Neil Warnock believes Cardiff City’s promotion bid is being built on the sturdiest of defensive foundations.
While the team’s attacking threats have taken most of headlines this season, the Bluebirds manager is full of praise for his defence after they kept another clean sheet in the 2-0 victory over Bolton on Tuesday night.
Cardiff have conceded 27 goals in 31 games this season. Only Championship leaders Wolves and Derby County have let in fewer – a rapid improvement for Warnock’s team who allowed 61 goals to be put past them last season.
Sean Morrison has been the cement that binds Cardiff’s defence together and the captain also illustrated his useful attacking prowess with his second goal in three games to add to Armand Traore’s opener.
“We set ourselves a target of 16 clean sheets this season and we are already up to 14,” said Warnock after a victory that keeps Cardiff in fourth but moved them to within a point of second-placed Villa.
“I am looking forward to the run in. We have got a good side and we can get better.
“We just have to worry about ourselves. If we are right then we can give anyone a good game.
“You look at Villa and Derby and they are two of the big guns, with big budgets, in this League. But we are a genuine bunch and we feel we can beat anyone on our day.
“I was pleased that we were on the front foot for most of the game. If you could criticise, then it might be that we could have taken more chances.”
Bolton manager Phil Parkinson saw his team’s recent minor upturn crushed and he admitted to a deep appreciation for the job the veteran Cardiff manager is doing on a budget that is dwarfed by Wolves, Villa and Derby.
Parkinson said: “With the resources Villa and Derby have, for Cardiff to be in contention is a great tribute to Neil Warnock. He knows this division.
“We were second best. We know they can overpower sides when they are relentless and we just couldn’t withstand it.”
Cardiff now have 15 matches in which they can either clinch one of the two automatic promotion places, finish in the play-off positions, or implode and concede a current nine-point advantage over seventh-placed Preston or the chasing clubs beneath them.
Warnock added: “I think it’s quite entertaining how we’re playing and I think the crowd’s up for it as well.
“We’ve got to enjoy the moment. We have another tough one Saturday, a different type of game, because Middlesbrough will come to try and win the game and they have good players.
“But I’m looking forward to it, like I’m looking forward to all the run in; we’re safe now, we can’t get relegated, so let’s enjoy it. We’ve got a good side and we can get better.”
Warnock also considers striker Kenneth Zohore has responded to the challenge of Gary Madine’s arrival in exactly the manner the manager hoped he would.
Zohore’s form and fitness has fluctuated this season, but Warnock had always thought too much reliance was being placed on the Danish youngster.
“I think we saw the best game he’s played this season. I told him afterwards I should have signed Madine two months ago!
“To be fair, Ken has been training the same this week. Even before Gary got injured against Millwall, I thought about leaving him out for this one and giving Ken a go.
“He didn’t score but he linked well. I looked at the Chelsea goal the other night with Giroud, just a delicate touch, and Ken did that three of four times. I thought he brought everybody into it, some really nice touches but some good hard work, too.”