Neil Harris got it wrong at Leeds United and got away with it. Playing away at the best team in the league is not the time to experiment and he was probably a bit too cute with his team selection.
When the side was announced, it didn’t make a great deal of sense on paper. There appeared to be four central midfielders with a right winger for good measure. The hope was that it would make more sense in reality, but it didn’t.
Joe Ralls started on the left, but he ended up being everywhere. Leeds overwhelm you at the best of times, but they smelled blood on that flank and targeted it.
Joe Bennett had a torrid time and you felt for him because he was left to stem the tide on his own. Lee Tomlin eventually moved across and the shape improved, but the damage was done by then. Cardiff were two down away from home again.
Bear in mind that Josh Murphy, a natural left winger, was available and instead started on the bench. He may be short of confidence and has hardly featured for Harris, but he would have helped with the shape of the side and also given Cardiff a counter-attacking option.
Credit where credit is due, though, because it was a stunning turnaround. To be battered for a solid hour, pick yourselves up and fight your way to a draw takes both guts and character. Once again, Tomlin was the architect and if he continues in this vein, is set for Jason Koumas- level adulation. His goal was remarkable and his assist for the equaliser was even better. He’s undroppable right now.
Leeds, and Nottingham Forest, must dread it when Cardiff come to town because they seem to have the kryptonite. Cardiff survived intact and remain within reaching distance of the play-offs. They still look nothing like a play-off side though.
The top half of the table remains incredibly congested and a win under the right circumstances can rocket you up the table. It’s been like that for weeks though and Cardiff remain mid-table. If they have designs on being a part of the promotion picture, it’s time for them to start showing it.
They have four games over the festive period and the perfect opportunity to make a statement. The Bluebirds face Preston, Millwall, Sheffield Wednesday and QPR in about a week and a half with 12 points up for grabs. There are some good teams in there, but if they have designs on returning to the top flight, nothing that should phase them.
In such a competitive campaign, these games could make all the difference. With some momentum, ploughing through a tightly-knit run of matches like this can set you up nicely for the second half of the season. Alternatively, if you make heavy weather of them, chances are that the months that flow will be a slog too.
Neil Warnock insisted that this year’s fixtures were kinder to Cardiff in the second half of the season, feeling that if they were still in the running at the turn of the year, that they would have a good chance of a late surge. We shall soon see if that is the case, in both regards.
Cardiff may not get a better chance than this year to make the top six. It’s a particularly mediocre Championship and outside of the top two, who are out on their own and deservedly so, there are no other outstanding sides.
Cardiff and Fulham have the most potential, as you would expect from recently relegated top-flight sides. If either fail to make the play-offs, their season will have to be classed as a failure.
The transfer window opens shortly and people will be crying out for Cardiff to spend their way out of a hole, but the truth is that they’ve spent quite enough already. They have a wealth of options and making better use of them is far more important than adding to them.
Shedding players is likely to be more of a priority because the squad has grown a bit bloated if anything. There is some fat that could certainly be trimmed to make Cardiff a little leaner.
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Everyone will have their own ideas of what Cardiff need and I would like to see the addition of a little youthful exuberance. Warnock seemed wary of trusting young players and I think that Cardiff have missed out as a result.
Experienced pros have their charms, but sometimes you need a fearless prodigy to rip into the opposition and do something a little bit different. I was disappointed that Cardiff didn’t bring in any loan players in the summer and I’m hoping that Harris will address that.
There’s very little value to be found in the January window, aside from players heading in to the final six months of their existing contracts ( I’m looking at you Jonathan Kodja) so loans are probably the way to go.
Someone like Arsenal’s aggressive winger Emile Smith Rowe, classy Wolves midfielder Morgan Gibbs-White or Liverpool prodigy Rhian Brewster have the ability and confidence to tear up the Championship. Cardiff likely won’t find anyone available permanently who could have a comparable impact.
Harris will be keen to make his mark on the squad, so you wonder if he will look to bring in some familiar faces from Millwall. Attacking midfielder Jed Wallace, their start turn this season, seems the obvious choice, but seeing as he was recently linked with a £10m move to Aston Villa, he seems very much out of reach and highlights what Cardiff will be up against next month.
New signings are always nice, but if Cardiff’s season is going to take off, it will be the familiar faces who will need to do it. Anything is still possible this season and hopefully the miracle of Elland Road proved that to Harris and his players.