Harry Wilson hit a hat-trick in the West Midlands, including two free-kicks, as Lee Bowyer lost at home for the first time as Blues Head Coach.
Mark Harris scored the other after 68th minutes, with his goal coming between Wilson’s first-half double and his third of the afternoon late in the second-half.
Bowyer made no fewer than seven changes for the Bluebirds’ visit to B9. Full debuts were handed to Ryan Stirk, Amari Miller and Sam Cosgrove, with George Friend coming in for Harlee Dean meaning Marc Roberts captained the side. There were also recalls to the starting XI for Rekeem Harper and Josh Dacres-Cogley, whilst Zach Jeacock came in for the first time in eight months.
The much-changed Blues team started brightly and a couple of inventive Stirk corners meant the Cardiff backline had to be on red alert early on. The first, which was cutely pulled-back, nearly gave Miller a sight of goal, before the Welsh Under-21 international’s next delivery saw a Cosgrove penalty shout go unrewarded.
However, the hosts were punished during the first instance of Cardiff forward play as the visitors pounced on a defensive mix-up with nine minutes on the clock. Roberts’ misplaced pass was picked up by Wilson, with the Liverpool loanee nonchalantly opening the scoring when finding the top corner from the outside of his left boot.
In response, Johnathan Leko fought his way up the field and although his attempt was blocked, Steve Seddon’s subsequent effort had Dillon Phillips worried until it eventually deviated wide.
An even better chance presented itself to Blues after 35th minutes. But after Miller’s weighted cutback, Ivan Sunjic could only slide his side-footed shot off-target.
At the other end, Jeacock stopped a powerful Wilson half-volley, with Friend using all of his experience to smell further danger and clear from inside the six-yard box.
But very little could be done to deny the Cardiff playmaker as he doubled the away side’s advantage soon after. This time striking from a dead-ball situation, the Welshman curled a low 25-yard free-kick around the Blues wall and into the bottom corner for his second of the game.
Half-time: Blues 0 Cardiff City 2
Although under pressure, there were two highlights for Blues at the start of the second-half as Jeacock made a duo of fine saves. Having sprung to his right to deny a fizzing Harris strike, the ‘keeper stood tall again when facing Rubin Colwill and kept him out from close-range.
Intent on trying to turn things around, Bowyer introduced Nico Gordon as well as Ivan Sanchez who scored one of the goals of the season in December’s reverse fixture.
Blues’ best chance of the match soon followed in a move engineered initially by Steve Seddon. And it was the left-back who got on the end of Leko’s measured centre, only for his execution to let him down and not test Phillips.
Unfortunately, Blues were punished off the back of this as Cardiff scored a third. Sweeping through the pitch, the ball was worked wide to recent introduction Jacob Murphy and he fed Harris who rifled the ball into the bottom corner after 68 minutes.
That move had been started by Harry Wilson and in the closing stages, he completed his treble with another free-kick. Situated on the right-hand side of the penalty box, the Bluebirds’ number 23 generated the necessary whip to find the far corner.
Conceding a second just five minutes before the break heightened the second-half challenge against an experienced Cardiff outfit and gave the visitors greater control over proceedings.
Defeat means Blues are now 18th in the standings with one game left to play.
Blues (4-3-3: Zach Jeacock, Josh Dacres-Cogley (Ivan Sanchez 62), Marc Roberts (captain) (Harlee Dean 79), George Friend, Steve Seddon, Ryan Stirk, Rekeem Harper (Nico Gordon 62), Ivan Sunjic (Gary Gardner 79), Jonathan Leko (Riley McGree 74), Sam Cosgrove, Amari Miller.
Substitutes not used: Connal Trueman, Kristian Pedersen, Jeremie Bela, Lukas Jutkiewicz.
Booking: Dean 84.
Cardiff City (3-4-2-1): Dillon Phillips, Marlon Pack, Aden Flint (captain), Curtis Nelson, Perry Ng, Leandro Bacuna, Joe Ralls, Ciaron Brown, Rubin Colwill (Josh Murphy 65), Harry Wilson (Jonny Williams 86), Kieffer Moore (Mark Harris 46).
Substitutes not used: Alex Smithies, Sheyi Ojo, Kieron Evans, Isaak Davies, Sam Bowen.
Booking: Pack 61.
Referee: Jeremy Simpson.
With the home campaign concluded, Blues finish off the 2020/21 season with a trip to Ewood Park next Saturday. The game against Blackburn, as with all final-day Championship fixtures, will kick-off at 12.30pm.