7 March ~ Tonight sees seventh and eighth in the Championship come together as Cardiff travel to Brighton hoping to revive a season that has gone off the rails. Despite claims to the contrary from manager Malky Mackay, it’s clear that Cardiff have been distracted by their Carling Cup successes. Prior to their semi-final win over Crystal Palace they were well placed in third, having lost just four games in 27. But the moment another Wembley appearance was secured their form plummeted, and in the six games since beating Palace they’ve lost another four. Some say the marathon final took it out of them, but they still had a full week to recover before looking very jaded going down 2-0 at home to leaders West Ham.
Championship watchers will know that these springtime blues are nothing unusual for Cardiff. Under previous manager Dave Jones, it was almost taken as read that the club would do well for the first half of the season only to fade away and end up with nothing. Five seasons of gallant failure saw Jones lose his job, but despite the initial optimism it seems Mackay has inherited the same problem. He may have instilled a new drive and confidence in his rebuilt team yet the fact remains that the squad is far too small.
Prior to their recent slump, Cardiff’s success had been built on a high-tempo passing game, where the players chased and harried everything whether they had the ball or not. But this punishing schedule has caught up with them and the entire team is beginning to look tired and lifeless. The West Ham game saw them reduced to trying to win free-kicks so that Peter Whittingham could attempt to slot home one of his specialities. Where was the flair and invention of just a few weeks ago?
The club’s recent financial results showed a large but manageable debt, and it’s clearly this that is preventing Mackay investing in reinforcements. The January transfer window passed with lots of rumours but precious little new blood. Cardiff’s Malaysian owners have plenty of money; however they (perhaps sensibly) want to clear up the mess Sam Hamman and Peter Ridsdale left behind before splashing out on new players. They’re already talking about promotion in "the next few seasons" instead of the next few months.
And that’s a shame, because a couple of new faces could make all the difference. Obviously Mackay wants to finish higher than his predecessor, but the way it looks at the moment Cardiff will be lucky to reach the play-offs at all. Strangely, it was Brighton that inflicted Cardiff’s first defeat of the season, a 3-1 drubbing back in August. Not many would bet against a similar result this time as Cardiff stutter while Brighton continue their campaign of steady improvement. Meanwhile, Cardiff’s outstanding centre-back Ben Turner may well opt to play for Wales in the near future, but as far as Cardiff City are concerned, where’s an international break when you need one? Andrew Turton