Friday, 11 August 2017

Under The Radar - Why Cardiff Deserve to be Labelled Promotion Contenders

If you were a Championship newbie, keenly watching the major broadcasters to get a general idea of the division for the season ahead, you could be forgiven for thinking the league only had a handful of teams participating.
Sunderland, Aston Villa, Middlesbrough, Leeds, and Wolves are this season’s chosen few. These are the sides chosen by Sky, BBC et. al., to form the base of their Championship coverage in 2017/18.
Having worked in newsrooms of the like, there are obvious reasons why these clubs have an appeal over certain others.
They’re perceived to be the ‘big’ clubs. They all have Premier League experience, all are relatively well-supported and, perhaps most importantly, have spent a fortune assembling what they hope to be successful squads.
Of the roughly £148m spent in the league thus far, these five clubs are responsible for 54% (£80m) of it. That number doesn’t include free transfers, with the likes of John Terry and Chris Samba adding again to Villa’s already staggering wage bill.
But if the Championship has taught us anything, it’s that you need more than a good side and a bulging wallet to make it out of this league.
The media, like the rest of us, enjoy making predictions, but there are far more than five sides worth mentioning.
Hardly a day goes by where someone doesn’t ask me how I think Cardiff will do in this campaign. My answer is always along the lines of:
‘Having got a decent squad and a talented, ambitious manager, there’s no reason why they can’t challenge for promotion. The only problem is: there are fans of around 14 other clubs saying the exact same thing.’
From Leeds to Reading, Fulham to Sheffield, there are thousands of fans hopeful of a promotion-winning season.
None more so than the City faithful.
Ahead of the opening day at Burton last week, I watched quite a few previews and I could count on one hand the times Cardiff were mentioned.
After the 1-0 win at the Pirelli Stadium, however, some pundits started describing Cardiff as ‘dark horses’ and that they were their ‘tip’ to sneak in the play-offs.
I’m certain that the fact the winner was scored by Kenneth Zohore, undoubtedly one of the league’s deadliest strikers at the end of the last season, helped ensure Cardiff’s place as contenders in the eyes of some.
It’s going to be while before the whole division starts to take the Bluebirds seriously, but I think that is going to suit Neil Warnock down to the ground.
In Warnock, Cardiff have a Championship stalwart. A man that not only knows the league as well as the layout of his house but also knows how to excel in it. With a proven track record, his experience is going to be vital in navigating another gruelling campaign.
On the pitch, though, if you have a quick run through of the Cardiff squad, it’s difficult to spot a glaring weakness area.
In Neil Etheridge, Lee Camp and Brian Murphy, the goalkeeping area is in a healthy state – a stark contrast to last season which featured the disappointing Ben Amos during Paul Trollope’s ill-fated reign.
Arguably Cardiff’s key bit of business this summer was retaining the services of Bruno Ecuele Manga, a centre-back far too good for this level. 
Captain Sean Morrison has often come under criticism for his defensive lapses and lack of composure, but next to Manga and the impressive Sol Bamba, he should be able to cope well. As a back three, it's as good as you'll get in this division.
With Lee Peltier, Jazz Richards, Matthew Connolly, Callum Paterson and Joe Bennett, the full-back areas are covered well, both going forward and defensively.
Peter Whittingham leaving was a day a lot of fans were dreading. A modern-day legend, Whittingham was an integral part of the club’s success in the last ten years. Despite playing a lesser part last year, his goals and assists won Cardiff an extra few points, ultimately ensuring a top-half finish.
A centre-midfield pairing of Aron Gunnarsson and Joe Ralls with the excellent Lee Tomlin further up is good enough to compete in this league. It has a good balance of legs, steel, creativity, and skill. However, with Stuart O’Keefe set to depart, Loic Damour and Greg Halford are the only other options. Although the former has impressed so far, he is untested and it leaves City a tad light in a key area. 
On the flanks, Cardiff have an embarrassment of riches. Even with the inevitable departure of Craig Noone (a move suitable for everyone), they have Junior Hoilett, Kadeem Harris, Matty Kennedy, Anthony Pilkington, and the impressive Nathaniel Mendez-Laing. 
Zohore and his health are no doubt key to how successful this season will be. A brutal campaign of 46 matches, it's a big ask of any player to keep fit but Danny Ward could be the saving grace this season. Ward, having had a good year in a struggling Rotherham side in 16/17, could be the one to chip in with the goals should Zohore miss any games.

As well as these two, Cardiff also have the youthful Ibrahim Meite and Fred Gounongbe (remember him?), although whether they are of standard or not remains to be seen.

When you look at that team, City have more than enough to at least warrant being talked about. 

Villa manager Steve Bruce said that he was envious of the way this Cardiff side has gelled and expected a 'typical Neil Warnock team' when the clubs meet tomorrow afternoon.

Warnock's teams have always been tough to beat. Physical, strong and resolute are all traits that his current side have. But there's much more to them than that. They have the hard-nosed character, but they also possess pace, flair and huge technical skill in Tomlin.

23rd when Trollope was sacked, Cardiff ended up finishing 12th - one place above Villa. The 'Warnock effect' has been in effect for some time, and having had a full pre-season with his own players, it could go on for a while yet. 

Although the broadcasters won't say that. 

No comments:

Post a Comment