Bluffer's guide to the play-offs: Cardiff City
Our bluffer’s guide to the annual curtain-closers starts with perennial Championship contenders Cardiff City. Joe Harrison is the man answering the questions.
Feeling confident? How’s your form?
Put bluntly, confidence is low. To say the Middlesbrough game ‘threw a spanner in the works’ would be an understatement. Going into that game we were playing easily some of our best football of the season and no-one saw that car crash of a first half coming. Bellamy’s last minute goal in the final game at Burnley may not have had any impact on league position but may just have returned a bit of confidence to a team looking desperately short of it in the final third in the preceding 90 minutes.
If we play as we had done up to Taarabt’s second equaliser in the QPR game I’d be confident, but it remains to be seen whether the team can move on from the devastation of the Middlesbrough game and the disappointment of not reaching that second spot.
Up to now, would you judge your season so far as a success or did you have an eye on the automatic spots?
Well Dave Jones has attempted to remind fans that reaching the play-offs constitutes a good achievement, but frankly Cardiff should have finished in the top two this season and have underachieved. Until a recent eight-game unbeaten run, Cardiff’s form has been patchy at best since November, with the side seemingly never quite gelling and failing to get the best out of surely the most talented forward line in the division, as well as never fully convincing at the back.
Despite the fact that claims of Cardiff as ‘big spenders’ do not stand up to any real investigation, a squad containing Bellamy, Bothroyd, Whittingham, Chopra et al should have seen us comfortably promoted. Rightly or wrongly (and he certainly polarises opinion amongst many fans), Jones’ future may depend on success in the play-offs.
Did you have the upper hand over your semi-final opponents in the games you’ve played against them already this season?
The short answer is no, but then neither did they. Both league games were drawn so a tight tie should be expected. A 1-1 draw at the Madejski where Bothroyd’s equalising strike was controversially ruled over the line was followed by a thrilling end to a 2-2 at the Cardiff City Stadium: Bellamy’s 96th minute free kick cancelling out a 92nd minute Manset goal.
Reading fans will have felt aggrieved due to the nature of Cardiff’s equaliser in the first game, while Cardiff dominated the second match (hitting the woodwork twice and missing numerous chances) – so it looks like being very hard to split these two teams.
Do you think your players have a big-game mentality? Will they step up?
Cardiff failings are becoming so renowned that a recent Daily Record back page headline was Neil Lennon urging Celtic not to “do a Cardiff” (they lost to Inverness – har har har). Cardiff’s now annual end of season meltdown is well documented – losing out to Norwich this season in the race for 2nd place, the 3-2 defeat against Blackpool at Wembley in last year’s play-off final (the result flattering an awful performance) and of course the spectacular collection of 1 point out of the final 12 to miss out on the play-offs in the 2008-09 campaign.
Jones can deny the tag all he likes but the consistently woeful performances of his side when under pressure has earned the ‘chokers’ tag. The hope in this regard is that bitter previous memories and the resentment at the reputation they’ve acquired will spur the team on as well as that Craig Bellamy’s determination and experience will help galvanise a side who, player for player, remain the strongest of the four contenders.
Who will be your key man?
Obviously we have a number of threats and Bellamy’s form can make a huge difference but I feel that Jay Bothroyd remains our key player. His outstanding start to this season led to a (deserved) England call-up and cap but he was injured soon after and since his return he has failed to recapture quite the same level of performance. His stunning goal against QPR illustrates his ability and constant threat and Cardiff need him on top form.
Bothroyd’s attitude can frustrate fans with his habit of losing his temper and form (and some say dropping effort levels), particularly if he feels he’s not getting decisions from the referee but if he’s on form, his hold up play and all round ability make him a huge threat and always makes us a far more dangerous side.
Who is the semi-final opposition’s dangerman?
Reading’s speed going forward and on the break is a huge threat with Shane Long & (ex-Cardiff player) Jobi McAnuff, but the player I fear most is Jimmy Kébé. With blistering pace and a great dribbler, if his end product was better on a regular basis he’s definitely be in the Premier League already.
With Jlloyd Samuel losing his place following his woeful performance against Middlesbrough (though he was hardly alone), Kevin McNaughton moved from the centre of defence to left-back against Burnley and I would certainly rather he lined up against Kébé. Consequently though, this would then leave our centre-back pairing (Keinan & Hudson) looking vulnerable to the pace across the Reading front line.
If you get through, who would you prefer in the final?
Nottingham Forest, obviously. Not particularly because of any great tribal dislike for our Welsh neighbours but because personally, I simply cannot imagine a worse prospect than a derby in the Wembley final (a sentiment I imagine is shared by the Metropolitan Police).
It would be a horrible experience from beginning to end, though of course possibly the single greatest way to be promoted (as well as being the worst possible game to lose). Despite two defeats against them in the league, I’d also fancy us against Forest, far more so than I would against the Jacks..
Who’s going to score your winning goal in the final…?
I couldn’t care less if it was a winning goal! I think it would just inevitably be Bellamy wouldn’t it? I have to say I’d love it to be Kevin McNaughton, our player of the year and so often the unsung hero. His current record of 2 goals in 202 Cardiff appearances means I’ll probably stick with Bellamy though!