Before the Carling Cup Final, Cardiff City sat third in the table and were just four points off the top. Less than one month later, they find themselves in eigth position after just one win in the seven league games that followed.
With automatic promotion now just a pipe dream, Malky Mackay‘s early season high-flyers are in real danger of missing out on the play-offs completely. This was unthinkable just a few short weeks ago and it is too simplistic to blame a downturn in form on a “Wembley Hangover”.
Here are five reasons that may explain the Bluebirds’ dramatic slide down the table:
Lack of Transfer Activity
Despite huge transfer activity at the beginning of the season which saw seven players leave and nine arrive, City have not capitalised on the January transfer window to bring in adequate reinforcements.
Championship leaders Southampton brought in Billy Sharp to help Rickie Lambert fire the club into the Premier League while Reading drafted in veteran Jason Roberts from Blackburn and loaned in Arsenal youngster Benik Afobe and Portsmouth midfielder Hayden Mullins.
Cardiff City, on the other hand, loaned in Haris Vuckic from Newcastle, who had one decent game against Peterborough United but was virtually invisible during his four other appearances.
Liam Lawrence has also arrived on loan – from struggling Portsmouth and on a rumoured £18,000 a week wage. He’s a decent enough player at this level but his only contribution of note so far has been a booking during a 3-0 home defeat against Hull.
The lack of new arrivals is not necessarily the manager’s fault. Money was made available during the transfer window and the club reportedly missed out on Brighton winger Craig Noone, Blackpool forward Matt Phillips and Watford striker Marvin Sordell who joined Bolton for £3.2 million.
Not Using the Squad Enough
With results on the slide and no notable players arriving at the club, you would think the manager would freshen up the starting line-up with other members of his squad?
After months out in the cold, striker Robert Earnshaw has only returned to match action and has looked bright and eager to score during his appearances of the subs bench.
A midfield short on ideas has seen winger Craig Conway left out in recent matches while youngster Joe Ralls has disappeared off the radar. Recent singing from Wycombe Wanderers, Kadeem Harris, is also yet to make his debut.
Defensively, Kevin McNaughton appears to be a shadow of his former self but fellow full-backs Lee Naylor, Paul Quinn are nowhere near the first team squad while Darcy Blake only gets fleeting appearances off the bench.
As far as centre backs in the Championship go, Dekel Keinan looked decent last season and real set-piece threat but has been farmed out on loan to both Crystal Palace and Bristol City this term.
Not Holding Onto a Lead
This is not something new at Cardiff City. Regardless of the manager or playing staff, the Bluebirds have always been vulnerable to conceding late goals.
Last season, while Norwich City won promotion to the Premier League as last-minute winner experts, the Bluebirds have continually failed to hold onto a lead.
Fans of in-play betting would not even back the Bluebirds to win using free bets after taking the lead due to the sheer number of goals they let in from winning positions.
Just a few results recently include relegation-threatened Coventry City equalising three minutes into injury time during last week’s 2-2 draw, Brighton levelled with a minute to go to make the score 2-2 at the Falmer Stadium and City lead Blackpool 1-0 but capitulated to a 3-1 home defeat in February.
Cardiff City even lead at table-topping Southampton, only to draw the match 1-1.
No Sign of “The Beast”
Burly striker Jon Parkin has a great goalscoring record in the Championship and even plundered a hat-trick against the Bluebirds for Preston North End a couple of seasons back in a 6-0 victory.
However, since joining City just over a year ago, Parkin has rarely featured, despite offering a huge presence in attack, akin somewhat to Norwich goalscoring hero Grant Holt.
After scoring his only goal of the season for Cardiff – during a 5-3 Carling Cup victory against Huddersfield in August, Parkin has been sent on loan to Doncaster, Huddersfield and now Scunthorpe when he should be fighting for a place in the Welsh capital.
Kenny Miller hasn’t scored a goal in 13 games and Rudy Gestede, while a decent header of the ball, does not looking up to the rigours of Championship football.
Parkin is big, awkward but possesses a great touch – he’s exactly the sort of player defenders hate playing against. Even if he didn’t start, he’d provide a battering ram against weary legs coming off the bench.
The Same Old Story Under Malky?
City fans may be shocked to see the hard-working, confident and free-scoring team from the start of the season turn into a nervous, shot-shy team devoid of ideas and defensive nous.
But, is it that much of a surprise?
Last season, Malky Mackay had the unenviable task of keeping relegation-favourites Watford in the division and guided the team to fourteenth in the table.
However, after a run of seven wins on the bounce in December and January, the Hornets went on to win just four, losing 10 and drawing seven of their final 21 matches of the season – relegation form by anybody’s standards.
Since beating Reading on 2 January, City have won just three times in 14 league matches, drawn six and lost five.
Not relegation form yet but poor enough to slip out of play-off contention and end a promising season in mid-table obscurity.
Do you have your own thoughts on what has gone wrong at the Cardiff City Stadium? If so, leave them in the comments below!