Why Cardiff City look like Championship champions
I believe. After witnessing Cardiff's 4-1 humbling of Blackburn Rovers on Friday, I now firmly believe that this is the season that City will finally progress from the Championship. The performance was not quite as impressive as the 4-0 win at Leeds a couple of years ago, the high watermark of performances in recent years, but was certainly the finest of Malky Mackay's reign. Below are five reasons why I believe the Premier League beckons;
1 - A Trojan work ethic
You need a specific ethos or ethic to succeed in the championship, Reading had a collective spirit while West Ham bullied and overpowered opponents. Before them, Swansea passed the opposition to death and Cardiff have tried various different guises over the years, but Malky's men are defined by their work ethic. "We just wear teams down, we work so hard for each other and that's why we're top of the league at this moment" was Craig Bellamy's recent verdict and he certainly leads by example. Cardiff work hard for the full 90 minutes, which resulted in two late goals on Friday and four injury time goals already this season. Greater strength in depth has also resulted in substitutions providing a positive impact and significantly impacting on games. Malky still has his favourites, but there is very healthy competition at present and plenty of room for rotation without diminishing the overall quality of the side.
2 - An even distribution of goals
Heidur Helguson and Peter Whittingham both have seven, Aron Gunnarsson has five, Joe Mason, Mark Hudson, Craig Noone and Matthew Connolly all have four, while Craig Bellamy has three. Cardiff are not reliant on any individual for goals, as has been the case in the past, they are instead sharing the burden evenly. In saying that, if someone fancies breaking out and shouldering the burden, they are very welcome. It's a real shame that Malky is unable to utilise Nicky Maynard at present, he would have filled his boots.
3 - No competition
Put bluntly, who can stop Cardiff? Birmingham, Bolton Wolves and Blackburn, some of the pre-season favourites, have all flopped while Leeds and Blackpool have both endured disruptive campaigns thus far. Crystal Palace are exceeding expectations and now have Ian Holloway at the helm, but a lack of strength in depth and inexperience may catch up with them. Middlesbrough and Leicester look strong while Hull have a very good manager and plenty of talent, but there is no one to fear this year. Only Cardiff themselves are capable of halting their own ascent, it wouldn't be the first time, but they look an altogether more formidable prospect this year.
4 - Craig Bellamy
We have him, you don't. Head and shoulders better than any other player in the second tier, he is still of a Champions League standard and has not really got going yet. He changed the game coming off the bench against Leeds and was excellent against Blackburn, if he can remain fit and firing, he will turbo charge Cardiff's fortunes in the coming weeks. Which is just as well because Leicester (twice), Crystal Palace, Millwall, Birmingham and Blackpool await. 11 goals in 35 games in his last spell with the club, if he can repeat that sort of return, it will provide a considerable boost.
5 - They will get even better
Jordon Mutch's progress has been disrupted by injury, Kim Bo-Kyung is still finding his feet, Tommy Smith will soon return from injury while Etien Velikonja has yet to breakthrough. Further additions are likely when the transfer window opens next month and Malky has already spent in excess of £10m. He has bought well and bought his type of players, there is also no sign of ego amongst the squad. Some of the results have been better than the performances and with Cardiff currently top, there is a distinct possibility that, if they navigate a tricky few weeks and bolster the defence, they may make a very difficult challenge look relatively straightforward.