By Terry Phillips
Super-sub Danny Ward earned Cardiff City an invaluable 1-0 SkyBet Championship victory in the Severnside derby against Bristol City at Ashton Gate to underline why manager Neil Harris wants to keep the striker at the club.
Ward – who is out of contract when this season ends – scored the crucial only goal of the game to keep the Bluebirds in pole position to stay in sixth place and make the promotion play-offs.
Manager Neil Harris is showing a remarkable ability to make the most of substitutions with Ward scoring with a left foot shot six minutes after being sent on for Callum Paterson.
The winner was set up by fellow substitute Lee Tomlin, who produced a perfectly weighted pass to send Ward running free into the penalty area after 85 minutes.
Cardiff subs have scored a remarkable 16 goals this season and the Bluebird have an outstanding record of success when they have taken the lead.
They have lost only once in 17 matches this season after going ahead.
It was match-winner Ward’s sixth goal of the season and Harris said: “He has been excellent for me, a terrific fellah and wonderful character. He’s been good for me from the start.
“Personally, I really like working with him and want to continue working with him. Danny is happy here, he likes it here.
“Mehmet (Dalman, the chairman) has been very clear and honest that, at the moment, it’s sit-tight time for everybody, let’s see what unfolds.
“We have got two-and-a-half weeks, hopefully slightly longer, until the end of the season and things like out-of-contract players will be dealt with then.
“Danny is a natural goalscorer and we have to feed him opportunities in the box. He has great desire.
“We’ve taken 10 points from a possible 12 and that’s great but it should have been 12.”
Ward said: “The lads starting lay a solid foundation and the players going on have added to the performance. It was good to be back out there today.”
Sky television pundits Gary O’Neill and Jobi McAnuff, both former Bluebirds players, hailed Ward’s winner.
O’Neill said the goal was ‘brilliant’, while McAnuff added: “The weight of pass from Tomlin was perfect and Ward hit his shot early, low and hard into the corner.”
“I’m really pleased,” said manager Harris during his post-match interview. “On behalf of my staff, players and I it’s important to dedicate this win to Cardiff supporters.
“We knew the importance of this game and what the rivalry means.
“The impact from the bench has been there for the last four games. Bristol City will find it hard to catch us now.”
Harris revealed that playmaker Tomlin was unable to train on Friday because of injury – and that is why he was among the substitutes, saying: “Tommo had tightness in a hip and wasn’t ready to start.”
Bristol City suffered a fourth successive defeat since the Championship season restarted, while Cardiff have earned 10 points from a possible 12.
They have also kept four clean sheets in their last five league matches.
Harris’ team remain sixth in the table, three points ahead of closest rivals Derby County.
Manager Neil Harris made three changes to Cardiff’s starting line-up with Will Vaulks, Junior Hoilett and Callum Pack called up. Robert Glatzel missed out after taking a bang to his head during the goalless draw against Charlton Athletic, while Hoilett took over from Albert Adomah, who is mow back at parent club Nottingham Forest following his loan.
Vaulks, in for former Robins’ player Marlon Pack, played alongside Joe Ralls and Leandro Bacuna in central midfield.
The home team were without Wales international Ashley Williams, who was sent off in midweek.
Cardiff played a fluent passing game and dominated early exchanges, but neither side looked like scoring.
The Bluebirds – who went into the match having kept three clean sheets in their last four Championship fixtures – had plenty of pressure, but failed to have a shot on target.
They played with a confidence through midfield and Paterson worked hard in attack, but the Robins kept things tight.
Cardiff had 52 per cent possession over the first 45 minutes, but they failed to work goalkeeper Daniel Bentley.
Bristol City created second half chances with Nakhi Wells forcing a sprawling save from goalkeeper Alex Smithies, while Filip Bdenkovic headed wide from a clear chance following a corner.
Leandro Bacuna had a fierce shot tipped over by home ‘keeper Bentley following a Hoilett pass, while the winner was scored with five minutes left when Ward finished clinically from Tomlin’s top quality set-up.
Now the Bluebirds focus on their next fixture – against Blackburn Rovers at home on Tuesday.