Let’s start the final one of these weekly reviews for 2017 with news of a reported interest by Premier League new boys Brighton in striker Kenneth Zohore which Neil Warnock shrugged off in much the same way as he did when Hull came in with an offer which fell well short of the valuation the club have intimated they might be prepared to consider doing business on.
However, it’s one thing to bat away offers from Championship clubs, but if a bid did ever come in from a Premier League club, it would throw up a new set of challenges. For example, would the attitude of the player be different if the proposed buyer was from the league above us, as opposed to the one we’re in now?
Events may prove me wrong, but, increasingly, I’ve felt the danger time when it came to possibly losing Zohore, or another of our first team stalwarts, would be in the week to ten days at the end of August before the transfer window closes.
I say that because Premier League sides that have made a poor start to their campaign will have a sense of desperation then which could well force them into paying more than they are prepared to now for players they have considered taking on over recent weeks.
Using a side like Brighton as an example, they look a bit short of goals at the moment to me and if we reached a situation whereby they were looking at something like one point and one goal from their first three matches come August Bank Holiday time, a bid of, say, £15 to £20 million for a Championship striker might look like better business for them then that it does now – especially if said striker hits the ground running in the opening weeks of the new campaign.
Alternatively, I suppose the possibility has to be faced that there will be Championship sides resolutely determined not to sell now who would look at things differently if the season started in the sort of manner it did for us last season – it may be that the opportunity for two or three new players to come in on the back of the departure of one of a club’s most saleable assets will seem a far more attractive option then than it does now.
Of course, for now all of this is pure speculation and I hope it will stay that way as far as Cardiff City are concerned – certainly, I’d like to think that the squad we’ve got now should ensure that the last, disastrous start, scenario I outlined does not happen to us.
Just a few words about some of our players who are on their way back from long term injuries now. The news this week was good as far as Rhys Healey and Callum Paterson are concerned, with the first named tweeting that he had recently completed his first run on a treadmill, while there are now hopes that our new full back will be returning in September – a month earlier than originally thought.
It seems there’s always bad news to go with the good though and it’s pretty certain now that Lee Camp will not be available for our early competitive matches. It’s not clear whether his absence is down to a new injury or the one he suffered last November, although the fact that Neil Warnock said this week that he never expected Camp to be available for the first part of the new season suggests it’s the latter.
So, Neil Etheridge is seemingly going to get a chance to establish himself as our first choice keeper when I would have thought that most City fans would have seen him as a back up to Camp a week or two ago.
The Philippines international has done okay, but no more than that I’d say, so far in our pre season matches. To be fair to Etheridge, that rather downbeat assessment owes more to the fact that he hasn’t had a great deal to do in those matches, rather than any perceived shortcomings on his part.
Certainly, the keeper had no chance with the two goals he conceded when the senior side lost their unbeaten record in warm up games at Shrewsbury on Tuesday.
Defeats in pre season games are nothing to get too worked up about, but I would have thought our manager was disappointed by the manner in which the game was lost, rather than the result itself, because it seemed like a classic example of a game of two halves.
Before the interval, a City team playing some slick counter attacking football at a lively pace were dominant against a home side that had already beaten strong Wolves and Villa sides in warm up matches and they were well worth the lead they had when Nathaniel Mendez-Laing tapped in after being set up by Zohore after the Dane had done well to dispossess a defender deep in his own half.
In truth, there should have been more goals. but City paid for their profligacy early in the second half when the third dodgy penalty awarded against us this pre season (they may have been dubious decisions, but questions still need to be asked as to why experienced Championship defenders are being drawn into getting into a position against lower level opponents whereby officials can make such decisions against us) led to an equaliser and then a series of poor choices by three or four players led to a very sloppy winning goal.
All of this happened with the same players on the pitch who had been so dominant before the interval, but, despite a series of changes by Warnock, we were never able to regain our earlier authority and Shrewsbury could have added a further goal or two.
It was all a great deal more comfortable last night against Livingston at Cardiff City Stadium. After a sloppy opening by City against opponents who had won the third tier of the Scottish League structure by nineteen points last season, we established an edge in terms of power, pace and technique which, in the end, probably merited slightly more than the 4-0 victory margin.
Livingston, with the two trialists we had from them last week showing up quite prominently, knocked the ball around quite nicely, but I made it that their first shot of the game did not come until the eighty seventh minute when replacement keeper Brian Murphy was forced into a routine save and this rather said it all about the challenge they offered over the ninety minutes.
When City got their act together they started causing the visitors problems and they probably should have been ahead when Zohore shot wide from a chance set up by Junior Hoilett, making a surprise first pre season appearance after his absence on international duty over the past few weeks. However when the roles were reversed as Zohore used his pace to burst on to a long ball from the back and then his increasingly impressive ability to get his head up and see what is going on around him to set up the winger with a tap in, Neil Alexander, returning to play his first game in Cardiff in almost a decade, was beaten for the first time.
Just as at Shrewsbury three days earlier, there should have been further first half goals for City, but there weren’t and the small and increasingly damp crowd had to wait until the second half for them to show some ruthlessness in front of goal.
One of the themes of our pre season has been how new signing from Rotherham Danny Ward had found himself frustrated in his search for a first City goal by a string of fine saves by opposing goalkeepers. However, his wait was ended when he, first, slid home a Kadeem Harris cross on the hour mark, despite Alexander’s best efforts to keep the ball out, and then completed what was probably our best move of the night after Mendez-Laing’s unselfish cross set him up for a simple finish.
Matt Kennedy replaced the hobbling Harris and did his cause no harm at all with an impressive showing which included an assist, as his corner was expertly volleyed in from around ten yards by Bruno Manga who had come on in place of Greg Halford at half time to play right back.
Quite why these two were filling this position was not fully explained by our manager after the game – he mentioned that Jazz Richards (who played the last ten minutes or so) had a slight problem which meant he didn’t want to give him too much game time and that Matt Connolly was missing with an injury, but there was nothing to indicate why Lee Peltier wasn’t involved last night.
Warnock said that he was pretty sure of about nine of his starting eleven for next week and I wouldn’t be surprised if one of them is Nathaniel Mendez-Laing who I reckon may have spent the most time on the pitch out of our midfield and forward players during our warm up programme. Loic Damour was not fit enough to be included last night (our manager talked about possibly needing a bit more midfield cover before the window closes), but I’d expect it to be Gunnarsson and Ralls in central midfield even if he is fit for next week and I think Ward may have played himself into the starting line up as well.
So, it may be that our wingers next week will be new signings and it’s very hard to see a way back into contention now for our longest serving wide man, Craig Noone who played no part last night. In the week, Neil Warnock reiterated that Noone probably needed to move on now and the same seems to apply to Declan John who is in the Development squad for this afternoon’s match at Harrow which was arranged as part of the Ibraham Meite deal last season.
Both Noone and John were on the score sheet in the Development team’s 5-1 win at Edgar Street over Hereford on Wednesday – in fact, Noone got a couple of goals. Kennedy netted first, before the home side equalised, only for John and Meite to put us 3-1 up at the break, Noone then added the game’s final two goals and there has to be a good chance that they’ll be the last ones he ever scores for us.
So, what has our summer transfer activity and pre season programme told us about our Championship prospects in 2017/18? My take on this is that I believe I’m right in saying that a league table taken from the day Neil Warnock took over last season would have seen us in ninth position and I feel we’ve got more goals in our squad than we had in 16/17, we’ve also kept all of our defenders, so, although I have one or two reservations about the goalkeeping position, I don’t see why we cannot be a top ten side next season, but top six will probably be beyond us.
*picture courtesy of https://www.cardiffcityfc.co.uk/