Take a look at the Championship table and you will see Cardiff City top of the pile. Ipswich Town are hard on their heels, separated only by goal difference as both sides have won all of their opening four matches this season. It is early days yet, but in an era where experienced (or ‘old fashioned’) managers are generally maligned in favour of the latest ‘bright young thing’ to step off the conveyor belt, it is tremendous kudos for two of the Football League’s most seasoned campaigners – Neil Warnock and Mick McCarthy. Considering between them Cardiff and Ipswich probably haven’t spent enough this summer to even cover John Terry’s Aston Villa’s wages, it also proves stuff like coaching, man-management and good judgement remain essentials at this level. With the Championship becoming increasingly the territory of the ‘chequebook manager’, Warnock and McCarthy are certainly fighting against that tide (admittedly due to financial restraints at their respective clubs).
The Bluebirds maintained their perfect start with their best win yet – a 2-1 victory away to moneybags Wolves. There has been some recognition for the start Neil Warnock’s side have made, especially after last weekend’s mauling of big spending Aston Villa; however, there have been plenty quick to shrug it off as early season form, especially as Cardiff have benefited from a fairly kind hand by the fixture computer. This weekend was supposed to see reality bite hard as Wolves – the slick footballing side built using Chinese money and Portuguese acumen – were expected to steamroll them and continue to lay down the foundation of their own promotion challenge.
By the end of the 90 minutes Nuno Espirito Santo’s side were probably happy to see the back of Neil Warnock’s Bluebirds as Kenneth Zohore once again gave a Championship defence a total ‘beasting’, supported by a physically powerful and dominant display from the whole Cardiff side. To add insult to injury ‘Wolves reject’ Nathaniel Mendez-Laing continued his sensational start to the season by scoring the winner. Judging by his celebration the wing forward absolutely loved it.
To put the mismatch on paper into perspective: Cardiff spent a little over £5 million in total this summer; that is approximately one third of what Wolves spent on one player, Ruben Neves, who barely got a kick during the game. When Aron Gunnarson got home tonight he probably wasn’t surprised to find in his pocket, along with his wallet and keys, the Portuguese playmaker.
During his post-match interview Wolves boss Nuno complained about Cardiff’s ‘aggressive’ and ‘provocative’ approach. On social media Wolves fans were quick to complain about ‘Warnock football’ and the lack of protection the referee gave the Wolves players. Considering Cardiff have one of the best discipline records in the Championship since Warnock took over, the criticism that Cardiff are a rough or dirty side is wide of the mark. Powerful – yes. Physical – yes. Aggressive – yes. Cynical – yes, when it is appropriate.
This is the Championship remember; this is British football. It is a failing on the part of the Wolves boss that he expected anything less. This isn’t Portugal where sides will sit back in admiration and allow the likes of Porto and Benfica to dominate the ball and pass it around to their heart’s content, vainly hoping to hold out for a goalless draw (or damage limitation). Neil Warnock is too long in the tooth – and has rubbed up the wrong way managers of a far higher calibre than Nuno – to lose any sleep over whether a rival manager is impressed with his team and how they go about their business.
However, as we have seen already this season Cardiff are no team of mere spoilers: the Bluebirds attack with pace and power. Warnock has selected at least three flair players in every league game this season, and can call upon the best centre forward in the league. For all their possession, Wolves managed fewer shots on goal than Cardiff, created fewer clear goalscoring chances and, more importantly, scored fewer goals. Cardiff were simply stronger, better organised and more efficient than Wolves. They imposed themselves on the game from the first minute to the last and Wolves – a brief spell in the second half aside – did not cope or adapt to that well enough.
Cardiff were well worth the three points and deserve their place at the top of the table. Wolves fans can pour their sour milk about possession share, how much money they spent on Ruben Neves, or whatever gives them comfort between now and next weekend. Cardiff? Well we’ll just settle for being top of the league.