Cardiff City: a class apart
If you’re looking for the experts of throwing away promotion opportunities on a yearly basis, then Cardiff City are your men.
Losing play-off finalists last year to unfancied Blackpool, 7th place finishers in the previous season after being top six certainties and mid-table also-rans the year before despite topping the table at Christmas – it’s easy to see why Cardiff have not had things their way when it comes to the final grind.
With the recent acquisition of Malaysian investment under their belts, however, the Bluebirds have the weight of expectation on their shoulders this season and Dave Jones undoubtedly more than anybody.
Thoughts of crushing disappointment should be put well aside for now as Cardiff, with arguably the best side they have had for a significant number of years, sit joint top of the Championship table following a devastating 4-0 dismissal of Leeds United.
Burdened by a wage bill that far exceeds anything they’ve ever compiled before, promotion is now more important than ever. And with the contracts of star performers Jay Bothroyd and Peter Whittingham expiring at the end of the current campaign, the words now or never have rarely rung so loud in the Welsh capital.
When it all boils down to it, Cardiff City should find themselves swapping Oakwell for Old Trafford next year. With arguably the strongest squad in the division, it seems difficult to see the campaign ending in any other way for the Bluebirds.
The trip to Elland Road was an obvious flashpoint, particularly given lingering memories of an FA Cup tie between the two sides at Ninian Park in 2002 that made an Old Firm derby look like a pre-season friendly.
The personnel on either side has changed dramatically since that tempestuous day in South Wales. Nowadays, Jones is charged with gleaning the greatest possible performance in each game from a set of extremely talented individuals. It is still pressure, just like the old days of being a “sleeping giant” in Division Three, but of a very different kind.
Cardiff are certainly bringing the best out of Bothroyd, a gifted player finally adding consistency to ally the skill he has always possessed. It was his goal that gave the Bluebirds a deserved half time lead in West Yorkshire after an aberration from Leeds duo Kasper Schmeichel and Alex Bruce.
Defensive lapses are costing Leeds at the current moment in time. Michael Chopra was marginally offside when the ball was fired upfield six minutes into the second half but Neill Collins should have been tighter and the right hand that Schmeichel got to the Cardiff striker’s shot should have been stronger.
There were no catastrophic individual errors when Bothroyd netted the visitors’ third three minutes later, the most productive of countless imperious glides into the box, but there were numerous contributory ones. Lee Naylor’s right-footed fourth goal was simply a fantastically accurate strike.
Leeds cannot continue like this for much longer. Cardiff, on the other hand, can doubtless count on more nights just like this over the course of the season, particularly away from home where the incisive pace of Craig Bellamy and Chris Burke thrives on the counter-attack. Indeed, their only defeats so far came at Leicester and Ipswich when Bellamy, Chopra and Seyi Olofinjana were all missing.
A class apart. Surely, surely, this time, those final-day failures can at last be put to bed.
Featuring contribution by: Joe Brewin