When Cardiff City entertain Newcastle United in South Wales on Saturday, the sense of optimism around the place will be hard to avoid.
Just a week away from their respective new league campaigns, the managers of both clubs will be quietly satisfied with how their summer preparations have gone as expectations of the supporters of both teams continue to rise.
Newcastle may have been relatively quiet in the transfer market but the lack of high profile additions shouldn’t overly concern manager Alan Pardew. The Toon had a fantastic Premier League campaign in 2011/12, surpassing all reasonable expectations to finish 5th – ahead of Liverpool and European Champions Chelsea – to qualify for the Europa League.
In a mark of how well Newcastle performed, all of a sudden there is notably less open dissent about the way the club is being run by hated owner Mike Ashley.
Cardiff’s home record was decent last year, but five home defeats (more than anyone else in the top seven) and 29 goals conceded in 23 games (the worst record in the top half) needs improvement.
And I don’t think last year was a fluke. With the help of his much trumpeted scouting team (which is headed by Graham Carr, father of comedian Alan) Pardew moulded together a team that mixed defensive solidity with a sprinkle of ‘x-factor’ and the attacking players at his disposal – Papiss Cisse, Demba Ba, Hatem Ben Arfa – are the envy of much of the division.
The main battle for the former Southampton boss was to hold on to his best players (Yohan Cabaye and Cheick Tiote also fall into this category) and that mission seems like it has been achieved. Of course, like any other manager Pardew would have liked to have brought in a stellar name – he still might if the Magpies’ pursuit of Andy Carroll bears fruit – but Newcastle’s settled squad looks strong as it is and there is no reason to suggest another tilt at the Champions League places is beyond them.
Hopes are similarly high at Cardiff. Reaching the Carling Cup final and the Championship play-off semi-finals represented a great season for Malky Makay in his debut year as Bluebirds boss, especially given the turnover of players he had to deal with when taking over from Dave Jones twelve months ago.
The ex-Watford manager settled an unsteady ship and then some, and the Scot now has his eyes on the big prize of promotion to the top flight. To that end, the summer has gone well (if you ignore the ridiculous decision by the club’s Thai owners to change the colour of the team’s strip from blue to red) and Cardiff have a squad that looks well equipped to challenge at the top of the Championship.
Goalkeeper Joe Lewis is a fine free transfer from Peterborough, while Heidar Helguson is a proven goalscorer in the second tier. And with Craig Bellamy making a return to his boyhood club, Cardiff’s 12/1 ante-post price seems a bit on the big side.
Cardiff get to try that red kit out for the first time on Saturday (are they now called the Redbirds?) when Newcastle visit in what has the makings of a good, competitive friendly. The home side are 11/4 to win, with Newcastle at 17/20 and the draw at 23/10 and I think that in what should be a tight match, the Toon might just have the edge.
Cardiff’s home record was decent last year, but five home defeats (more than anyone else in the top seven) and 29 goals conceded in 23 games (the worst record in the top half) needs improvement and Newcastle can make the most of that vulnerability at this very early stage. The Magpies took some thumpings on the road themselves last year but only the top three scored more goals on their travels and a run of five pre-season friendlies unbeaten show Newcastle are in fine fettle. All of those five Cardiff home defeats came against teams in the top half of the Championship and though it is probably as short as you want to go, Newcastle can warm up for their big kick off at home to Tottenham next week with a win in Cardiff.
Recommended bet: Newcastle to beat Cardiff @ 17/20
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