Top... but can Cardiff else will chal­lenge for

South Wales Echo - - BLUEBIRDS NEWS AND VIEWS -

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

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