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Neil Harris Says Cardiff City Laid The Trap . . . And Wayne Rooney Fell In

Neil Harris has revealed his team had worked on a plan to expose Wayne Rooney which paved the way for their vital 2-1 victory over Derby County on Tuesday night.

Lee Tomlin hugely improved Cardiff’s chances of making the play-offs – and almost certainly ended Derby’s – with a goal that Rooney will be keen to forget.

Tomlin scored a second-half winner after he stole the ball off the slowing former England captain, who will be 35 in October.

It may not quite have been a dying of the light, but it has dimmed Derby’s chances of making the top six to a faint mathematical possibility as they lost for a third successive time.

Rooney had been influential until that point, but his listless failure to react as Tomlin snatched the ball away from him 30 yards from Derby’s goal was his last meaningful contribution.

By contrast, Tomlin delivered just when Cardiff needed him to and this vital win has opened up a two-point gap between themselves and the clubs chasing.

The 31-year-old playmaker has battled injury problems all season and this was Tomlin’s first start since February.

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Harris said: “We knew we had to stop Wayne Rooney having time and space on the ball. We did that and Lee Tomlin then had to provide the finish which he did exceptionally well.

“Any team that is going to dominate the ball like Derby did, there are going to be times when you get the ball and have time and space to play.

“If you do that you are going to get chances, and when you do you have to take those chances.

“Lee has not been available to start games because of his injuries. Tonight was the first time and this evening was a risk.

“It’s a challenge to get him on the training ground some days, never mind on the field for matches. But he’s a driven fellah and he wants to do well.”

Junior Hoillett had put Cardiff ahead after he capitalized on a mistake by Derby’s Jason Knight, only for Knight to redeem himself with an equaliser.

But it was another misplaced pass that gave Cardiff the lead for a second time just before the hour mark, when Rooney dawdled and was robbed by Tomlin.

The Bluebirds midfielder raced away from the former England captain – who stood still and made no attempt to recover – before drilling a low shot into the corner for his eighth goal of the season.

Harris has steadied the ship at Cardiff after back-to-back defeats and two victories in their final two matches of the campaign – away to Middlesbrough on Saturday and then at home to Hull – will clinch sixth place and a play-off spot, whatever their rivals do.

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“I’ve said all along it will take 70 points and upwards. So, Saturday at Middlesbrough is massive, but we will go there with only one thought and that is to win.

“Ever since I came into the building we have spent this season, before and since lockdown, chasing.

“We got into that sixth place and suddenly there was expectation on us, but I just told the players to go and play with purpose and play with a bit of freedom.”

Derby manager Phillip Cocu said: “In the last three games there have just been too many mistakes and they have been unnecessary – that’s why we are not in the play-offs.

“The goal we scored today was great football but we also concede too many poor goals. The top six sides don’t do that.

“Conceding poor goals is something we need to change for next season of we want to get into the play-offs.

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“Everybody makes mistakes. Last week it was our goalkeeper but today it was another young player in Jason Knight. The captain is someone who can make a mistake as well.”

Derby rarely threatened to level for a second time and Cardiff came close to extending their lead late on when Joe Ralls crashed a close range header against the cross bar.

It was Tomlin’s shot that drew the first save from Derby’s Kelle Roos, who replaced Ben Hamer after his rival goalkeeper’s errors in their defeat to Brentford.

But when Cardiff did take the lead in the 16th minute, the dreadful mistake was made higher up the field by Jason Knight. The 19-year-old midfielder failed to look who was between him and Roos before striking a casual back pass.

Junior Hoilett intercepted, rounded Roos, and calmly put Cardiff ahead to ease their concerns following recent back-to-back defeats to Blackburn Rovers and Fulham.

It could easily have been a two-goal lead four minutes later, but this time Roos was alert enough to smother the danger after Tomlin was set up by sharp combination between Robert Glatzel and Nathaniel Mendez-Laing.

Derby, with Rooney playing a measured role in deep midfield, began to assert themselves and they drew level just before the half-hour mark.

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Louie Sibley was released into space down the middle and when Sean Morrison and Joe Bennett tried to intervene from either side, they succeeded only in deflecting the ball into the path of Knight.

The young Irishman made amends for his earlier error with a composed finish.

It remained 1-1 at half-time, although Hoilett and Tomlin both had awkward chances to regain Cardiff’s lead.

Derby’s dominance of possession suggested the second-half might unfold in their favour and they went close through Curtis Davies from a corner, before Knight blasted the ball over.

But it was another misplaced pass that gave Cardiff the lead for a second time just before the hour mark, when Rooney dawdled and was robbed by Tomlin.


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