Bordering on brilliant
Johnny Phillips says Cardiff City might not be far from joining Swansea in the Premier League.
Last Updated: 20/12/11 5:10pm
Last week, we headed off to Wales with Soccer Saturday.
On Thursday afternoon Cardiff City's new manager Malky Mackay invited me down to the club's idyllic Vale of Glamorgan training ground, where we caught up on how the club had been progressing since his move from Watford in the summer.
When Dave Jones's side crashed out of the play-offs against Reading at the Cardiff City Stadium last May it brought to an end his seven-year reign in the principality. Supporters had much to be thankful for, with an appearance in the FA Cup Final at Wembley the highlight. But there was also a lingering sense of what might have been, with Jones taking the side so close to promotion on a number of occasions.
When the club turned to Mackay, they were looking for a different approach. Loan stars, like Craig Bellamy, returned to their parent clubs. Other big names such as Michael Chopra and Jay Bothroyd moved on to different challenges elsewhere. It left the new man at the helm with a skeleton playing staff and a lot of hard work to get things up and running for the season ahead.
With the help of a dedicated backroom team, Mackay has laid down some impressive foundations for a new era at the club. His team have been competitive all season and sit right in amongst the promotion chasers. The Scotsman's acquisitions have been shrewd and successful.
Striker Kenny Miller was unsettled in Turkey and eyeing a switch from Bursaspor back to his homeland. Mackay stepped in and offered him something alternative to a move back to Glasgow and both parties have reaped the benefits of the transfer. Miller's dramatic injury-time winner on the opening weekend of the season at rivals West Ham got him off on the right foot and he has since scored crucial goals against league leaders Southampton and in the Carling Cup quarter-final at home to Blackburn.
Less celebrated captures include midfielder Don Cowie, whom Mackay returned to Watford for to help bolster his midfield, and Icelandic playmaker Aron Gunnarsson from Coventry City. Cardiff are still very much a work in progress but they have been an attractive proposition this season and have gelled quicker than many bookmakers expected when they were pricing up The Championship favourites back in August.
I was at the Cardiff City Stadium this weekend to see their match against Middlesbrough. It was an absolute cracker. Middlesbrough took the lead against the run of play before Cardiff deservedly turned the tables going 2-1 in front. Visiting manager Tony Mowbray was a senior pro when Mackay signed for Celtic 18 years ago and he must have feared the worst, but his team came back strongly and some clinical finishing gave them a hard-earned 3-2 victory.
The atmosphere inside the new ground was fantastic and it's a place that seems to have been embraced after an emotional departure from Ninian Park in 2009, City's home for 99 years. Whilst the roar of those stood on Popular Bank has been lost with the move to an all-seater venue, the noise levels can still be generated by a loyal supporter base.
Promotion this season is what the fans want, but it may be too much to expect of a club in transition. But there is no doubt that should the time come, Cardiff City would be a fantastic asset to the Premier League. With much-loathed rivals Swansea City pipping them to the top flight, and more than holding their own in it, the prospect of a South Wales derby in the Premier League is not such a remote possibility. It may not be one that fills the local constabulary with much glee, but I for one would love to see two Welsh clubs in our top division.