GARY MADINE and his Bolton mates turned the Championship table and form book on its head – with a little help from the ref.
Madine powered home a 75th minute penalty after Cardiff skipper Sol Bamba was punished for handball when his arm stopped a David Wheater header.
Referee David Bond gave the decision and sparked protests from Bamba who claimed it was unintentional because he had his back to the ball.
Remarkably it was also the first shot either side had on target in a grim game, a fact that will delight lowly Bolton more than Cardiff as they proved there is not much to choose between the ends of this division.
Wanderers ended Neil Warnock’s unbeaten run of six games beyond argument in the end when Madine sneaked behind the Cardiff defence and teed up Josh Vela for a neat finish.
Warnock raged about the penalty: “The lad was going backwards. It’s hit his hand but it’s not deliberate.
“You don’t give those in a game like this in the Championship. You know when it’s a penalty and they were fortunate.” There was also controversy and Cardiff were fuming about having a goal ruled out in the 28th minute for a hugely controversial offside.
Ralls’s shot was knocked past Ben Alnwick by Omar Bogle. Junior Hoilett popped up to walk the ball in and went off to celebrate.
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However the linesman ruled that Hoilett was offside when he came back from the behind byline onto the pitch, a call that stunned both players and staff.
Warnock said: “I would have to see it again, but the linesman didn’t flag at first.” Cardiff were below par but could have gone ahead when Joe Ralls’s careful side-footed shot was going in until Mark Beevers blocked well.
The Bluebirds were having to fight for every ball but are up for the fight this season and they just had extra pace out wide that gave them the edge.
Bolton scrapped for their lives too but found chances few and far between. Right back Mark Little lashed wide after a weak clearance by Sol Bamba.
Vela set up both Madine and Sammy Ameobi with one tempting cross but neither could make contact. David Wheater had a go with a 30-yard rocket that Bamba headed away.
Hoilett and Nathaniel Mendez-Laing were a threat but nobody got on the end of their deliveries as Bolton held on.
Greg Halford was inches from nodding in a corner, but Warnock showed his hunger for a late goal by sending on Kenneth Zohore.
It was often feosty amd Darren Pratley was booked for a wild tackle on Loic Damour before the Bolton skipper caught the midfielder a second time by accident and left him in pain.
Damour got a yellow card for a revenge tackle on the Wanderers star and the simmering feud spread as Karl Henry went in the book for a foul on the Frenchman.
Cardiff collected more bookings after going behind. Lee Peltier clattered Pratley, Bruno Manga and Ralls did the same to Ameobi in a fiery ending.
Ameobi almost had the last laugh with a curler that beat everyone but shaved the far post.
Bolton coach Steve Parkin beamed: “We knew we had to turn up today and I think every player did that very well.
“It wasn’t pretty at times, but Neil’s teams try to wear you down and then they pounce.
“There is a gulf in the league table but not on the pitch, we performed superbly.”