On November 10th of 2019 , a monumental change was made in the history of Cardiff City Football Club – it was the end of the Neil Warnock era.
Having took the helm three years prior when the club was in turmoil, the Yorkshireman transformed Cardiff’s fortunes and even guided them back to the dizzy heights of the Premier League back in the 2017-18 campaign. With his witty, yet charismatic nature, his magnetising spirit and an ‘us against the world mentality’ intertwined with the people of Cardiff, it didn’t take long for Warnock to endear himself to the capital.
In fact, he didn’t just endear himself, he energized the city. There was a different aura when crossing the streets, even when it wasn’t a match day. An aura that hadn’t been present before and may never be present again, after all, how many Neil Warnocks are there?
There is only one, that’s what makes him so special. Yet, football is an evolving entity. It changes, perhaps, more than anything else. Whilst Warnock’s legacy will eternally remain intact at the Cardiff City Stadium, both he and the club recognised that it was time for a change.
After narrowly falling short to the trials and tribulations of top-flight football, the Bluebirds had failed to impress upon their return to the Championship. They had only claimed six victories from 16 outings and the objective of promotion swiftly became an increasingly tall order.
Two sucker-punching derby day defeats against Swansea City and Bristol City – the latter of which ultimately concluded the Warnock reign, came in the space of two weeks. Cardiff had played out an array of draws. Key players weren’t performing, ideas were failing and frustrations were mounting.
So, as Josh Brownhill’s powerful long-range effort returned the bragging rights to the other side of the River Severn, Warnock left his post. It was not an enviable day to be a Bluebird, but due to the change it promptly sparked, it will sit in the memories of Cardiff supporters for years to come.
Nearly two years on from the infamous day in South Wales, here is Neil Warnock’s final starting eleven as Cardiff City manager and where they are at present:
Neil Etheridge – Birmingham City
One of Warnock’s recruits prior to City’s promotion campaign, Etheridge shone in his first two seasons with the club. However, his third wasn’t so rosy and it ultimately marked the end of his career at the Cardiff City Stadium.
Despite excelling in the Premier League, Etheridge found life back in the Championship hard to adapt to and lost his place to Alex Smithies at the turn of the year. The following summer, Etheridge departed the club for Birmingham City, where he currently plies his trade.
Last term, the Filipino International enjoyed a resurgence in the West Midlands, registering 13 clean sheets to help his side stave off the looming threat of relegation.
Lee Peltier – Middlesbrough
Over the course of his lengthy, yet legendary managerial career, Warnock has established a real knack of bringing his former players with him to new pastures. That was no different with veteran Lee Peltier, who recently made the move up to Middlesbrough to reunite with his former boss following his release from West Bromwich Albion.
With the chance of one last hurrah in the English top flight, the former Cardiff stalwart swapped Wales for West Brom midway through the 2019/20 season, largely being utilised to implement a sense of experience and leadership to the dressing room.
In total, he only went on to play seven times for the Baggies, though he can probably expect his game time to increase somewhat at the Riverside, with a manager who knows full well what he can bring to the table.
The two had enjoyed a fruitful working relationship prior to embracing success with Cardiff, too, as Peltier formerly captained Leeds United whilst Warnock was in charge of the Yorkshire club.
Curtis Nelson – Cardiff
The first player still to be at Cardiff to this day, Curtis Nelson has became a real ever-present in the Bluebirds backline ever since making the switch from Oxford United in 2019.
It wasn’t until Warnock left the club that Nelson’s Cardiff career really lifted off, though he swiftly became indispensable under the tuition of Neil Harris during his time in charge.
A consistent, yet calming presence, with ball-playing qualities at the heart of the defence, Nelson made 44 appearances last season as Cardiff ultimately failed in their search of a prized playoff position.
Aden Flint – Cardiff
Meanwhile, Aden Flint’s Cardiff career hasn’t been quite so plain-sailing; the hulking central defender arrived as a big money signing from Middlesbrough in the summer of 2019, but initially failed to justify the heavy fee that had been forked out for his services.
Subsequently, Flint made the move back up north to join Sheffield Wednesday on a season-long loan, though he saw his time at Hillsborough cut short due to injuries. He promptly returned to Cardiff and instantly caught the eye of new boss Mick McCarthy, who entrusted the 31-year old as part of his defence.
It would be hard to argue that McCarthy’s trust hasn’t paid off. As part of a new-look back five, the additional cover has benefitted Flint. He even scored the winner in a 1-0 victory away to bitter rivals Swansea City , permanently earning him a place in the hearts of the Cardiff faithful.
Joe Bennett – Unattached
Providing adventurous forward drives and consistent displays from the left-back berth across five years, Joe Bennett has proved to be a key part of Cardiff’s recent history.
He signed for the club from Aston Villa in 2016 and played over 150 times, however a crushing ACL injury and complexed contract negotiations saw Bennett leave on a free at the end of the season.
It is yet to be seen where his next destination will be, although you can be sure that he still has plenty to offer for many Championship clubs.
Leandro Bacuna – Cardiff
Offering the steel and tenacity in the middle of the park that day was Leandro Bacuna, who has seen his intense way of playing the game favoured by multiple managers since moving to Cardiff over two years ago.
This has seen the Curacao International deployed in a variety of positions, ranging from attacking midfield to an unfamiliar right back role, where he spent the first half of last season following an injury to then first choice right back Jordi Osei-Tutu.
Whilst his performances have sometimes come under scrutiny, it’s clear to see what he supplies to a Cardiff side so reliant on energy and a high tempo capable of suffocating opponents under the cosh.
Marlon Pack – Cardiff
Meanwhile, Bacuna’s midfield partner, Marlon Pack, supplements an entirely opposing skill set. Though much less mobile to Bacuna, he thrives most when dictating the tempo of proceedings and dispatching crafty upfield passes from deep.
Pack, 30, is one of a few players to have controversially traded Ashton Gate for the Cardiff City Stadium, and since his switch, he’s had a massive part to play. To date, the midfielder has made 83 appearances for the Bluebirds and can be expected to have a similarly important role next term as they plot an assault on the second tier.
Lee Tomlin – Cardiff
The maverick maestro capable of turning a game on its head in a split second, Lee Tomlin has endured a mixed career in South Wales.
Labelled as the marquee signing in Warnock’s first summer in charge, Tomlin failed to get going amidst fitness and personal issues, which saw him head out on loan to first Nottingham Forest, and then Peterborough United.
Scarce moments of brilliance were provided in cameo showings at the start of Warnock’s final season, although the talented playmaker eventually led Cardiff’s promotion charge under Harris.
He registered eight goals, 10 assists and a reel of memorable moments across the campaign, although an evident burnout was carried into the following season. Tomlin only played five times last term and prior physical problems appear to have resurfaced.
As things stand, he and young prospect Rubin Colwill are Cardiff’s only options in the number 10 berth. It is yet to be seen if Tomlin- whose contract expires next summer- will have a pivotal role to play yet again.
Nathaniel Mendez-Laing – Unattached
It’s really a shame to see the sharp decline of blitzing winger Nathaniel Mendez-Laing, after dazzling in his first two years at Cardiff.
His third season, however, was riddled with injury woes and disciplinary issues away from the pitch, which proved to curtail his Bluebirds career as his contract was terminated shortly before the opening day of the 2020/21 season.
Warnock, having presented Mendez-Laing with his big break in the Championship back in 2017, sought to reunite with the speedster up at Middlesbrough, though he didn’t end up having much of an impact in the North East.
The former City promotion hero only started twice for the Boro after joining in February and the club decided not to extend his short-term deal, leaving him once again unattached.
However, it is understood that Mendez-Laing will be offered a chance to train with Middlesbrough in pre-season in order to earn a new deal.
Junior Hoilett – Unattached
From one individual who played an instrumental part in Cardiff’s promotion to another, Junior Hoilett recently waved goodbye to the club following years of stellar service in blue.
Finding the back of the net 9 times and assisting 11, Hoilett’s City career peaked in the 2017/18 campaign, but his role in the side gradually diminished after Cardiff were relegated from the Premier League.
He barely featured under McCarthy, though Cardiff fans won’t forget the excellence that the Canadian winger provided over the years and they will be eagerly following his next step, after his release at the end of last season.
Unsurprisingly, Hoilett has been linked with a Warnock renaissance at Middlesbrough; the ex-Blackburn star was a favourite of his at Cardiff. For the sake of nostalgia alone, it’s certainly a sight that Bluebirds fans would cherish.
You always wondered if there was more to come from divisive forward Omar Bogle, who saw his time at Cardiff end virtually as quickly as it had started.
Arriving from Wigan in 2017 for a fee in the region of £750,000, Bogle made an impression to begin with. Unfortunately, he soon fell out of favour and embarked on a series of loan spells to Peterborough, Portsmouth and ADO Den Haag before departing the club at the end of last season.
From there, he would join newly-relegated Charlton Athletic, although he only lasted a few months in South London and soon found pastures new. Bogle made the move to League One outfit Doncaster Rovers in January, where he has scored twice in 17 games.
If you liked this Premier League article, check out my twitter for much more @Jackpricey_!