• James Barker

Cardiff City v Middlesbrough: The Breakdown build-up

Middlesbrough head to the Welsh capital knowing a win could take them as high as fifth, and potentially cost Cardiff manager Mick McCarthy his job.

What a difference a couple of results can make to the mood around a football club, and of the fans’ outlook on their manager.

Back-to-back wins for the first time this season were delivered after Middlesbrough’s midweek win over Barnsley, and as a result, has brought a fresh wave of optimism to the Boro faithful, as fans are now looking up instead of down again.

However, the mood down in South Wales couldn’t be any further from that on Teesside, as The Bluebirds sit only one place above the Championship drop zone.

Two of English football’s longest serving managers go head-to-head on Saturday lunchtime, and here’s everything you need to know ahead of it.

The Opposition

Cardiff City FC

Nickname: The Bluebirds

Founded: 1899

Stadium: Cardiff City Stadium

Current league position: 21st

Last season finish: 8th

Manager: Mick McCarthy

Current Top Scorer: Aden Flint (4)

Fun fact: Cardiff City haven’t always played in blue. In fact, when the club originally formed as Riverside AFC in the late 19th century, the team wore orange and brown shirts with orange socks.

Middlesbrough will be facing a Cardiff City team that are in turmoil this weekend. They have the joint worst goal difference in the league (-12), and their 24 goals conceded can only be topped by Peterborough United’s 26.

Current manager Mick McCarthy took the reigns at Cardiff back in the January of this year, replacing Neil Harris. The club were 15th in the Championship at that point, however, a turnaround of results earned McCarthy a two-year extension in March and the club went on to finish the season in 8th.

So heading in to the 2021/22 campaign, there was justifiable optimism from everyone associated with the club that The Bluebirds could be a play-off team this season. But for a host of different reasons, Cardiff have found themselves scrapping at the wrong end of the table.

Kieffer Moore bagged 20 Championship goals last season, but has only found the net once so far this term. Striker James Collins - a player Boro were credited with a brief interest in this summer - was signed on a free from Luton Town, but has zero goals in 13. Indeed, it is the defenders in the form of Aden Flint (4) and Sean Morrison (2) that are the leading goal-getters for The Bluebirds.

Mick McCarthy has also came in for a hefty amount of criticism from the Cardiff faithful over his common deployment of five defenders. However, in the previous match against Fulham, he shocked many by reverting to a 4-2-3-1, which although did not provide a result, acted as a positive stepping stone in the minds of Bluebirds fans. I expect this will be the formation McCarthy deploys again this weekend.

One Cardiff player who has really stood out so far this season is the young, versatile midfielder Ryan Giles. The 21 year-old is on loan from Premiership side Wolverhampton Wanderers, and his five assists in 10 Championship appearances this season have been invaluable. His performances are certainly going to be key if Cardiff City are to get out of their rut, and this makeshift band of Boro defenders must contain him on Saturday.

The Form Book

Middlesbrough (Last six: WWLWLL)

Middlesbrough 2-0 Barnsley

Middlesbrough 2-0 Peterborough United

Hull City 2-0 Middlesbrough

Middlesbrough 2-0 Sheffield United

Reading 1-0 Middlesbrough

Middlesbrough 1-2 Blackpool

Cardiff City (Last six: LLLLLL)

Fulham 2-0 Cardiff City

Swansea City 3-0 Cardiff City

Cardiff City 0-1 Reading

Cardiff City 0-4 West Bromwich Albion

Blackburn Rovers 5-1 Cardiff City

Cardiff City 0-1 Bournemouth

Head-to-head record

Matches played - 31

Wins - Cardiff City 17-8 Middlesbrough

Draws - 6

Goals - Cardiff City 34-25 Middlesbrough

Points - Cardiff City 57-30 Middlesbrough

Last six:

Middlesbrough 1-1 Cardiff City - February 27, 2021

Cardiff City 1-1 Middlesbrough - October 24, 2020

Middlesbrough 1-3 Cardiff City - July 18, 2020

Cardiff City 1-0 Middlesbrough - September 21, 2019

Cardiff City 1-0 Middlesbrough - February 17, 2018

Middlesbrough 0-1 Cardiff City - October 21, 2017

League Statistics


10th, won 5, drawn 3, lost 5

Goals scored 15, goals conceded 13

Clean sheets 5

Points 18

Cardiff City:

21st, won 3, drawn 2, lost 8

Goals scored 7, goals conceded 15

Clean sheets 1

Points 11

Team News

For Middlesbrough, Neil Warnock will still have to make do with the players he had available for the Barnsley game, as he confirmed in his post-match interview: “We won’t have any players back.

“I thought we might have had Dijksteel back by then, but I can’t see it watching him today.”

Boro fans looked on nervously when Andraž Šporar was withdrawn with a knock after 65 minutes on Wednesday night and speaking in his pre-match press conference he hinted at a late decision, saying: "“I’m going to have a chat with Andraz today.

“He didn’t train yesterday. I’ll have a look at him and see what the situation is.

“Other than that, I don’t see anyone else who has been injured coming back for a few weeks yet.”

As for The Bluebirds, they will be missing a couple of first-team players through injury, but do possess a relatively clean bill of health compared to the situation at Middlesbrough.

Central midfielders Leandro Bacuna and Joe Ralls both picked up injuries during Cardiff’s thumping 3-0 loss to Swansea City in the South Wales derby last Sunday, with neither being fit for their midweek loss to Fulham. Both are not expected to be available for Saturday.

Promising 22 year-old right-back Tom Sang had a flare up of a historical toe injury - which he had surgery on in pre-season - and missed Cardiff’s midweek game. He too is doubtful to play a part on Saturday. Attacking midfielder Sam Bowen has recovered from an illness however, and is fully fit to play this weekend.

Managers Thoughts

Reflecting on his sides win over Barnsley, Middlesbrough boss Neil Warnock said: “Alright, I know we were a little bit apprehensive first five - they had the good chance to score - but after that we got right on the front foot then.

“I mean, they put me through mill don’t they. We should have a had a couple of more goals shouldn’t we?

“But we kept another clean sheet tonight and that’s nice to see with the squad we’ve got at the moment. All credit to the lads.”

Warnock finished by looking ahead to Saturday: “We move onto Cardiff now. They’re going through a bad spell but it’s still a difficult place to go.”

Speaking after his sides seventh straight defeat, a devastated, yet resilient Cardiff City manager Mick McCarthy stated: “I can’t do any more than what I’m doing. I certainly can’t try harder than I am. TC (Terry Connor, Assistant Manager) and I are giving everything.

“Unfortunately for me, 90 percent of my life is football and football results, so you can tell how I’m feeling.”

In a show of resilience, McCarthy expressed: “ I was asked at the weekend if they had stopped playing for me, if I’d lost the dressing room, which I think is ridiculous, and that tonight showed I certainly haven’t.

“If we perform like that against other teams, we’ll win games but I’m afraid Fulham were too good and too strong for us.

“There are good younguns, but we need some soldiers at the minute to get a result from somewhere.”

Predicted Line-ups

Middlesbrough: GK: Joe Lumley DEF: Lee Peltier, Paddy McNair, Sol Bamba

MID: Marcus Tavernier, Matt Crooks, Jonny Howson (C), Martín Payero, Onel Hernández ATT: Andraž Šporar, Duncan Watmore

Cardiff City: GK: Alex Smithies DEF: Perry Ng, Sean Morrison (C), Aden Flint, Joel Bagan MID: Will Vaulks, Marlon Pack, Ryan Giles, Sam Bowen, Rubin Colwill ATT: Kieffer Moore

Match Prediction

Some of you may have read my very first match preview for The Boro Breakdown for the Barnsley game on Wednesday. (Thank you all very much if you did!)

When it got to this final section of the preview, I described the process of attempting to determine the outcome of a Middlesbrough match as being an event that should be held in the Olympics. And if indeed it was, I would’ve been stood, proud as punch, on the podium, with a gold medal around my neck, tucking in to my complimentary Parmo, as the sound of Pigbag draws a tear from my eye. To put it short, my 2-0 prediciton was correct. So let’s try and keep this 100% record going this weekend.

Cardiff City enter this weekend’s fixture on the back of seven successive Championship defeats. And in those seven games, The Bluebirds have only found the net on one occasion, but perhaps even more worryingly, have conceded 17 in that time.

Cardiff also appear to be slow out of the blocks attacking-wise, as they have not scored a single goal during the first-half of a Championship game so far this season.

Therefore, once again, I cannot disagree with, nor deny that there is feeling of Cardiff being completley nailed on to not only score, but prove to be difficult for us to breakdown. Because Middlesbrough Football Club.

And as the head-to-head record shows, Cardiff are a notoriously tough opponent for the Boro. However, the feel good factor is back, Martín Payero is everything and more that we hoped Bruno Zuculini would be, and Neil Warnock looks to of finally found the recipe for success with certain players.

I believe Cardiff will make the Boro work hard for it, but in the end, I see Middlesbrough unlocking The Bluebirds defence, and thus taking home the three points on what could be McCarthy’s final appearance in the Cardiff City dugout.

Prediction: Cardiff City 0-1 Middlesbrough

Be sure to tune in to the latest Boro Breakdown podcast for all your matchday chatter in a pod, which you can find here.

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