Back to the Coalface: A look ahead to another crucial month for Cardiff City as league action returns this weekend

After a heartbreaking international window in which Wales’ hopes of World Cup qualification were ended by Republic of Ireland’s smash and grab win at the Cardiff City Stadium on Monday night, attention returns to domestic football this weekend. For Bluebirds we take up the promotion campaign again with Neil Warnock’s league leaders looking to consolidate their strong start to the season. Let’s take a look at what is in store during another testing month.


Birmingham (a) – 13/10/2017 19:45


If you’re superstitious there will be ill omens in the air as Cardiff travel to Birmingham City on Friday the 13th. Looking at it another way, it’s the same date for both sides. I suspect matters on the pitch are likely to be decided by what the players do on the pitch, rather than the influence of the calendar.


The match is live on Sky Sports and will be new Birmingham boss Steve Cotterill’s first in charge. The home side are desperate for points after a woeful start under previous manager Harry Redknapp, but boast match winners in Sam Gallagher and Craig Gardner. Not that Neil Warnock will have much sympathy for the hosts as he continues his pursuit of an eight career promotion.


Matches between the sides in recent history have always been tight affairs. The last three encounters have been draws, while the biggest margin of victory since both sides have played regularly at this level is 2-0 (both Cardiff, August 2006 and March 2015). The last ten meetings have seen Cardiff beaten just once (December 2015, 0-1 at St. Andrews).


Cardiff should be close to full strength. Aron Gunnarson played twice for Iceland so hopefully he is fit and raring to go, although such has been the form of Sol Bamba in the defensive midfield role in the Iceland captain absence, Warnock may continue. Callum Paterson has been making waves for the development side – scoring a hat trick earlier this week – so can’t be too far off being available for first team selection.


The Scot is highly thought of by Warnock and it will be interesting to see once he is back to full fitness whether Warnock changes the shape of the team to accommodate his attacking forays from right full back.


Middlesbrough (a) – 21/10/2017 15:00


The following weekend Cardiff face another big test on the road at pre-season title favourites Middlesbrough. The match will see the Bluebirds go face to face with old boy Rudy Gestede, as well as well-known foe Garry Monk.


Middlesbrough have made a steady if unspectacular start to the season given the millions Monk spent during the summer, but by now you would have expected the squad to have bedded in and adopted most of Monk’s key principles. The Bluebirds should be facing a Boro side at more or less full steam and when you look at the attacking options at their disposal, on paper you would expect this to be a very busy afternoon for the City defence.


However, Warnock’s side have performed well against most of the promotion contenders they have faced this season: beating Aston Villa, Wolves and Leeds, while drawing with Fulham and Sheffield Wednesday.


If Cardiff can get through these two away games with four points that would set them up really well for a home double header.


Millwall (h) – 28/10/2017 15:00


The first of those two games brings Millwall to the Cardiff City Stadium, by the time the fixture rolls around it will have been a month since the Bluebirds had played a home match so you would expect the appetite to be keen and another strong atmosphere at the ground.


Neil Harris’ Millwall have started the season well after promotion from League One, the biggest result being a 1-0 victory over Leeds which ended the then leaders’ unbeaten start to the season.


Statistically, Millwall are the side most resembling Warnock’s (at the time of writing). Not too bothered with high volumes of possession (the lowest in the league with an average 42.8%), the Lions are unabashedly direct and have the fifth highest shots on goal per game. We should expect this to quite an end to end game then as both sides are likely to eschew possession and instead look to get the ball into the final third early.


Millwall’s last trip to the Cardiff City Stadium was a truly forgettable affair, most of the reporting focussing on images of a fan sleeping through the match in the sparsely populated stands. Millwall went down that season, while Cardiff were enduring the Russell Slade era. I would not expect to see a repeat of that turgid encounter with two managers keen to attack in the dugouts.


Ipswich Town (h) – 31/10/2017 19:45


Unless something dramatic happens between now and Halloween, the visit of Ipswich Town will see a clash of two old school British managers with Mick McCarthy in charge of The Tractor Boys.


The Suffolk-based side have also had a decent start to the campaign and at one time were up there with Cardiff on 100% win records. It has tailed off a bit since then, but you are always going to have a tough, competitive match against a McCarthy team.


Ipswich have a couple of Cardiff flops in their squad in the form of Tom Adeyemi and Emyr Huws. Flops may be a bit harsh because really neither player was given much of a chance to shine for the Bluebirds. Huws is recovering from ankle surgery so may not feature in this game; let’s hope not, the ex-player seems to come back and haunt Cardiff quite often.


Last season Cardiff won this fixture 3-1, two goals coming from Kenneth Zohore, the second of which was one of the best goals scored by the Bluebirds last season. Ipswich haven’t won at the Cardiff City Stadium since March 2011 when Jimmy Bullard struck a late double and complete a smash and grab.


Bristol City (a) – 04/11/2017 12:00


The arrival of Neil Warnock and the emergence of Kenneth Zohore as the leader of Cardiff’s attack were probably were top of the pile in terms of highlights last season, but if it you were to narrow best result of the season the 3-2 win at Ashton Gate would be hard to beat.


Twice Cardiff came from behind to win, courtesy of a long-range Anthony Pilkington strike, completing a league double over the Robins to the delight of the fans and Warnock (who won this duel in his feud with the Johnsons).


It is always a feisty encounter when Cardiff and Bristol City meet and with both sides chasing a top six place this season there will be plenty on the line in this one. Ultimately, last season’s victories were no more than bragging rights for Cardiff fans who were comfortable in mid table for most of the season once Warnock was appointed manager.


Like last season Lee Johnson’s side have started well with some eye-catching results and performances, but for all the neat and tidy football they play, the manner of Bristol City’s collapse last season means questions about their heart will continue to haunt them until they prove otherwise.


Cardiff are unbeaten in the last five meetings against Bristol City and have only lost once in the last eight against them. On bonfire weekend, I’m sure this is a fixture that will provide its usual spark and no shortage of fireworks.