It wasn’t a record club attendance in the end, but more than 27,000 supporters saw Cardiff lay down their most convincing marker as promotion hopefuls with a dominant 3-1 victory over Leeds United at the Cardiff City Stadium on Tuesday night.
With a big crowd in attendance it was fantastic that Neil Warnock’s team did not disappoint and provided a vintage display in a top of the table clash in front of the Sky Sports cameras. The win sees Cardiff leapfrog Leeds into top spot and while the mainstream media have largely been all over Wolves and Leeds this season, Cardiff have now beaten both. Forget about your possession shares and pass completion rates, the only stats that matter Cardiff are excelling in at the moment.
Cardiff’s last midweek game was their only league loss of the season, the limp 3-0 surrender away to Preston North End. Since then the Bluebirds have registered seven points from 3 matches and, more importantly, they have found their verve and the spring in their step again after a few games when the legs looked like they may have gone limp. Cardiff smothered Leeds all over the pitch in much the same way they did to Aston Villa and Wolves last month, demonstrating an utterly ruthless power and efficiency on the counter attack.
Leeds came to the Welsh capital as league leaders and the latest media darling, but they simply could not cope or contain the physical intensity Warnock’s team brought to the field. Loic Damour and Craig Bryson were a whirlwind of energy in midfield, pressing, harassing, picking pockets here and there; Bamba broke up everything that arrived between the lines and put in a performance of such commanding composure that rightfully drew comparisons with Patrick Vieira at his very best.
Then you had Cardiff’s dynamic front three ahead of it. Kenneth Zohore ended his eight-game goal drought with a double and while Nathaniel Mendez-Laing was quiet by his usual standards, Junior Hoilett delivered arguably his best performance yet in a Cardiff shirt – certainly his best 45 minutes in the first half. To give Hoilett his dues, he’s been pretty consistent throughout the first ten games – leaner and fitter than he was in the previous campaign and at last adding the concrete of goals and assists to his game.
Cardiff have another home game this weekend against Derby County and while it is probable the attendance will drop back to around the 18-19000 mark, how fantastic it would be if this performance and the start to the season can start drawing a few more thousand on a regular basis.
I’m not going to get into any argument here about loyalty or what constitutes a loyal supporter, but I do believe given the size of the city of Cardiff and the club’s catchment area in the valleys, Cardiff City are a club that should be pulling more than 20,000 supporters through the door every week in the second tier. Realistically, as the 11th largest city in the United Kingdom, the city should be able to sustain a level of match day support close to the Cardiff City Stadium’s capacity (or certainly at a level similar to that for the Leeds match).
The Leeds United match shows there support is there and that Cardiff ‘supporters’ will turn out in force when the conditions are suitable (a combination of pricing, style of football, success on the pitch). The Leeds victory had all of these going for it but the pricing model used for this match isn’t sustainable in the long term, so now it is time for those people who call themselves Cardiff supporters but aren’t season ticket holders or regulars, yet enjoyed Tuesday night, to respond in kind with more regular attendance.
There are a lot of factors that prevent many people watching live football and one of those includes pricing. In recent times I don’t think Cardiff deserve to be levelled with any criticism for the pricing for those who commit long term, i.e. season ticket holders. Current prices offer good value and include season ticket deals for students and 16-21s at a cost of less than £5 per home match; the recently introduced ‘flex-ticket’ scheme is a welcome option and provides a nice go between for the more casual fan or those whose work, family or financial commitments mean a full season ticket is not feasible and still saves money against the walk-up prices (which are admittedly discouraging).
The excuse that Cardiff City aren’t doing enough to tackle match day attendance attrition with reasonable season ticket/block booking prices doesn’t wash anymore. There are other reasons why some fans stay away and won’t ever return, but anyone who has watched Cardiff in the last 12 months under Neil Warnock cannot say they don’t see a team they are proud of.
Even last season it didn’t always come off and the side were woefully sort in some areas, but the essential blueprint of the type of team Cardiff fans traditionally enjoy watching was there: hardworking, physical, energetic and passionate. This season Warnock has added pace, better attacking options and he’s got his side playing 15 yards higher up the pitch.
There has been a lot of talk recently about statistics and what Cardiff don’t do so well (or enough). But there are two sides to every story and the picture that has been painted of Cardiff this season isn’t a just one.
It cannot be denied that Cardiff don’t pass the ball as much or as accurately as practically every other team in the league, but as Warnock keeps reminding everyone nobody has had more shots on goal than Cardiff. Actually, Brentford have, but no side beats Cardiff’s 6.1 shots on target per game (courtesy of @eflstats on Twitter). Sky Sports on their coverage of the Leeds game also revealed (after the game) that no team has made more passes in the final third in the Championship this season than Cardiff.
Another for you: according to whoscored.com, Cardiff’s action zone breakdown reveals that 34% of Cardiff’s match action takes place in the opposition’s final third – that’s joint highest with QPR. The likes of Leeds, Wolves and Sheffield Wednesday – the so-called great ‘footballing’ sides of the division – aren’t even breaking the 30% mark. They all score high for middle third action and possession share, but doesn’t that just mean there’s a lot of side to side midfield passing taking place?
On top of this Cardiff’s action percentage in their own defensive third is among the division’s best (26% is joint 3rd) and their 41% action in the middle third is among the worst in the league. It tells us that Cardiff are eschewing midfield build-up play and getting the ball forward quickly into the final third. But that is when and where they start to play!
Cardiff’s success in doing this means not only do they create more opportunities to shoot at goal, but they are also preventing the opposition getting at their own goal more or less as well as anyone.
Warnock’s side get the ball forward early, they keep it there and create chances – how is that not the essence of attacking football?
What that statistical crabwalk is designed to do is not only reject the absurd accusations that Warnock’s Cardiff are just ‘hoofball shithouses’, but provide a case for why watching Cardiff City right now is probably as good as you’ll ever get it. It’s time to turn that £5 ticket you got from a friend into a more regular commitment.