“They were better than us, much better than us. We have been beaten by a very, very good side.”
“We were far too passive in the first half.”
“On the money they have spent, they should be a Premier League side.”
These were the comments of Neil Harris after a humbling defeat to Fulham, but not last night. Not even earlier in the month. These were from August, when his Millwall side conceded 84% of possession and four goals.
They say that insanity is doing the same thing over and over, while expecting different results. Well the match last night was pretty much a carbon copy of the game from three weeks ago.
After a relatively comfortable, albeit fruitless start, Fulham found a foothold, went a goal ahead and never looked back. They rarely do once they take the lead. Last night was so disappointing primarily because it felt like Cardiff had learned nothing.
I know possession is not Cardiff’s thing and they have a recent history of playing worse the more of the ball they have, but they’re evolving. There have been times under Harris where Cardiff have taken control of games and been far more proactive, but when they play Fulham, they appear to retreat in to their shell.
The reality is that Cardiff are Fulham’s ideal opponent and they’re in turn Cardiff’s worst nightmare. You would fancy us to give Brentford or Swansea a game, but Fulham have the kryptonite and will take some stopping in these play-offs.
It’s all gone a bit 2012, when Cardiff overachieved in Malky Mackay’s first year in charge to make the top six, only to be humbled by a Premier League bound West Ham. None of this should take away from a brilliant first season for Harris. Cardiff look in safe hands and they did ever so well to finish fifth. Maybe they would have been better off finishing sixth though and leaving Fulham to Swansea.
I feel that Cardiff’s best bet would be to start with Danny Ward, Callum Paterson and Will Vaulks, then instruct them to restrict Fulham’s back four. Cut off the source for a side that builds from the back. Cardiff did this impressively against Arsenal last season, with Ward, Bobby Reid and Harry Arter, before losing faith in the approach a few games later.
Harris stated after the game last night that Cardiff “can’t be too open, too early” in the second leg, which while understandable, also suggests that it may well be more of the same on Thursday. It feels like Cardiff are not only facing Fulham, but also their own inferiority complex.
Harris has been defensive on and off the pitch this week, in an attempt to heap pressure on Fulham, which was picked up on by Scott Parker last night, who commented that “Neil’s obviously said a lot over the last few weeks.” It felt rooted in frustration and a degree of inevitability. The only way to try and break the cycle is to do things differently, but that may be both unlikely and too late.
Cardiff are made of stern stuff and an early goal in the second leg could change everything, so we live in hope. It should also be noted that the season after Cardiff’s stuffing at West Ham, they went on to win the league. Should history repeat, lets try it without the rebrand this time though.