By Paul Jones
Neil Harris says he has already had enough of the pats on the back for Cardiff City as he strives to turn them into a long-term Premier League club.
The Cardiff manager took the praise that came his way, and his players’, following their agonising 3-2 aggregate defeat to Fulham in their Championship semi-final.
A 2-1 victory for the Bluebirds at Craven Cottage was not enough to overcome the damage done by a 2-0 home defeat in the first leg.
But Harris is not keen to be known as a plucky loser and will immediately begin work to improve a squad which he intends to be good enough to win automatic promotion next season.
There are likely to be some significant signings and departures over the next few weeks, with Harris understood to be keen to have another attempt at recruiting Wales striker Kieffer Moore from Wigan.
Harris is also thought to want another full-back, centre-back and midfielder as he plans for a second season in the Championship following relegation.
“Yeah there’ll be some pats on the back for staff, rightly so, and players, rightly so, but it counts for nothing moving forward next season,” said Harris after goals from Curtis Nelson and Lee Tomlin came close to giving Cardiff the platform they needed for a third after Neeskens Kebano had equalised for Fulham.
🗣”We have to be better next year”
Cardiff manager Neil Harris on the sides future pic.twitter.com/fLhLV6PEle
— Football Daily (@footballdaily) July 30, 2020
“I think what we’ve shown is we’ve got the capability in the group to compete at the top end of the division.”
“We want to be successful, and the players have just reiterated that. They enjoy training, they enjoy the games, enjoy the way we play, what we’ve achieved this year.
“We have to reproduce it all again, and September 12, we’ll be ready to go again. There’s been some really, really strong, positive words in the changing room from me and the players as well.”
Having been outplayed by Fulham for the last hour of the first leg, Cardiff responded by getting ahead, conceding within seconds, re-taking the lead, and then dominating the final half hour during which they created plenty of chances.
Had they taken just one, and forced the tie into extra-time, momentum may have swung in their favour.
But as it is, they joined Swansea City as play-off semi-final losers and the great unmentionable dream of an all-Welsh final at Wembley will not even meet a 50 per cent success rate.
Harris, though, it rightly optimistic having seen his team give on their best performances of the season in last night’s second half – even though they could only find the net through Tomlin.
“Our fanbase should be proud of them and how far we’ve come. But let’s use that pride and our passion to drag us forward into next season,” added Harris.
“Ultimately, I want a group of players that give me everything. Unless I’m mistaken, the football club should be built on hard graft, effort, determination which should represent the part of Wales that we live in and the club we play for, and first and foremost you never leave anything on the pitch.
“It’s not just tonight [that I’m proud]. Since the moment I came into the building, the performances, the way they’ve improved, the way they’ve taken on board what we want, the hours on end learning on TV screens, on the training pitch to get us to where we are tonight.
“I’m at a club that craves top six football in the Championship and Premier League football.
“We feel like the capital city of Wales should have a team in the Premier League and we have to earn the right to get there.
“However proud I am, I’m gutted that we haven’t got through but I’ve said to the players that they have to be so proud of what they’ve achieved and we have to be even better next year.”
Lee Tomlin last 15 away appearances for @CardiffCityFC this season:
⚽ (tonight, 1st touch) pic.twitter.com/ncQHG0Yuvj
— Sky Sports Statto (@SkySportsStatto) July 30, 2020
Fulham manager Scott Parker – whose team will now meet Brentford in an all-West London final on Tuesday – said: “I think the way the game panned out tonight was not how I expected.
“But at the same time, I realised the task ahead of us today. Cardiff were a team wounded from the first leg that came in and had nothing to lose.
“They put us under an incredible amount of pressure at times and we didn’t really put a stamp on our game. We’ve got ourselves to the Championship play-off final and it’s up for grabs.
“That was our 48th game tonight and I told the players to not lose sight of what we’ve done. We live in a world where you can quite easily lose sight of achievements and I sense a little bit of disappointment.
“We’ve got a massive game coming up on Tuesday. It’s going to be a totally different game from what we’ve seen tonight. We need to stay bright, we need to stay positive.”