Preview: Cardiff City

A narrow loss to Burnley last weekend ended both a five-game unbeaten run and four-game clean sheet streak. That run had provided Coventry City with hope of pulling away from danger, but the defeat highlights that the team’s poor start has reduced the margin for error for the rest of this campaign. The Sky Blues need to pick up the pace, starting with this trip to Cardiff City, otherwise, the season could slip away from them before it has really started.

However much historical records count, Cardiff has not been a happy hunting ground for Coventry City. It is 15 years since the team’s last win in the Welsh capital, which was one of only two wins against Cardiff City away from home since the turn of the century. With the Bluebirds currently on a run of back-to-back victories, the omens don’t feel good heading into this game for the Sky Blues.

Expected Line-Up

Possible Line-Up (3-4-1-2): Wilson; Doyle, McFadzean, Panzo; Dabo, Allen, Sheaf, Bidwell; Palmer; Walker, Gyokeres.
Possible Line-Up

Gustavo Hamer remains suspended, Liam Kelly could only manage 45 minutes with the under-21s on Tuesday, and there is no indication yet as to how soon Callum O’Hare will return to first-team consideration. Mark Robins will have the same hand to play in this game as he has had for the past three.

The main area of interest will be who is selected in attack and how they line up. After a run of underwhelming displays, Matt Godden was finally dropped from the team last week, however, Tyler Walker struggled to get into the game in Godden’s stead. It would be harsh, nonetheless, to drop Walker given that Burnley’s dominance last week made it hard for anyone in Sky Blue to impress, but the manager may well want to see either what Martyn Waghorn might be able to do alongside Gyokeres in attack, or a reaction from Godden after being dropped.

Elsewhere, Michael Rose and Todd Kane are possibilities to come into the side after both were fit enough to feature in the dying stages of the Burnley game. However, Mark Robins surely must still feel that the current defensive set-up – which has let in just one goal in four games – is performing strongly enough to negate the need for any tweaks.

Last Time We Met

It was a frustrating one for Coventry City as they travelled to Cardiff City back in February last year looking to keep their play-off hopes alive. The Sky Blues had lots of the ball, a half-decent penalty shout and a few decent chances in the first-half but couldn’t convert. They grew frustrated as the pattern continued in the second-half and were eventually undone by an excellent strike from Cardiff’s left-back, Joel Bagan, from a set-piece situation to fall behind.

It was a goal that knocked the stuffing out of Coventry City, reflected in the loose nature of the defending as Cardiff City broke late-on and sealed their victory through Mark Harris. It was a trend that continued for much of the rest of the campaign and has bled into the poor start to this season.

The Opposition

The Manager – Mark Hudson (Interim)

Following the harsh sacking of Steve Morison with Cardiff City in the midst of a complete rebuild this season, Mark Hudson has won two and drawn one of the three games he’s had in caretaker charge of the Bluebirds. It’s hard to tell yet just what difference Hudson has made as there had been signs of this kind of form under his predecessor. If Cardiff may well have been impatient with Steve Morison, and Hudson may end up benefitting from that by potentially earning the permanent gig.

Over the past 12 months, Cardiff City have let go of a lot of experienced performers who were on a downwards trajectory and have looked to become a younger, hungrier team-unit. At their best this season, Cardiff have been able to unsettle some of the best teams in this division with their energetic, athletic approach. However, it has been consistency, as well as a lack of killer instinct, that has held them back. Nonetheless, to be 12th after 13 games feels like a good place to be in while in the early stages of a rebuild.

Who To Look Out For?

Possible Line-Up (4-3-3): Allsop; Ng, Kipre, Simpson, Nkounkou; Wintle, Sawyers, Rinomhota; O'Dowda, Robinson, Harris.
Possible Line-Up

The key principle that this Cardiff City team has been built around is pace. The Bluebirds have a number of exceptionally quick footballers, which will cause Coventry City problems if they ever look to push up in this game. Wing-backs, Mahlon Romeo and, especially, Niels Nkounkou, can really stretch things out wide, while Callum O’Dowda, Jaden Philogene-Bidace and Sheyi Ojo are further speedsters in attack.

The addition of another really quick player, in Callum Robinson, in the final days of the transfer window has provided Cardiff City with some of the quality in the final third that they had been missing earlier in the season. While those aforementioned speedsters can cause teams problems, along with some other smart attacking players, in Rubin Colwill, Mark Harris and Kion Etete, Cardiff had been rather toothless prior to Robinson’s arrival. A winger/forward with pedigree from spells at Preston North End, Sheffield United and West Bromwich Albion, Robinson’s guile in attack has made Cardiff a much more threatening team.

To leverage that pure pace that Cardiff City have in abundance, they also have some really smart, technical midfield players who can open the game up with their passing. Romaine Sawyers has been one of the better playmakers at Championship level for around five years now, while Ryan Wintle in a deeper-lying role may soon garner that kind of reputation. With the running power of Andy Rinomhota alongside Wintle and Sawyers, Cardiff have a really effective midfield unit.

At the back, Cardiff City are benefitting from another clanger dropped by Steve Bruce at West Bromwich Albion, in allowing the dominant centre-back, Cedric Kipre to leave on loan without a recall clause. Having lost several dominant and experienced centre-backs of their own over the past year, the presence of Kipre alongside younger and more mobile defenders, such as Jack Simpson and Perry Ng, has been vital in allowing Cardiff’s rebuild to bed-in.

Where The Game Will Be Won Or Lost

There could well be something of a game of cat and mouse here between two teams that are probably better right now on the counter-attack than they are at dominating and attempting to play through their opponents. Given just how much pace Cardiff City have in their team, Coventry City really are going to have to be cautious with regards to which areas of the pitch they look to play in, having players like Callum O’Dowda and Callum Robinson running at Kyle McFadzean would be a recipe for disaster for the Sky Blues.

By that same token, however, Coventry City will be hopeful that they will be able to cause Cardiff City problems on the counter-attack. A key area to target will be the left side of Cardiff’s defence, where Niels Nkounkou is a very attack-minded left-back who is likely to leave space in behind him, which could then stretch the rest of the Bluebirds’ back-line as they look to cover. Cardiff have recently switched from a back three to a back four and there may be some unfamiliarity there for Coventry City to look to exploit.

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