Cardiff City’s revitalised battling spirit came to the forefront last night as they claimed a well-earned three points away to Paul Warne’s Rotherham.
Mercurial forward Sheyi Ojo kept up his sparkling run of form as he opened the scoring by latching onto a incisive through ball from Harry Wilson, stroking the ball past Rotherham’s Viktor Johansson on the cusp of half time.
Just after the hour mark, the hosts restored parity in the affair through in-form midfielder Matt Crooks. Crooks, who has four goals in his last six appearances, was first to meet Michael Smith’s low cross into the area and converted in cool fashion.
Cardiff continued to pile the pressure on their opponents and were eventually rewarded for their efforts. In the 85th minute, a perfection-laced delivery from the left foot of Josh Murphy found Joe Bennett, who duly headed home his first goal of the campaign to ensure his side’s second successive win.
It was, in truth, a dogged Championship affair. It was scrappy, it was gritty and it was a battle of the brawns at times, but the valiant victory will bode well for Cardiff as they return to home soil for a clash with Coventry on the weekend.
On the other hand, the Millers will be looking to bounce back against Queens Park Rangers in their survival conquest.
Here are a few chief takeaways from the showdown.
The new kid on the block
After being awe-struck by Perry Ng’s opening five outings in a blue shirt, it seems almost scandalous that Cardiff acquired his services for a mere 350,000.
Due to the intensity and demanding nature of Championship football, adapting to its rigours can often be a patient process.
However, that has not been the case for the former Crewe skipper- who has taken to life in the second-tier like a duck to water.
With a mature head on young shoulders, Ng is swiftly cementing his status as a real fan favourite in South Wales. Composed, assured and positionally sound with an appetite for the challenge to boot, the 24-year old recorded a match-high 6 tackles at the New York Stadium.
Reckless fouls on Ng’s behalf are virtually scarce, too. Although the right-back tackles with brimming fuel and passion, his timing is almost immaculate.
Subsequently, you have to feel that the vociferous crowds at the Cardiff City Stadium will firmly warm to Perry Ng once supporters are allowed in the stands once more.
With the Englishman, the club have truly unearthed a glistening gem of a footballer.
Could we witness a revitalisation in Josh Murphy?
A player who provokes a contrasting increase in divisiveness, City forward Josh Murphy went some way to silencing his doubters last night.
Gracing the field as a second-half substitute, Murphy showcased the enrapturing expertise within his gifted locker as he fed a sumptuous delivery into the path of Joe Bennett, rewarding him with a second assist in little over 100 minutes of football.
Already, an enhanced Josh Murphy is emerging from the shadows of peripherality.
And although a starting berth is yet to be in the clutches of the wand-weaving winger, a newfound air of confidence and audaciousness can be sensed in the way Murphy performs.
This could well be attributed to Mick McCarthy. Renowned for his man-management skills, many harboured hope that the dugout veteran would be able to give the old ‘arm around the shoulder’ and reignite the obvious talents of the 25-year old.
So far, it appears Murphy is enjoying life under McCarthy’s wealth of charisma and experience. If the City boss can reinvigorate the former outcast, Cardiff have a supremely gifted footballer in their ranks.
First goal mentality and a rekindled spirit
On an alarming sixteen occasions over the course of the campaign, Cardiff City have succumbed to the demoralisation of conceding the first goal.
Having that first goal mentality was a belief former boss Neil Harris so-often illustrated during his tenure in South Wales but ultimately failed to install.
But under the stewardship of McCarthy, the Bluebirds express more courage and conviction. Now sitting in 11th place, Cardiff are yet to taste defeat under the new coach.
An ambience of spirited self-belief has been flowing through the air in Cardiff’s last two fixtures, both of which have yielded victory and the feat of not going a goal down.
It is often hard to recover from going a goal down. Far too often, it can inject a loss of confidence and spirit within those on the receiving end; under Neil Harris’ influence, Cardiff savoured victory on only one occasion this season after conceding the first goal, that being a 2-1 win away to Stoke City in December.
Even in McCarthy’s opening fixture away to Barnsley, the Bluebirds clawed back a two-goal deficit to take a hard-earned point from Oakwell, an indisputable indication of the sense of spirit and fight that has been reinforced.
In a matter of weeks, the Yorkshire native has picked up a discouraged, doubtful dressing room and transformed them into a buoyant, battling unit.
In the mysterious, off-colour absence of Alex Smithies, second-in-command Dillion Phillips has proven to be a very reliable pair of hands so far.
Making a string of magnificent saves to keep the Millers at bay for much of the evening, Cardiff City are blessed with fierce competition between the sticks. It sources encouragement that the Bluebirds have a more than able deputy to cover for Smithies when needed.
Brought in from Charlton on deadline day for an undisclosed fee, Phillips has three appearances for the Welsh side- featuring twice in the league and keeping goal during Cardiff’s narrow defeat to Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup 3rd round.
Over that period, the Londoner has shipped just two goals, neither of which could be accounted to personal error.
The general perception was for Phillips to serve as an understudy- and so far, that has been the case. But at the age of 26, there certainly is the potential for the shot-stopper to blossom into Cardiff’s first choice in years to come.