff now have three matches remaining – a crunch home fixture against play-off rivals Derby County, followed by a trip to Neil Warnock’s Middlesbrough, and then a home game against Hull.
Even three victories would be not enough if Swansea were to win their four games left, but Harris believes two victories and a draw should be enough to seal sixth place.
“I don’t think we need three wins (to make the top six),” Harris said. “We certainly need to win two games.
“We need an unbeaten finish, if I’m honest. I’m looking at seven points as a total.
“I was delighted with 10 points from four games, I was delighted with 10 points from five games, but even after lockdown we knew we had a tough run of fixtures and to win three of those games was a tough ask for the lads, but we did it early.
“We have just fallen short the last couple and now we have to get back to being on the right side of the final margins and in both penalty areas.
“We have to see how results fall, but Tuesday is a huge game. It will be a huge game for us and for Derby.
“Every match-day that ticks by for the whole division, the following match-day becomes more important.
Mitrovic edged back to the top of the league’s scoring charts with his 24th goal of the campaign, inching ahead of Brentford’s Ollie Watkins again.