So, Cardiff City’s return to the Premier League. Not actually going too badly, is it? Victor Camarasa hammering our first league goal into the roof of the net against Arsenal on a gorgeous September day, now that wasn’t bad at all. Slotting four past an overspending Fulham side, joyous. A Sol Bamba 90th minute winner against Brighton, outrageous. It’s only November, too. Back when I previewed our fixture against Newcastle in the early knockings of the season, I concluded with the message: let’s enjoy the ride. I reckon we are, so far.
However, there’ve been plenty of frustrations to deal with. A misfiring Ken Zohore perhaps tops the list, though there’s still time for him to come good. Maybe more grating is the way in which some winnable fixtures have gone begging. Dominant home performances against Newcastle and Burnley lacked a cutting edge. Etheridge was forced into salvaging a point with 90th minute penalty save against the Toon, and the Burnley fixture concluded in a miserably turgid 2-1 defeat. Yet even optimism can be drawn from our darkest hours; we are competing in the Premier League.
Where next, then? After being monumentally written off at the start of the season, we’re no longer the bookies favourites to finish bottom of the pile. With players hitting form at the right time, and a few astute, consolidating transfers in the January transfer market, Mr Warnock could well pull off his biggest footballing miracle yet.
We’re all itching to know how the next five games will go. There are certainly points to be taken from our relegation rivals, especially with Paterson positively stinking of goals at the minute. But what about the next 10 games? Will Arter and Camarasa do the business? Will we ever keep a clean sheet? Will Zohore come good? Look no further.
Your man here has gone right ahead and predicted how the entire season is going to pan out. Every game, every score. Below, you’ll find out exactly how five of the key games throughout the season are going to go down, and where we end up at the end of it all.
#1: Saturday 8th December
Cardiff City v Southampton 2-1
It’s mid-December and it is absolutely hammering it down. Arter is looking ruggedly handsome, pushing back his luscious wet hair from his eyes whilst he marshals the Cardiff midfield around with the same wide-eyed aggression as that mean training sergeant in Full Metal Jacket. Danny Ings looks lively, and comes close early on with a header that rattles the crossbar. “Why didn’t we bloody sign him?” rings around the Cardiff City Stadium.
Mid-way through a highly competitive first half, Cardiff break out. Camarasa glides past two Southampton midfielders, and finds Josh Murphy out wide. He can caress the ball, that boy. Murphy cuts back in, as he does. Dummies, as he does. Thwack. 1-0.
Southampton fail to capitalise on six or seven chances in the early innings of the second half, and Charlie Austin looks mad. Like, really mad. His eyes are all blood-shot again. Ings looks over to the Saints bench in a worried panic, replicating that Gary Lineker/Gazza moment. Moments after coming on, a plucky Kadeem Harris flicks the ball over Austin, who produces an astonishingly bad tackle. He’s shown a straight red, the colour matching his devil-possessed eyes.
Cardiff capitalise on the extra man, and Kadeem deftly strokes in number two on the eighty-minute mark. Despite an Ings consolation, City hold on. A huge six-pointer.
#2: Saturday 12th January
Cardiff City v Huddersfield Town 3-1
After a desperately unlucky New Year’s Day defeat to Spurs, the Bluebirds are intent on bouncing back, taking on a Huddersfield side who grabbed a win against Burnley in the previous game week. With their tails up, Huddersfield take the game to Cardiff and score an extremely dubious headed/elbowed goal from a scrappy corner. Who scored? Who knows. Name me one Huddersfield player. Can’t, can you?
Things go from bad to worse in the first half. Buckfast bhoy Paterson limps off after a clash with the keeper, and on strides Zohore as a replacement that incites quite a few sighs around the ground. Yet Ken looks different today. Agile. Fast. Desire in abundance. Quickly, the fans get behind him. He looks exciting every time he gets the ball, and the Huddersfield defence suddenly begin to look shaky. The half-time whistle comes as a huge relief to the away end.
The second half starts off where the first left. Zohore runs the Huddersfield defence ragged. As he moves to take a quick throw in, he turns to the Ninian Stand and raises his arms in the air. A call to arms, and it works. With two men on him, Zohore frees up Murphy, who slices the equaliser home in the box.
Even before the limbs have subsided for goal number one, Zohore’s hard work pays off again as he closes down the loose pass of a Huddersfield centre back. He gallops through on goal and slots it home like the Ken of old. Huddersfield heads go down, and with three minutes left on the clock, Arter’s crunching tackle sees the ball go loose. Gunnarsson picks it up, slides it out to Camarasa, and he puts the ball straight on top of big Ken’s head. There’s only one place it’s going. Top bins. 3-1. City still only manage third on Match of the Day.
#3. Saturday 23rd February
Cardiff City v Watford 2-1
A key battle on a bitterly cold February afternoon here, with the ref only giving the go-ahead a few hours before the game, with flurries of snow peppering the pitch intermittently. A tough run of form for City, with only one point from our last nine, means this one is massive, especially as the Hornets sit one point above us in 17th.
In the first minute, Sean Morrison absolutely leaves one on Troy Deeney. The away end spit and swear and thrash and give Sean the two-fingers, but he’s tough as old boots, that boy. Just the yellow from Martin Atkinson, but Deeney looks out of sorts for the rest of the game. We see a wry smile from Morrison as he goes over to collect the ball for a throw-in right in front of the away end after the resulting free kick comes to nothing. Captain Fantastic.
This is certainly not one for the purists. Camarasa’s usually olive skin is a strange shade of violet, and Manga looks like he’s going to cry. However, returning from injury is that boy Paterson, a Scotsman born in the highlands amongst the thistle and weeds. Cold? He’s never heard of it. He wins every header in a ten-metre radius of him, including one from a corner that rebounds off Jose Holebas (who is so cold he may actually have frozen solid on the goal line) into the net. Despite a Deeney penalty (Bamba, of course), Morrison gets on the end of a floated free kick from Camarasa and, winning us the game, sparks a very satisfying Twitter feud about his earlier near sending off. We don’t care though, because we’re out of the relegation zone.
#4. Saturday 13th April
Burnley v Cardiff City 1-2
Those of us who attended the home leg of this fixture in September will remember it as one of the worst games ever seen at the Cardiff City Stadium. Really quite a horrid game. With only five games left to play, City are teetering between 16th and 18th position weekly, as Burnley, Southampton, Fulham and Palace all sit in vulnerable positions. Huddersfield are rock bottom.
Playing a side managed by Sean Dyche at Turf Moor was not what Camarasa signed up for when Neil Warnock managed to tempt him over from sunny spain to the Welsh capital. This one was never going to be pretty. And yet, here is Victor’s finest hour for Cardiff City.
Like a purebred racehorse, he flits across the turf, knocking one-twos with each player on the City team as if it’s a pre-game drill. After Zohore draws a foul from Ben Mee central to the goal, 28-yards out, Victor stands over it and you just know that this one is going in. And it does, beautifully. Clicking sumptuously off the crossbar, it slaps the back of the net and Joe Hart lands on the ground with a hefty thud.
Victor continues to be everywhere. Sam Vokes barges Bennett off the ball in what is a clear foul, but it’s not given, and Vokes lines himself up for a big old thunderbastard. But from nowhere, Victor knicks the ball from his feet and in one nimble movement, gets up and pings a 45-yard ball for Murphy to chase, to catch, to run with, to step-over, and to slip under Hart. Glorious.
#5. Sunday 12th May
Manchester United v Cardiff City 1-1
Last day of the season. It’s been a ride. A draw with Crystal Palace in the previous game might not have been enough to save us in the two-horse race for 17th spot. Level on points but above us on goal difference, they take on Bournemouth at home, whilst we, of course, must get something from Manchester United, at a sunny Old Trafford.
Mourinho’s season hasn’t been a total cock-up, but he’s not winning any managerial prizes either. United are vying for a fourth-place spot and only need a point to pip Spurs to the punch, but they won the League Cup, so that’s alright. Both Pogba and De Gea are injured for this final game though, so City fans retain some hope.
In minutes of kick off, the news floods in. Palace are already one-nil up against Bournemouth. Time to just enjoy the occasion. It’s Old Trafford, after all. But City look good and show no signs of end-of-season fatigue. Arter is a key battler alongside Gunnarsson, with both of them shutting down almost all of the United counter attacks. But with a characteristic stroke of genius, Juan Mata manages to slide Marcus Rashford through, who makes no mistake against Etheridge. Jeers from the United fans. ‘You’re going down’ they sing, to the tune of ‘It’s coming home’. Bastards. Just before half-time, there are shouts that Bournemouth have equalised. Another lifeline, perhaps?
The final half of the season. United look lethargic, like they can’t be bothered. Mourinho hasn’t got up once from his lovely leather chair all game. That is until Cardiff push for a corner, and another corner, and another. Mourinho isn’t having that. He wildly demonstrates to the fourth official why, in fact, Cardiff shouldn’t be allowed corners.
Last 10 minutes of the season. Bournemouth have scored twice in quick succession. Palace trail by two goals with ten minutes left in both games. Cardiff need a goal. What? Neil, you are not serious? Gary Madine? Arter, knackered, jogs off before a corner is taken, and on comes Madine. This is not a joke.
Cardiff fans furiously deliberate whilst Camarasa whips in a delicious corner. Oh my god, Madine has scored. Madine has equalised at Old Trafford against Manchester United in the last five minutes of the season. Madine’s first goal for Cardiff City. What a world. What is happening?
Cardiff hold on. Palace lose to Bournemouth, who score a fourth in injury time. Cardiff stay up by a point. You couldn’t write it, could you?