Bluebirds’ playmaker Lee Tomlin had praise heaped on him by manager Neil Harris, team-mates and fans after Cardiff City’s home win against Barnsley.
Harris enthused after quick-thinking Tomlin set substitute Danny Ward free for his goal and then scored the winner in injury time.
“When you have a magic man like Lee Tomlin, you stay in those games. Players who, in any moment, can win a game,” he said.
“The fans love him and that goes a long way with confidence as a player.
“He gives everything, so he’s not always going to be able to play 90 minutes, but when he’s out there you know at any moment he has that quality to open up the defence.
“I’ve given him the opportunity, but credit to Lee. He has a big heart, wants to play for me and wants to do well for Cardiff City.
“When you hit your late 20’s, sometimes it dawns on you that you’re not getting any younger and you really need to enjoy it.
“All I have tried to do is give the players a structure to work from, but within that structure let them express themselves.
“Lee is a player who has similarities to the way I played. He’s a better footballer than me, to be honest, but he’s the same in the way he wants to play off the cuff.
“I like the fact his enthusiasm is infectious. He always wants more. I cut him short in training on Tuesday because I needed some minutes in his legs. I have to find the right way of managing him to get the best out of him.
“But that goes for everybody, not just Lee.
“It’s not just about the lads who played. It’s not just about Lee Tomlin, who scored the winning goal, or Aden Flint, who was a rock and gave one of his best performances in a Cardiff shirt.
“It’s about the whole group – the players who trained this morning, the boys who didn’t get off the bench, and the impact the subs had.”
Centre-back Aden Flint knows Tomlin well, having played alongside him at Bristol City, and said: “Playing with Tommo, not just here but elsewhere as well, I say he’s the best player I’ve ever played with on his day.
“If you get him into the game he can dictate play and run the show. He showed that against Barnsley.
“It’s good to see him back and playing well.”
Cardiff twice hit back from a goal down and closed their way to victory, eventhough the team failed to find the flowing form they produced in the win at Nottingham Forest.
Ward also chipped in, saying: “I’ve known Tommo for a while now. If you make that run, nine times out of 10 he’s going to find you.
“He played a perfect ball for me and all I had to do was put it away.
“We all know what he’s capable of if you give him the ball. He creates chances and scores goals. He’s providing so many opportunities for us, and for himself.”
Tomlin struck with their third goal five minutes into injury time. Nathaniel Mendez-Laing’s cross found Flint in Barnsley’s penalty area and his header fell for the scorer.
His volleyed shot was quick and powerful with the ball cannoning off the floor and up into net.
Cardiff City have lost only once in their last 11 league fixtures against Barnsley (w7, d3, l1), while the Tykes are without a win in their past 17 Championship away games (D3, L14).
Harris takes his team to Brentford on Wednesday and then Leeds United next Saturday for fixtures which are likely to indicate whether the Bluebirds can sustain a challenge near the top of the table.
They have won three matches in a row and Harris said: “We have two massive away games now. Perhaps the toughest that we’ll have all season, really.
“Brentford will have a tight pitch with the fans on top of you, and then with Elland Road we know what Leeds are about.
“They are two difficult games, but we’ve been playing well and with two clean sheets out of three we can hopefully build on that now.
“Our performance against Barnsley wasn’t great performance from us. We were a little lethargic and I’ll hold my hands up for it.
“We had a tough week. When we don’t have a midweek game I have to find a way of working the group and getting them up to speed and maybe I pushed them too hard.
“We were half a yard of it. Credit goes to Barnsley, I spoke before about their qualities and how hard they work and they made it difficult for us, but we weren’t great.
“It was frustrating and the goals we gave away were really poor, but we found the moments of quality.
“I praise my players for finding a way to win. Good sides find ways to win.
“We have earned 10 points from four games. My players are finding ways to win.
“When I have the players behind me on our bench and you can bring on the likes of Danny Ward, Josh Murphy and Will Vaulks, you know you always have a chance.”
Neil Harris made no changes to the starting line-up against Stoke and Forest with the sole change in the 18-man squad was Jazz Richards replacing Cameron Coxe.
Conor Chaplin fired Barnsley ahead after 16 minutes with a strike from inside City’s penalty area, while Cardiff equalised when Nathaniel Mendez-Laing picked out Junior Hoilett on the left wing. He cut inside and crossed.
The in-swinging ball was met by Flint, who got down low at the edge of the six-yard box to send it home and equalise for the Bluebirds.
Barnsley took the lead once again shortly after the interval when Chaplin’s low cross bounced off Bambo Diaby at close range and into the net.
Substitute Ward scored his first goal at home of the season after 68 minutes, taking his tally to five, when he made it 2-2.
Tomlin set up Ward and the striker shot past goalkeeper Samuel Sahin-Radlinger with his first touch.
Then came the winner from ‘Magic Man’ Tomlin – and City extended manager Harris’ unbeaten start as manager.