Will the bluebirds fly again?
And so it all begins again, 78 days after the heartbreak of Wembley, Cardiff City pick themselves up for another shot at the promised land of the Premiership.
Leaving Wembley in May the general feeling was that the City team that day would not be seen again. Surely the club would not be able to hold on to the likes of Bothroyd, Chopra, Whittingham and even more worryingly Dave Jones. There is a reason why Jones is the longest serving manager in the Championship and it is therefore a great relief that after briefly flirting with Fulham he looks set to stay at Cardiff.
Despite the best efforts of the new chairman to ease the worries of supporters, what followed was a summer of anxiety and uncertainty. The club has had to contend with numerous IOU’s being called in, revelations that neither the tax man nor the payers have been paid, all combined with a poor run of pre-season form.
With hours remaining before the season kicks off, the transfer embargo has yet to be lifted and to the delight of Bluebirds fans, Dave Jones has managed retain the services of almost all of last season’s squad. The obvious exception is Joe Ledley. Only time will tell whether his decision to take the ‘step up’ to play alongside the likes of Charlie Mulgrew and Gary Hooper in the Scottish Premier League was the right one.
Bitterness aside, whilst undoubtedly a talented player, Ledley has never been the fulcrum of Dave Jones’ side at Cardiff City. It is Stephen McPhail that dictates the play from midfield, with 99.9% of Cardiff’s attacking play going through Jay Bothroyd. Undoubtedly the talisman of team, Bothroyd seemed to thrive on the added responsibility when handed the captaincy last season and I can think of worse ideas than him taking the armband off the consistently inconsistent Mark Hudson. These two players would have been far harder to replace, something Jones has alluded to in his recent admission that Cardiff need to find a plan B for when Bothroyd is unavailable.
With transfer activity pretty thin on the ground for Cardiff this summer, the smartest piece of business by Dave Jones was commanding any sort of a fee for veteran left back Mark Kennedy, a player last seen sprinting circa 2004. The only players to come in so far are Manchester United youngster Danny Drinkwater (on loan) and former United youngster Tom Heaton. So after promising performances last year, there is likely to be a greater reliance on the latest batch off the production line, particularly exciting full back Adam Matthews and midfielder Aaron Wilding.
With very little in the way of new personnel, Cardiff’s hopes rest on the nearly men from last year. It would be naive to expect as much from last season’s 25 goal hero Peter Whittingham, given that he only scored 17 goals in total in his first three seasons at the club. Thankfully Michael Chopra, whilst patchy, will always score goals at Championship level and Ross McCormack is a useful alternative from the bench.
So with last season’s admittedly thin squad largely intact and in spite of the club’s seemingly endless financial woes, there are still plenty of reasons for optimism in what promises to be the most open Championship season in years. It speaks volumes about this seasons Championship that the teams coming up from League One arguably stand a better chance of promotion than those coming down from the Premiership.
Opening day fixtures don’t come much more arduous than Sheffield United. Matches against the Blades are rarely pleasant and there is little chance of Cardiff easing their way in to the new season. Kevin Blackwell hasn’t been particularly busy in the transfer market over the summer but he has added a bit of guile to his otherwise industrious side in the shape of Swansea’s borderline midget, Leon Britton.
Great importance is often attached to avoiding defeat on the opening day, but a win for Cardiff in front of the home fans would really lift the gloom that’s lingered since May.