How Cardiff City have grown into the Premier League season

When we got pumped 5-0 by Man City, I assumed that was it. Privately, I suggested that Warnock wasn’t going to improve us, that things were all downhill from here unless we changed our manager. But, since that game, Warnock and the rest of the great lads (band name – Warnock & the Great Lads) have proved me wrong. I’m happy to hold my hands up and admit that Warnock is rightfully still in a job – and he’s making changes that are worthy of praise.

After back to back home wins against two sides tipped for mid-table or better, Cardiff sit 15th ahead of a weekend of Premier League action. It shows how tight the bottom half of the table is that a win has lifted us four places – but also shows that we really aren’t too far away from the mid-table battle ourselves. Warnock deserves praise for the job he’s done in recent weeks – he’s showing a late flourish in his career, mixing things up and getting the best out of players. Last night’s second half against Wolves was incredibly impressive; but it’s not just that second half that has impressed in recent weeks. There’s been a number of moments that have given Cardiff fans reason for optimism…

Resilience

Two games at home; two come from behind wins. Both Brighton and Wolves took the lead at the CCS, both did it in the first half. But in both games, Cardiff didn’t panic. In the second half against Brighton, they took to playing it along the deck, stretching the game and Paterson’s equaliser came from a 16 pass move – which flies in the face of our detractors – before we scored the winner late on from traditional means. And against Wolves, a dominant second half performance was capped off by a wonderful winner from Hoilett.

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It was nothing more than we deserved and it was born from the players desire to and will to keep going. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that Gunnar has played a starring role in these past wins but the whole team is fighting for balls and the three points. Against Newcastle and Huddersfield, this desire was perhaps less evident – but they seem to have galvanised in recent weeks.

Tactical Nous

As last night shows, Warnock isn’t scared of trying things. Granted, yesterday was perhaps a bit wild – Camarasa and Hoilett as wingbacks, he joked – but it worked in the end and the attacking options on the bench gave us ways of changing it up. Against Brighton, he got the players knocking it around the deck. He’s brought Harris in from the cold and was rewarded with a goal against Fulham and a MOTM performance against Brighton.

Warnock is seen as a bit of a dinosaur but he’s shown a flexibility at times that contradicts this image. We’ve played all manner of combinations across the defence and midfield this season and without changing personnel too wildly; and it’s reaping rewards. With players to come back from injury, and January on the horizon, a few rounder pegs in round holes and we could improve even more.

Players growing into the season

When the season began, Bamba and Morrison looked a bit overawed in the Premier League. They weren’t playing badly but they were making odd errors – not clearing it properly, passes were off – and it was a worry. But Morrison has matured into a fine leader at this level – and his work from set pieces was vital against Wolves. Bamba was a brick wall against Traore last night, putting in headers that wiped out Traore in the fairest way possible and not letting him have a sniff.  

Manga was a rock, too, back in a more central position, more comfortable on the ball. Paterson was out of the team at the start of the season; now he’s vital to the way we play. Camarasa has become a marauding winger, tricky and quick. The players are clicking and are working for each other. They know they can cope at this level and at home, we’re looking a solid outfit.

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Dealing with the opposition

When Wolves played against us at the CCS last season, we allowed Neves too much time. When Fulham came to us at the CCS, we let them play their game. And in both games, we lost.

This season, Warnock dealt with the threats. Neves and Moutinho is a daunting midfield two to be up against. Neves is dangerous from 40 yards out and in and Moutinho is no mug. But you wouldn’t really have known either were on the pitch yesterday – bar a few cynical fouls from Neves. We didn’t allow them to have the ball, to play it around, and we bypassed them where we could.

We’ve learnt to nullify threats. Traore was handled by Bamba. Against Fulham, Morrison did his best to keep Mitro quiet. And in both games, we came away with three points.