On the verge of promotion to the Premier League, Cardiff City look like they’ve finally found a winning formula this season under Malky Mackay. Scott Johnson tells us what to expect from the home side…
What’s the verdict on the season so far?
On the field, it has been excellent, as you would expect after spending in excess of £10m. They have been top of the league since November and have never looked like relinquishing the position. Cardiff have dealt with the pressure and the lack of a challenger particularly well. They have consistantly bounced back from poor results and have executed Malky Mackay’s mantra of ‘monotonous consistency’ perfectly. Which is not to say that the quality of football has been dull. Their success has been built on defensive solidity, but there is plenty to admire in midfield and attack. Craig Bellamy leads by example in terms of work ethic and Mark Hudson has marshalled the back four with distinction, until a recent injury ruled him out for the rest of the season. Fraizer Campbell has had a big impact since joining in January, performing the role Nicky Maynard was signed to fulfill, before sustaining a serious knee injury. It has been a real team effort, goals have been evenly distributed and no one player has recorded a double-figure return. Promotion is likely to be secured in the next couple of weeks.
Off the field, it has been a very different story. A successful team has masked the rifts relating to a summer rebrand that continues to divide fans. For some, playing in red, to appeal to the Asian market owner Vincent Tan is keen to explore, is too high a price to pay for Premier League football. Other fans have either begrudgingly or wholeheartedly embraced the changes and it has affected the atmosphere at games. The rebrand is likely to accelerate when they go up and the situation will continue to fester: an ugly situation that has tarnished an otherwise excellent season.
What has Malky Mackay done differently to Dave Jones?
Malky Mackay and Dave Jones are chalk and cheese. Jones was old school, had a fractious relationship with the local media and become an increasingly dour personality towards the end of his tenure. Mackay is every inch a modern manager, a good politician and going places fast. A strict disciplinarian, compared to the more laid back Jones, Mackay has exacting standards in terms of effort and application. The players he has signed fit those specifications and there seems to be an absence of ego, which was certainly not the case under Jones. He has yet to put a foot wrong and Cardiff will have to match his ascent or ambition, otherwise he is likely to be snapped up by a bigger club.
What will happen if you go up?
Hopefully Tan will be true to his word, settle an existing debt with Sam Hammam and the money he has pumped in to the club will become equity. He has earmarked substantial transfer funds, but a lot of work needs to be done behind the scenes to make the club financially sustainable, but there is scope to expand the stadium. Issues relating to the rebrand are likely to escalate if the side struggles, emulating fierce rivals Swansea may also prove difficult. After so many near misses, fans deserve promotion, the club has the right manager in place and a good group of players, much will depend on who is brought in to strengthen certain key areas.
What can we expect tactically?
Cardiff will be set up in a 4-4-2, with David Marshall in goal, Andrew Taylor at left-back, Ben Turner and recent loan signing Leon Barnett at centre-back. Right-back is a concern with Matt Connolly and Kevin McNaughton both struggling with injury, should they miss out, Aron Gunnarsson may be drafted in to cover. There are a wealth of options in midfield, but Jordon Mutch and Gunnarsson are likely to start in central midfield, defensive concerns permitting. Peter Whittingham would drafted in if required, while any combination of Tommy Smith, Craig Noone, Craig Conway and Kim Bo-Kyung will feature out wide. Fraizer Campbell has missed a few games, but the hope is that he will return to partner Craig Bellamy, otherwise Joe Mason should deputise. Having patiently outplayed but ultimately failed to beat Barnsley on Tuesday, Cardiff will be keen to return to winning ways on Saturday, but Forest should provide a far sterner test.
Who are the key players to watch out for?
Craig Bellamy is a Champions League calibre player performing at Championship level, so clearly the dangerman, but his influence is not as overwhelming as you would expect. His workrate and passion has been key, but creativity is spread throughout the midfield and attack. Kim Bo-Kyung is improving with every game, his positional discipline needs to improve but he has great feet and an eye for a pass. Aron Gunnarsson is a tenacious presence in midfield and has become indispensible, while Matthew Connolly’s versatility has been a huge plus. Davis Marshall has had his best season for the club and Andrew Taylor has significantly improved this year.
What’s going to happen on Saturday?
I’m expecting a tough, end-to-end game. Forest look revitalised under Billy Davies (why did you ever get rid of him?!) and despite the high turnover of managers, have spent a few bob and have a good side. With Cardiff looking to get over the line and Forest trying to cement a place in the play-offs, it may be a cagey game, like Cardiff’s recent encounter with Watford, where the fear of losing proved stronger than the will to win. All things considered, a draw looks very likely, but I fancy that Cardiff may bounce back from the disappointment of Tuesday by nicking the win.
You can follow Scott on Twitter: @roathboy
Image: By joncandy/Jon Candy profile at Flickr website (Flickr original image) (CC-BY-SA-2.0), via Wikimedia Commons