Since the euphoria of the derby win, it's been a mixed bag of results for Cardiff City. After coolly dispatching Swansea, they travelled to Aston Villa the following weekend for a game that on paper at least was eminently winnable. Not so. City lacked focus and were one-dimensional, eventually going down to a pair of late goals from Bacuna and Kozak. Truth be told, Villa didn't play much better than City, but perhaps their players benefitted from a bit more experience at this level and displayed a cutting edge sadly absent from Cardiff's play.
The Villa game was important, not least because immediately after it we faced home games against two powerhouses of the British game, Man United and Arsenal. I don't think anyone really expected us to win both games, but the early-season win over Man City had given us some hope of springing a few surprises. As it turned out, the game against Man United could end up being one of the most thrilling of the season, with City battling back from a goal down twice to snatch a point with an injury-time Kimbo goal, his first of the season. So far, our Korean international has struggled for game time in the Premier League, Malky Mackay often preferring the industry and athleticism of Don Cowie and Jordan Mutch in midfield alongside the passing ability of Peter Whittingham. For now, at least, it seems as if Kimbo will have to be content with spending a lot of time on the bench. We have to remember that despite his exploits in the second half of last season, he's still only 24.
Last Saturday, Cardiff faced top-of-the-table Arsenal, who are playing the kind of free-flowing football most teams in Europe can only fantasize about. An interesting side-note was the relationship between the revitalized Aaron Ramsey and the Cardiff faithful. Ryan Giggs was booed when he came on as a sub for Man United. Not so Rambo, who continued his on-off love affair with his old club by doing the Ayatollah. When he scored the first goal with a deft header he looked absolutely gutted, and received a standing ovation from virtually everyone at the ground, something rarely seen in football. By the time he scored his second, and Arsenal's third, the game was over as a contest. In retrospect we should look on that 3-0 reverse as a lesson in football. Let's hope we learned something.
Cardiff currently stand in 17th place in the league, three points clear of Fulham and the dreaded relegation places. The good news is, we are only four points behind Hull in 10th. With most teams playing three times in the next ten days or so, by next weekend we should have a fairly good idea of how the league will shape up. These next three games are crucial. It's do or die. Pick up a few points and Cardiff could find themselves in mid-table. Lose two of the three and they could be deep in the relegation zone. It's that simple.
First up is a midweek fixture at Mark Hughes' Stoke, who stand just above Cardiff on goal difference with the same points total. This game could be a war of attrition. The Potters had a decent November, beating Sunderland and drawing with Swansea and Southampton. However, a 4-0 drubbing at Everton last time out exposed some defensive frailties. The likelihood is that Malky will get men behind the ball and try to grind out a draw. But those tactics have cost us already this season. In my opinion, this is the kind of game where Cardiff need to be adventurous and take some chances. An early goal could turn the home crowd and force Stoke to attack, leaving gaps at the back for us to exploit. After the trip to Stoke comes another away-day, this time at rock-bottom Crystal Palace. This one, we really should win. Palace are by far the weakest team in the league. So far they've managed to pick up seven points and scored just seven goals in 13 games. Their confidence is low, and they are there for the taking. Nothing short of a win will do.
The last match of the trilogy is a home clash against Peter Odemwingie's previous employers, West Brom. They stand two points above us, but since beating Man United at the end of September, the Baggies have won only once, ironically against Crystal Palace. They have a decent team but have proved (like Cardiff) that they are defensively vulnerable. If I was a betting man, I would go for a 2-2 draw.
Depending on how other results go, four or five points from these three games wouldn't be the worst thing in the world, but I don't think I'm being unreasonable in thinking City can go for all nine. Malky Mackey has come under fire from some quarters for not being creative enough in games, and he has the usual array of off-field problems to contend with, here is his chance to prove the doubters wrong and pull away from the danger zone. Cue Top Gun music.
My latest book, From the Ashes: The REAL Story of Cardiff City FC is out now, published by Gwasg Carreg Gwalch: