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Same Name . . . Different Manager: A Tale Of Two Neils – Harris After Warnock

The only thing Neil Harris seems to share with Neil Warnock is a Christian name.

But if the Championship play-offs go in his favour, then the current Cardiff City manager will have another common identity to his predecessor – that of promotion winner and Premier League boss.

To do that, Harris’s team must overcome Fulham over two legs that start on Monday – a considerable challenge given that Fulham have occasionally looked like the best team in the division and they have the most feared striker in the Serbian, Aleksandar Mitrovic.

Where Warnock’s methods were all about heat, rather than light – emotion, rather than logic – Harris is far more methodical.

The trick he has achieved in lifting Cardiff from 14th place when he replaced Warnock midway through the season, to finish fifth, has been to bring order and precision to a side that so often lacked both.

For Warnock, the analysis was always about mood. Cardiff were either “up for it” in Warnock’s words or they weren’t. Sometimes they were hot and on other days, they were so cold the only heat generated would come from his performance on the touchline.

Harris has gone for method, rather than mood – fixing a leaky defence, finding a way of making Lee Tomlin more influential, and his strikers more effective, if not exactly prolific.

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Now, comes an opportunity for Harris to deliver a prize few, even within the club, thought possible when he took charge in November.

“We have had to work extremely hard in the second half of the season, so to come fifth is an achievement,” says the manager who cut his teeth in the role at Millwall after achieving legendary status with the club as a player – a stint that included four play-off experiences.

“It’s not the success we want as the end goal. There is more to come and that’s the message I was trying to relay after the game against Hull on Wednesday.

“We want more. Success now would be promotion.”

For that to happen, Harris’s team need to do what they failed to do in two matches this season and have only done once in their last 11 meetings – overcome Fulham.

There was the high point of a 4-2 victory over the Londoners last season, but other than that they have proven a riddle Cardiff cannot solve.

Like most clubs in the Championship, Cardiff found Mitrovic a difficult proposition when they lost 2-0 at Craven Cottage a fortnight ago and subduing the striker who has scored 26 League goals so far this season is likely to be key.

This time, Harris suggests it will be as much about dealing with the supply lines to Motrovic as with the power and strength of the man himself.

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“I look at my team to deal with their strengths. I look to my centre-halves to deal with Mitrovic, my full-backs to deal with their wide players and my midfielders to come out on top in the middle.

“He is a good number nine at this level – at Premier League striker and I think he’ll get better.  But we have got the ability and know-how to deal with him. I hope.

“I watched the game at Fulham back again yesterday. I watched it afterwards but watched again yesterday to gain some knowledge. In the first half we were poor. Watching it with a calm head we were poor, especially with the football.

“The second half of that Blackburn game and that Fulham game, putting those together that was our poorest since February.

“Does that give me optimism? Yes, of course it does, because Fulham were good, we were poor and there wasn’t a lot in it. We look forward to putting it in a better performance over the four halves of football the play-off gives us.”

Harris says he left Millwall – the club where he broke the all-time scoring record held previously by Teddy Sherringham – because he felt four years in charge had left him stale.

The Cardiff job appealed, he says, because of the club’s potential – a one-club city, rather than a club that, at best, are the eighth largest in London.

“I wanted to challenge myself, take the next step. Coming to the Welsh capital, a big club like Cardiff, I knew the passion here.

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“I knew the demand of the fan base. The squad, I wanted to work with them, some good players. I thought there was a potential to be successful, to come here, win games.

“It was a good fit for me. Have I found what I wanted? I’m finding it. It’s a work in progress. I’m enjoying it, thoroughly enjoying it.

“Successful over the next three games or not successful over the next three games, I’m still massively looking forward to next season, whatever division we are in.”

As well as four play-off journeys as a player, Harris has also travelled this way before as a manager. The first time ended with a Wembley defeat for Millwall against Barnsley four years ago, but he learned well and took Millwall up through the play-offs to the Championship the following season.

“I’m not one that believes you have to win your first game to get through to the second. We’ve seen already, certainly in the League Two play-offs, it becomes a little bit irrelevant, home and away, with Northampton coming from two goals behind to win and Wycombe winning with four at Fleetwood, for example.

“Home and away has never bothered me in my two campaigns as a manager. It’s never bothered me, playing home first or away first. It makes no odds to me.

“Play-offs are exceptional football matches. We will miss our fans, that’s for sure, in both semi-finals. But we’re used to it now.”


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