We spoke to Wales Online sports writer Dominic Booth to get the view from the opposition ahead of Saints' trip to the Cardiff City Stadium...
How have Cardiff performed so far this season, relative to expectations?
Probably above expectations. From the outside, a lot of pundits and critics thought Cardiff could be going down with a record low points tally, but the home form has proven otherwise – they’ve won the last three at home. The feeling is fairly positive, even if they haven’t accrued a huge amount of points.
How has the team changed since promotion?
Not a huge amount. Warnock has stuck with the same back four and goalkeeper who were so solid in the Championship last season. He’s used that platform to build, while signing people like Josh Murphy and Bobby Reid to add a bit of flair up front, although he’s been starting with Callum Paterson of late, who’s basically a full-back turned into a striker! Paterson has done a decent job, scoring three goals, and otherwise they’re relying on a solid midfield duo of Aron Gunnarsson and Harry Arter, who have been two of the best players this season.
How’s Neil Warnock managed expectations?
He started off the season by saying ‘we’re here to enjoy it, we’re just here for the ride’, but that’s gone away a little bit and been replaced by a feeling that Cardiff can actually stay up. There’s nothing to fear in the bottom six teams, and Cardiff feel like they’re out of the bottom three on merit. Warnock loves to wind people up and takes great delight in how Cardiff are probably the least fancied team in the division, but find themselves outside the bottom three.
Is that feeling reflected in the supporters, that Cardiff can survive?
I think people accept Cardiff do need a bit more quality and January is going to be crucial. But what they lack in quality, they make up for in effort and desire. Everyone knows that can only take you so far in the Premier League, but fans look at what Burnley have done, and Cardiff are trying to follow that model. The supporters are loving it and they’re making the Cardiff City Stadium a bit of a fortress. If they can keep winning at home, the belief they can stay up will keep growing.
In terms of Saturday’s game, how has the dynamic changed since Ralph Hasenhüttl’s appointment?
It’s massively changed. I spoke to Sol Bamba at the press conference on Friday morning, and he said the players feel a little bit unlucky this has happened to Southampton just as they’re due to face Cardiff. Before the change of manager, Cardiff would’ve really fancied themselves to win this one, especially after last week’s win over Wolves, albeit they had a poor result in midweek against West Ham. It’s difficult to predict now – either Cardiff will bully Southampton as they bullied Wolves and Brighton, or Southampton will be energised and make it a difficult afternoon. When teams get at Cardiff, defensively it can spell trouble.
What sort of atmosphere should we expect at the Cardiff City Stadium?
A really good one – I think it’s one of the best home crowds in the league. The supporters are loving being in the Premier League and loving being written off. The attitude of the fans is ‘we’re here to upset the apple cart’ and they’ll stick with the team. In every game Cardiff have won this season, they’ve gone a goal down. That could play a key part on Saturday.
How do you think the game will unfold?
I’ve said so many times this season I think Cardiff will win 1-0 with a set-piece goal, and it hasn’t happened, but I’m going to stick my neck out and say the same again.