Neil Warnock has admitted the odds are against Cardiff City surviving in the Premier League – but has vowed to keep fighting.
Warnock saw his team lose to a top six team for the second time inside four days as they were beaten 2-0 at Manchester City, who went back to the top of the table.
Goals from Kevin de Bruyne and Leroy Sane in the first-half did not reflect the extent of the champions’ dominance but Cardiff showed much more resilience than they did in the first half of the campaign when up against the top teams.
The defeat, however, leaves the Bluebirds five points adrift of safety, having played the same number of games as Burnley and one more than Brighton and Southampton.
They have six matches left, with only two of them at home, and Warnock conceded: “We are odds on to go down.
“But I think we have six winnable games. Even the tough ones I think we can get something out of.
“People will write us off, but we’ll keep firing back. I can’t fault these lads. They’ve been great for me.”
Cardiff spent almost the entire game on the back foot, although they might have pulled back a goal late on before Oumar Niasse fluffed his opportunity.
In the end, they were grateful to goalkeeper Neil Ethereidge for keeping the defeat to a respectable level.
Warnock added: “To concede a goal like that so early on was criminal, even if Kevin De Bruyne admitted afterwards he didn’t mean it.
“Our goalie has had a grat game, though, and I thought our response was great. It’s as good as I’ve seen us defend apart from the goals.
“They have so much quality. I wish I’d had a side like that at one stage, but it wasn’t to be. It’s not just their talent. They all work their socks off. When you’ve got players of that quality who work hard then it makes it very difficult for sides like us.
“We didn’t want to get annihilated, but I’m proud of them and proud of the fans.”
Manchester City were far from at their strongest – with no Raheem Sterling, Sergio Aguero, Gudogan or Bernardo Silva in their starting line-up – and far from their best, either.
They missed a hatful of scoring opportunities, their normally precise passing movements around the edge of their opponents’ penalty area often broke down with a stray pass, and they lacked their customary ruthlessness.
Much of that was down to Cardiff’s disciplined defending and admirable workrate, backed up by a string of superb saves by Etheridge.
The Bluebirds keeper was at fault with his positioning for De Bruyne’s opening goal, but after that he denied City on half a dozen occasions with his anticipation and athleticism.
Even if Cardiff fail to stay in the Premier League at the end of the season, then Etheridge may do as other clubs have noted his impact.
But there was still an absolute chasm between under-strength City and full strength Cardiff – a gulf in class which meant the only thing ever in doubt was the extent of the Bluebirds’ defeat.
By the time De Bruyne thumped in the opening goal after just six minutes from an acute angle, City could already have been three goals ahead.
The champions kicked-off and had played seven crisp passes without a Cardiff player touching the ball, before De Bruyne swept past Joe Ralls and fired the ball across the goal where it miraculously failed to find a teammate.
The Belgian took the onus on himself, swept down the left side beyond Sean Morrison and rifled a shot that flew past Etheridge’s ear and inside the far corner.
Cardiff actually won a couple of corners in the opening half, but wasted both opportunities with poor delivery.
They were the only occasions when they got into City’s half, but at least they were far more organised defensively than they were at home against the same opponents earlier in the season when they lost 5-1.
It looked as if Cardiff might go in just one goal behind at the break, but they were slow to stop a cross from the right and when Gabriel Jesus chested the ball down, Sane struck a sweet drive low into the far corner.