Top... but can Cardiff else will challenge for
CARDIFF City’s stunning win over Leeds has got football talking about the hugely impressive job Neil Warnock has performed in South Wales.
On Tuesday night they roared clear at the top of the Championship, part of a clutch of clubs thus far defying the pre-season bookmakers’ odds.
It is, of course, very early days and no-one should be getting too carried away about promotion to the Premier League at this stage.
But by the same token Bluebirds fans have every right to dream after some of the turmoil at Wales’ capital city club in recent years.
So are Warnock’s men realistic contenders to keep this going right through until May? What about the other teams up at the top? And who will burst through the pack come 2018?
This is how we see things... THEY were ranked no more than a mid-table side by most bookies and pundits before a ball was kicked, but Bluebirds fans knew their team were better than that.
Few foresaw the blistering start we have seen. The question is, can Cardiff carry on like this?
They have a superb defence, hardworking midfield and real pace and menace further forward with Kenneth Zohore, Junior Hoilett and Nathaniel Mendez-Laing.
It was always going to be about momentum with Cardiff more than any other side in the league. Once on a roll, with the fans flocking back and making Cardiff City Stadium a fortress, they are going to be hard to stop.
But the biggest thing they have going for them is Neil Warnock. Been there, seen it, patented the t-shirt, he knows exactly what is required in the week in, week out grind of the Championship. The hurly-burly of a Tuesday night top-of-the-table clash with Leeds amid a frenzied cup-tie atmosphere was right up Warnock’s street. It will have served as a huge learning curve for Elland Road boss Thomas Christiansen, who is new to English football.
It was almost like the master versus the pupil. The master’s team won hands down.
STEVE Bruce also knows the division well so don’t discount his Villa giants. They started slowly, struggling to score goals. But they have won three Championship games on the bounce, should make it four at home to Bolton this weekend and have started the march up the table.
Currently eighth, they have the quality and strength in depth to be in the top two mix.
They also have real experience in players like John Terry, Glenn Whelan, James Chester, Robert Snodgrass and Ahmed Elmohamady.
With Scott Hogan, Jonathan Kodjia, when fully fit, Gabby Agbonlahor and the promising Keinan Davis, goals really shouldn’t be the problem.
Villa’s problem is that every side will raise their game against them. But any team finishing higher should really win the league.
SPENT big in the summer and should be in the mix with players of the calibre of Ruben Neves and Diogo Jota. The test will be for manager Nuno Espirito Santo, who lacks Warnock and Bruce’s Championship nous.
They certainly have the fan base, players and infrastructure to be a Premier League club once more.
There is also a huge expectation, while Molineux could be the fortress for Wolves that Cardiff City Stadium and Villa Park should be for the Bluebirds and Villa respectively. THEY play pretty football and have some decent players going forward. But they lost at Millwall, lost at Cardiff and may lack the steel to be genuine top two, or even play-off, contenders.
HAVE done remarkably well to roar into fourth spot, battering Warnock’s Bluebirds en route, but can they really last the test of time? Hard to beat, October games away to Fulham and Wolves will tell us a lot.
HAVE punched above their weight thus far. Should drop away but given Mick McCarthy’s expertise may end up battling for the play-offs, but just missing out.
THERE is a feel-good factor at Bramall Lane after they won the League One title last season. Have started like a house on fire and thrashed neighbours Sheffield Wednesday at the weekend. Could stay in the mix for top six, but won’t push for automatic promotion.
AN early season surprise package, particularly after losing star man Lee Tomlin to Cardiff. Will harbour hopes of reaching the top six, but there are better sides around. THEY have some of the best players in the league, notably Tom Cairney and Ryan Sessegnon, play the most easy on the eye football, but there are behind the scenes issues at Craven Cottage. Put those right and they’ll march