Report card: Cardiff's blundering Bluebirds blown away by blunderbuss of reality
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Was it worth it? That’s probably the question reverberating around Cardiff City Football Club; for owner Vincent Tan, having spent nearly £40 million on transfers to no avail; for the sections of support who swallowed the unpopular colour change in return for Premier League football, only to find it shortlived; and for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, having thrown away a burgeoning reputation as a talented young pretender overseas.
Often when a team is relegated from the top flight after just one season, fans can at least look back on some memorable moments and the team having ‘given it a go’ – think Blackpool in 2010/11 (having beaten Cardiff at Wembley to get there). But for the vast majority of Bluebirds followers, the happiest memories from 2013/14 – beating Manchester City, winning a South Wales derby, scoring a dramatic last-minute equaliser against Manchester United – have been tainted by what followed.
Malky Mackay’s unpopular sacking, a major decline in results and the often-baffling club statements (from hanging out specific signings to dry, to accusing other clubs of spying), made Cardiff the butt of many a joke. The campaign wasn’t all bad – but it wasn’t far off.
Would they have taken this in August?
Relegation? Probably not, no.
Would they have taken this in January?
Seeing as Cardiff only entered the drop zone after would-be saviour Solskjaer’s first match in charge at the start of January, never to emerge – no, they wouldn’t have done.
Without a doubt, the highly dramatic, totally unexpected and never-to-be-forgotten 3-2 win over Manchester City in Cardiff’s first-ever Premier League home game. The good times came too early.
Take your pick. The 3-0 loss to struggling rivals Swansea? The pair of end-season capitulations to North-East duo Sunderland and Newcastle? Or the 4-0 home defeat to Hull? We’ll move away from on-pitch matters and go with the dismissal of Mackay, handled in a desperately unprofessional manner.
Hero of the season
Despite everything, there were positive shoots from Cardiff’s mire of a season. Steven Caulker and particularly Gary Medel proved astute signings. Meanwhile there’s a lot to come from Mats Daehli and Declan John, both teenagers, while the unexpected breakthrough of barrelling 22-year-old Jordon Mutch was a pleasant surprise. But the real hero of a doomed campaign may not be at the club by autumn: David Marshall, whose series of ridiculous saves kept the Welsh side in the league longer than their performances merited and may yet see him move to a bigger team (i.e. one that wasn’t relegated).
Villain of the season
A villain, you say? Perhaps one charged with destroying the heritage of a club while blaming everyone else and wearing what looks like a Bond baddie’s get-up? Sorry, we can’t think of anyone.
The season in microcosm
Cardiff conceded late goals almost for fun throughout the season, but the one that hurt most was the 2-2 draw with Sunderland in late December. Leading 2-0 with less than 10 minutes to go, it seemed as though the then-managerless team might still have a bright future – until they let the Black Cats into the game, Jack Colback scoring the equaliser after a needlessly panicked clearance. Even though they were 16th at the time, exactly halfway through the campaign, it seemed inevitable that the four-point swing would cost Cardiff come the end of the season.
E. A couple of memorable wins and the emergence of a few exciting young players lifting it up from an F.