When Mick McCarthy left Cardiff City in late October, the Bluebirds found themselves in 21st position, just 1 point above the relegation zone and without a win in 8 games: the worst run in the club’s history. However, in the 23 games since, under the leadership of Steve Morison, the distance between City and the relegation zone has grown to 16 points… but what has Morison changed?
Bluebirds fans began the 2021/22 Championship season with optimism, after Mick McCarthy was able to guide City to an 8th placed finish the previous season, having taken over from the struggling Neil Harris in mid-January, but the former Republic of Ireland player and manager was unable to emulate the success of his first season in the next.
When academy product and fans favourite Rubin Colwill scored twice at the City Ground to secure McCarthy’s side a 2-1 victory against Nottingham Forest in early September, the then Manager could not have envisaged the hopeless 8-game losing streak his side were about to embark on. Just over 2 months later, after a dire performance against, former City manager, Neil Warnock’s Middlesbrough (2-0) and amid a chorus of ‘you’re getting sacked in the morning’ from Bluebirds fans, McCarthy left his role in the Welsh Capital.
While Mehmet Dahlman and his colleagues searched for the next permanent Cardiff manager, up-stepped Under-23s coach Steve Morison on an initial interim basis, his first game being a challenging one at Stoke City, a notoriously difficult away day, and when his side found themselves 3-0 down just after half-time, the inexperienced manager must have feared the worst. However, an inspired comeback, spearheaded by an attacking trio of Kieffer Moore, Rubin Colwill and Mark Harris, saw the Bluebirds draw 3-3 in an extraordinary game.
Just 2 weeks later, a late goal from the now-departed Kieffer Moore earned Steve Morison his first victory at the helm against Huddersfield Town (2-1). Morison was appointed first-team manager just a matter of days later having impressed both the club and its fans during his short spell as interim manager.
Under the leadership of Mick McCarthy during the early stages of the season, and especially as the Englishman’s time in the Welsh capital neared its inevitable end, Cardiff City lacked an obvious identity, a style of play… certainly one that was effective, anyhow. Often looking for Kieffer Moore up-front with long, direct balls, the Bluebirds rarely enjoyed any sustained period of possession, making it increasingly difficult to score goals (during McCarthy’s final 8 fixtures, his side scored only 2 goals), and with a defence leaking nearly 2 goals a game on average, something needed to change.
Since taking charge at the Cardiff City Stadium, Steve Morison has implemented a style far more endearing to City fans, and one obviously different to that of the previous regime. For years, the Bluebirds have been branded as a ‘long-ball’, ‘ugly’ side, but Morison and his team are trying to become something different, a more possession-based team. Evidently, City amassed nearly 900 passes in the new City manager’s first 2 games in charge, which is in stark contrast to the 525 the Bluebirds managed in McCarthy’s final two games against Middlesbrough and Fulham.
Just a matter of weeks ago, during the 2-1 home victory against Nottingham Forest, Morison seemed visibly frustrated at goalkeeping coach Andy Dibble after Alex Smithies chose to ‘go long’ from a goal-kick rather than play out from the back as likely instructed to by Morison himself. Indeed, Morison has a clear ideology of how he wants his side to play, and this is something he evidently seems unwilling to compromise.
However, despite improvements in performance, Morison’s side endured a spell of just one win in 6 between November and late December as it became obvious the January Transfer Window was to be a crucial one. Indeed, City were able to bring in Jordan Hugill, Uche Ikpeazu, Tommy Doyle, Cody Drameh and Alfie Doughty on loan as well as recalling Max Watters and Ryan Wintle from their respective loans at MK Dons and Blackpool in what was a busy window.
Not only have the new January signings provided the Cardiff City squad with some much-needed competition for places, but they have hit the ground running. The aforementioned victory against Nottingham Forest on January 30 marked the home debuts of Tommy Doyle and Cody Drameh, as well as full debuts for Jordan Hugill and Alfie Doughty, who impressed a Cardiff City Stadium eager to see their new recruits, with Hugill bagging a debut goal. Just a couple of days later, the Bluebirds were triumphant at Oakwell thanks to a debut goal from Uche Ikpeazu before City emphatically beat Peterborough at the Cardiff City Stadium in a game that saw Cody Drameh excel at full-back.
However, despite the influence of the new signings, those long-standing Cardiff City fans may draw comparisons between Morison’s work in the transfer market and that of Dave Jones in 2010/11. During that year, the Bluebirds were under a transfer embargo, meaning the then City manager could only sign players on loan deals, of which seven were signed thereby leaving new manager Malky Mackay with a noticeably bare squad prior to the following season in the summer of 2011.
During his first window in charge, nevertheless, Mackay moved swiftly and efficiently to bring in the likes of Andrew Taylor, Ben Turner, Don Cowie and Craig Conway who went on to be integral cogs in the Cardiff City machine for years to come. Therefore, this summer is set to be an important one for the Bluebirds, with uncertainty in terms of the contracts of experienced players like Joe Ralls and Sean Morrison and the number of players currently on loan in the Welsh capital, there is much to be resolved.
Steve Morison has certainly been able to have a positive impact at Cardiff City during his short time at the club, having increased the gap between the Bluebirds and the relegation zone to some 16 points, whilst playing a style of football far more pleasing to the eye than that of previous regimes. Following the win against Derby County on Tuesday evening, Morison was awarded a contract extension, keeping him as Bluebirds manager until 2023, much to the delight of many City fans, but he certainly has a job on his hands.
It is yet to be seen whether Steve Morison is the man to take Cardiff City forward in the long-term and the coming summer transfer window is likely to be crucial in determining the new manager’s success… but, as the saying goes, so far, so good.