Malky Mackay is approaching a year in charge of Cardiff City. Saturday’s fixture with Crystal Palace could well determine how much of a success this first season has turned out to be for the Scot.
The Bluebirds made an ambitious decision in replacing experienced boss Dave Jones with Mackay, whose only previous job was helping to revitalise Watford, transforming their fortunes to steer them away from relegation trouble. There was a feeling surrounding the Cardiff City Stadium that Jones had rather lost his touch, after yet another playoff failure. To make matters worse, rivals Swansea City became the first Welsh side to reach the Premier League, despite Cardiff’s numerous years of battling it out at the top of the Championship.
Cardiff therefore saw enough potential in Mackay to pay £300,000 in compensation to snatch him from the Hornets to finally help realise their Premier League dream. Mackay made a brilliant start to his career in South Wales, winning the Championship’s Manager of the Month for both September and November. An 11 game unbeaten run saw the Bluebirds sitting in third position in the table after the New Year and Mackay signed a new three deal in February.
The highlight of the season was undoubtedly the trip to Wembley that saw Cardiff highly unfortunate to lose on penalties to Liverpool after Anthony Gerrard missed the deciding spot kick. The defeat was a decent learning curve for Mackay and his players and they will hope to return to the same ground via the playoffs come June. However, Cardiff seemed to suffer a Wembley hangover, winning just one of eight games in March as they slipped out of touch with the top two and at one point, even out of the playoff places.
April has seen a improvement in fortunes for Mackay and his side and they would have sealed a playoff position had Luciano Becchio not snatched an equaliser for Leeds United at the weekend. A point at Selhurst Park should therefore seal sixth position given Cardiff’s superior goal difference over Middlesbrough and give Mackay a shot at the Promised Land.
It’s fair to say Mackay should be proud of his efforts after his first year in charge. Replacing Dave Jones was never going to be an easy task after such a long time in charge, while key players such as Jay Bothroyd and Craig Bellamy left in the summer after the failure to gain promotion. New players have been integrated into the side, with Scotland striker Kenny Miller leading the line to good effect, while stalwart Peter Whittingham still reproduces his excellent form week in, week out. However the real find of the season has been Irish striker Joe Mason, who is Cardiff’s top scorer with 12 goals. The 20-year-old has kept Welsh international Robbie Earnshaw out of the starting XI, establishing himself as a key player for Mackay’s side. There are the makings of a strong squad at the Cardiff City Stadium; players like Mark Hudson, Ben Turner and Aron Gunnarsson could all potentially make the step up to the top flight, though if Cardiff were to get promoted, the squad would still need strengthening significantly.
Mackay needs to get his players firing on all cylinders for the playoffs, too many times have Cardiff gone into the end of the season climax and failed. However, with West Ham, Birmingham and Blackpool also in the mix,Cardiff, perhaps for the first time in a while, will not go in with the tag of favourites hung firmly round their necks. This will benefit Mackay and his boys and just like the League Cup final, his side can go in and really give their all. It almost came off at Wembley last time, could Cardiff use that experience and join bitter rivals Swansea in the Premier League?