Can Middlesbrough Return To Winning Ways Against In-Form Cardiff City?
Everything you need to know about Middlesbrough's upcoming opponents Cardiff City.
Middlesbrough face a difficult challenge in the upcoming match as the Teessiders attempt to find a way past the leagues current form leaders.
Cardiff City has been on an impressive run since the arrival of Mick McCarthy and the likelihood of the side finding its way into the playoff positions is growing more and more likely with every game as they find success after success against their Championship rivals. There placing on the top of the current form table indicates the impressive run of form that they currently find themselves in and it is Middlesbrough’s duty to bring this impressive run to an end when the side travels to the North-East.
The North-East based side comes into this game while sat on a pivot, success against Cardiff could reignite the form that saw them win at Reading and Huddersfield Town while failure could tip the scales back onto a losing streak. The undoubted underdogs will hope that they can spring a few surprises on the team from the Welsh capital as they attempt to knick the points from under their noses.
This match also sees the return of some former Middlesbrough players as Joe Bennett, who spent his youth career at Northallerton Town and Middlesbrough is set to return to the side that he started his career at when he made 85 appearances for the riverside based side between 2008 and 2012. While former £7.2m signing Aden Flint could also be involved following his £4m move from the club to the South Wales side. Finally, the midfield maestro Lee Tomlin will not be travelling to Teesside as his groin injury is due to keep him out of the side for 5 months.
Cardiff City's Season So Far:
It will come as little surprise that the sides impressive form has reaped rewards for the Welsh side as they have moved up the league and now occupy 6th place with 49 points. These points have come thanks to the sides 14 wins and 7 draws but the sides 11 defeats is the joint worst in the top six which stipulates that there has been a weakness to this Cardiff side and while it may have been fixed during McCarthy’s time at the club there is still a possibility that Middlesbrough may find one of the cracks that caused Cardiff to lose so many games this season.
The Bluebirds are relatively prolific in front of goal as the side has managed to find the net some 48 times so far this season, second only to Brentford in the top 6, and so Middlesbrough will need to rescuer their defence if they want to get anything from the game. Meanwhile they have conceded exactly the same amount of goals as Middlesbrough coming into this game and so there is something of an equal footing defensively.
Form: W W W W W
Cardiff City’s current fun of form has seen them win all of their last 7 games with the side drawing the two before then explaining why they top the current form table. This means that the side is in far superior form to their next opponents, Middlesbrough as they have earned 6 points in their last 5 games, a shadow of the Bluebirds 15 during the same stint of games. This further cements their place as the favourites.
The in-form side has scored 2.6 goals per game over this period which is a considerable mark up from their 1.5 goals per game so far this season showing that their front line has found particular prolific form over recent weeks under Mick McCarthy. So there is no doubt that the side has become more deadly going forward and so the Teesside defence will have to be on top of its game. Yet the sides improvements don’t finish there as the defence has also become a formidable force, only conceding 0.6 goals per game over the last 5 games which is better than their season average of 1.06 goals per game.
One of the few positives that Middlesbrough can take from this run of form from Cardiff is in the type of clubs the side has faced with Rotherham United, Coventry, Preston North End and Luton Town all sitting in the bottom half of the table presenting great opportunities for a side like Cardiff City. While the start of this winning run came at Bristol City which came during a particularly poor run of form from the Robins. Yet the sides recent victory over Bournemouth, will be of larger concern to the Middlesbrough squad as the Cherries had entered a decent run of form of late and had occupied the last place in the playoffs when they went into the game. Middlesbrough will hope that this game was a one off as if this is an indication of where Cardiff are at then they may well be in trouble.
Top Goalscorer: Kieffer Moore (15)
Most Assists: Harry Wilson (9)
Most Yellow Cards: Leandra Bacuna (7)
Most Red Cards: Joe Ralls, Lee Tomlin, Marlon Pack (1)
One To Watch: Kieffer Moore
There are many impressive front lines in the Championship. Norwich put their faith into a front three of Teemu Pukki, Todd Cantwell and Emiliano Buendia all of whom have impressed at Premier League level. Meanwhile there is no doubting Brentford’s front line as Mbuemo, Sergi Canos and Ivan Toney fired the club to top scorers in the league but Cardiff’s attacking line up is not too far behind these sides as their scoring record indicates and Moore has played a key role in the sides success going forward.
Middlesbrough were named as an interested party for the striker before he agreed to join Cardiff, with the reports in the summer claiming that the Boro was close to getting the striker to sign on the dotted line before he agreed to join the Bluebirds. The clubs interest in the player will have come as no surprise to those that have followed Neil Warnock’s career as he favours an aerial presence in the box to maximise the potential for success from the wing play he typically prefers to employ. However the admirer now has to try and find a way to stop the frontman.
One of the biggest issues when it comes to signing a striker is picking up a player that fits into the sides system and Moore fits into Cardiff’s system like a glove as the side has a number of impressive technical wide players that are capable of playing a some impressive balls into the box, whether it is Sheyi Ojo, Josh Murphy, Junior Hoilett or Harry Wilson, they are all capable of asking questions of defences with their delivery. At the same time, Moore, at 6ft 3inches laps up these opportunities as the majority of his career goals came from finishing such opportunities. He will remain relatively uninvolved in the sides build up play but he will hold the ball up with his back to goal in order to brings teammates into play.
What is worse, the 28 year old has stepped up his goalscoring in recent weeks as he has found the net 5 times in the last 6 games and playing Cardiff City while he is in such good form presents another level of concern for the Tessiders.
Subduing the Welsh International would certainly improve the sides chances of success.
One For The Future: Harry Wilson
Cardiff City appears to be the destination for talented youngsters that are set to bridge the gap between the years that they display their talent to the ones where they are expected to play and perform on a consistent basis. Harry Wilson is one such player. At 23 years old the player is reaching the end of the youth category and moving into the phase that comes just before his prime. So it was important that the player selected the right side to join for this season as his performances during these 9 months could have a massive impact on what his future may hold.
This situation is not as dire as it may appear as the player is highly regarded in the English game and it is now a question of whether he can bridge the gap between the Championship and Premier League. His first loan away from parent club Liverpool came as he moved to Crewe Alexandre in 2015 but he made just 7 appearances during his half-season loan at the club and he returned to playing for the under-23’s until 2018 when Hull City brought him to the KCOM stadium and he was a success during his time in East Yorkshire. Having joined in the January window, the player had an uphill battle to make an impact for the Tigers but it didn’t phase him as he scored a goal every other game and added 4 assists to his output. His performances at Hull City gained the attention of other championship sides and Liverpool could now command a loan fee for clubs to take him away from Anfield. Derby County were the first to agree such a deal paying £990,000 to take the player to Derbyshire. Once again, a stint of relative success followed as he found the net 18 times and assisted his teammates 6 times in 49 appearances proving he could now deal with a season of near constant involvement and still be effective at Championship level.
This impressive season at Derby County led to him taking the leap into a Premier League side as Bournemouth agreed a fee of £2.43m to bring the Welshman on loan to the South coast. The following season would see the player put up 7 goals for the Cherries while also creating 2 goals for his teammates in 35 games. The players output was not enough to secure the sides Premier League status for a 6th time and so he was named as part of a relegation side. Meanwhile his 0.3 goals per 90 was not enough to garner interest from alternative Premier League sides coming into the 2020/2021 season and so he moved on loan to Cardiff City for £1.17m and that is where he currently resides.
Neil Warnock spoke about the impressive coup in the reverse fixture and it has certainly panned out as an impressive signing for the Bluebirds. The 23 year old has scored 4 goals and created another 10 for his teammates so far this season which equals a direct goal involvement every 150 minutes. If he can keep this current rate up then there is a serious possibility that he will find himself playing a role in the 2021/2022 Premier League season.
So how will he be a danger to Middlesbrough? Well the first thing to note with the Welsh International is his ability from free kicks as his ability to place shots really comes to the fore in dead ball situations and so the player may well find a way past Marcus Bettinelli with an impressive free kick. This threatening ability aside, the 21 capped Welshman can play in a number of attacking and midfield roles so it is difficult to pin down what Middlesbrough should prepare for. If the player is picked in a wide right role than his impressive delivery will be his biggest weapon and he may well deliver the ball that provides Moore with his 16 goal of the season. Alternatively, if he plays through the middle then his link up play and ability to break a defensive line through finding a pass could really spell trouble for Boro. Ultimately, wherever he plays, he could prove to be the player to pick Middlesbrough’s defensive lock.
The Teesside side decide to use their man-marking system then Wilson will need to be closely marked in order to smother the player and prevent him from having a deadly impact on the game. Alternatively, the temporary Bluebird prefers the ball to be played to his feet making it easier to read balls coming into the player and so Middlesbrough may attempt to cut him out of the game altogether by intercepting the ball before it reaches its intended target.
Manager: Mick McCarthy
Whether you love him or hate him there is no doubting the impact that the Irish manager has had on Cardiff City since his arrival on 23rd January. While his first two games in charge saw the Bluebirds draw against Barnsley and Millwall, it was an indication that the 62 year old was stabilising the side that has gone on a 6 game losing run. The two fixtures suggested that the manager with 57 international caps had instilled a fighting spirit among his players as they fought back from losing situations on both occasions, the most impressive of these turn arounds came against Barnsley where they managed to retrieve a draw from a 2 goal deficit with just 38 minutes of the game remaining. Considering these two successes it isn’t surprising that the side then went on a winning run. The manager has clearly done a good job at the club so far and now appear to be the favourites for the last play-off position.
McCarthy started his career at hometown club Barnsley where he made 272 appearances between 1977-1983. He is considered to be one of the greatest post-World War II defenders for Barnsley having dedicated 6 years of his playing career to the side having broke into the first team at the age of 18. He helped the side to promotion in 1980/81 season with his aerial presence, tough tackling and reader of the game . It is the latter of these attributes that may well have proven key to his long managerial career. He left the club in 1983 to join Manchester City making 140 appearances for the North West side but the most interesting stint of his playing career came towards the final years of his time as a centre back as he joined French side Lyon in 1989. He made just 10 appearances for the side based in Auvergne-Rhône-Aples region as he struggled with a flare up of a previous injury as he attempted to adapt to a Libero role that didn’t fit his strengths. Yet it was quite telling of his personality as something he brought to his role as a manager. The well respected newspaper L’Équipe spoke about him as ‘a model of calm’ presenting a sense of control which is needed as a manager while his ‘combativeness and courtesy’ made a mark during his short time at the club and most likely make a mark on the players that he coaches. Finding a balance between criticising and praising players and teams is a key component to a successful manager and it appears that McCarthy was succeeding at it long before he became manager. Beyond this his manager at the time, Raymond Domenech, spoke about how ‘he was a great man. For the young player, he was an example of how hard to work even if you aren’t playing.’ This comment from his previous manager notes something else of interest, that his attitudes and behaviours were helping to coach the younger players and encourage a good work ethic among the youth of the squad.
Cardiff City will be very pleased about the clubs start under Mick McCarthy as the side now finds itself in a position to make the playoffs a reality but looking beyond the short term, the Bluebirds have brought in a manager that knows how to get teams out of the Championship having succeeded in doing so with Sunderland and Wolverhampton Wanderers giving them a real possibility for success.
Kieffer Moore (highlights)
Harry Wilson (highlights):