Alex Smithies has had to wait a long time for his chance and he’s done OK, but Neil Etheridge walks straight back in to the side, surely?
Smithies has done little wrong. He probably flaps a bit more than Etheridge and doesn’t exude calm in the same way, but maybe that would come in time, as the back four learn to trust him and vice versa. Smithies gives good kick too. Etheridge has improved in that regard though and it feels like his reputation is a bit of a hangover from when he first arrived and kicked like a mule.
It will be interesting to see how Neil Warnock plays it. He has shown this season that he is for turning after all, reintegrating Lee Tomlin and Omar Bogle against all odds. Does he make Etheridge wait or throw him straight back in? The shirt is surely his eventually. He’s not the reigning Player of the Year for nothing and is one of the club’s greatest assets.
Warnock will have plenty of these decisions to make in the coming weeks when Marlon Pack, Sol Bamba and Danny Ward all return. There is a good case for all of them to make an immediate return, but there is morale and dressing room harmony to consider. It would be easy to demoralise those that would in turn make way.
You wonder whether Cardiff’s league standing would be any better off had Etheridge remained in situ. After limping off at Wigan in the first game, Cardiff turned to Joe Day rather than Smithies and actually used all three in their first three games, which must have been rather unsettling. Especially for Aden Flint and Sean Morrison, who were trying to bed in a new partnership at the heart of the defence.
My reading of that situation is that Cardiff expected to ship out Smithies, so Day became the number two by default, but as soon as Etheridge’s absence was confirmed, the move was abandoned and the pecking order was rejigged. Day took a bit of a pasting for conceding three when he came on at Wigan, but the goals were hardly his fault and he is highly regarded. Cardiff are very fortunate to have three very fine goalkeepers to choose from.
But Etheridge surely walks straight back in.
The return of Etheridge gives everyone a boost, especially the back four, and that’s no disrespect to Smithies. He is more physically imposing with a greater reputation, which he has earned from scratch. If you were a striker lining up against Cardiff, who would you rather be facing out of the two? I rest my case.
After such an underwhelming start to the season, there are plenty pinning their hopes on the return of Etheridge, Bamba and Pack, who in particular has seen his reputation enhanced beyond belief in his absence. Seriously though, I’ve never seen a player win over everyone so quickly as Pack. He’s only played 113 minutes, but everyone seems to think he’s the solution to all ailments. It’s a bit weird, but I digress.
If he’s fit and ready, Etheridge will surely start on Saturday and as harsh as that may be on Smithies, that is the nature of the beast.