Cardiff match preview
If you were to look at league positions alone, then you would be forgiven for thinking it's going to be a walk in the park. Cardiff are sitting 18th in "The Championship", hardly a troubling position. Yet, they're eight games unbeaten - a run including a fantastic 4-1 home victory over a strong West Ham United side. Meanwhile, the young players such as Paul Parry and Joe Ledley are impressing, despite being thrown in at the deep end.
Our biggest worry, however, is the players that we have missing for one reason or another. Stone, Berger, Berkovic, Primus, Kamara, O'Neil, Quashie and Faye, plus the long term absentees Pericard and Todorov, will all be ruled out by injury. Unsworth, meanwhile, would miss the Southampton game if he were to be booked, so probably won't be risked. One would imagine that key players such as Yakubu, De Zeeuw and Stefanovic wouldn't be thrown in if it can be avoided, just in case they were to pick up knocks before the huge clash at the weekend.
So who does that leave us with, exactly? There's been talk of young lads such as Buxton and Pulis getting their chance to prove their worth. Griffin, Cisse, Mezague, Taylor, Hughes and Ashdown will all probably get into the starting XI. There's an outside chance that Gary O'Neil might get into the squad, which would add further interest to the tie - the England U21 captain was only recalled from a loan spell at Cardiff on Sunday, although apparently is suffering from a tight hamstring.
If we really think we can do well in this tournament this year, this is the sort of game we have to deal with professionally. So far, we've done the job well - competent victories over Tranmere and Leeds without injury. Cardiff, however, represent an altogether different proposition. With such a weakened side out and an aggressive home crowd baying for another cup upset, there's a chance of a banana skin. As far as I'm concerned, there's two key factors to this game:
1) No injuries
2) No extra time
Both of these would be incredibly bad news before the weekend's derby. Let's get in there, get the job done, and get the hell out again. If we win, it'll be narrow and a right battle - but I'm not overly confident.