Consistent Cardiff end half-century wait for Premier League promised land

With the Welsh club ending a 51-year absence from England's top flight, Scott Johnson praises the efforts of manager Malky Mackay and assesses what the club's focus must now be
By Scott Johnson at the Cardiff City Stadium

After 53 years of Football League snakes and ladders, and with no goals and no fingernails left to chew, Cardiff City made it, finally, to the Premier League.

And they did it their way. "Monotonous consistency," as Malky Mackay calls it, was a rightly fitting description as the Bluebirds, in red, drew 0-0 with Charlton to secure their passage to the promised land.
The stalemate was enough. More than, even, creating a 13-point gap between the Bluebirds and third-placed Watford, with only three games remaining. Cardiff travel to Burnley on Saturday, needing to match second-placed Hull’s result against Bristol City to secure the title.

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The final whistle was greeted with a pitch invasion as Cardiff captain Craig Bellamy sank to his knees, having led his hometown team to the Premier League in his second spell with the club. Despite spending in excess of £10 million on transfers, Cardiff’s success has been built on defensive solidarity, hard work and consistency. They have been top of the league since November and have never looked like relinquishing the position, dealing with the pressure and the lack of any real competition particularly well. They have consistently bounced back from poor results and recorded 18 clean sheets - including four in the last five games.

Mark Hudson has marshaled the back four with distinction, until a recent injury ruled him out for the rest of the season. Fraizer Campbell has had a big impact since joining in January, performing the role Nicky Maynard was signed to fulfill, before sustaining a serious knee injury. Bellamy leads by example in terms of work ethic, a Champions League-calibre player performing at Championship level. He is therefore clearly the danger man, but his influence is not as overwhelming as you would expect. His work-rate and passion has been key, but creativity is spread throughout the midfield and attack.

Kim Bo-Kyung is maturing with every game, his positional discipline needs work but he has great feet and an eye for a pass. Aron Gunnarsson is a tenacious presence in midfield and has become indispensible, while Matthew Connolly’s versatility has been a huge plus. Davis Marshall has had his best season for the club and Andrew Taylor has significantly improved. It has been a real team effort. Goals have been evenly distributed, with no one player has recorded a double-figure return, but the real star of the show has been Mackay.

Tasked with fleshing out a squad that performed admirably last season but ran out of steam, Mackay spent well, rotated enough to keep players on their toes and kept the team grounded throughout the campaign. Every inch a modern manager, and going places fast, Mackay has very exacting standards in terms of effort and application. The players he has signed fit those specifications and there seems to be an absence of ego within the squad. He has yet to put a foot wrong and Cardiff will have to match his ascent and ambition, otherwise he is likely to be snapped up by a bigger club.

Off the field, it has been a very different story. A successful team has masked the rifts relating to a summer rebrand that continues to divide fans. For some, playing in red to appeal to the Asian market owner Vincent Tan is keen to explore, is too high a price to pay for Premier League football. Other fans have either begrudgingly or wholeheartedly embraced the changes but, at times, it has affected the atmosphere at games. But not last night, where a full house channeled their pride and frustration to drag Cardiff over the line.

Now that promotion has been secured, the hope is that Tan will be true to his word by settling an existing debt with former owner Sam Hammam and that the money he has pumped in to the club will become equity. He has also earmarked substantial transfer funds. A lot of work needs to be done behind the scenes to make the club financially sustainable, but there is scope to expand the stadium. Acquiring some new full-backs will be a priority, while a centre-back, centre-forward and right winger may also be brought in. All season tickets have already been snapped up and a top-flight South Wales derby will be keenly awaited, but the current focus remains winning the league.

For some, the achievement has been tarnished by the rebrand and paranoia remains regarding further potential changes. The situation will continue to fester despite promotion and there is no denying that going up in blue would have been the ideal, but the players and manager deserve to be heralded for shouldering the weight of history and achieving their goal in style.

But, whether it be in red or blue, Cardiff are a Premier League side. There's nothing monotone about that.

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