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features, t'other side u't' fence

T’Other Side u’t’ Fence: Mirko Bolesan

They often say that the key to getting ahead in the world is not what you know, but who you know, and so I can consider myself very lucky to have known the latest respondent to our T’Other Side u’t’ Fence feature for the best part of eight years. I first met Steve in Milan in 2003, the night of the worst football watching experience of my life; seeing Wales lose to Italy in the San Siro is no bad thing, doing so whilst under a hail of objects and fluids from above however was something of a nadir.

Anyway, Steve and myself have since mutually attended many Wales matches, and given my presence, have watched them lose most of them. However, since watching Jari Litmanen stand Wales ragged in 2009, we have not been seen in the same place,  with only regular twitter correspondence preventing people from assuming we are one and the same person. Last summer Steve was an integral part of the team I put together for the Twinty Tin World Cup site (he wrote the pages folk actually read), and I am delighted to team up with him again, and get his thoughts on his club side Cardiff City ahead of this Saturday’s match in the Welsh capital.

Name: Steven Gabb

Website: Mirko Bolesan

Stand of choice at the Cardiff City Stadium:
I sit in the Ninian Stand, which is adjacent to the away support running along the side of the pitch. I’ve never really been a fan of new stadium builds, but when you have a good seated view like I do now, it’s hard to argue that it used to be better getting soaked on an uncovered terrace.

How do you feel about Saturday’s game?
I’m just looking forward to going to the football. It may sound strange but watching last season’s side which finished fourth was a real slog. There was a huge weight of expectancy on the team to win each and every game and the nervousness and frustration when things weren’t going well transferred to the players.

City have started well enough this season, what are your expectations of Cardiff for the year ahead?
I think Mackay has assembled a squad that shouldn’t be troubled with relegation, however I doubt the side will be good enough to sustain a promotion push. I’m actually quite pleased with that state of affairs. A fun stable mid table season where we win a few and lose a few is just what the club needs at the moment.

Where do you think this Cardiff City side is strongest?
The midfield diamond of Whittingham (quarter-back), Conway (left), Cowie (right) and Mason (tip) have been very impressive. Cowie has been excellent since moving from Watford, he’s a midfielder who not only closes down the opposition but can also create chances. From what I’ve seen of him so far I’m surprised a more illustrious club hasn’t come in for him.

What do you view the side’s weak point as being?
The two centre halves are great in the air but often rather cumbersome and slow to turn when faced with quick or tricky strikers. Mackay signed Ben Turner from Coventry City on transfer deadline day, so hopefully he’s not only Turner by name but also by nature. Another weak point I think is the proliferation of Scottish players in the squad since the summer. It’s a policy that didn’t work for Strachan’s Middlesbrough last season (or the Scottish national team recently for that matter). We can only hope that Mackay picked up more Charlie Adams than Kris Boyds in the close season.

Which Cardiff player should Rovers be most worried about?
Peter Whittingham remains the shining light in this team. He’s the only one of last season’s regular front six who’s still at the club. He’s playing far deeper these days so won’t emulate his goal scoring form of the 2009/2010 season but he has the vision of a good Premier League player and strikes the ball very well. His only real weakness is that he’s not that quick, which is probably why he’s playing for us rather than a Premier League side.

Which Doncaster player are you most wary of?
John Oster has been impressive every time I’ve seen him play against Cardiff for Reading and now Rovers. I would say it’s a surprise that Oster hasn’t been called up to the Wales squad in recent years but successive Wales managers don’t seem to fancy Doncaster Rovers players. I expect they still think the club is in the Conference.

Justified or not, every side has a scapegoat, who would you say is Cardiff’s?
Half a dozen scapegoats left the club in the summer and as the club has taken in such a large influx of new players it’s been hard for the boo-boys to find a suitable replacement. However, despite his goal at West Ham on the opening day of the season, and considering his reputation, Kenny Miller has been a disappointment. Miller needs to put in a good performance on Saturday or I have a feeling the fans could start getting on his back.

Are you happy with the appointment of Malky MacKay?
After talks with Alan Shearer for the Cardiff post broke down in the summer it’s hard for me to be anything but pleased that Mackay is now in charge. He is the polar opposite of Dave Jones and I think that’s really important. Jones had been at Cardiff for six years and was always very surly and uncommunicative with the fans and press – he refused to even talk to the local press. It led to a really nasty atmosphere around the club. Ultimately his sacking was more to do with clearing the air than anything that had happened on the pitch.

The City team have spent a lot of pre-season working on their fitness levels as Mackay has the side pressing the opposition all over the pitch. The difference in style between Jones and Mackay is clear for all to see. Whilst I’m not necessarily a fan of managers who rant and rave from the touchline and pump their fists in the air at the full-time whistle it’s exactly what Jones didn’t do last season. The club needed a change, and they’ve got that in Mackay.

Whether we’ll finish higher in the league with Mackay in charge I’m not so sure, but the fans now feel like they have a club they can support rather than feeling like there’s a ‘Them and Us’  culture at the club like there was under Dave Jones.

Song or chant to listen out for:
“Earnie’s Gonna Get You!” I think you’ll hear a lot of support for Robert Earnshaw (the Zambian Prince) on Saturday as he tries to get over his appalling miss for Wales during the week. Earnie is a legend at Cardiff City, being our second top goal scorer of all time and so we can forgive the little fellow of most things.

Finally, a match prediction:
I suspect it’ll be a little closer than the match last season. I’ll go for 1-1, as Cardiff City are very much still a work in progress and I can’t imagine that Doncaster will continue to lose games at the rate they are.

Thanks to Steve, and if you’ve not yet had the joy of the Mirko Bolesan site then I suggest you visit it shortly, if for nothing else than his ‘Ten Ways to Improve Football’ and the quite brilliant ‘Manager’s Technical Zone Heat Maps’. Also twitter users would be well advised to follow @mirkobolesan, as the 140 character format is perfect for Steve’s quick and sarcastic wit. You’ll thank me for it, trust me.

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About glen wilson

Former schoolboy, Glen Wilson writes on football and travel and has been editor of the award-winning popular STAND fanzine since before the award.

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