Neil Warnock admits he was left devastated, defeated and demoralised by Cardiff City’s controversial defeat to Chelsea – but has vowed the club can still achieve a miraculous escape from relegation.
The Bluebirds manager looked weary an hour after the final whistle, by which time the raw anger provoked by the 2-1 home defeat has started to subside.
In its place Warnock reached for gallows humour as he looked ahead to his team’s next visit to Manchester City.
But after the fury and the philosophising, the facts are that Cardiff are now five points adrift of safety after a weekend where everything has gone against them.
“The players are flat,” conceded Warnock after Victor Camarasa’s opener was cancelled out by a clearly offside Cesar Aspilicueta with six minutes left.
As the game ticked towards stoppage time, Ruben Loftus-Cheek scored a winner that knocked the stuffing out of the Bluebirds’ afternoon and perhaps their season.
But Warnock insisted: “How many times this year have we been kicked in the teeth, not just football-wise?
“It’s the most difficult season I’ve ever had, but I’ll live to fight another day and the fans know I’m doing the best I can with what we have.
“I honestly don’t know what to say to my lads. I said at least we can look forward to going to Manchester City on Wednesday because some sadistic person has put that fixture in.
“We’ll just have to regroup. I went in to the bathroom after the game and without screaming and I bit my own hand. I didn’t let the lads see.
“We have the biggest and best league in the world but probably the worst officials at the minute.
“What can I say about my lads? They were brilliant and it made for a great game. It kicks you in the teeth. We’ve had enough of them this year.
“I am deflated because we have worked hard for this game and felt we could win it.”
A glance at the Premier League table shows that the odds are now clearly stacked against Cardiff surviving this season, their first after promotion.
They had seen all their rivals – Southampton, Burnley and Crystal Palace all win yesterday – and they ended the day empty-handed despite a courageous effort that saw them take a deserved lead just after half-time.
The hope now must be that either Burnley or Brighton collapse over the next few weeks and that Cardiff are able to win key away fixtures at both.
Even then, a home win over Palace is likely to be needed and possibly the odd points from games against Fulham, Manchester City, Liverpool and Manchester United.
Warnock’s helplessness in the face of clear injustice was apparent when he explained how moving out his defenders to leave the opposition offside from crosses was something they had worked on in training.
“If anybody was in doubt before today I think VAR has got to be the answer to help them (referees) out,” said Warnock.
“VAR would have sorted the goal out within seconds. We’ve worked on things for the last three weeks and one of them is coming out at corner kicks and leaving a man in.
“The lads have just said ‘what we do now gaffer?’ What’s the point? You’ve got to hope the linesman can see it. It’s soul-destroying really.
“I can understand why the lads are down. We didn’t just want to sit in, we wanted to enjoy the game.
“It’s not one of our coaching things which has cost us the game. If I was a Burnley, a Southampton or a Brighton fan it’s the best thing that could have ever happened. It’s knocked our lads down, they are flat – flat as a witch’s whatever.”
It was not just the offside decision that referee Craig Pawson and his assistants missed, according to Warnock.
Sean Morrison had his shirt tugged at a corner and then Antonio Rudiger dragged down substitute Kenneth Zohore as he charged towards goal.
“We’ve looked at a penalty shout on Morrison in the first half, felt it was a clear penalty.
“Rudiger has done the same thing in the second half, pulled Morrison’s shirt. The referee was in a really good position.
“It’s not a matter now of who you play, it’s who you’ve got in the middle and who’s got the flag.
“It’s just as important, at this level that shouldn’t happen, not when you put so much into a game. On top of everything that’s happened this season, it’s a sickener. It’s hard to take really.”