Cardiff Devils are the best team in Britain. Now Cardiff City are intent on promotion to football’s elite group of clubs.
Both teams have made astonishing recoveries from the edge of disaster.
It wasn’t too long ago that Devils were ninth out of 10 teams in ice hockey’s Elite League, while the Bluebirds looked likely to be relegated from the Championship.
Now, though, head coach Andrew Lord’s Devils have won the League title for a second successive season, while manager Neil Warnock’s City are one win from achieving promotion to the Premier League.
The two clubs have put the pride back into South Wales sport – and Devils would love to see the Bluebirds go up.
“I want to be remembered in the right way,” says Warnock. “Everybody knows a Cardiff promotion would be my biggest achievement by an absolute mile.
“Make no mistake about that. When you look at the state of the club 18 months ago even to be challenging at this stage is a miracle. But miracles do sometimes happen and I am hoping we can prove another one.”
Ice hockey and football have close links in South Wales with Devils players often attending City matches when fixtures don’t clash.
Devils have finished their season, while Warnock’s men hopefully have only one fixture left, against relegation threatened Reading at Cardiff City Stadium on Sunday (12.30pm).
Former Swansea City manager Paul Clement is in charge of the Royals, who must win against Cardiff to ensure they don’t go down.
The Bluebirds, though, must win to finish runners-up to Wolves and earn automatic promotion.
Lifelong Cardiff fan Chris Gunter is in Reading’s team, but he insists his loyalties will not be torn on Sunday.
Gunter travelled on Cardiff City Supporters Club coaches to away games when he was a schoolboy, but now he is determined to lead Reading to Championship safety – and deny his beloved Cardiff City automatic promotion.
If Clement’s men lose in South Wales they must rely on the results of Birmingham City, Barnsley and Burton Albion to save them from the drop into League One.
“It’s a huge week for us,” says Newport-born Welsh international Gunter. “One of the biggest of our lives.
“We owe it to the people who work at the football club and our supporters to do everything absolutely right.”
Gunter, 28, joined Cardiff’s youth ranks at the age of eight years old and made 28 first team appearances before a big move to Tottenham in 2008.
More than 2,100 Reading fans will be at Cardiff City Stadium for a match which is a 30,000-plus sell-out and the Royals welcome back Leandro Bacuna after he completed a three-match ban, though Omar Richards is out after picking up an injury against Ipswich.
Tyler Blackett remains suspended while Paul McShane, Callum Harriott, Garath McCleary and Jordan Obita will all miss out through injury.
Warnock will insist his Bluebirds stay mentally strong, saying: “We know we’re not everyone’s cup of team, but that mental thing has made us stronger.
“We keep getting kicked in the teeth, but we bouncing back up and surprise a lot of people.
“The whole club has come together. That is the biggest plus for me over the 18 months since I have been here.
“It was fragmented, but now we are all in it together – from owner Vincent to the cleaning girls.
“The atmosphere is terrific and the boys show that on the pitch. We have our ups and downs, but you can’t fault the effort we put in. Its a great team spirit and that’s got us where we are.”
|| HOME||| AWAY|
Final day fixtures on Sunday (all 12.30pm kick-off):
Birmingham City v Fulham, Bolton Wanderers v Nottingham Forest, Brentford v Hull City, Bristol City v Sheffield United, Cardiff City v Reading, Derby County v Barnsley, Ipswich Town v Middlesbrough, Leeds United v Queens Park Rangers, Milwall v Aston Villa, Preston North End v Burton Albion, Sheffield Wednesday v Norwich City, Sunderland v Wolves.