Mick McCarthy’s Cardiff City continued their remarkable run with a fourth successive victory on Tuesday night, downing Luton Town 2-0 at Kenilworth Road.
Harry Wilson and Will Vaulks struck within four minutes of each other in the second half, which made the difference in an otherwise tight affair.
Here, we unpick just what happened in the match as well as discussing all other Bluebirds talking points following the win over the Hatters.
‘Excellent’ engine room
Under Mick McCarthy, we have seen Cardiff City’s shooting boots get laced up once again.
The Bluebirds have scored 12 goals in six games with the new manager in situ and they have looked a dangerous attacking outfit in recent weeks.
In the last five matches, City have conceded only three goals, too. That is a marked improvement from the lax, sloppy City we saw at the start of the season.
But while the defence and attack have been lauded, the midfield has perhaps been a little overlooked. And it took a tough, battling encounter at Kenilworth Road for people to take notice of those in the engine room.
Marlon Pack and Will Vaulks really stood up and kept a nice tempo to proceedings, while they gave the Hatters midfielders no room to breathe. Any big chances for the hosts came from largely hopeful balls into the box or set pieces.
Harry Wilson produced the piece of magic to get City on their way, but while McCarthy acknowledged the Liverpool loanee’s sprinkle of magic stardust, he thought the midfield duo were top class against Luton.
“Of course, that’s why you have him in the team,” McCarthy said of Wilson.
“We have got the other guys. The three big centre backs who were battling away against their two strikers.
“I thought Vaulksy and Marlon Pack were excellent in there.
“Then you’ve got the exciting ones who put the bells and whistles on all that hard work and that’s what he did.”
The midfield seem to be thriving under more clearly-defined roles. Perhaps they are a little more defensive-minded than under the previous regime, but that in turn is helping massively at both ends of the pitch.
Will Vaulks for Wales
Will Vaulks’ Wales journey has been a difficult one at times, for both the player and Cardiff City fans.
He has been in and out of squads and the team over the last 18 months, which will no doubt be a source of frustration for him.
In recent Wales camps, though, Ryan Giggs and Rob Page have opted for a number of combinations in the middle of the park to try to drum up the right partnership.
Joe Allen had, of course, been absent from recent camps owing to injury, and one would think he just slots straight back in as and when that is the case. And Ethan Ampadu would likely be his partner in there, should injuries allow in the back line, where the Sheffield United star has been deployed on occasion.
After that, though, there appears to be a combination of Joe Morrell, Matt Smith and Dylan Levitt who are afforded their chances to showcase what they can do at the base of midfield.
Well, I, as would many City fans, would argue that Vaulks is just as capable, if not more so, than those above.
Morrell has been largely preferred by the Wales coaching staff, however his season has been stop-start. He decided to leave Bristol City as he was getting no game time at the beginning of the campaign, but has been used fairly sparingly by Luton Town.
He has suffered injuries, too, in fact he was injured for the Bluebirds game on Tuesday evening, but has often been named on the bench by Nathan Jones. He has completed 90 minutes only twice this term for the Hatters.
Dylan Levitt was recalled by Manchester United after he got no game time with League One Charlton Athletic and has just penned a short-term loan with a club rooted to the bottom of the Croatian league.
Matt Smith has been playing well and regularly in League One with Fleetwood, but you would like to think Vaulks is the better choice, given he is playing with regularity in a now-flying Championship side.
Wales deploy a similar style to McCarthy’s Cardiff, in a sense. The central midfielders are largely tasked with sitting deep and remaining resolute, allowing the star-studded forward line to concentrate only on scoring.
What makes Vaulks so good at that with Cardiff is that he is scrappy, tenacious and tough, but he also has a wonderful eye for a defence-splitting pass or diagonal ball out to the flank to release the forward players.
He is playing with confidence now, too, which is crucial for both club and country as we hit a crunch point in the calendar.
The World Cup qualifiers are looming, with games against Belgium and Czech Republic ahead next month, either side of a Mexico friendly, and if Vaulks continues his current form, he will rightly feel aggrieved if he does not have any involvement.
Ampadu and Allen have earned their spots ahead of him, of course, but he should certainly be in the conversation after that.
The telling form table
Since Mick McCarthy has taken charge of Cardiff City, no team has taken more Championship points.
That is a remarkable turnaround by the Bluebirds and credit has to be given to McCarthy, his assistant Terry Connor and the coaching staff for making this side formidable once again.
McCarthy knows how quickly it can all be taken away, though, he cited on Tuesday night that he remembered Cardiff won four and then lost four in a row under Neil Harris not so long ago. But the form table is telling.
City have accrued 14 points from six games under McCarthy and the wheels are spinning quickly.
“Having had two draws and four wins on the bounce, I’d like to say it is a Mick McCarthy team,” he laughed.
“I’d like to take a bit of credit for that.”
And so he should, too. He has really galvanised this group and got the best out of the talented players at his disposal in such a short space of time.
City are top of the tree in the form guide from January 22, but he knows that must continue if they are to get a shot at the play-offs.
Cardiff City ‘giants’
It is perhaps a little lazy to say that this Cardiff City side has all the hallmarks of a Neil Warnock-type side, just because McCarthy is perceived to be cut from the same cloth.
But, as time goes on, it is difficult not to draw comparisons.
I remember after Warnock’s last transfer window, Cardiff looked an enormous, imposing side on the pitch. Aden Flint, Curtis Nelson, Sean Morrison, Callum Paterson, Marlon Pack, Nathaniel Mendez-Laing. They were a daunting prospect.
A few of those players have gone now, of course, and Harris opted not to select Flint or Paterson for much of the back half of his tenure.
But now, with Flint back in the fray and Kieffer Moore leading the line, that daunting, unyielding, resolute City lineup appears to have been restored.
And listening to Nathan Jones’ post-match press conference just solidified that maybe this team is just beginning to hark back to the one which had so much success under Warnock.
“They’re a tough side to play against because they’re giants,” he said. “They put you under pressure but I thought we handled that really well.
“We had the best chance of the first half, James Collins’ header, and when you don’t take that, the first goal is always vital.
“We lost two centre-halves and, especially against these, I picked the biggest, strongest side I could pick – apart from our groundsman, who’s 6ft 4in!
“That set us back and the first goal was vital. Once they had the first goal, they were difficult to break down.”
It’s OK to get carried away
Managers would have you believe, and perhaps rightly so, that their feet are firmly planted on the floor and they are not getting carried away.
It is the party line and everyone understands the game.
But, as fans, it is OK to get carried away just a little bit.
Before Euro 2016 Chris Coleman told Wales fans to “get carried away” and I loved that. It really resonated with me. Why not?
It has been an awful year for everyone outside of football and, on the pitch, this season has been something of a disappointment for City fans up until the last four weeks.
So, with the play-off spots within touching distance now, Bluebirds fans should let their imaginations run amok. With 16 games to go and just three points to make up, although Bournemouth do play on Wednesday evening, City fans should be daring to dream.
If not now, then when? The momentum is with the side and it is the perfect time in the season for that to be the case.
If they fall short, then so be it, but Bluebirds supporters deserve this bit of optimism now and it is not before time.