The 2014/15 season has been one to remember for the Bluebirds. Over the space of 10 months, the situation at the Cardiff City Stadium has been completely subverted.
At the start of the campaign, Cardiff were almost unanimously seen as the strongest side in the Championship, and despite coming off the back of relegation from the Premier League, there was an aura of optimism surrounding the club.
Under the guidance of big-name manager and former Manchester United forward Ole Gunnar Solskjær, who had acquired a winning reputation managing Norwegian side Molde, City had a squad and transfer budget that was enviable to the other clubs at their level.
The beginning of the season couldn’t have started any better for Solskjær’s men, and nothing could have put a bigger grin on the face of Cardiff fans than an impressive 3-3 draw in their final pre-season game against German giants Wolfsburg.
This solid form followed into the start of the season, and the Bluebirds were looking like the team that they were expected to be before the season began.
But September brought about Solskjær’s downfall; a 4-2 defeat at the hands of Norwich and another loss against Middlesbrough proved to be the deciding factors for owner Vincent Tan to put Solskjær on the chopping block.
In sacking Solskjaer, the club’s Malaysian owner continued to live up to his reputation as a trigger-happy foreign investor in the vein of a Roman Abramovich, who commands almost unrealistic demands from his managers.
So, the person to become the successor to Solskjær would end up quite a surprise, as Tan went against the grain in targeting a name that was less flashy to take over the hot seat.
The appointment of Russell Slade on October 6th wasn’t one that really ignited the passions of City fans. Slade is a manager who wasn’t well known outside the lower tiers of English football, but he had had reputable stints at Yeovil Town and Leyton Orient, where he acquired League One Manager of the Year honours in 2006/07 and 2013/14.
Cardiff fans would have been forgiven for being cautiously optimistic of their chances of still pushing for promotion under their new manager, and Slade’s reputation for building strong, yet unflamboyant, squads could have been exactly what the club needed to get themselves back into the top tier.
At first, Slade’s appointment looked to be one that could have paid off and given City fans an increased faith in Tan’s ability to headhunt and run the club effectively.
To start, Slade conjured up two wins against Ipswich and Nottingham Forest, sides that were tipped to push for play-off or even promotion positions. A good run of form followed throughout the month of November with promising results, including an away win at eventually-promoted Watford, and solidified the view that Slade was taking Cardiff back in the right direction.
Despite the momentum heading into December after a string of impressive results, Cardiff hit a pretty significant wall. From December until the start of March, City were only able to win two out of the 15 league games they played, and they quickly plummeted down to the bottom end of the league table, with relegation suddenly being spoken about as a realistic worry. Add the FA Cup loss against Reading mid-January, and this poor form was piling on the pressure upon Slade.
Yet, Slade was given sympathy for the first section of this extremely poor run of form, as he had came into a larger club than what he was used to and inherited a squad which wasn’t his own.
City fans called for others to be patient and allow Slade the time to express his philosophy that was sure to get them back on track. Again, Slade isn’t the most flamboyant of managers, and neither were the signings he orchestrated.
Players like Scott Malone, Lee Peltier, Alex Revell and Stuart O’Keefe were brought in to very little fanfare, and they didn’t really ignite much excitement from the fans.
Mix this in with the releases of prominent squad members such as Kim Bo-Kyung, Adam Le Fondre and Mats Moller Daehli, Cardiff fans became frustrated at Slade’s apparent contentment with staying as a Championship side for a while longer than scheduled at the start of the season.
Vincent Tan saw the disinterest that had begun to emerge from the Cardiff fans, whether that be from the play on the field or the identity of the club off it, and a record low attendance of only 4,194 in the FA Cup tie against Colchester forced his hand to try to resurge the ambition that was being lost. The change from a red home kit back to the historical blue strip was rejoiced by the fans and portrayed as a success on behalf of the everyday supporter.
Despite an immediate victory over Fulham on the first home game back with the blue kit, this turnaround failed to galvanise the club back into the promotion race, and the organisation felt static.
The months of March and April were indicative of the kind of progress that Cardiff has made. Great wins against the likes of Rotherham or Brentford were juxtaposed with horrid losses at the hands of Bolton or Ipswich.
Slade continues to bang on about the club being “a work in progress”, so much so that it has become a running joke among journalists on how many times he will use the term in post-match conferences.
This season will surely be a valuable lesson for Slade, Tan and the club as a whole. An exodus of fringe players is sure to come in the summer, and City fans will be hoping that Slade can counter this with an influx of talent that finds the right mixture between budgetary and football needs.
An offseason for Slade to tweak his tactics and properly drum his philosophy into the team may be just what Cardiff needs to push onto the upper reaches of the Championship and possibly the Premier League.