Cardiff City head to Derby County on Sunday (12.00pm) on the back of a convincing 3-1 victory at Brentford. The impressive result extended a seven-game winning run for the Bluebirds as they have moved seven points clear of Aston Villa in third with just nine games remaining.
— Sky Bet Championship (@SkyBetChamp) March 13, 2018
Neil Warnock’s side have been dealt with a further boost following Fulham’s 2-2 draw with West London rivals QPR. Despite an incredible 16-game unbeaten run, this moved the Whites to within seven points behind the Welsh side, with Slavisa Jokanovic’s side playing a game more than their Welsh rivals.
Slip-ups by Aston Villa and Fulham at the hand of Ian Holloway’s side over the past week has seen Cardiff emerge as favourites to follow Wolves back to the Premier League since the first time since 2014.
With that in mind, I take a look at three reasons for why Cardiff City are on the brink of a return to the top flight of English football:
Resolute defence providing solid platform
Last season, Cardiff finished 12th in the Championship, conceding 61 goals in the process. This was an area Warnock identified to improve over the summer, with a solid defence crucial as foundations to build a promotion challenge from.
This season, the Bluebirds have conceded 31 goals from 37 games this season, which is a stat that is unmatched by no other Championship side. In addition to this, Neil Etheridge has kept 16 clean sheets since arriving from Walsall in the summer.
That was a tally targeted by Warnock in the summer as he plotted a play-off challenge. With the likes of Sol Bamba, Sean Morrison and Bruno Manga in the form of their careers, you cannot see Cardiff conceding too many goals between now and the end of the season.
City’s ability to produce winning runs when it matters most
On 1st January 2018, Cardiff had just suffered a 2-1 defeat to QPR which was their fourth in succession. Many questioned the Bluebirds’ bottle to stay in the top six, nevermind the top two.
However, Neil Warnock’s side has responded to those critics emphatically. Since defeat at Loftus Road, Cardiff have remained unbeaten in eleven games. Many sides such as Bristol City have collapsed over few months, but the ability to bounce back with a sufficient unbeaten run is a testament to the squad’s focus.
Furthermore they have won seven games on the trot, which has matched equally impressive runs by Aston Villa and Fulham over the same period.
As explained above, both Fulham and Aston Villa have faltered over the last week while Cardiff have held their nerve. That is the recipe for success and the mentality of a side braced for Premier League football next season.
‘Promotion specialist’ Warnock knows what it takes
Neil Warnock had been rejected by various Championship jobs before accepting to save Cardiff City from relegation last season. But, it must be reminded he has an impeccable promotion record which is matched by very few managers.
The Yorkshireman has been promoted a total of seven times over the course of his career. His last promotion came with QPR in 2012 and knows exactly what ingredients he needs to build a team at the right end of the Championship.
He hasn’t had much to spend, but has spent wisely with the shrewd additions of the likes of Sol Bamba, Junior Hoilett and Nathaniel Mendez-Laing. Warnock has identified a strong dressing room as the reason behind their unlikely push for promotion, and he is very much part of what makes this squad so close.
Last Christmas, @CardiffCityFC fans gave Sol Bambatheir heart.
On Tuesday night, he gave them this. 🤩
Turn and hit. 💥 pic.twitter.com/GCfSdAiu4f
— Sky Bet Championship (@SkyBetChamp) March 15, 2018
The last week in the SkyBet Championship could prove to be huge in the overall complexion of the league season. Both Fulham and Aston Villa identified home matches with QPR as three points towards their individual points tally. However, they could only earn one point from those two games between them.
This coupled with Cardiff’s superb comeback win at Griffin Park has certainly put the Bluebirds in the driving seat as they look ahead to their final nine games of the season, starting at Pride Park on Sunday.
Pundits have pointed out Cardiff’s tricky run of fixtures, but it’s hard to dismiss Warnock at this stage of the season. He will relish the potential title clash with Wolves and trips to former club Sheffield United and Aston Villa.
It certainly isn’t over yet. There are plenty of twists and turns to come. But Cardiff are definitely close, that’s for sure.
If you want to hear myself and Robert Herman discuss the exciting climax to the Championship season, listen to our podcast below: