Cardiff City suffer a crisis of confidence ahead of the Carling Cup Final clash with Liverpool

Malky Mackay has proven to be a breath of fresh air for the Cardiff City since replacing Dave Jones in the summer, who once more flirted with but eventually failed to achieve promotion. Yet, after three defeats in their last four games, the Bluebirds are in the midst of a confidence crisis ahead of the Carling Cup Final this weekend.

Tasked with replenishing a depleted and disillusioned squad, Mackay promptly and shrewdly brought in a collection of accomplished free agents and promising youngsters. He also spent reasonable sums of money to acquire Kenny Miller and centre-back Ben Turner, who have reinforced the spine of the side.

A season of consolidation was predicted, but Cardiff have exceeded all expectations by cementing a place amongst the Championship elite and embarking on an unexpected cup run. Mackay’s enthusiasm and positivity has proved to be infectious and it remains to be seen whether or not Cardiff have been overachieving. Last season, Mackay enjoyed a similarly bright first half of the season at Watford, before their form dissipated in the New Year. Just how good a manager he really is will be revealed in the coming months.

An unsuccessful attempt to facilitate both Miller and Robert Earnshaw in a 4-4-2 formation was abandoned in favour of a 4-5-1, with Miller as the attacking focal point. Rudy Gestede provides an aerial threat but his progress has been hampered by a series of injuries. A talented yet raw performer, he is often introduced late on in games.

Peter Whittingham is the deep-lying playmaker, with Craig Conway and Don Cowie operating on the wings. Aron Gunnarsson provides a physical presence in the heart of midfield alongside the likes of Filip Kiss, veteran Stephen McPhail, the promising Joe Mason or academy prospect Joe Ralls. The defence has remained largely unchanged this term, Kevin McNaughton and Anthony Taylor occupy the full-back berths with captain Mark Hudson forming a formidable partnership with the powerful, no nonsense Turner. Hudson’s recent absence has paved the way for Anthony Gerrard, cousin of Liverpool’s Steven, to fill in at centre-back and the change has corresponded with Cardiff’s downturn in fortunes. Mackay will hope that Hudson can be reinstalled in time to face Liverpool.

There is not much to choose between David Marshall and Tom Heaton in goal, but Marshall is established as first choice but Heaton has been selected throughout Cardiff’s Carling Cup campaign. His place was assured prior to his penalty heroics in the semi-final against Crystal Palace, which have enhanced the reputation of the former Manchester United prospect and rejuvenated his claims for regular first team football.

The primary reason behind the dismissal of former boss Jones was his inability to create a cohesive side from the likes of Whittingham, Jay Bothroyd, Michael Chopra and specifically, local hero Craig Bellamy. He successfully micro-managed Bellamy’s troublesome knee and utilised him initially on the left wing and eventually up front, becoming far too reliant on his drive and influence. When Bellamy, an injury doubt ahead of Sunday’s clash, picked up a knock early in the first leg of the play-off semi-final with Reading, Cardiff’s season disappeared down the tunnel with him. Should Cardiff be defeated the experience will be bittersweet if it is inflicted by one of their own.

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