x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Importance of home success not lost on Cardiff City

Malky Mackay's side know that scenes like the celebrations against Manchester City must become a regular occurrence on their own turf, writes Richard Jolly.

Fraizer Campbell, left, and Aron Gunnarsson celebrate after the third Cardiff goal during their win over Manchester City.
Fraizer Campbell, left, and Aron Gunnarsson celebrate after the third Cardiff goal during their win over Manchester City.

It was the biggest early season shock pulled off by a promoted team since the Uefa Champions League finalists Manchester United lost 1-0 at Burnley in August 2009.

Manchester City, complete with £90 million (Dh512.9m) of summer signings, went to Cardiff as overwhelming favourites on Sunday and returned beaten.

For Cardiff, the hope is that history repeats itself, for another few days, though not an entire season.

After claiming a famous victim, they host Everton today, just as Burnley did four years ago.

Burnley were eventually relegated, but not before beating the Merseysiders.

For several months, Turf Moor proved a daunting place to visit. The Cardiff City Stadium should be another in the coming season. If the Welsh side, unlike Burnley, can sustain their home form over an entire campaign, that should secure survival.

It did last season for West Ham United, who took 33 points on their own turf, and who beat Cardiff 2-0 in their opening fixture at Upton Park.

"West Ham won three games away last year and stayed in the league and were 10th," noted the Cardiff manager Malky Mackay. "That shows you how important their home form was."

The reality is that promoted clubs tend to be disproportionately dependent upon their home record; a lack of quality in their ranks can make it harder to prosper on the road. As Mackay said: "We have to try to make our stadium a fortress."

It helps that Cardiff share similar characteristics with other home specialists.

Their ground is far from the biggest - its capacity is 27,128 - but it will be packed and ought to be intimidating. Cardiff fans had a reputation for being loud, even in the lower divisions, and while there is a minority who have overstepped the mark, their fervour can unsettle opponents.

It tends to be the case, too, that supporters who have been starved of top-flight football for a long time - 51 years in Cardiff's case - relish each game more than their world-weary counterparts at other clubs who have experienced past relegations and fear another.

Against Manchester City, the hard running of the team mirrored the energy of the followers. Fitness and decibel levels were equally high.

Their location could be a trump card, too. Even in the age of plane travel for domestic games and even in a comparatively small country, travel can take a toll and clubs who are out on a limb geographically often boast fine home records.

The other Welsh representatives, Swansea City, lost only eight of their first 37 Premier League games at the Liberty Stadium since being promoted in 2011.

Cardiff reeled off 11 successive victories on their own patch in the Championship last year to help them win the league.

While a repeat is improbable in the extreme, Mackay argued: "Our stadium can be a hard place to come to."

It is made all the harder by his tactics. The key is to limit opponents' opportunities and to make the most of their own. Sunday's 3-2 score was rather deceptive. More indicative, perhaps, was the half-time stalemate.

While it ended up a five-goal thriller, the Scot is not a reckless manager.

The pivotal word, which he repeated in his post-match interviews on Sunday evening, was "discipline".

Taken literally, it meant that Cardiff, despite competing superbly, did not collect a single caution. More significantly, however, was the positional discipline they exhibited.

Neither full-back went forward, leaving space behind him that could be exploited on the counterattack; Gary Medel, in particular, was similarly restrained in the centre of midfield, ensuring that Cardiff had a solid base at all times.

It is no coincidence that they boasted the best home defensive record in the Championship last season.

Nor, indeed, was it a fluke that they scored twice from corners against Manchester City; for a well-drilled, organised team that is not overly creative, it offers a particularly profitable avenue for finding the net.

Peter Whittingham's expert deliveries from the flanks promise to be Cardiff's trump card time and again this year.

If so, it will provide echoes of another arrival in the division.

Five years ago, Stoke City's dead-ball deadliness owed much to Rory Delap's long throws.

They, too, excelled on their own turf. And so while Cardiff, in their debut Premier League campaign, are breaking new ground, they are also trying to follow in old footsteps.


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