Another ‘Ainsworth Derby’ (just keep reading) will pit us against Wales’ most successful club for the first time since the pre-Bloomfield era. Let’s get up to speed with goings on with one of last season’s beaten Championship play-off semi-finalists.
Founded: 1899 (as Riverside A.F.C.)
Ground: Cardiff City Stadium (since 2009, capacity 33,316)
Second tier seasons: 47 (+16 top flight)
Major honours: FA Cup (1926/27)
Last season: 5th in Championship (lost to Fulham in play-off semi-finals)
In November last year, it was looking like it would be a decidedly unspectacular campaign for Cardiff as they found themselves entrenched in mid-table. Mind you, given that it was their first season back in the Championship following a second Premier League relegation in six years, their fans might taken a solid, comfortable season free from drama at either end of the division. Neil Warnock departed after three years in charge, though, and they earned themselves a shot at an instant Premier League return.
A potential dream final against arch-rivals Swansea never came to pass, but Cardiff will surely look back on their 2019/20 as successful on the whole. Maybe it was a case of ‘too soon to go (back) up’ – there is such a thing, as Wycombe fans know – but they look in a strong position to launch another assault on the top six. Warnock’s successor and fellow Neil, Harris, has largely won the fans over and things are looking far from blue for the Bluebirds.
The gaffer: Neil Harris
Appointed: Cardiff City Stadium (since 2009, capacity 33,316)
Previous clubs managed: Millwall (permanent & caretaker), Millwall U21s
Played for: Southend, Millwall (2 spells), Gillingham, Nottingham Forest, Cardiff, Cambridge City
Cardiff league record: P32, W15, D10, L7
Six weeks after resigning as Millwall manager, Harris returned to the club for whom he made a handful of loan appearances in the mid-2000s – for what would be his first coaching role away from The Den. The former striker was, as alluded to above, far from a universally popular choice for the job at first. But football judgementalism subsides as quickly as it rises and, lo and behold, the dissenting voices were soon silenced. That’s not to say the tide can’t turn again, though, and a top six finish will be very much hoped for, if not expected.
View From The Ninian‘s Ben James assesses his side and their chances for the campaign ahead.
After coming close to bouncing straight back to the top flight – with a mid-season manager change, no less – how do you look back on 2019/20 as a whole? Is it an ideal springboard for the coming campaign? The turnaround was quite stark. The football under Warnock before he left was abject and the club didn’t feel like it was in a good place. Harris wasn’t everyone’s first choice, but he’s been a bit of a revelation and has got us playing decent football – where we actually outpass other teams! It’s a perfect platform to build on next year – good football, the core of the squad staying together, and an optimistic fan base.
As mentioned, Harris’ appointment received a ‘mixed’ reaction at the time – but what is the general feeling towards him now? I think he’s got the majority of fans on side now, for sure. I think most fans were expecting a bigger name to take over from Warnock – and I think Harris inherited a squad in disarray. The first few games weren’t the most confidence-inspiring, though he did get some good results.
But it was January onwards that things turned around. He’s evolving our style and he’s got us playing more attractive football. I think on form, we were in the top five after his appointment – and getting us into the play-off was a bonus.
Any manager who plays a direct, ‘agricultural’ brand of football is going to attract a certain snobbery. That’s always been the way, but is style really that important when it comes to getting to where you want to be? Under Warnock, we knew what we were getting and it got us promoted when we were really unfancied. And we gave it a good shot and almost stayed up! I’m generally fine with attritional football when it gets the results.
But last season was attritional and we weren’t doing well under Warnock. And I think losing games highlighted just how bad the football was at times and turned fans against him quicker. Harris is moving us away from the pure direct-ness of Warnock and adding more passing and possession.
I do think there is snobbery – when we got promoted, Fulham fans would have you believe they deserved it more because they played nicer football.
You’ve made your first move in the transfer market, bringing in Kieffer Moore. He should be right at home in your system. Are you happy with the signing? What else do you still really need? Moore is a good signing. He’s a better footballer than people give credit for, will fit into our system, and seems like a player who’s just coming into his best years. It’s a good start, for sure.
Ideally, we need to sign a couple of right-backs – as we just don’t have any at the moment! Dion Sanderson looks like he may come back from Wolves. We also need to get in another attacking midfielder to take the pressure off Lee Tomlin. Tomlin is class but injury prone and we just need a back-up there. I’d also like us to ship out some of the big earners who are sitting on the bench and replace them with more cost-effective options. Our core is good, but we just need to add a few more squad options.
Finally, what would represent a successful 2020/21 for Cardiff? Is there an expectation to win promotion and what will be the key/s to going one better than last time around? I think success would be the play-offs again. It’s so hard to predict anything at the moment because everything is different. Pre-season is shorter, transfers feel a bit sluggish, and clubs’ budgets may be under strain – so who knows who will be in squads come that first day of the season. It feels like the fans expect at least the same result as last year.
Under Warnock, our form was 14th in the league; under Harris, it was top five. Ensuring a good start under will be key because Harris has clearly got the team ticking in the right way. Get four or five wins in your first eight games and you’re setting yourself up for a good year. The Championship is a ridiculous league and it’s going to be even more ridiculous this season. I just hope we can get our nose out in front early on.
When we last met
We’re going to be saying this quite a lot this season: it’s been a while! Gareth Ainsworth played for Cardiff as they thrashed us 0-4 at our place in April 2003 (as did Dannie Bulman, who, by the way, is still going for Crawley at the age of 41!). We also lost 1-0 at Ninian Park that season – one which ended in promotion via the play-offs for Cardiff.
Did you know…?
Cardiff are the only non-English team to win the FA Cup, defeating Arsenal in the 1927 final. They were runners-up to Sheffield United in 1925 and Portsmouth in 2008.
Header image: Jon Candy via Flickr