City survival lessons: Canaries legend believes lack of attacking quality proved costly for Cardiff
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In the second part of our mini series on lessons Norwich City can learn from last season’s relegated Premier League teams, David Freezer speaks to Canaries legend Iwan Roberts about Cardiff City’s woes.
Cardiff City were the surprise promotion package from the Championship a year ago - that's just about where the similarities with Norwich City end though.
The Bluebirds were impressively consistent under Neil Warnock and even made lavishly funded Wolves worry a little before sealing the title in 2018, with Cardiff holding off pressure from Fulham and Aston Villa to go up as runners-up.
Warnock's vast experience meant he instinctively looked to keep that well-drilled squad intact, sticking to the physical strength and undoubted desire which had earned them a place in the Premier League.
The Bluebirds were able to dip into the pockets of their wealthy owner, Malaysian businessman Vincent Tan, although Warnock invested sensibly knowing that Tan's money had been spent poorly during the club's previous top-flight adventure.
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Malky Mackay had taken Cardiff up to the top flight as champions in 2013 and around £30million was spent - a decent amount even by today's standards - yet they finished bottom with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in charge and with £7.5m Danish striker Andreas Cornelius becoming a symbol of their transfer failures, after failing to score at all.
Last summer it was around £30m again, but this time on Championship stars, such as striker Bobby Reid from Bristol City for around £10m and Josh Murphy from Norwich for a reported £11m.
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And while Warnock's methods at least kept Cardiff in the survival scrap until the penultimate game of the season, generally keeping games tight, a return of 34 goals wasn't enough and they finished 18th, two points adrift despite a shock 2-0 win at Manchester United on the final day.
One man who saw their relegation disappointment unfold was Norwich City legend Iwan Roberts, who works as a pundit for BBC Wales and watched the majority of the Bluebirds' games last season.
"When you've got a team with Neil Warnock as their manager you will always get a side that gives it their best crack," the former City striker said, who played under Warnock for a few months at Huddersfield in 1993 before moving to Leicester City.
"In all honesty the best they could have hoped for was fourth from bottom, they spent a reasonable amount of money last summer but really, looking back at the players they brought in, the bought lads who had done quite well at Championship level.
"They bought Bobby Reid from Bristol City, after he was second top scorer in the Championship, they got Josh Murphy of course from Norwich, and they probably didn't have enough quality in midfield and attacking areas to score the goals that they needed to keep them up."
That view is backed up by statistics, with Cardiff averaging the lowest amount of possession (39.1 percent) and the worst pass completion rate by quite a distance, an average of just 63.9pc, last season according to WhoScored.com.
"They were quite direct," Roberts continued. "They were forced for the first five or six months of the season to play Callum Paterson up front, who's good in the air but had been brought in as a right-back.
"One of the criticisms that I threw their way was that they didn't use the ball well enough and when you look at the way Norwich play, the football they played last season, that's the type of game you need to play to be successful in the Premier League. It's a similar style to Wolves last season and the season they went up: quick, counter-attacking football, keeping the ball.
"Cardiff struggled to keep possession, they gave the ball away far too cheaply. Defensively they weren't bad, they took a few hammerings along the way but they kept 10 clean sheets, which was more than Man Utd and Arsenal."
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Sporting director Stuart Webber has already warned Norwich fans that there could be dark days against the big boys next season, with Cardiff proof of that as they lost 4-1 at both Chelsea and Liverpool, and at home were thrashed 5-0 by Manchester City and 5-1 by Manchester United.
Canaries legend Roberts concluded: "When you're a team that gets promoted from the Championship, that is inevitable, something that players, staff and fans have to accept, that when you're playing in the big league there is a lot of quality towards that top four or five.
"You have to accept that sometimes you are going to get beaten and beaten heavily - it's how you bounce back from those heavy defeats which will be the main reason why you will survive in the Premier League."