Neil Harris spoke to the press ahead of this weekend’s game against Preston. Here’s what he had to say;
Any updates on injuries?
Josh Murphy missing last game, very touch and go for the weekend. Maybe too soon but overall, we’ve come through training unscathed this week.
On this weeks departures…
Players leaving for different reasons. Omar Bogle was out on the loan until the end of this current season and he wanted to look for regular football – which we 100% support. Matty has been injured for quite a period and has been travelling up and down from London. He’s now thinking about what he’s doing in the future. Jazz was probably a victim of the pandemic. His time had probably come to and end and we fully understand his perspective of not playing into July.
With Jazz leaving, does it leave you short at right back?
Obviously Dion has come in and done extremely well for us. We’ve got Joe Bennett and Brad Smith at left back and they are both options. Leo Bacuna has also done well (at right back) for me at times and in the past.
Could you have asked for a better start to the mini season?
The result speaks for itself, in that sense. We put in a very strong, solid display against the league leaders. I watched Preston and they fully deserved at least a point, if not three, but they looked at it. There’s going to be nothing in the game. We’ve both got eight games left and there’s just one goal in it.
Does it get any tighter than this?
There’s nothing between the teams, it’s so close. Two very well matched, physical teams, that work really hard. Alex [Neil] has done a brilliant job there with limited resources and we want to carry on building momentum. We’ve come back from the break and picked up where we left off and we’re thoroughly enjoying it. We’ve had a good week and Leeds counts for nothing going into Saturday. It’s just one game at a time.
On flying to Preston
Everywhere is a decent trek from Cardiff. We’re flying there and back – the EFL stated that if it’s possible to fly, then with social distancing, do that. We’ve got an airport 20 minutes away from us in Cardiff and then we fly into Manchester. Flying there and back cuts down on the travelling time and that’s great for me as a manager. While it’s not idea, we do understand the travel arrangements. We’re all getting our head around it and I’m not complaining about having to fly.
To win and be in the playoffs, how important is that?
With eight games to go, you want every point and it would be a huge boost to take points off a rival. We know it’s going to be really tough and last week was a great foundation. We’ve put ourselves in the mix and players will look at us now and fear us. So now it’s about being consistent and getting more points than the teams around you.
On planning ahead
What this has taught me is to not plan too far in advance. There’s a bit of trial and error and for games like ‘Boro, flying is the idea scenario, but it might not be for Fulham and with Bristol just up the road. For Preston, certainly it’s the best way, quickest way and probably the safest way for us. We’re going to follow the guidelines. Swansea went to Boro by plane and it certainly worked for them.
On changing things up
Robert, NML and Pack all came on and did unbelievably well. There’s lots to consider. The opponent is different – they are physical in terms of their running ability and we have to consider the amount of games left. Will all of my players be able to play eight games in 27 days? No. Will any of them? Maybe our goalie and centre backs, but we train again tomorrow and have to come through that. There’s lots to consider, but what I will say is that last weekend I used 16 players and there were 16 solid performances.
On an awful Cardiff record at Deepdale
It’s not for me to focus on. I know it’s good for the press to put a spin on it, but I only look at it when I’m in charge. It’s my first visit to Preston as Cardiff manager and it’s a clean slate. Are they different players to those who’ve been to Preston before? Majority, yes. It’s all about executing a game plan and a little bit of luck comes in handy. Carrying on that momentum, not about history of results.
On Will Vaulks resurgence
It’s not about old and new, it’s just about opportunity. I’ve given every player here an opportunity, every player has had an appearance under me. It’s about who’s played well in winnings teams. Will’s come in and given us something different. He’s got a great passing range, he’s a goal threat and it gives us a different way to win games, a different way to score. He’s got his long throw and he’s aggressive – good on the first and second balls. He’s also dangerous in both boxes and helps us defensively.
On Warnock’s return
It’s great, isn’t it? The Championship without Warnock wouldn’t be right. Nobody wants to see managers lose their jobs and Boro made their call and we look forward to seeing him in a few weeks.
This is where it becomes a mentality thing. Is there pressure, expectation? Yes. After Leeds last week, a journalist asked me if Leeds are going to fall apart! We don’t feel the pressure at the moment. We weren’t given a chance halfway through the season. We know we can perform to be in there and we’ve shown that with wins over Forest, West Brom, and now Leeds. It’s just about being consistent over the remaining games and take it one game at a time – that’s how you get into the top six.
On how tight the league is
I think we went from 8th to 11th then back up to 7th. That will happen and I really think it’s gonna go to the wire, where two or three teams will have a chance on the final day. It’s exciting and that’s why the Championship is a wonderful league to be involved in. There’s not many teams in that middle batch who have nothing to play for. I think every fixture this weekend has something on it and after Saturday we could be in 6th or 11th. We just have to make sure we’re stable.
On not taking anything for granted
It does show that and it serves as a reminder of how fortunate we are all are and we are enjoying our roles and the spectacle that we get to put on. It’s important part of the morale in society. There is a reminder and it was never more so fitting than last week that we paid tribute to Whitts and to the NHS staff who have lost their lives fighting this pandemic.
On keeping nine subs
I think the nine subs should stay. Football is a squad game and it’s always evolved – it’s gone from three subs when I started playing so why not nine now? Every squad has twenty players and then there’s the clamour for young players to be involved.
The drinks break is important for health and safety. It’s a chance for the physios and the doctors to ask the players if they are ok. Five subs? Possibly but I think we need to get through the next month before we can pass judgement. But certainly, a squad of 20, I’d support that.
On what he learnt about his team
Focus. Focus and desire in the group. I knew it was there. I know the boys want it. They are hungry to do well and after a long time out, to get them to focus and deliver a game plan was brilliant. I thought we were fit as well. Having watched other games where players looked slow and lethargic, it was great to see us at our best.
On Bennett and Smith playing on the right
They’ve not trained there at the moment, but you have a belief that a left back can play right back. What I’m saying is we have options. Leo Bacuna has played there and has done at different points and we have player who can do it and if needs must.
On Summer transfers
100% yes, and obviously I’ve put that out there with no secrecy. We need to recruit in that area. It’s really worked with with Dion and he’s a great lad. We’d certainly like to work with him on a longer period, but as we’re seeing, there’s no clear answers for anyone with budgets, leagues, positions. The football world doesn’t what’s what at the moment.
On Greg Cunningham
He’s going great, but he doesn’t do every session. He has a couple of days with no training and we are ramping it up with such intensity that he’s had to take a couple of sessions to catch up. Will we see him again this season? That depends on whether we make the play-offs or not. Will he be ready in the next couple weeks? Probably not. Greg’s unfortunate because we don’t have time to get reserve games in, so he’s going to miss out on those 11 v 11 practice games, so his chances this season are quite slim.