Cardiff City are now just three points off the playoffs as Mick Mcarthy’s tremendous run continues after a 2-0 victory over Luton Town.
If you would have asked any Cardiff City fan a month ago on how the season was going, the responses would have been overwhelmingly negative.
Calamitous at the back, toothless in attack and all in all somewhat clueless is what the majority of the disgruntled fanbase would have bemoaned.
It was thought that after an impressive second half of the 2019/20 campaign, Neil Harris was the man with a plan and was the answer to firing the bluebirds back into the top flight of English football.
The ex- Millwall manager took over from Neil Warnock as Cardiff manager in November 2019, with the South Wales outfit sitting in 14thplace and seven points adrift off the play-offs.
An excellent second half of the season saw Harris’ men surge up the table and finish 5th, only to be dumped out in the playoffs by a star-studded Fulham.
There was optimism for the upcoming season, and with the singings of Kieffer More and Harry Wilson, many would have tipped the bluebirds for promotion.
But it just didn’t work out for Harris. Performances were underwhelming, confidence was extremely low and quite frankly the results didn’t cut if for a squad that has its fair share of talent.
The appointment of Mick McCarthy
After 6 successive defeats, Harris was replaced by the veteran Mick McCarthy – an appointment that wasn’t widely regarded as a progressive one.
A ‘typical Cardiff appointment’, ‘short term’, ‘not planning for the future’ were the words muttered around on social media.
But fast forward just a month and the whole rhetoric of the club has changed.
The Yorkshireman has transformed a plummeting bluebirds outfit to one that has spread its wings and flown up the league table.
In the space of six games, where City have picked up 13 points from a possible 18, Cardiff sit just three points off the playoffs.
Fans have gone from worrying about a possible relegation battle to dreaming of sneaking into the top 6 – it really is remarkable. So how has Mick done it?
Back to basics
Many said that McCarthy was just ‘another Warnock’ appointment, and in some sense, they are right.
But it works – especially for Cardiff.
Like Warnock, McCarthy adopts a ‘risk free’ style of football. Solid at the back and efficient in attack by playing to his side’s strengths.
The football hasn’t been crisp and beautiful, but Cardiff are now difficult to break down, play as a unit and have the quality up top to make the most of their chances. It’s typically gritty and Cardiff like.
A change in formation has especially characterised this, with McCarthy opting to play a back five, with the wingbacks given a license to bomb forward.
This system clearly works better given the type of players at his disposal.
New singing Perry Ng has been an instant hit at right wing-back. A wise head on young shoulders, the former Crewe man has been solid defensively and looks a spark going forward.
Midfielders such as Ralls, Vaulks, Pack and Bacuna are far better suited to sitting in front of the defence and battling it out in midfield, while the more creative Harry Wilson, Josh Murphy and Sheyi Ojo are given the attacking freedom to supply Kieffer Moore.
Cardiff are yet to lose with this change in tactics, and huge props has to go for McCarthy for this.
It is of no surprise that since Kieffer Moore’s return from injury Cardiff have looked far more dangerous in front of goal.
Moore was snapped up for just two million in the summer and has proved to be the best striker the club has had for some time.
The tall and powerful striker has already become a cult-figure with the fans, as ironic chants of ‘’Kieffer Moore for Ballon D’OR’’ continuously do the rounds on Twitter.
With 13 league goals to his name in just 25 appearances, he is an integral part of the team with his clinical finishing and brilliant link up play. Cardiff are a far better team with him present as he brings the likes of Ojo, Murphy and Wilson into the game.
His injury in December undoubtedly played a part in Harris’ dismal run with the club, and his return to the team has most certainly made life easier for new manager McCarthy.
After his double against Coventry, it is vital that he stays fit if the bluebirds are to push towards the play-offs.
A galvanised group
It is clear to see that a cloud has been lifted over the Cardiff City stadium.
McCarthy was quick to point out that a few players were short on confidence when he arrived and just needed ‘’an arm around their shoulders’’.
It’s clearly working.
Players such as Aden Flint and Josh Murphy have had a complete revival since the former Ipswich man stepped foot in the capital, putting in impressive displays that have been a rarity in the past.
Fans have especially been frustrated with Murphy over the last few years as it’s clear he has the talent but has never lived up to his price tag.
However, a recent run of games and a confidence boost has done him the world of good. The former Norwich winger has been excellent and has played a significant part in his team’s revival.
He looks a totally different player, as if the shackles of Neil Harris’ reign have been lifted by the emergence of McCarthy – and Cardiff fans are loving it.
It’s a well-known saying in the fickle business of football that happy players are better players and going by Murphy’s comments after City’s 3-1 win over Coventry, the players seem much more positive.
‘’Everyone is closer and is playing with a smile on their face. Just going into the dressing room after a game and after his talk, the vibe and the buzz of the players. It just feels good. He’s brought us together well, and we just need to keep that going.”
All now seems sunny in South Wales – but can the Bluebirds continue this run of form for the remainder of the season and clinch that play-off spot? They can definitely dream …
featured image credit sky sports