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Sport Liverpool glamour tie and exciting additions give Cardiff City shot in the arm but crucial weeks lie ahead

14:13  14 january  2022
14:13  14 january  2022 Source:   walesonline.co.uk

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If ever a season needed the escapism of a glamorous FA Cup tie, it’s this one.

A record run of defeats, managerial upheaval, a lowly league position and a return to fixtures behind closed doors. There have been moments, but there hasn’t been much fun to be found. This should be fun, though.

Cup ties against big sides are different to when you play them in the Premier League. Those matches form part of a bigger picture and when you’re playing elite teams every week, to some extent it becomes normal. As a small fish in a big pond, you also get slightly demoralised over time after inevitably losing regularly.

A cup tie is a free hit and largely without consequence. When you’ve been away from the Premier League for a few years, you also start to crave a bit of glamour again. Fans turn up in their droves and it’s guaranteed to be a carnival atmosphere, regardless of the result.

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Not that tournament organisers and TV executives make it easy to attend. It's virtually impossible to make the noon kick-off using public transport, so here’s hoping that enough buses can be sourced to ferry everyone that can get their hands on a ticket.

I was there the last time Cardiff City faced Liverpool in an Anfield cup tie back in 2007. Darren Purse’s equaliser was one of those ‘I was there’ moments, although the joy was only brief because Steven Gerrard rolled up his sleeves, went straight up the other end and scored the winner.

It was mostly a Liverpool reserve side, but Gerrard and Jamie Carragher both started and while that harmed Cardiff’s chances, it was a joy to see them up close, trading blows with Cardiff while still in their prime.

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A lot of people are rooting for Senegal and Egypt to progress to the final stages of the African Cup of Nations so that Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah miss the Cardiff game. While I understand that school of thought, there is a joy in seeing genuinely world-class players face off against your hometown team, even if they’re carving through them at will. Give me full-fat Liverpool.

READ MORE: All the latest Cardiff City news, views, features and interviews

In Steve Morison’s press conference on Thursday, he was quick to shut down all Liverpool talk with pivotal and tricky league games against Blackburn Rovers, Bristol City and Nottingham Forest to come first, so let’s leave that there for now.

Hopefully the win against Preston in round three, their first since the end of November, will prove some sort of a turning point in their season. Having had to play West Brom, Bournemouth and Sheffield United in close succession, Cardiff have now got a lot of the big hitters out of the way and most of their remaining games are against sides in and around the bottom half of the table.

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While the Preston game wouldn’t win any awards for entertainment, it was inspiring to see so many academy graduates play such an instrumental part in the victory.

It was great to see Isaak Davies respond to having been substituted on and back off again, ahead of post-match criticism, at Bournemouth with a fine performance and a goal. That was a result of, or in spite of, Morison’s comments, depending on your interpretation of the situation. Davies appears to be a fearless, impressive young man, so hopefully this proves to be part of his learning curve.

Joel Bagan and Kieron Evans both impressed in their return to the side and Rubin Colwill got more minutes. Mark Harris always makes an impact coming off the bench and did so again here, netting the winner late in extra time.

Morison has spoken about his desire to have high-intensity players in reserve and Harris always increases the tempo. He has yet to have the same effect on games when starting, but hopefully that will come in time because his cameos warrant a starting place.

Tom Sang created the winner and having broke through last season, it has been a frustrating season for him, with injury keeping him sidelined for most of the first half of the season. Of all the academy graduates, he has probably impressed me the most, so it is great to see him back in contention.

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Having been repurposed as a right wing back by Mick McCarthy, Morison has confirmed that he sees Sang as a central midfielder, which was his original role. Competition in that area of the pitch is fierce, though, with Marlon Pack, Will Vaulks, Leandro Bacuna, Joe Ralls, Sam Bowen and the recently-returned Ryan Wintle all vying for a place, so Sang’s immediate pathway to the team may prove rather congested.

Wintle and Max Watters, who have both been recalled from successful loans, have barely featured for Cardiff, so feel like new signings. They join the impressive young prospect Cody Drameh, who has joined on loan from Leeds, where he is very highly regarded.

Their arrivals and the continued contribution of Cardiff’s academy graduates has given the squad a more dynamic feel that bodes well for the future. Hopefully that will reflect in performances and results because Cardiff still have a pretty big hole to climb out of.

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That Liverpool game is just over the horizon and hopefully that will prove to be an incentive rather than a distraction. There are lots of places up for grabs and any impressive showings in the next three games will go a long way towards earning a place in the line-up at Anfield.

Whatever happens, Liverpool away will be a party and an occasion to savour, with or without Mane and Salah. Cardiff fans certainly deserve that after outperforming throughout a very difficult season.

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