It is often said that consistency is the key to success in the Championship. Crucially, that just is an area in which Cardiff have struggled this season.
The appointment of Neil Harris back in November gave the club an element of solidity, but the weekend’s defeat to relegation-threatened Stoke City illustrates just how unpredictable this league can be.
If Harris and his backroom staff are doing their due diligence, they would have already begun to consider recruitment for the summer. Perhaps one of the key areas that he has highlighted would be in attack.
The news that Lee Tomlin suffered a major knee injury which could see him sidelined for at least two months wasn’t the most welcomed news, but does perhaps highlight that the club need to move away from relying on the 31-year-old for goal contributions.
However, whilst Harris will want to bring his own players into the club, he arguably has some of the best forwards in the league. Albert Adomah has been a revelation since joining in January, Junior Hoilett has an impress track record in the Championship and Callum Paterson continues to find a way of contributing in attack.
Despite the aforementioned players having more complex futures at the club than some may think, one man in particular deserves to be treated as a focal point for the Bluebirds attack. He may have received some justified stick at times this season, but there is no getting away from the fact that Josh Murphy has the capabilities to storm the Championship.
Murphy’s track record at the club might not paint the most impressive picture. But when you consider Neil Warnock’s style of play and Harris’ subtle changes since then, there is good reason to believe that Murphy could shine in the right system.
We’ve seen signs of that recently under Harris who has allowed his wingers a hint of freedom to express themselves. For Murphy, the freedom to express himself is probably one of the main reasons things failed to work out under Warnock.
Nevertheless, in recent weeks and months, Murphy’s performances have been considerably better with higher involvement in matches in terms of key attributes for a winger – dribbling and crossing.
As shown in the graphic below, we see that there aren’t too many more active dribblers and crossers in the Championship than Josh Murphy. In comparison to his Cardiff counterparts, too, he ranks higher than Junior Hoilett and Gavin Whyte in both aspects.
Overall, these figures highlight Murphy’s activity in wide areas this season. His ability on the ball is an obvious strength that is beginning to be tapped into more under Harris than had been the case under Warnock.
Much of that freedom allowed for Murphy is the result of a more ambitious style of football under Harris. Indeed, there have only been subtle changes since Harris’ arrival but Murphy has been a key benefactor of those slight tweaks.
When looking at these statistics, one thing we must be careful of making wide assumptions about Murphy’s overall game. Yes, crossing and dribbling are two main components in the life of a winger. But, above all, an end product is something that will put you above your opponents.
In this sense, we begin to see a picture that looks closer to the frustration fans have felt with regards to Murphy. His 0.21 goals p90 and 0.14 assists p90 put him above average for wingers in the Championship, but there is a noticeable drop off from his crossing and dribbling output.
As shown in the graphic above, Murphy’s goal contributions puts him just above average for Championship wingers. However, such viewing appears slightly out of touch given his relatively high output in other aspects of the game.
Two goals in his last three games suggests that he could be turning a corner in terms of contributing directly to goals. But the question still remains as to whether Cardiff are doing enough to unlock his full potential.
If Murphy continues to frequently feature under Harris, you should expect his goals and assists p90 to take a turn for the better. It is no coincidence that he has started to contribute more since getting a good run of matches and allowed a little more freedom to express himself.
Such freedom should be granted to players like Murphy who have the ability to change a game in an instant. Many Cardiff fans may disagree given that they have been largely disappointed but the 25-year-old has the ability to become one the Championship’s top players.
Criticism of the winger has, at times, been justified. There’s no getting away from the fact that he has been off the boil at times in the previous two seasons. His lack of effort has been clear to see on occasions but that doesn’t seem to be the case under Harris.
Therefore, if Harris can continue to find the right blend between attacking output and hard work, Murphy could yet be a key cog in Cardiff’s attacking wheel as they continue their push for the play-offs this season.
By Reece Chambers (Twitter: @_reecechambers)