Why a fit Paterson could give Bluebirds a real edge The fan’s view
IN the final game of last season, Cardiff headed to Huddersfield for a dead rubber of a match against a team already guaranteed a spot in the play-offs.
Neil Warnock’s men were safely stationed in mid-table, so the pressure was off for both sides. The hosts made nine changes, keen to rest players, while Warnock found himself short of options, naming only six substitutes.
Cardiff provided one of their best displays of the season, blowing away the Premier League bound Terriers 3-0, ending the season on a high and sneaking into the top half of the table in the process.
Warnock used the opportunity to field three at the back, able to select a formidable combination of Lee Peltier, Matthew Connolly and Sean Morrison, despite the absences of Bruno Ecuele Manga and Sol Bamba.
The naturally attack-minded Jazz Richards and Joe Bennett were pushed up alongside Aron Gunnarsson and Joe Ralls, while Junior Hoilett and Anthony Pilkington provided able support for Kenneth Zohore further forward.
A Pilkington through-ball was dispatched by Zohore to open the scoring after just seven minutes and Huddersfield fell further behind on 29 minutes when Zohore found Bennett charging in to the box, blasting Cardiff’s second in to the roof of the net. The same combination resulted in Cardiff’s third late in the second half, as Bennett made the most of his licence to roam.
Whether this approach would be a one-off or would become the norm remained to be seen, but Cardiff’s subsequent transfer activity hinted towards a shift towards this trendy new shape.
Callum Paterson is a full-back by trade, but renowned for his rampaging forays down the right flank, while a new right winger also arrived in the form of Nathaniel Mendez-Laing. Danny Ward is equally adept up front or out on the left and Lee Tomlin is also versatile enough to play centrally or on the wing, if required.
After much speculation, Cardiff started the new campaign in much the same way that they ended the last; by winning away from home in a 3-4-3 formation.
Manga, Bamba and Morrison, Cardiff’s first choice trio of centre backs were selected, with Peltier and Bennett either side of Ralls and Gunnarsson, in support of Hoilett, Zohore and Tomlin.
Cardiff were not as incisive this time, but teams are rarely at full pelt on the first day of the season. The big difference between Cardiff now and Cardiff then is that they are now blessed with a greater array of options on the bench and all three of the substitutes used; Ward, MendezLaing and Loic Damour, made an impact.
They gave Cardiff the opportunity to again adjust their shape to a more conventional 4-4-2 as they turned the screw on Burton, who eventually succumbed to the pressure and conceded late on.
Since then, Cardiff have mostly used a more familiar 4-3-3, with the trio of Hoillett, Zohore and Mendez-Laing now indispensable. They have also added Craig Bryson, who looks likely to join Ralls and Gunnarsson in a regular midfield combo.
To date, Cardiff’s three biggest signings; Tomlin, Ward and Manga – who against all odds agreed a new deal – have remained on the periphery of the team. You wonder how much longer that will continue.
When Paterson returns to full fitness from long-term injury, he will offer another dimension to this side and could potentially signal a return to some variation on a 3-4-3 formation.
It’s easy to imagine, for example, Warnock installing Camp in place of the rather erratic Neil Etheridge.
In front of him, a trio of Bamba, Morrison and Manga, with Bennett and Paterson pushed up alongside say Gunnarsson and Bryson. Further forward, Tomlin and Mendez-Laing either side of Zohore.
Such a selection could prove to be the secret to reinforcing Cardiff’s defensive solidity, while maintaining a potency up front. Time will tell if the return of Paterson signals an evolution or a revolution.