Malky Mackay's tenure at Cardiff City was jolted into life when Kenny Miller slammed home a 94th minute winner at Upton Park on the opening day of the season. No one could have expected such a start. No one dared to dream it possible. A pre-season filled with uncertainty and upheaval had left City fans out in the wilderness. Dave Jones had been in charge for six seasons and one phrase had become synonymous with the club; bottlers. We bottled the F.A. Cup final by not going for broke. We bottled it by missing out on the play-offs by one goal. We bottled the play-off final by simply not wanting it enough. And over the 2010/2011, we bottled opportunity after opportunity to gain points on our promotion rivals culminating in that embarrassing 3-0 defeat to Reading.
I was a Dave Jones fan. When we hired him, there was a sense that we were going places. Lennie Lawrence had never been tenacious and didn't seem to have the tactical sense to push us on to the next level. Dave Jones was that man. It wasn't an easy job and in the first few seasons, he rebuilt the squad and the side and then galvanised us. Season-on-season we improved, pushing higher up the table and eventually breaking into the top six.
When the change finally came, it was absolutely the right one. The end of season debacle against Reading was just awful and showed how little passion some of the players had for the club, how wide the gap was between fans and players. We had some top quality players within out squad last season; England internationals, Manchester City loanee's and Nigerian powerhouses. But it all came crumbling down on that awful night at the CCS.
Step up Malky Mackay. The Watford manager who had overseen a Vicarage Road demolition of our prima donnas was brought in on a wage, if reports are to be believed, of almost a third of Dave Jones' and from the outset, he started to rebuild the bridge that Dave Jones had worked so hard to burn. He showed that it's easy to get on with the fans. That we should all be moving in the same direction. Dave Jones had made it seem that it was us against him.
But just how good is Malky? Well, when he came in, we had lost twelve players. Granted, that figure included Jlloyd Samuel and Steven Bywater who can barely be classed as people let alone footballers but alas, they were spaces that needed to be filled. Out went the inflated egos - Jay Bothroyd, I'm looking at you - and in came the players we craved. Burly Scotsman Craig Conway was the first recruit, a hard working and skilful winger from Dundee and week on week, Malky would sign a new cog in his machine. Aaron Gunarsson, Don Cowie, Joe Mason, Filip Kiss, Andrew Taylor, Rudy Gestede all came in. Our biggest signing was, arguably, Kenny Miller. The Scottish striker came in for a cool £870k from Bursaspor and signalled our intentions. Where we failed with individuals and big names, our intention was to succeed with a committed team.
Malky is a football man through and through and he gets what Cardiff City means to the fans, and that's the highest praise I can give the man.
And succeed he has. The clear differences between Malky and Dave are PASSHUN (sic) and the ability to change formations. Let's look at point one. The passhun (sic) shown by Malky for the club, the fans and the game has been a breath of fresh air. Dave took his hands out of his pockets less than a man who has had a terrible glue-based accident. That's not normally grounds for a criticism but when you look at Malky, hopping around and constantly screaming instructions to his players, it instils a belief in him and the team. When you looked over and saw Dave Jones, hands buried into his pockets, it inspired nothing but apathy.
Malky also gets the commitment fans so desire from his players. Peter Whittingham, a man so laid back, he is very rarely seen upright, has become a midfield demon. He's probably the most technically gifted player in the league (Kevin Nolan isn't fit to lace his boots) and this season, he has become a work horse as well. I saw him win three headers in a game earlier this season; prior to this he had only won three over his Cardiff City career. But this hasn't compromised his ability. Whitts has finally been getting the recognition he so deserves this season and that's definitely down to Malky.
Secondly, Dave Jones rigidity with the four-four-two formation was akin to Mike Bassett in that film that's named after Mike Bassett. He would never change. His substitutions always came with a feeling of numbing inevitability; 60-odd minutes then 70-odd minutes and always like for like. Malky showed an ability to rip it up in his first game in charge; bringing on a striker for a winger and switching the formation at Upton Park. Two games later, when Aaron Gunnarson went off injured, on came little Joey Mason and he tore Bristol apart. He played a striker in a deep role, running behind the front two which was something Cardiff City fans hadn't seen since mercurial Jason Koumas was given a free role five seasons ago.
To see Cardiff City sitting fifth is, without doubt, a success. The team have gelled quickly and effectively after some early teething troubles. Eleven games unbeaten, prior to the Middlesbrough loss, was a brilliant run and it included wins against Blackburn and Birmingham. A Carling Cup semi-final beckons and a possible trip to Wembley, another event Cardiff fans would never have expected this season. Malky is doing wonders and the bond between fans and manager is as strong as ever. When Cardiff fan Mikey Dye was the victim of a heinous attack at the England-Wales clash at Wembley, Malky and the club were exemplary in the tributes to Mikey. Malky even attended his funeral. Malky is a football man through and through and he gets what Cardiff City means to the fans, and that's the highest praise I can give the man.
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