by Olly Allen at the Cardiff City Stadium
Cardiff City won for the first time in four games as Ashley Fletcher’s early own goal gave them all three points against Middlesbrough.
The striker netted at the wrong end as he headed home a Cardiff corner in just the second minute. Neither side created many clear-cut chances for the rest of the game, but Neil Warnock will undoubtedly be happy to return to winning ways and climb to 13th in the Championship table.
Below are five things we learned from this afternoon’s clash at the Cardiff City Stadium.
Home form will be key
It’s now three wins from eight games for Cardiff back in the Championship, with all three victories coming at the Cardiff City Stadium. In total, the Bluebirds have won 11 of their last 14 Championship games in front of their own fans, showing how important their home form will be this season.
When they were promoted in 2017/18, Neil Warnock’s side lost just three times at the CCS, and if they can replicate that again they should give themselves every chance of fighting at the top of the table this time around.
Warnock could have a centre-back dilemma on his hands
One of the things that should please Warnock the most from today was that his side picked up just a second clean sheet of the new season. This was largely down to the impressive performances of Sean Morrison and Aden Flint, who perhaps had their best game so far as a centre-back duo. The pair, who stand at 6ft 4in and 6ft 6in respectively, were imposing throughout the 90 minutes and kept a usually dangerous Britt Assombalonga very quiet.
It will give the manager plenty to think about when the popular Sol Bamba returns in a couple of weeks. The 34-year-old has not featured since injuring his knee against Wolves at the start of March, but is now close to being back in contention. The question is which defender he replaces, if either, or even if Warnock decides to mix it up and play a back three. It’s certainly a good problem to have.
Cardiff need a reliable goalscorer
At the other end of the pitch though, there is still an issue that needs solving. It is telling that Cardiff’s only goal this afternoon came from an opposition player, and that they rarely came close to doubling their lead.
Robert Glatzel scored his first goal for the club against Derby last week, but missed today’s game through illness and was replaced by Omar Bogle. To his credit, the former Wigan striker worked hard and even hit the bar with a header in the second half, but generally struggled to create many opportunities of note.
Danny Ward replaced Bogle in the second half and looked keen to impress but was similarly unsuccessful in pursuit of a goal. Another striker who hasn’t been mentioned yet is summer signing Isaac Vassell, who scored against Luton in August, but hasn’t featured since the Reading game the following week. Overall, Joe Ralls is the only Cardiff player to have netted more than once so far this season, and that needs to change soon.
Threat on the wings needs to be utilised
One positive Cardiff can take from their attacking play is the undoubted threat they possess out wide. Particularly in the first half, Josh Murphy and Gavin Whyte were the key danger men for the Bluebirds, putting multiple balls into the box to no avail.
Murphy was substituted for Junior Hoilett at half-time and Cardiff’s attacking presence noticeably decreased, despite the Canadian’s undoubted quality. Nathaniel Mendez-Laing was an unused substitute but is another player who can cause damage from the flanks, while Joe Bennett had an excellent game as he made a number of overlapping runs from left-back.
If Cardiff can find someone who can put chances away, or even if the wingers increase their own goal contribution, there is potential for a deadly attack in South Wales.
Trends are there to be continued
Before this afternoon’s game, a few pre-match statistics stood out to me. None of the previous 24 league meetings between Cardiff and Middlesbrough (dating back to 1971) had ended in a draw, while Neil Warnock had won all eight of his home managerial matches against Middlesbrough with seven different teams.
Both of those trends were continued with a 1-0 victory for the Bluebirds, the same scoreline they also won by on both occasions in 2017/18 – the last season they met. The result also continued Cardiff’s unbeaten home league start to the campaign and Middlesbrough’s winless start on the road.
So really we should have seen this coming!