Cardiff v Sheffield United, Championship, August 8, 2010
Usually the summer is a time when false hopes clouds the judgment of football fans who begin to believe that anything is possible for their club once the new season begins. But for Cardiff supporters, who saw their side lose the playoff final to Blackpool just over two months ago to Blackpool, it’s been a sorry break as the Bluebirds woes have worsened as the days have become ever longer. (Cardiff are 17.00 to win the Championship.)
Money is the problem.
Following the Â£6m investment from a Malaysian consortium and Peter Ridsdale’s departure as the chairman of the club, the hope was that by the start of the new campaign a new page would have been opened on Cardiff. Sadly that hasn’t materialised, and the club remain in the financial doo-doo with a transfer embargo leaving the club hamstrung.
Like many trying to keeping their head above water in Britain following the awful recession, Cardiff’s main problem is that they have bills to pay. Having still not lodged their end accounts for May 2009, the tax man is still waiting for his money and until he’s been paid off in full the Football League refuse to allow Cardiff to bring in any fresh recruits.
That has placed a huge burden on manager Dave Jones. Cardiff have already lost midfielder Joe Ledley to Celtic during the off-season, and the rumour mill continues to threaten the club with further departures – star players Michael Chopra and Peter Whittingham are the most likely to walk out on the Welshmen.
Jones has in fact made three signings this summer. Goalkeeper Tom Heaton was picked up on a free transfer from Manchester United, while midfielder Danny Drinkwater was also snapped up from Old Trafford on a season-long loan. Completing a trio of fresh faces, Jason Koumas has returned to the club on loan from Wigan, but none of these players can suit up for Cardiff until the transfer embargo is officially lifted.
So it’s a case of sitting patiently for Cardiff fans. Thankfully, on last year’s showing, they have the nucleus of a good squad to kick the new campaign off with.
Last season the the Bluebirds had one of the best offensive quartets in the division. Whittingham, Chopra, Jay Bothroyd and Chris Burke contributed a whopping 57 league goals between them in the regular season, while 2008/09 top scorer Ross McCormack suffered from a slump in form that he’ll be hoping to put right now.
In midfield the Bluebirds have steel and experience. Vice-captain Stephen McPhail remains, while 32-year-old enforcer Gavin Rae will continue as his partner in the middle of the park. Dropping further back, goalie David Marshall is now the undisputed number one after the departure of Peter Enckelman while Mark Hudson and Kevin McNaughton are the mainstays in defence.
In Sheffield United, Cardiff could hardly have picked a tougher opponent to start the new year against. The Blades are one of the most robust, battle-hardened sides in the division and, although their brand of football may not attract many purists of the beautiful game, it’s effectiveness cannot be ignored. (Sheffield United are 19.00 to win the Championship.)
Manager Kevin Blackwell also is able to start the new season with good off-the-field news. It is understood that Sheffield United have been in talks with a wealthy Malaysian businessman and both parties are confident they will reach agreement on a deal expected to see millions of pounds pumped into the Bramall Lane club. While such a deal is yet to be finalised, all signs point to an imminent conclusion that will no-doubt secure the club’s finances for the near future.
New money is crucial for the Blades as they start the season with an uber slim-lined squad of just 17 squad players. And that’s after a host of new players have arrived in the summer.
In goal, former Everton keeper Steve Simonsen has been drafted in, while the defence has also been bolstered with the arrival of Robert Kozluk and Nyron Nosworthy along with Austrian holding midfielder Johannes Ertl. With Chris Morgan the ever-present at the back, the Blades backline looks tough and strong.
Shoring up the the defence has only been part of the summer recruitment process. Nippy midfielder Leon Britton has been brought in from Swansea while Maltese striker Daniel Bogdanovic, scored 14 goals for Barnsley last season, has been signed in attack to play alongside Richard Cresswell and Darius Henderson.
Money issues aside, Sunday’s match is likely to be a contrast in footballing styles between the ball-playing Bluebirds and the route-one Blades. Games at Ninian Park between these two have generally been tight affairs, and with both sides looking to get off to a positive start it may well be that they both cancel each other out.
101gg predicts: Cardiff 1 – Sheffield United 1 (6.72)