Emiliano Sala was in the hearts and minds of the Cardiff City players as they channelled their emotions to seal a vital triumph in their bid to beat the drop.
Neil Warnock challenged his charges to detach themselves from last month’s tragedy and ‘move mountains’ to stay in the Premier League. But instead the Bluebirds delivered a performance of passion to pay tribute to the missing striker thanks to a pair of goals from Bobby Reid.
Emotions ran high before kickoff as Cardiff City paid tribute to their lost striker Emiliano Sala and pilot David Ibbostson. Tulips and daffodils were laid as a sign of unity between the Bluebirds and FC Nantes, while the whole of the stadium’s Canton Stand held cards aloft to spell out Sala’s name in the colours of his native Argentina.
The Cardiff players were visibly moved during a poignant minute of silent reflection before kick-off, but they channeled their emotions to start with a devastating display of attacking football.
Eddie Howe’s men were struggling to contain the early Bluebirds onslaught, and the pressure told after only five minutes.
Steve Cook made the bizarre decision to throw an arm in the air to block a dangerous cross from Josh Murphy, and referee Jonathan Moss responded by pointing to the spot.
Bobby Reid stepped up and cooly sent the penalty straight down the middle and into the back of the net, before paying tribute to his missing teammate by holding up a t-shirt displaying Sala’s face.
Cook was the subject of another handball claim moments later before the Cherries finally came to their senses and began to threaten an equaliser.
Ryan Fraser bent an effort wide before Andrew Surman was given acres of space to unleash a godward bound shot that was spectacularly tipped onto the bar by Neil Etheridge. The Bluebirds held on to go in at half-time ahead for the first time this season.
It took just 15 seconds of the second-half for Reid to catch Bournemouth cold to complete his brace and breathe fresh hope of beating the drop into the Cardiff crowd.
The attacking midfielder beat the offside trap to latch on to Aron Gunnarsson’s ball over the top and kept his composure to take it around Boruc and roll it over the line.
Nathan Ake almost sparked a late comeback when he rose above Bruno Manga, but his header flew wide and the hosts held out to move just two points behind 17th placed Burnley ahead another huge clash with Ralph Hasenhuttl's resurgent Southampton side.
Full time: Cardiff 2 Bournemouth 0
An emotional day ends in an appropriate and deserved win for Cardiff, and it'll be dedicated to Emiliano Sala.
90+3 min - Cardiff 2 Bournemouth 0
Zohore gallops at the knackered Bournemouth backline, and forces Boruc into save at the near post. Cardiff corner, and that's probably that.
90+1 min - Cardiff 2 Bournemouth 0
Four added minutes. Cardiff fans have been singing a song in tribute to Emiliano Sala for about 15 minutes already.
85 min - Cardiff 2 Bournemouth 0
Cardiff sub: Off goes two-goal Bobby Reid, and on comes new signing Leandro Bacuna.
82 min - Cardiff 2 Bournemouth 0
Cardiff swap strikers: Niasse, who's been very good, comes off to be replaced by Big Kenneth Zohore.
77 min - Cardiff 2 Bournemouth 0
Cardiff rightly staying on the front to 1) not gift Bournemouth a way back into this and 2) keep this game even barely watchable.
75 min - Cardiff 2 Bournemouth 0
Adam Smith goes into the book for a desperate lunge on Manga after slaloming into the Cardiff box.
72 min - Cardiff 2 Bournemouth 0
Cardiff a rather surprising threat on the break today. Niasse stretches the Bournemouth defence again, before Paterson hovers into view in the middle, but his shot is blocked.
69 min - Cardiff 2 Bournemouth 0
Bournemouth sub: Gosling off, Jefferson Lerma on.
Cardiff sub: Murphy off, Junior Hoilett on.
65 min - Cardiff 2 Bournemouth 0
Nathan Ake fouls Paterson and can't hide his frusration at the decision, which officially marks the "Just Isn't Their Afternoon" point for Bournemouth, who really haven't been at the races here.
61 min - Cardiff 2 Bournemouth 0
Bournemouth summon Jordon Ibe from the bench to replace Junior Stanislas, who has been anonymous, while Lys Mousset is on for Solanke, who has been only slightly less so.
56 min - Cardiff 2 Bournemouth 0
2 - Bobby Reid is the first player to score a brace on his birthday in the Premier League since Christian Benteke vs Southampton in December 2016. Cake. #CARBOU
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) February 2, 2019
54 min - Cardiff 2 Bournemouth 0
Cardiff enjoying being on the ball now, because Bournemouth have run out of steam and ideas here, thanks in huge part to that early second-half goal.
51 min - Cardiff 2 Bournemouth 0
Yellow card for Sol Bamba, after he chops down Josh King at knee-height. Moments later, he strides out to ping a ball over the top, Murphy outpaces Nathaniel Clyne and is scythed down too: yellow card for the Liverpool loanee.
49 min - Cardiff 2 Bournemouth 0
Bournemouth's response is a Ryan Fraser snap-shot from 25 yards which is always rising over Etheridge's crossbar.
GOAL! Cardiff 2 (Reid, 46 min) Bournemouth 0
Cardiff have a second! Gunnarsson clips a pass through, Bobby Reidjuuuuust stays onside, rounds Boruc, and rolls the ball into an empty net! 15 seconds into the second half.
We go again...
No changes for either side at the br....hang on...
Half time: Cardiff 1 Bournemouth 0
Bobby Reid's early penalty separates the sides at the break, and given Cardiff something to defend furiously for the second half. Bournemouth look nothing like the side that tore Chelsea to shreds in midweek but, then again, this is a rather different nut for them to crack - Cardiff aren't given them the room in behind to exploit.
43 min - Cardiff 1 Bournemouth 0
Chance! Josh Murphy flashes a cross into the six-yard box, with Paterson waiting at the far post, but Adam Smith does the full-back's classic dirty work by dealing with the danger.
41 min - Cardiff 1 Bournemouth 0
Bournemouth clearly missing David Brooks, who went off injured during Wednesday's win over Chelsea, and there's little to link their pretty midfield play with the strikers.
37 min - Cardiff 1 Bournemouth 0
Niasse remains a decent outlet for Cardiff on the quick, unsophisticated break: this time, Boruc has to charge out of his box to clear up the danger.
32 min - Cardiff 1 Bournemouth 0
King gets the better of Aron Gunnarsson in a footrace down the left but, just as he looks to have broken free and in on goal, it's pulled back for a foul on the Icelander.
29 min - Cardiff 1 Bournemouth 0
Applause after 28 minutes for Sala, the 28-year-old, who never got to play in front of the Cardiff fans.
27 min - Cardiff 1 Bournemouth 0
Crossbar! Bournemouth cruise upfield, Josh King feeds Andrew Surman, and he has time to line one up from 25 yards, which Cardiff keeper Neil Etheridge tips on the bar and over!
24 min - Cardiff 1 Bournemouth 0
Callum Paterson barrels down the right, but his low cross can't find a blue shirt. Moments later, Reid produces a similarly wayward ball in, but this one sails rather too close to the Bournemouth crossbar for Boruc's liking.
21 min - Cardiff 1 Bournemouth 0
Bournemouth continue to dominate the ball, to very little effect.
17 min - Cardiff 1 Bournemouth 0
Bournemouth corner. Cook, Ake and co are forward for Fraser's drifted delivery from the right, but it's cleared. Back come the visitors with some tidy one-touch football, and again the blue wall stands firm.
13 min - Cardiff 1 Bournemouth 0
Chance! Cardiff turns defence into attack in an instant, Niasse beats the offside trap and hears 20,000 Cardiff fans screaming at him to square the ball to Josh Murphy in the middle...but Boruc gets to his undercooked pass first.
11 min - Cardiff 1 Bournemouth 0
Bournemouth have the ball again, but they're only able to probe left and right as Cardiff bring everyone back behind the ball. Ryan Fraser tries to combine with debutant Dominic Solanke, but Cardiff are alert to the one-two.
9 min - Cardiff 1 Bournemouth 0
Good news for the watching neutral this: the footballing side being forced to come out and play, the relegation-scrappers being made to defend their three vital points. But now Cardiff have a corner, which Joe Ralls swings in, and they want another handball against Cook! This time, the referee says no.
GOAL! Cardiff 1 (Reid pen, 5 min) Bournemouth 0
And Bobby Reid casually sends Boruc the wrong way! Cardiff's goalscorer races to the corner and holds up a T-shirt in tribute to Emiliano Sala.
PENALTY TO CARDIFF!
In comes the cross from the left, and Steve Cook is adjudged to have handled the ball! Replays, indeed, show that he swung an arm and punched the cross away! Bobby Reid steps up...
2 min - Cardiff 0 Bournemouth 0
Bournemouth start very tidily on this pristine Cardiff pitch, confidence high after that dismantling of Chelsea, but the first chance goes to the hosts! Suddenly, Oumar Niasse strides through the left channel, but his touch lets him down and Artur Boruc charges out to smother.
A minute's silence...
...is immaculately observed. On to the football.
The players are in the tunnel but, first, here is the Cardiff City manager:
"Today we've got to pay our respects but focus."
"I'll be glad when it's over, our fans have been brilliant."
Neil Warnock speaks to @DesKellyBTS ahead of an emotional evening for Cardiff City... pic.twitter.com/AVMaIN9NFM
— Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) February 2, 2019
'Emiliano is not with us this afternoon'
This is the message in the Cardiff programme from Vincent Tan, Mehmet Dalman, Ken Choo and the club's board of directors:
The news we received 12 days ago shook Cardiff City Football Club to its very core. Emiliano Sala and David Ibbotson remain missing and during this most testing and emotional time, we continue to pray for them and their families.
We have been profoundly moved by the good will and love that the football world has shared in support of our club, FC Nantes and the families of the missing men.
The game of football is founded on competition and rivalry but, at times like this, the spirit of humanity and unity comes to the fore. We feel it and we thank everybody for their well-wishes.
Emiliano’s desire to succeed at Cardiff City Football Club was palpable. He was eager to become a Bluebird, play in front of our supporters and contribute to the efforts of our team with goals, work-rate and enthusiasm.
Emiliano is not with us this afternoon. But we are playing for him and David.
— Cardiff City FC (@CardiffCityFC) February 2, 2019
�� Headline team news for our @premierleague game against @CardiffCityFC at the Cardiff City Stadium.
�� Solanke in for debut
�� Wilson, Brooks out
�� Lerma on bench
Listen live ��: https://t.co/DOYLcT7l9Z#CARBOUpic.twitter.com/lyjMNBUjuK
— AFC Bournemouth (@afcbournemouth) February 2, 2019
Cardiff's first home game since the plane tragedy has become something of a shrine to Emiliano Sala, who never got the chance to pull on the club's shirt in the Premier League.
Sala's appears on the front cover of the match programme, his teammates are warming up with T-shirts that bear his face and the Cardiff City Stadium remains surrounded by tributes from fans who consider the Argentine one of their own.
Cardiff still in state of shock
There will be a football match in Cardiff this evening, but it will look rather insignificant against the tragic backdrop of the ongoing search for the plane that carried their record signing Emiliano Sala and pilot David Ibbotson before crashing into the Channel.
The club's players have been consulting psychologists to help them cope with a situation that defender Sol Bamba described as a “big tragedy” that has affected the entire club.
“It is very difficult to even describe how the players are feeling,” said Bamba. “It is a very unusual situation, a big tragedy. We have all been affected by it, the lads, the city, the whole club. We have had some help. We travel by plane and some of the lads have been thinking ‘I don’t want to go on it any more’. It was that deep.
The gaffer has been good and the club have been good in terms of bringing someone in to talk to if we need to. And I think some of the lads do, they need to get it out. So I think it was good thinking from the club and the gaffer and hopefully in the weeks to come we are going to feel better.”
Neil Warnock was in similarly sombre mood. "I've been in football management now for 40 years and it's by far the most difficult week in my career by an absolute mile. Even now I can't get my head around the situation."
But, still, football carries on, as it always does. And for Cardiff, it carries some urgency: they lie five points adrift of Burnley -who snatched a vital point today - in 18th place, with only rock-bottom Huddersfield having scored fewer goals this season. Bournemouth, tails up after their hammering of Chelsea in midweek, will likely not be in charitable mood after the pre-match tributes to Sala are completed.