The first game of the season is out of the way and well, it didn’t exactly go to plan for Cardiff City.
Pre-season was full of hope; with new signings, new kits and an unbeaten tour of North America. But when the new Championship season kicked off on Saturday with an away trip to Wigan Athletic, the Bluebirds seemed to fizzle and simmer rather than catch fire. So, where did it go wrong?
Team selection? Overconfidence? Was it losing Neil Etheridge to injury? Or was it just a customary ‘Welcome to the Championship’ game that we needed, just to keep our egos in check?
Neil Warnock likes to spring the odd surprise in his team selections but on Saturday at Wigan, the selection was as predictable as it comes and barring one or two choices, it was the team selection most fans would have picked as well. Neil’s trusted 4-2-3-1, with four at the back, two holding midfielders, one floating attacking midfielder, two wide wingers and one striker up top.
There were no questions about who started in goal, while the back four pretty much picked itself.
Powerhouse defender Flint was brought in to replace outgoing fan favourite, Bruno Ecuele Manga, and although fellow new recruit Curtis Nelson was given good game time in pre-season, Flint was always likely to start the season alongside Morrison and will probably do so for most of the season.
In centre midfield, Joe Ralls is a clear first choice, while Warnock opted for last January’s recruit Leandro Bacuna ahead of new signing Will Vaulks. Some would favour the Welsh International and this is likely to be one position in which Warnock rotates throughout the season
Bobby Reid started in the number 10 role, sitting in between the midfield and the forwards and will be given free rein to roam around and cause damage. His place, since the departure of Victor Camarasa, is seemingly unchallenged now with Paterson still recovering from injury and Lee Tomlin giving hints on social media that he might not be a Cardiff player for much longer. But Paterson will definitely look to push Bobby for this position and Neil Warnock effectively said as much when Cardiff initially signed Bobby Reid from Bristol City.
The two wide positions were, as expected, given to Murphy on the left and Mendez-Laing on the right. The pair finished last season as our regular wingers with a stellar display at Old Trafford and, having played all of preseason as Warnock’s preferred wide men, nobody expected anything different in this game. Although, this will probably be another of Cardiff’s most rotated positions, with Whyte and Hoilett waiting, quite literally in the wings, for one or both to have a dip in form.
And so we come to the final position, the biggest talking point of the summer, our lone number 9 striker. I don’t think anybody for one minute, believes anything other than our new signing, and Neil Warnock’s number one target, Robert Glatzel, dominating this position for the majority this season.
However, in his absence, due to a 1 game suspension hangover from his final match in Germany, Warnock had to choose between Gary Madine, Danny Ward and Omar Bogle. Could this be the first part of what went wrong at Wigan? Bogle has impressed me, and other fans, with his goals and drive in pre-season, but it’s seemingly not enough yet to push himself into the starting line-up as Warnock continues to start with Madine.
The £6million man did okay against Wigan, winning headers and showed some good hold up play. He also flicked the ball across which eventually fell for Ralls to score Cardiff’s opening goal. But there are still question marks over whether he tests opposition defences enough, his desire to be here and whether he actually fits Cardiff’s system. Against Wigan, he certainly didn’t emphatically answer any of those questions and Cardiff looked far more dangerous when Bogle replaced him.
Opinion: Personally, and this will come as no surprise to anyone who follows me on Twitter, I’m ‘all in’ with Omar. Bogle’s goal scoring record with us makes for impressive reading. I fully believe he should have started against Wigan. He offers presence, pace, power, drive, determination and scores nearly every time he puts a Cardiff shirt on. He took his goal so well when he came on, too.
I’m pretty sure our new signing, Robert Glatzel, will be thrown straight in at home to Luton, but Omar will be ready and waiting on the bench to show more of what he can do and I really hope to see him given a run in the team at some point. Madine and Ward should be 3rd and 4th choice for me.
Defence dented by loss of Etheridge?
Neil Etheridge was the undoubted superstar of our Premier League season last year, often single-handedly keeping the Bluebirds in close games. Camarasa and Bamba also shone, but for sheer consistency and reliability week in week out, I don’t believe there was anyone better than our Neil.
So to see him start the season back in goal, after several threats of departure, felt incredibly reassuring. He started the game well and even when Morrison conceded the penalty, Etheridge dived the right way, even if he didn’t end up having to save the shot.
However, Etheridge’s afternoon was cut short with a hamstring injury, and some fans have said that losing him and subsequently throwing new ‘keeper, Joe Day, straight in ahead of last season’s number two Alex Smithies was a turning point.
Opinion: I really don’t see the loss of Etheridge as a reason for losing this game, and to fire shots at Joe Day would be incredibly unfair from fans. The first goal was a typical ‘Championship’ goal, a scrappy deflected free kick which somehow wriggled itself beyond our defence and Peltier got caught wrong side of his man. Not Joe Day’s fault.
The second Wigan goal came from Day’s goal kick, but when the ball came down, Wigan were allowed to make two headers in midfield completely unchallenged. A ball over the top stretched Morrison and he will probably admit he could have done better to stop Josh Windass getting his shot away, which accurately beat Day into the bottom left. Not a lot that Day did wrong there either.
Finally, Wigan’s third goal was a great strike. Defensively, Cardiff didn’t close-down, Bacuna lost the ball in midfield and then failed to work hard to get back into position. Peltier stood off, possibly concerned about an untracked Wigan overlap on his side and then Welshman, Lee Evans, picked his spot and struck with a belter that I’m not sure even Etheridge would have got close to. This loss wasn’t down to Joe Day or losing Neil Etheridge. I’m sure a few players will be told that by Neil Warnock before next game too.
Over-confidence? Welcome to the Championship…
There is no getting away from it, confidence was high going into the game for fans and players. Although Cardiff had lost a few familiar faces over the summer, they had signed 7 players and the last of whom, Robert Gratzel, is a striker who scored a hat trick against Bayern Munich, so social media channels were in full flow.
We had an unbeaten pre-season, more signings than we’ve seen in a while, a brand new striker with customary amazing YouTube videos. People were excited again and raring to go.
We were also playing Wigan Athletic, a side seemingly now far adrift from their former glory as a Premier League side and they were struggling to keep themselves in the Championship last season. Despite having former Bluebirds, David Marshall and Anthony Pilkington, in their match day squad, this game was, I’m sure in most fans eyes, a formality for Cardiff City. After all, most football predictions have the Bluebirds as one of their top 5 favourites for the Championship.
Joe Ralls’ early strike had Cardiff off and running. But this was expected, wasn’t it? Was this the second part of what went wrong at Wigan? Were Cardiff City fans and players guilty of everything we criticised Fulham, Villa and other relegated Premier League teams’ fans of? Did we think this was going to be too easy? That we were better than everyone else and showing it? Entitled? We were ex-Premier League; we were favourites and we were winning. Everything was going right. All was going smoothly. Pride comes before a fall.
Opinion: We should know better than to get too excited too soon. The Championship is notoriously difficult. That’s why we all love it. It’s unbelievably competitive and any team can beat any team on their day. And this time, unfortunately for us, they did. Starting with Morrison’s debatable foul for the penalty, we offered Wigan a way back in and although they didn’t take that specific opportunity to score the penalty, they grew confident and came back at us.
They were the underdog. They were fighting. They… were… us.
But we shouldn’t get too downhearted, as this is one game in a long season, and we weren’t the only ones who fell to the underdog on the day. Fulham slumped at Barnsley. Brentford bailed at Birmingham. Stoke got unstuck at home to QPR.
Keep the faith. One thing we should know very well by now; there will be plenty of changes, surprises and frustrations in the Championship.