AFC Bournemouth will be hoping to extend to eight games their unbeaten start in the Championship when they face Cardiff City at Cardiff City Stadium on Saturday (3pm kick-off).
The Cherries made it seven games without defeat when they registered a hard-earned 2-1 win against QPR on Tuesday, condemning the Londoners to a first loss of the season.
Cardiff, in Mick McCarthy’s first full season in charge, have experienced mixed fortunes and are currently ninth following three wins, two draws and two defeats.
The Bluebirds were 15th in the Championship and closer to the relegation zone than the play-offs places when the vastly-experienced McCarthy replaced Neil Harris in January.
They were unbeaten in his first 11 games in charge – including a 2-1 victory at Vitality Stadium – but three wins in their final 11 matches saw them finish eighth, three points behind the Cherries.
A four-match unbeaten start to this season saw them beat Blackpool (2-0) and Millwall (3-1) and draw with Barnsley (1-1) and Peterborough (2-2) before they went down 2-1 against Bristol City.
A double from teenage sensation Rubin Colwill earned them a 2-1 win at Nottingham Forest on Sunday before Viktor Gyokeres netted the only goal to condemn them to defeat at Coventry on Wednesday.
CARDIFF CITY PROFILE
Ground: Cardiff City Stadium
Nickname: The Bluebirds
Manager: Mick McCarthy (appointed January 2021)
Club captain: Sean Morrison
Current league position: Ninth
Leading goalscorer 2021/22: Aden Flint (four in all competitions, pictured below)
Last game: Coventry City 1-0 Cardiff City (Championship)
afcb.co.uk: How has the season started for the Bluebirds?
RP: I’d say mixed. They are really awkward to play against. They are a strong, powerful team but their limitations have shown.
They have not had a settled starting line-up, partly due to Covid issues over the summer. Kieffer Moore, their mainstay, came back late because of Covid and one or two others had it as well.
I’d say they are pretty much a work in progress. They lack a bit of creativity in midfield and I think that’s their major problem.
What they are good at is set-pieces because they are a really big team. Chris Hughton described them as the biggest Championship side he had ever seen and I can understand why he said that.
afcb.co.uk: Who has been the pick of their new signings?
RP: Ryan Giles, who is on loan from Wolves. They didn’t make many new signings in the summer so he hasn’t had a great deal of competition.
When he’s played, he’s really sparkled. He’s quick, he’s incisive with his running and he delivers a great ball into the middle which was summed up by an absolute peach of a cross at Blackpool which was right on to the head of Kieffer Moore.
He hasn’t played the past couple of games due to illness but they are much better when he plays.
afcb.co.uk: Tell us about rising star Rubin Colwill (pictured above)?
RP: He has had an extraordinary rise. He was in the under-23s and, in one of his first training sessions at the club, Mick McCarthy said he wasn’t a youngster, he was a fella. He is a big unit.
He made his debut in February and then signed a new contract. At the end of the season, he went on a training session with Wales for Championship players ahead of the Euros.
We thought he’d gone to make up the numbers but he got picked for the finals and made his debut.
He got Covid after the Euros which delayed his start to the season. He signed another new contract just before making his World Cup debut for Wales in Belarus a few weeks ago.
He is a real sensation and is the best youngster to come through at Cardiff, probably since Aaron Ramsey. It’s still early days but he looks a really good player.
afcb.co.uk: How would you sum up Mick McCarthy’s tenure as manager so far?
RP: He came in and transformed them from relegation strugglers to play-off contenders. He stabilized them and got them on a roll when he first got there.
I know I’m talking after a defeat by Coventry but they are hard to play against and hard to beat and that’s what he’s made them with limited resources.
Kieffer Moore was the stand-out player last season and will become even more important this season because everything revolves around him as far as goals are concerned.
He hasn’t had a steady start to the season because of illness and various other things.
In summary, McCarthy has done a really good job and they would be rightly considered as one of those clubs that may be in contention for the play-offs.
afcb.co.uk: Who is Cardiff’s one to watch?
RP: If he gets the service, it has to be Kieffer Moore (pictured above). He is a big striker who can bully defences and knows how to score goals.
He’s a good finisher and not only with his head. He is a big part of the way they play. He is the attacking fulcrum and their go-to man.
He is the one to watch, especially at set-pieces. They are also dangerous at set-pieces because they’ve got Aden Flint, Sean Morrison and Curtis Nelson, who are all giants as well!
afcb.co.uk: Are any key players either suspended or injured against the Cherries?
RP: Ryan Giles went down with illness before the game at Nottingham Forest and also missed the Coventry game so it remains to be seen about him.
Joe Ralls has been missing with an injury and I also think they are better with him in the midfield.
afcb.co.uk: What’s your score prediction?
RP: I’ll go with a 1-1 draw.
You can follow Rob on Twitter – @robphillipshere
Officials: Joshua Smith (referee), Jonathan Hunt (assistant), Akil Howson (assistant), Nick Greenhalgh (fourth official).