In part one of our player report cards for the 2018/19 season, we take a look at those guarding the Bluebirds’ goal. With little activity from goalkeepers beyond Neil Etheridge, we’ve lumped the netminders in with the backline.
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The Filipino international has been Cardiff’s standout player this year, as reflected in his Player of the Year award. Few expected Etheridge to adjust to Premier League football as he has, but Etheridge stood up and showed his quality. With 10 clean sheets this season, Etheridge was the seventh best goalkeeper in the league, keeping more clean sheets than David De Gea and Rui Patrício.
There’s so many to choose from! Etheridge started the season superbly, saving a penalty on the opening day from Bournemouth’s Callum Wilson. He saved for the second game running in the next game against Newcastle’s Kennedy.
His third penalty save of the season was his most important, though, – and thus claiming his best moment. With the score still 0-0 at the King Power Stadium, Etheridge produced a fine save from James Maddison’s penalty (and Bamba produced a brilliant goal-saving tackle from the rebound). Of course, Victor Camarasa produced a wonder goal on the 92nd minute to win the tie, producing one of the most memorable top-flight victories for Cardiff City.
There weren’t too many from Etheridge, who was fantastic all season. Even in games where Cardiff were outclassed, Etheridge played well. Warnock claimed he was disappointed with Etheridge following Kevin De Bruyne’s opener for the Champions. Despite that, Etheridge was superb and kept the scoreline down.
His kicking still left a little to be desired at times, Etheridge’s shot stopping, decision making and command of the area improved massively again.
Rating – A+
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Signed from QPR last summer, goalkeeper Smithies has had a horrid season. It’s largely been out of his hands, with the aforementioned Etheridge in superb form, but he performed poorly when given a chance in the cup games.
When he signed? Seriously, I’m struggling here. It’s been a watching brief for Smithies this season.
Both of Smithies’ appearances have resulted in losses against teams from lower divisions. The 3-1 loss against Norwich was poor but the 1-0 loss to Gillingham was a low point, with Smithies making a big error for the Gills’ winning goal.
Rating – E
Throughout the season, Cardiff fans have been calling out for a new right-back. It almost came in January – with Warnock lamenting Nathaniel Clyne’s last minute change of heart – but the Bluebirds continued for most of the season with Bruno Ecuele Manga at right-back.
It took an injury to Sol Bamba for Manga to move into the centre of defence, which gave Lee Peltier a chance at right-back. The 32-year-old hasn’t looked back and was a consistent performer during the second half of the season.
Pelts is a solid player but is never going to particularly stand out. As I mentioned above, his form during the last few months of the season was very good, and I’d say his best moment came in the win against West Ham United. He displayed his versatility and was solid at both right-back and left-back during that match. It’s never easy dealing with the likes of Felipe Anderson and Marko Arnautovic, but Pelts did it well.
At 32, Pelts struggled at times against some of the league’s faster and more skilful players. Against Wolves away he struggled to contain a lively Diego Jota, while he (and the rest of the backline) were poor in the loss away to Newcastle.
Rating – B
Bruno Ecuele Manga
The Gabon international is clearly a natural centre-half, but spent a large chunk of the season at right-back. With captain Sean Morrison and Sol Bamba at the heart of the defence, Manga performed admirably at full-back and was arguably one of Cardiff’s best players in the first half of the season. He played well once he moved to the centre of defence too, replacing the injured Bamba.
Manga had plenty of good moments throughout the season, but his performance in the away draw against Crystal Palace was particularly good. Playing in a back three, Manga looked composed and solid, keeping out a promising Palace attack. He was our man of the match that day.
Throughout the season, Manga has been solid and even in the worst defensive performances of the season, he’s been one of the better performers. That said, he struggled at home against Watford in a 5-1 loss. His mistake led to Gerard Deulofeu’s goal.
Rating – A-
Cardiff’s lovable centre-half won the hearts of the Premier League this season, with plenty of neutrals appreciating his charm and sense of humour. Bamba has even performed punditry duties since his injury. On the pitch, Bamba has done well. After a rocky start, he found his feet and began to show his quality at Premier League level.
The 2-1 win away at Southampton is an away day that will be remembered for years to come. Big Sol was superb that day, marshalling the defence superbly and popping up with a gem of a goal.
The 2-0 loss against Wolves hurt at the time, but looking back it was certainly no embarrassment. Wolves are a superb team and have cause better sides than Cardiff’s plenty of problems this year. Bamba struggled to contain a brilliant Wolves attack and his error led to their second goal.
Rating – B+
The Cardiff captain struggled to adapt to life in the Premier League during the first few months of the season and plenty of Cardiff fans were calling for him to be dropped. Warnock stuck with his captain, though, and Mozza finished the season strongly.
A goal was well overdue for Morrison. The skipper is one of Cardiff’s most dangerous players but it took him until April – in a 2-0 win away at Brighton – to grab his first Premier League goal of the season. Morrison’s xG (expected goals) was 5.05 for the season, highlighting his danger in the opposition box. Even so, when he did produce, it was at an important time.
Morrison isn’t the most mobile of defenders and often struggles with the ball at his feet, so he did get caught out a number of times this season. His worst moment of the season, for me, came against Manchester United at home. The Cardiff backline were pulled apart in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s first game as United manager and Mozza struggled to cope with the pace of Marcus Rashford.
Rating – B
Beautiful Joe Bennett. The Cardiff left-back looked as though he faced a fight to be first choice this season, with Warnock rotating him with new signing Greg Cunningham. It was clear to many, though, that Bennett was the better player and he soon won his place back. It’s been a good season for Bennett, who has stepped up well. I’d like to see him produce a bit more going forward, though – it was just the one assist this year for the left-back.
When Cardiff City played Arsenal, it was a tough week for all involved. Emiliano Sala was missing and it was Cardiff’s first game following the tragedy. Bennett had been bereaved of his own father that week. The left-back, though, produced a superb display at the Emirates and we named him man of the match.
Like Bruno Manga, Bennett particularly struggled in the 5-1 home loss against Watford. He faced a very technical and determined opponent in Will Hughes and endured a tough afternoon.
Rating – B+
Irish international Cunningham joined from Preston in the summer and was hailed by Neil Warnock as one of the Championship’s best left-backs. After getting game time early on in the season, Cunningham ultimately spent most of the season as Joe Bennett’s cover and struggled for minutes, particularly in the second half of the season.
The 1-0 away win against Leicester was a game to remember and Cunningham performed admirably in it. In a defensive effort, Cunningham held his own and produced a solid display.
Just one week later after Leicester and Cunningham produced arguably his worst performance of the season. A 3-0 loss against Spurs showed Cardiff’s lack of quality and it was the last time we saw Cunningham on the pitch.
Rating – D+
It was another season to forget for the Welsh international, who struggled with injuries. His quality is clear but his fitness is a major concern at a time when Cardiff needed a right-back.
I’m struggling? Richards came on in the second half against Manchester United – replacing outgoing legend Aron Gunnarsson. It’s hardly a high-point but it was a memorable victory and at least Jazz was able to end the season on the pitch.
I guess his injuries. While two of four of his appearances this season came against the top six – the 4-1 loss to Chelsea and the 5-0 loss to Manchester City – it’s hard to call them bad moments for Jazz. Four games this season is a low point and it’s hard to see Richards in a Cardiff City shirt next season.
Rating – F
What do you think? Let us know by tweeting us @VFTNinian. Our player ratings continue for the rest of this week, with midfielders, wingers and forwards coming soon.
Scott is a lifelong Cardiff City fan and freelance football writer. Scott hosts the VFTN podcast.