It’s a big game on Monday night, so it’s only appropriate that we have double the number of Town Ends for you this week. On Wednesday, we spoke to Jordan Jones about Cardiff’s team, and now we turn our attention to the wider state of Cardiff City Football Club.
Cardiff fan Dan Lewis, who writes for Goal and Sportsmole, gave us the lowdown on how life is going for the Bluebirds at the moment.
You can find him on Twitter @Daniel_Lewis92.
What has Neil Warnock done to make Cardiff City into promotion contenders?
Quite simply, Warnock has helped revolutionise Cardiff City following a few years of mediocrity upon returning to the Championship. There is a bond between players and fans once again, much like in the Malky Mackay era, and a real sense of positivity has returned to the Cardiff City Stadium.
Warnock has always been a classic 'marmite' manager – if he is in charge of your team you love him; if he is in the opposition dugout you loathe him and his style of play. The key has been getting in players who are hungry to make a point, with a quartet of free signings being brought in last year – two of them, Junior Hoilett and Sol Bamba, proving to be arguably our two most impressive performer this term.
How important has his impact been?
The biggest quirk of Russell Slade's tenure in South Wales was the fact City finished eighth in 2015-16 – I can only assume that the quality in the rest of the division that season was the worst it has ever been! Then came a 12th-place finish last time out, with Warnock dragging us from the bottom three in December and into the top half on the final day.
On the basis of his 14 months in charge, no other side has collected more points than Warnock's Cardiff. If another example was required: Less than £3.5m has been spent in the last two transfer windows combined, meaning that Warnock has effectively taken the same group that had performed so badly in the opening months of last season and turned them into a side well on course for a return to the Premier League.
How are things going behind the scenes at the moment?
It is all very quiet, which can only be a good thing! Vincent Tan will never be loved by all Cardiff fans, of course, having ripped up the club's traditions by rebranding from blue to red in the lead-up to our first Premier League promotion. Tan clearly has a good understanding with Warnock, though, and there is good chance financial backing will be provided in the winter window if required.
Supporters are now pulling in one direction, helped by the work of Warnock who goes above and beyond when it comes to behind-the-scenes work. Despite his age, it is difficult to remember a manager who has achieved so much in so little time at Cardiff.
How healthy is the club as a whole?
The latest news coming out of the club last month is that Vincent Tan has now paid off another chunk of outstanding debt, leaving City in a healthier position now than at any point in recent memory. There was a word of warning, though, as parachute payments are due to expire next summer and another wage cull will then be required.
The majority of players are now on what you would call 'respectable' wages - i.e at a level you would expect in the second tier – but should promotion be out of reach then it would not be all that surprising to see a key asset such as Kenneth Zohore sold on for a large profit.
Cardiff are finally challenging for promotion after a few seasons in mid-table - what was going wrong for the club over the last few years?
It is difficult to say, really. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was a dreadful choice as manager, both in the Premier League and Championship, while Slade had his hands tied behind his back somewhat as he was brought in to cut the wage bill. Then came the forgotten-about Paul Trollope tenure, lasting just a few months, before an experienced and proven manager in Warnock was brought on board.
Many may slate the style of play – often after being beaten, coincidentally! – but there is no denying that it works. I have never been one for tiki-taka, and 'Warnock-ball' proves that there is certainly more than one way to skin a cat. All of a sudden the backline looks incredibly strong, conceding just 14 goals all season, while the attacking players are working in tandem.
Incidentally, Sean Morrison has been incredible over the last year, finally winning over supporters.
If Cardiff get to the Premier League, can they stay there long-term?
On paper this is squad that fills into the 'sum of its parts' category – a team without any true superstar quality, but instead a group of players working together as one. New additions will certainly be needed to bolster the squad IF promotion is achieved, though Warnock is a manager who prides himself on getting the best out of unfancied players and will therefore want to keep the core of the current crop.
Lessons will no doubt have been learned from 2013-14, when a dreadful second half to the campaign cost us a place in the top flight, so fingers crossed the recruitment process will be a little stronger on this occasion.
What do you make of Reading at the moment?
I was among those surprised to see Reading flying high last season, much in the same way as many are confused about Cardiff's form this season. Jaap Stam's stock seemed incredibly high at one point, though from what I can gather his style of play is not currently working as effectively.
The last couple of months look to have been a little healthier in terms of results, though, and you did of course pull off the double in this fixture last season. It is a campaign that could still go either way.
How do you see the match going, and what will the score be?
I was amazed to see that Cardiff have only won one of the last six meetings between the two sides – even that was a dreadful display to win 2-0 under Slade two years ago. Many opposition supporters, and indeed managers, know exactly what they are going to get when Cardiff arrive.
The problem is only three teams have managed to do something about it so far. Warnock's chosen style is highly efficient – whether grinding out victories or cruising to three points – and on the basis of the last three weeks or so I can only see an away victory on Monday night.
Reading 0-1 Cardiff City