The best thing that can be said about Friday night’s game against Birmingham City is that we didn’t lose. It didn’t feel like the kind of performance to take much confidence from, but the result could be seen as a valuable point if it acts as the springboard for a stronger run of form over the coming weeks.
Having failed to beat a Birmingham City side that are likely to be in the bottom-half come the end of the season, there is now pressure to get at least one win from our next two games, which are both against teams likely to be in play-off contention. This upcoming ‘home’ game at St Andrew’s against a Cardiff City side currently in the bottom-half feels the best opportunity we’ll have to grab what is likely to be a necessary win to keep us out of the bottom three before we take on Derby County next week, but we’ll have to raise our game from Saturday in order to do so.
It seems unlikely that Mark Robins will persist with the wingerless 4-2-3-1 shape that we started with on Friday night. The decision to move to the system was seemingly down to both Leo Ostigard and Michael Rose being unable to train with the squad over the international break, the availability of at least Leo Ostigard for this game means Robins can revert to a back three.
It leaves the biggest team selection decisions in midfield, where Mark Robins will have to pick three from Liam Kelly, Ben Sheaf, Gustavo Hamer, Callum O’Hare and Jordan Shipley. It feels like the manager wants to find a way to play Liam Kelly, Ben Sheaf and Gustavo Hamer in the same side, the problem is that all three together is probably a little too negative and requires the energy of either Callum O’Hare or Jordan Shipley in order link defence and attack. At this moment in time, Ben Sheaf probably edges out Liam Kelly at the base of the midfield, with Jordan Shipley probably the more natural option on the left of the central three.
Elsewhere, Ryan Giles and Maxime Biamou were notable absentees from the starting line-up at the weekend. With Matt Godden seemingly likely to be out for a spell, Maxime Biamou is almost certain to start alongside Tyler Walker if we return to playing with a strike pairing. In the case of Giles, Mark Robins has thus far avoided having to make a decision between him and Sam McCallum at left wing-back due to Fankaty Dabo’s lack of fitness. Giles deserves the position on form, but it’s clear that Robins wants to find a way to play McCallum as much as possible.
Last Time We Met
Our last meeting with Cardiff City took place in that strange time period where Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was in charge of our opponents and we were a week or so away from learning that we would be returning to the Ricoh Arena after a spell at Sixfields. Which is all to say that you could be forgiven for forgetting the First Round League Cup tie these two teams contested back in 2014.
With Cardiff clearly the superior side, the 2-1 scoreline said more about the low-key nature of the game than of Cardiff’s dominance. The most notable thing to come from this fixture was a debut for a certain James Maddison, who was involved in the move that led to the Sky Blues’ consolation goal.
The Manager – Neil Harris
The former Millwall boss was chosen by Cardiff City around a year ago to turn the team around after a sluggish start following relegation from the top-flight under his predecessor, Neil Warnock. It hasn’t exactly been a revolution in style from the Warnock era but Harris did enough last year to secure an impressive top six finish.
It has been another slow start to the campaign for the Bluebirds, hinting that the issues Warnock had with an ageing squad haven’t gone away under Harris. They have perhaps been a touch unfortunate not to have more points on the board, but 15th place is well below expectations for a side reportedly willing to pay £60,000 a week for the loan signing of Harry Wilson from Liverpool. Harris isn’t quite under pressure yet, but this is a game he could do with his side winning in order to fuel belief that a turnaround is on the horizon.
Who To Look Out For
The aforementioned Harry Wilson is part of an array of exciting wingers that provide the variation in Cardiff’s attacking threat beyond the physicality and work-rate that the rest of the squad have in abundance. Sheyi Ojo, Josh Murphy and Junior Hoilett are wingers whose primary threat is based on pace, while Wilson is a more technically skilful wide-man who has an eye for the spectacular.
Up front, Welsh international, Kieffer Moore, has seamlessly settled into life at Cardiff City. Capable of both holding the ball up and providing a goal threat himself, Moore is pretty much the perfect striker for Neil Harris’ style of play. Moore’s only back-up is the German, Robert Glatzel, who is a good finisher but doesn’t quite provide enough outside the penalty area to place Moore’s place in the side under pressure.
Making that variation of physicality and skill in attack effective is the platform behind them provided by the experienced, Joe Bennett, Curtis Nelson and Sean Morrison in the back four, the wise head of Alex Smithies in goal and the nous of central midfielders Joe Ralls and Marlon Pack. This is a team that has proven Championship performers in just about every position, which is why their current position in the table is so remarkable.
Where This Game Will Be Won Or Lost
Although Cardiff City currently sit 15th, they haven’t been playing like a side who will finish in the bottom-half of the table. With plenty of physicality, experience and skill in the side, Cardiff can either pummel teams for physicality or soak up pressure and hurt teams on the counter. The only missing element of this team is an ability to break down opponents when they sit deep against them, which can be counteracted by the set-piece threat they pose.
Mark Robins has shown little sign this season of adapting our approach based on the strengths and weaknesses of the opponent. As such, he is likely to ask this team to once again look to control possession, which means that the key aspect of this game will be how we break through an experienced and physical defensive unit, in addition to how we can limit the significant threat Cardiff pose on the counter with their rapid wingers.
This is a game that could easily slip away from us with one mistake, maintaining high levels of concentration and energy are going to be essential if we to get anything out of this.